B-list Celebrities and I.R.I.S.


We have had I.R.I.S. in school for a whole year now, and some of us have played around with it in order to work on our practice. Unlike most of you, I’m sure, I’m not the world’s best ‘reader of faces’ and identifier of different brands of student in the class, you know, the one most likely to start World War Three, the student heading for a Nobel Peace Prize, the student who will never leave the school but work for ten years as a cleaner… that sort of thing.

It wasn’t until I sprang I.R.I.S. on one of my classes last year (ahem, I did give them some warning!) that I noticed those who privately felt they ought to be on celluloid. This was one of the interesting side-effects of the technology! One student could not believe that she had sat during groupwork ostentatiously brushing her hair for a good three minutes with the camera on her. I identified another student as a real show-stealer whose poses at the camera only masked the fact that he in actual fact did no work for the entire lesson.

The joy of I.R.I.S. is that the teacher who is being filmed has control over who gets to see the footage.  Check out I.R.I.S. connect to see how it operates in more detail.  If you think you happened to have captured a great twenty minutes of learning and are confident – then share it with others. I have already sat in CPD sessions last year where the teacher showing us their lesson have admitted: “I’m boring myself now!” and hurriedly turned it off.


But… if as you continue to watch yourself you feel the sweat starting out in your armpits, and you are scribbling down memos to yourself: Right, move so-and-so, ring her parents, never say ‘Okay’ again, etc., that’s fine. You’ve gained CPD feedback that might have been hard to swallow if coming from your line manager, or the head. No loss of face, but the opportunity to put something right.  There is no obligation to share it with others, but you can take steps towards improving the learning climate with that class.

The I.R.I.S. website and observation package has plenty of analytical tools, as well as ways of sharing with mentors as colleagues to gain feedback, that will assist you in doing just that.  You might have a private anxiety about how you come across on camera, but it is far more interesting to watch how the students are learning, and what they respond to and become engaged by, and what is turning them off.  You will soon stop watching yourself and start watching them!

Small embarrassing personal anecdote.  Before I.R.I.S. appeared – and its benefits to good practice have been discussed in educational sections of good newspapers – we had a mobile coaching suite, which took a little more time to set up, and possibly required some editing. For some odd reason I selected a recalcitrant Year Eleven class to be filmed.  If someone had told me I would not have believed it, but watching a lesson back, a student managed to exit the classroom and return without me apparently noticing. Something to keep to yourself, I would advise you, if you see it happening as you film yourself – I share it out of sheer philanthropy and to celebrate failure (who wants to get it right all the time, that would be boring!).

As we launch into a new term, why not aim to get I.R.I.S. trained on one of your classes? If your school has not invested in the technology, there are other ways to catch yourself in action – do a sound recording of the lesson, watch the same class with another teacher, get written anonymous feedback from students on how they feel they are doing.  Invite a trusted colleague in to give some private feedback; seven years into my career, I got some feedback early on in the year with my classes that radically improved my behaviour management.  It’s never too late to iron out long-standing niggles in your practice.

Perhaps it could be too much of a distraction to film an exam class – you may prefer to focus on a ‘problematic’ group you have identified from the statistics alone. Why not film them while they’re still behaving well in September, and your lessons are all glossy and sparkly? If you’re anything like me and know that you miss certain behaviours – let’s face it, with a group of 30 we’re bound to miss something – isn’t it a great opportunity to nip in the bud time-wasting behaviours before they become embedded, and clock the disengaged before they switch off for the whole year?  Every learner in every class matters, and we’re doing it for them – that’s the point.

Summer fun

summer fun

Apart from the blog title being a shameless attempt to get you to read this, I have just been browsing the twitter and blogosphere for educational stories (yes, why? I hear you ask) and retweeted on my own account What we wish we did on our holidays.  It got me thinking as I had considered a similar blogpost, but a little more nerdy, just listing and explaining the books that I need to read over the summer.

In reality, the time I get for reading gets squished down into a very tiny amount, and I end up thinking very carefully about what I will completely finish, and what I will usefully browse instead.  Having said that, over the last year and particularly last summer, what changed for me is that I got stuck into some books simply on teaching pedagogy, rather than the obligatory novels, academic guff and of course the odd literary biography, worthy intimidating tome etc.  Rather like the 15 minute forum itself I found it a highly refreshing and reflective way of preparing for the term ahead.

Let’s face it, when you combine family commitments, catching up with old friends, taking time out for yourself, being with your other half, doing the inevitable classroom sorting at some point, possibly some departmental jobs that you drew the short straw on (yes, moving round book cupboards, sorting last year’s work into new class lists, de-cluttering the team office), the new term will roll on without you feeling you have adequately prepared.  And what were you thinking anyway?  Were you going to plan every jot and tittle of the first two weeks’ lessons?  Or had you dreamt up a whole new system for keeping on top of marking that you were going to implement the first week back?


Think small.  Think little changes.  If you are going to think at all over the summer!  And the best little changes are the ones that we do every day, rather than the big change that never gets off the ground.  For this, I’ve put together a short list of books that I read that really did have an impact on my teaching over this last year (and some of these I want to come back to).  It really IS worth getting off the treadmill, and creating some space in which your own practice can vividly be paraded in front of you, and you can picture yourself, like the director of some movie in your head, changing a line here, a scene there, bringing in a new character here, creating a different outcome there…

I’ll get that list out the next post, as I have to go and take the kids to the park!