On 2014 so far…

As I write this post from my living room come home office, we are within touching distance of being able to use a full and finished version of SISRA Observe, our new lesson observation tool. BETT is upon us, the SISRA Analytics pilot is 3 days in and our first ever annual conference, Empowering Improvement is just 8 weeks away. SISRA has grown exponentially over the last couple of years with no signs of letting up, having taken on a new school every day since the autumn term began in September! The office has a buzz I haven’t felt before but it feels wonderful and I hope I speak for everyone when I say I’m ready for whatever 2014 may bring!

Life can be cruel sometimes and losing my Dad unexpectedly three weeks ago made Christmas a sad time in my household, sprinkled with the odd moment where I was left feeling that any future success would be bittersweet without an important supporter there to see it unfold. I’m told time is a healer, and given little other option I have chosen to believe it. One thing I do know, is that I couldn’t have come this far without the professional support of the SISRA directors Terry and Jon who have shown complete faith in me, and without the love and understanding from my wonderful husband, Jason.

On SISRA Observe…

It’s been an exciting and challenging first project, and seeing the ideas which have consumed my thoughts being created (as if by magic) on a screen has sent me from the extremes of happiness and fear and trepidation at various times over the last 10 months. It’s just not normal to go to sleep thinking obsessively about what colour pie charts would work best!

But I am here nonetheless, and SISRA Observe is looking and feeling really great. I don’t have children, but I can only imagine the relationship between myself and Observe as one akin to a mother and daughter (yes, Observe is female). Like a proud mother I have talked to anyone and everyone about what Observe does, and why I hope it will make a difference to the lives of teachers, helping them to monitor and improve the quality of teaching while importantly saving them time and administration.

Where it all started…

My career in education started at The Dean Trust in Trafford. The trust is made up of Ashton on Mersey Academy, which has recently received its fifth Outstanding Ofsted report, Broadoak School, which received its first Outstanding while I was there, and most recently Forest Gate Academy. Having dealt with every type of school data in this role, I already had a solid understanding of what lesson observations involve and had created something of my own in Excel to allow easy analysis and evaluation for the SLT, something I now realise is done by one or more senior leaders in the vast majority of schools.

While at the Dean Trust, I would spend many an hour with Kevin Green who was an Assistant Head at the time but who has since gone on to achieve a Deputy Headship at Manchester Health Academy. We would sit in his office with a cup of tea and a few biscuits and talk over the data for KS4, testing out hypotheses and playing about with the latest assessment data trying to spot trends or patterns in the large Y11 cohort. Shortly after bringing SISRA Online in to the academy, I remember summoning him and the Head of Year 10 to said office, where I sat them down and performed a mental arithmetic style SISRA quiz, which I then marked and returned back to them! I bet they just loved me!

It was also Kevin who first asked me to look at the teaching and learning data, sparking my interest and giving me the opportunity to create something Excel based to help him identify potential coaching and mentoring pairs. In the sometimes relentless school environment, I was grateful for the relationship between Kevin and I, which was one of mutual respect and trust and having seen each other recently at an ASCL day, I was able to fill him in on the project.  I also took the opportunity to express my thanks to him for treating me with kindness and for playing an important part in my own development personally and professionally. As the famous Maya Angelou quote goes…

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Never one to be content with helping just one school, the time came for me to move on from the Trust and embark on a new challenge with SISRA.  It wasn’t long before I began thinking more and more about the teaching and learning data, along with other things like behaviour and attendance which I used to be involved with. I knew that I could help schools to use their lesson observation data more effectively, using the themes from the work Kevin and I had done and so I decided to put pen to paper. Sure I could have created a lovely spreadsheet for schools to use and then give it to anyone who was interested, but the thought of thousands of senior leaders spending Sunday nights inputting data to a spreadsheet just didn’t sit well with me, and the realisation that I could change that was too big a chance to miss. I wrote down a brief plan and spoke to Terry who asked me to flesh it out and run the figures to see if it was viable. I dutifully went away and came back with a detailed document, mock up screen shots and lots of graphs, tables and charts showing the analysis I wanted to be able to provide.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So back to my living room come home office where I sit with the very highest hopes for the success of SISRA Observe. We all know hoping won’t get you very far so on that note, I have work to do. 

Thanks for reading.

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