ESL TeachingTraining

Remote Teacher Observation (RTO)

The Concept

RTO is a process which was created by the author to serve the needs of schools, institutions and teachers around the world who may not have access to regular, high-quality, guiding observation for language teachers.

While teaching is at least as much 'art' as 'science' and we don't necessarily have all the answers to how language learning is best achieved, we do know quite a lot, after some years of research and practice and RTO is designed to support teachers in the quest to do the very best for their students and for their own professional development. Sometimes, it's as simple as having another pair of eyes on a situation so that the teacher can get another view, so to speak. At other times, teacher can pinpoint a particular problem they would like help with, in either case, RTO is a professionally enhancing response.

Because teachers work largely in a void they can often benefit from a series of skilled observations followed by generative feedback designed to support and encourage their professional progress. RTO is about maximising and adding to the tools a teacher has, it's not about picking up on language errors but on working with a teacher from their own perspective, in their own context but from a distance!

Being observed is an important part of every valid teacher-training course, whether an entry-level CELTA or a Post Grad degree in teaching, so the RTO is really an extension of those programmes for teachers already working.

Unfortunately teachers sometimes feel they are being observed as an ‘error spotting’ exercise and needless to say, that must have a negative impact on their performance. Very often, feedback too is a series of do’s and don’ts rather than a dialogue between two teachers. I specialise in helping teachers develop through positive, constructive feedback. RTO is a collaboration between professionals.

How it Works

The system I have developed, ideally uses two observation points to monitor both students and teacher since we know that there are times when a teacher acts in a certain way as a direct response to something a student has said or done; it’s important to be able to see both the teacher and the students to gauge best how to help that teacher. Having said that, if a teacher cannot manage two simultaneous recordings, one can be enough as long as the filming shares time between teacher and students.

It may be possible to position a device (laptop, webcam, mobile phone, ipad etc) in such a way that it picks up both teacher and students. It's always best if students are not really aware that they are being filmed1 since their behaviour naturally changes when they know! If that isn't possible, then have the equipment around for some days before the actual recording so that they are used to seeing it.

Recording sessions should ideally be between 20 and 40 minutes of continual recording and must be of sufficiently good quality to be clearly audible and visible! They should also include plenty ot Teacher-Student interaction as well as phases of instruction giving, correction and language focus.

After recording, the teacher uploads the clip to a pre-agreed folder and I will view it. Next we arrange a skype session to discuss the recorded lesson segment and the teacher's and my views on it. Written feedback is also possible if required.

I recommend that teachers have regular RTO sessions, perhaps once a year or so for full time teachers to ensure that we can help them maintain their developmental progress.

Schools and institutions which use RTO will receive a certificate for each teacher who uses the resource so that using RTO can be seen as a positive marketing device as well as a great teacher support programme.

For further information and a pricing schedule, email:

1. [teachers should be sure that they are abiding by local laws when filming children in class]


These scenarios do not depict real people or places but are an amalgam based on my experience working with teachers and schools around the world, they are typical of contexts in which I have offered support and tailor-made advice to professionals.

Scenario 1

Alison has been teaching English to primary age children for 23 years. Her students love her and she loves her job. However, she gets no support from her managers and has no CPD programme to help her achieve her professional goals. In fact over the last few years, she has become somewhat disillusioned and feels isolated and trapped in a cycle of teaching the same lessons from the same books. She booked 3 RTO sessions using 2 cameras, one, her own phone propped up on her desk to face the children and the other, a laptop camera set on a bookshelf facing her. We worked together to help her find positive strategies to deal with her situation, revitalise her teaching and develop practical answers to questions she had about the use of technology, games, homework and class management. We plan to visit Alison again next year!

Scenario 2

Tamás is a young teacher working in a commercial language school where the other teachers, with no professional stimulation, have become bored and unchallenged. He is newly qualified and wants to ensure that he does the best job possible. Unfortunately, his DoS sees observation as a way to make teachers work in his way, using old-fashioned, grammar translation methodology. We set up 2 RTO sessions with Tamás using 2 different classes. He explained to his young adult students what we were doing and they were enthusiastic. In fact one of his students volunteered to take the 2nd camera footage while Tom's own Ipad was set up at the back of the room. Tamás was pleased to find that he's already working in a very efficient and effective way and together we developed some ideas about communicative activities and teaching pronunciation. Since our RTO sessions, Tamás has been promoted to the DoS position when the previous Dos retired.

Scenario 3

The Exxxx Lxxxx Cxxxc is a medium sized language school in Asia. Its owner is not a teacher but cares about her teaching staff and the quality of their teaching. She booked 2 RTO sessions with each teacher and over 3 months we conducted successful observations and feedback, including an extra group feedback session to support the idea of peer observation and setting up a self-driven CPD programme in the school. The school owner invested in webcams so that we could have the best possible recording facility. RTO will be returning to that school next year.