Image of Amy Mitchell
Amy Mitchell
Director of Programme Innovation and Insights at Teach First

Developing trainees with cutting-edge tech

Bringing out the best in new and early career teachers means adopting best practice - so we've equipped them with the latest online learning tools.

One of the biggest challenges in Initial Teacher Training (ITT) is how we support new and early career teachers to develop expertise as effectively as possible.

Teachers need to be as good as they can be, quickly, for the benefit of their pupils – this is especially pressing, given the damaging effects of this pandemic on our education system.

In 2019, we started work developing an approach that would accelerate this learning for new teachers on our Training Programme, which recruits and trains new teachers for schools serving low-income communities. We wanted to ensure that our Training Programme, as well as all other Teach First programmes, were designed and delivered in a truly blended way; that is through a mix of face-to-face, live digital and asynchronous digital content.

The culmination of this effort was originally intended to launch with our 2021 Training Programme; combining traditional teacher training support with a suite of digital learning tools based on a regular cycle of observation, reflection, and instructional coaching.

The global pandemic accelerated this work. We successfully deployed several of the online learning tools a year earlier than planned, including IRIS Connect: a video-based, professional learning platform designed to encourage collaboration and refine instruction, to improve teacher outcomes. 

Observation, reflection, and instructional coaching 

In an average year, providing instructional coaching regularly and responsively is hard, particularly when those leading teacher training aren’t based in the same school. Teachers are busy and have complicated timetables. Colleagues supporting them cannot watch every lesson, or even every difficult lesson. Sometimes there can be lengthy gaps between these instructional coaching cycles and progress slows down

The pandemic, with much of the teaching taking place remotely, has of course added additional barriers to the standard observations of classroom practice and instructional coaching.

Using IRIS Connect means we can remove some of these logistical barriers, alongside taking advantage of some additional benefits. 

How do remote video observations develop our trainee teachers? 
From June 2021, all of our trainee teachers joining us on the Training Programme will be using IRIS Connect to support their progress. This enables them to record their classroom practice safely (adhering to the highest safeguarding requirements), share the recordings with their support roles such as in-school mentors (in whole, or in selected segments), and receive guidance on how they can better develop their practice.

Importantly, this means they can seek out specific support without requiring a colleague to make the time to visit their classroom. This allows us to not only provide more regular and responsive support to all of our teachers, but it also means we can better target support for those who need it most.

IRIS Connect also enables us to review lessons more frequently. We can:

  • prioritise specific classes that require the most immediate support
  • tailor instructional coaching approaches
  • see how each teacher has been able to implement what they have learnt the very next time that class is taught

As discussed by Liang (2015), we can remove the observer effect and (once they become accustomed to the small device at the back of the room) classes can be observed in as ‘normal’ an environment as possible – making feedback all the more authentic.

It also lets us work with a greater diversity of schools. Our teachers can be trained and supported by Teach First experts or school-based mentors remotely, so even those in the most rural or remote schools can get what they need, when they need it

In early 2021 we’ve already seen indications of remote development working positively in practice. We’ve been able to observe the teaching practice of first year trainee teachers who, due to the pandemic, had not been able to organise any informal observations.

How else might we use this technology?

Our trainee teachers will be empowered to engage with IRIS Connect in various ways. In addition to remote observations, they will be encouraged to use the technology for self-reflection. We like to draw on Ward et al (2015), who write that reviewing and analysing [these] videos “became a powerful catalyst for personal growth”. Previously, they would have to rely on memory alone to reflect on their classroom practice. Things missed ‘in the moment’ will now be identified as areas of development, or indeed, as areas of success.

As we look to the future, there are also uses of this tool that we are yet to fully explore. For example, there is the opportunity for trainees to share their recordings with their peers and receive feedback that way.

In this case, all pupils’ faces would be blurred (part of the app’s in-built functionality) and feedback would be personal.  Whilst we have not embedded this into our programme design as of yet, we hope to develop a culture of learning that sees this in our programmes in the future.

What else are we thinking about?

Unsurprisingly, our biggest concern regarding sharing recordings has been ensuring the safety of pupils and their data. We are more than satisfied with the extensive protocols and functions that IRIS Connect has available to make sure this is the case.

Secondly, we believe that this endeavour is not about increasing the number of summative observations a trainee will have but is instead about fostering a climate of ongoing formative observation and reflection that will support teachers as they continue to learn throughout their career. We must work closely with schools and trainees to ensure this vision is realised.

Finally, this work is part of a large introduction of learning technology to support the design and delivery of all Teach First programmes in a blended way. We aim to enhance the quality, efficiency and accessibility of our programmes and IRIS Connect is essential to that aim. We believe that we can provide better, more frequent interactions to trainees in all corners of the country as a result of the use of this technology, without letting costs sky-rocket.


1. Liang, J. (2015) 'Live video classroom observation: an effective approach to reducing reactivity in collecting observational information for teacher professional development', Journal of Education for Teaching, 41:3, 235-253, DOI: 10.1080/02607476.2015.1045314.

2. Lubke, J., McGill-Franzen, A., Ward, N. (2015) '"I am amazed at how differently I see things": Taking ideas and appropriating language from video observations of teaching', Video Reflection in Literacy Teacher Education and Development: Lessons from Research and Practice, Literacy Research, Practice and Evaluation, Volume 5, 297 - 312, Emerald Publishing Limited.


What’s your experience of using IRIS Connect in your school? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @TeachFirst

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Thank you to Deloitte, whose contribution to the work we’re doing has supported teachers working in schools as part of our 2020 cohort.

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