What can leaders learn from educators using video observation?

Leaders, managers and coaches are often cited as being starved of the internal support network they need to train themselves. Instead they are sent on external training programmes which aren’t tailored to them specifically, giving them a generic over view of skills in a one-size-fits-all capacity. Which is bad for them, bad for their employees and bad for business.

But there are ways to tackle this issue, so in this article we are going to be looking at how new attitudes towards video observation can help in the quest for more collaborative and culture-led leadership development.

How video is currently being used

Video is still a massively underrated tool in all training, not just leadership programmes, and when we were researching for this article we found that the only real place that video is fully embedded as a trainer training tool was in the US; specifically in schools to help train teachers.

The Best Foot Forward Project, set up by those clever folks at Harvard University’s Centre for Education Policy Research, was designed to investigate what happens if in-person observation was replaced by video in the school classroom. The results proved that video was not only as effective, but also had a number of additional benefits for the teacher as well as the school.

Many of the teachers who took part in this project found they noticed the opportunity to give personal development feedback. Such as saying ‘like’ like totally too often, and fiddling with things unconsciously. However, once they got past all of this visual noise they started to see how they interacted with their students, and more crucially how their students reacted to them. Allowing them to analyse how they could consciously improve upon their methods.

De-privatising self-development

One of the interesting elements of the Best Foot Forward Project was the idea of ‘de-privatising’your self-development. This is about using a tool like video to make your self-development a collaborative process and looking outside of yourself for greater understanding and awareness. Or more specifically not treating yourself as an island and making the mistake of undertaking your development in isolation.

The introduction of video into the school classroom allowed the teachers involved to see themselves in context, it gave them the room to reflect on their skills and techniques and open themselves up for communication with their peers for a greater level of feedback and reflection.

Peer-to-peer support

One of the most positive outcomes from the project was that video was used to create a peer-to-peer support network. The teachers who were filmed were encouraged to share their videos with other teachers during Video Club, giving them the opportunity to get feedback from other teachers from all levels and experience. The study predicts that if video is used more going forwards, the benefits to students will be huge, as they will have teachers who know themselves better as educators and leaders. If video observation worked in this use case, what about in other training scenarios and teaching across the pond in the UK?

Changes in practice

A common problem with poor one-on-one feedback is that once feedback is given as a statement. For example, ‘you did this wrong’. There is no real change to the employee’s behaviour going forwards, as the employee isn’t given more information on why he or she did it wrong and how not to make the same mistake again.

However, with the video observation tool used in the school teaching environment, teachers who participated were more accepting of the scores their supervisors gave them for their performance and they were quoted as being: ‘More likely to describe a specific change in their practice resulting from their post-observation conference’.

This shows that video provided a true account of the teacher’s methods and allowed them to see with their own eyes what they were doing and how that related to their performance scores.

How does this relate to training leaders?

According to research by CIPD, on the job training and in-house development programmes are now the most effective ways to deliver training. With key areas for management training being around skills development and thinking in a more future-focused way.

This is a significant shift from the days of classroom-training being the norm. With experts highlighting that this kind of old-world one off bombardment of information lacks engagement and doesn’t provide leaders with the real world skills that can be applied to their actual work. The other main criticism is cost, both in terms of financial and the time it takes away from the trainee’s daily work.

However although formal training is still very necessary to training and development, many of the positives to come out of the Best Foot Forward Project surrounding the adoption of learning technology can be applied to leadership training. By replacing or subsidising the classroom experience with video role play or filming the leader at work would open up a much wider channel for self-reflection and feedback if approached properly. Video will allow the leader to see how others see them, but it will also give them a true reflection of how they really work rather than how they think they work (the two can be very different!).

As proven by the Best Foot Forward Project, shared peer to peer reflection is a really strong form of development and video facilitates this process. Work peers can provide invaluable insight into leadership development and provides a collaborative approach to learning.

What are the benefits for the organisation?

Capturing an interview recording on DSLR

What implementation of learning technology often comes down to is ROI. Video is no longer an expensive option for businesses. Most smartphones, DSLR cameras and tablet devices have high definition video built in, allowing you to record any scenario anywhere. Unless you’re looking to record a high-end customer facing video, own device productions should be more than sufficient.

Another factor to consider is investment in time. Managers can record themselves and their peers on the job and watch it back at their leisure, making it less disruptive to their working day and less disruptive to their output than traditional training that may take them out of the office for full days or even weeks. Making video not only more cost effective but also more time efficient.


Video observation can be used to dramatically enhance established training practices, fostering a culture of leaders looking to their peers for feedback and support as well as looking at their own work practices for greater understanding of themselves and the way that they work. So what are you waiting for… start recording today.

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