B-list Celebrities and I.R.I.S.

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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.

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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.

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What is a fifteen minute forum?

I hear you cry?  Well, let me tell you.  A 15 minute forum is a brief opportunity to gain a bit of CPD on the run, so to speak.

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You know how in the past you would gear up for a whole day out of school for some training, have to check train times, prepare your cover, leave earlier in the morning, not expect to get back at the same time and then have to pick up where you left off?

All this has changed!  Due to recent advances in our understanding of the brain, we now know that we can learn as much in a couple of short sessions as we might in an entire day.  If we come with an open mind and can engage in learning culture, who knows how one brief, dynamic or thoughtful input might help to improve your practice?  What is more, you do not have to leave the comfort of your own school staffroom, your favourite brand of coffee on tap, and colleagues you know and are confident with, but perhaps do not get to bounce ideas off as often as you would like!  In this way (see below), it even has some improvements on the recent CPD phenomenon known as the Teachmeet.  No cover required, no travel time, AND negligible impact on after-school marking or planning time.

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Teachmeet, which according to Twitter and indeed to Wikipedia takes place all round the country.  A West Sussex organiser explains that:

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every TeachMeet I’ve ever been to – it’s never felt like a burden. I’ve come away from each one with a tonne of ideas to use in my classroom, new friends who are in the profession and a full belly from a very decent pub meal.

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Well, perhaps we’re not getting as far as the pub meal here, but essentially this is grass-roots CPD we are talking about with no threat.  We know that practitioners are best placed to help practitioners, and let’s face it, as teachers we do not need a vast amount of preamble, or build-up, but simply the ‘meat’ of the idea itself.  We can very quickly in our heads scroll through our current groups, or subject topics, and see whether what is being offered will be useful for us or not.  Find out more about Forums by checking out Marginal Gains and MrBenney.

So what’s the snag?  Will you remember to come?  How will you know that attending the 15 minute forum will help to improve your practice?  Here are some recommendations for how to take responsibility for your CPD and know that you are giving yourself a good deal:

1. Prioritise attendance of the 15 minute forum.

2. Make sure that you talk to someone else about it and commit yourself to trying something out that is new for you

3. Bring back to the next session something that you have discovered.

4. Aim to make a contribution yourself – this could be anything from a comment on the blog, or a retweet, up to offering to present something from your practice as a forum session. 

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