Behind any thriving school network are one or two teachers driving change. Jack Kenny talks to those who lead with their keyboards
Improvement in schools is based on teamwork, but rarely starts that way. Instead, changes emerge from remarkable individuals who cajole, bully, annoy and, sometimes, inspire their colleagues. Nowhere is this more true than in information and communications technology (ICT).
Alastair Wells, of Netherhall School in Cambridge, is an inspiration. Last month, at the BETT technology show, he delivered the main speech for the British Educational Suppliers Association - and stunned his audience. Netherhall is pervaded in the best possible way by ICT What's more, all of it is used - from the minidisc recorder that will do the sound effects for the school play, to the cost-effective network computers carrying most of the Internet burden. The school is in the forefront, lively and innovative, sought after by companies to run trials and projects.
Carol Rainbow is at The Manor Primary School, Long Hanborough in Oxfordshire, and part of her work has been to produce one of the best primary school websites in the country. Carol sees the site as a showcase for the school - an entrance hall which can be frequently updated.
"It is motivation and stimulation for the children, an educational resource and a window on to the world," she says. "Our website also serves as a link to the Internet through the Ultimate Bookmark Page, where there are links to sites relevant to our school, children, parents and staff. It also provides a huge amount of round-the-world contactI people write in about everything imaginable. We have had people who used to live in the area, go to the school, have families that go or went to the school, are studying some of the topics, and just want to say hello! This contact is inspirational."
Not all inspirational teachers are technically adept. Lawrence Williams of Holy Cross School, New Malden, would not describe himself as technical. He has focused principally on communications. The video-conferencing work that he has done with a school in Japan has been meticulously documented and has also gained a great deal of recognition. Blue Peter featured some of the work at the school.
Williams attempts to show staff that ICT "brings together the secondary curriculum in a more holistic way by allowing access to student and teacher audiences across the world - by email, email attachments, video-conferencing".
Realistic innovation is the province of Gwyneth Windsor at Fulston Manor School in Kent. She so impressed her local MP that her work has been mentioned in Hansard. The pioneering work with multimedia is always rooted in real practice. Gwyneth, an electronic publishing consultant for Heinemann Educational Press as well as a teacher, expects and receives professional standards from her students. She is a teacher who leads by example, believing that the product is just as important as the process. The inspiration here comes from a woman who is passionate about the benefits that multimedia can bring.
A deep belief in the contribution that ICT makes to learning underlies all the work. Alastair Wells believes that it is about "fast access to useful resources, a motivator for learning, because it is stimulating, with sound, colour, movie, graphics and interaction. These are all characteristics of what pupils expect these days, not only from a TV programme but also in their entertainment. Pupils are technology-wise and the Internet is a natural medium for them."
arol Rainbow wants to transmit her own energy: "My enthusiasm is natural and infectious - I am lucky in that respect because I do not have to work at it. I am just very excited about the use of ICT in school: I am positive, and keep trying to introduce new things which involve everybody to some extent or other; I put email messages up for all to read; read out messages to the kids in assembly; as far as possible involve everybody in all of the stimulating projects that I can find. I try to make it available for all, take digital images of nearly everything that is going on and make each class have website pages.
What is the advice that they would give to other people needing inspiration? Alastair Wells is clear: "Never say No -this means providing huge amounts of support and identifying what is relevant, who is going to benefit most from my time, and who is able to take it forward and share their new-found expertise with others. It means constant interruption and little time to manage your own needs during a school day - and, as expertise develops, there are even more demands.
"I work with colleagues on a one-to-one basis. I work with groups and departments and update staff through whole-school meetings and bulletin notices. My own colleagues - network manager and IT technician - lend similar support. I never approach a colleague unless I know I have something they need or will really use. Identifying need is essential - unless colleagues have a need, they tend to be pushed and that is a bad starting point."
So what do they have in common, these staff who capture colleagues' imaginations? A sincere belief in learning technologies and learning. A delight in exploring new areas and an insistence on high standards. An eye for detail and enthusiasm. All of these. But vitally, in education at least, they have a dedication to their students. The respect of and for the staff. Time to spend and a mission to explain. And finally, they must be out in front without being out of sight.