'The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.'
20,000 Leagues was a classic adventure novel, written in 1870 by the French author Jules Verne. In this novel, we meet Captain Nemo and his crew onboard his submarine, the Nautilus. Described as 'the masterpiece of all masterpieces', this magical creation roams the oceans and seas, searching for a more harmonious existence having become increasingly disillusioned with mankind.
Education should always have magical stories and adventure at it's heart. Teachers are our best advocates of fantastic literature, and so the prospect of exploring our school seems to bring a sense of adventure to this process. There is no doubt that if we want to get to the core of our schools daily business, we would need to take regular time to explore. If we can do this, and in the right way, we can begin to discover more. This can inevitably lead to better decisions, involving more of your crew along your journey.
I'm not Captain Nemo, you are! Any person who is responsible for steering the school ship is in a position of great opportunity. However, I found that as a long-serving Headteacher, certain demands could easily shackle me to my desk. There were times when I found that navigating around the school and looking closely at the learning, depended on cycles for appraisals and formal observations. Learning walks seemed to be a nice idea but were often less effective due to a slow and ineffective paper trail. I found that rather than supporting improvement through quick and useful feedback, we were working summatively and systematically. Observations were standalone, often inaccurate and therefore provided less effective next steps. Observations were often solitary, time consuming and limited.
These common issues were not going away, and so I decided to change the direction of this process. To do this, I made a crude survey tool that provided a focus on the key areas of learning. This was done by using an ipad. I left the focus area headings loose so that I could add any reference to what I may see. Then I invited eight Headteacher colleagues to join me. I asked the specialists to observe their areas, and within one hour, we had generated twenty four, fifteen minute observations. I then used this information for staff feedback the next day, and within my big accountability meetings including our inspection. I soon realised that the terms 'reliable and valid' could be applied to this process. I then used it with governors, which made our meetings much more learning focused. From here, I began to see the possibilities, working better and closer with staff and external partners. Finding more significant and often quick fix areas for improvement, working smarter with my teachers, who were much better placed to observe with me.
And so I talked to companies about developing this tool. Dan, or Professor Arronax as we might call him, had the programming skills to bring the concept to life. Along with Ned Lands and his friend Consiel, we could create a magical team that could bring our prototype to market, and to help Headteachers to apply their expertise more directly to the school improvement process.
David Rushby was a long serving Headteacher, author of the 'myfirstmobilephone' online safety scheme, school improvement consultant and creator of Nautilus. In twelve years as a Headteacher, he was successful in leading his school from special measures and requires improvement to two consecutive good judgements. Described as an 'inspiration' within the inspection reports, he is now committed to helping other school leaders to get the best out of their school improvement process.
David drew this picture when he was 7 years old after a trip to the Bradford Odeon. It's a picture of Captain Nemo, Ned Lands (as played by Kirk Douglas) and the magnificent Nautilus.
When David and I first discussed his vision for a school improvement tool I was instantly excited by the potential of technology to simplify and enhance the learning walk process and to use data to guide school improvement.
As a long in the tooth software and data engineering professional, from a large teaching family, I felt I had exactly the skills to bring Dave's Nautilus vision to fruition.
We hope you will join us on the journey of empowering school leaders with a depth of insight into their schools.