Monday, 31 December 2007

Happy New Year for 2008

What a view - 7 mile beach - hard to beat! This is my last New Years Eve in Cayman as I leave during the middle of next year for new projects and exciting opportunities. Can't think of anywhere that will have such a great view or climate than this though.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all those reading my blog - readership is now well into three figures from over 20 countries. Thank you for your interest in my blog which will keep going.

I hope 2008 brings you joy and success.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Electronic 'gadgets'in schools - the debate continues

A couple of days ago, the UK Childrens Minister, Kevin Brennan, raised the issue about the use of electronic 'gadgets' in school, and suggested that they should be kept out of the classroom. There are several issues here and no one would disagree that Game Boys, PSP's etc simply used for games are not necessary in the classroom although it could easily be argued that the brain training games on Nintendo etc are really beneficial and if every students did that for ten minutes at the start of every day it would really help them. As a Headteacher, I had no problem with students with game boys etc using them at break and lunchtimes - often in groups.

The same comment about 'gadgets' was extended to mobile phones. Talking about secondary age students, phones are as important a part of their social life as clothes (and possibly more important to some). They do not go anywhere without them and no matter what school policies are, they will have their phone somewhere. Trying to totally ban them is really making a rod for teachers back and not realistic in 2008. I have visited schools with airport style hand held detectors for use on anyone they thought might be hiding a phone - bonkers! Why would you? Equally I have visited a school where the Headteacher told me they had confiscated 730 in one term - not for being used but just for being present. Students were just keeping the SIM card and then getting a new phone - so a pointless exercise for all.

I know I have written on this before, but it is really about balance and schools having a policy about what is and is not acceptable and consistently sticking to it. Above all - it must make sense! How many schools have asked the students to decide the policy or have a strong voice in the decision?

In one of my schools the policy was simply they must never be seen during school hours unless given permission. Phones that rang in lessons or during breaks were instantly confiscated - no arguement. (This is even easier with the new confiscation powers that teachers gained in the UK this year.)

However, there is massive computing power in phones and other handheld devisces which should be utilised, including web browsing, camera, calculators et al. If students forgot their calculator, one of my maths teachers let students use the calculator on their phones, with permission. It didn't mean they started planning their social life in the middle of the lesson. Lessons were fast , slick and very good - they had no time to do anything other than maths. (There is an issue about quality of teaching here as well). We encouraged students to use the phone cameras for science experiments and on field trips and send the photos so they could be dropped into work.

Adminstratively they work as well - as a school we, on occasion, used to remind classes / students via text about important events or about homework, parents about parents evenings etc. When I had to close a school due to a burst water main or heavy snow, having almost every student able to phone their parents simultaneously saved many hours of phone calls etc.

There are downside issues to contend with, weak teachers can get taken advantage of, a few students do phone home fast especially if they get into trouble, but the pros outweigh the cons.

I would rather see a coherent balanced policy that makes sense to students, staff and parents rather than advice suggesting a blanket ban which makes zero sense to anyone as it is just not realistic in todays environment.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Not easy to read

I received a comment today (linked to the Rum Cake blog entry) noting that the blog was difficult to read due to the dark background. I have changed the font and text colour - I hope it helps.

I have also changed the font size of the story below for comparison -comments?

If it is still hard to read please do let me know
as the number of readers is increasing!

Thanks for the feedback.

Early morning television

I appeared this morning on another 'Day Break' (the Breakfast TV show') with the Hon. Minister, this time to discuss the conference in January (see post below). It was a great start to the interview that Donna Bush, our interviewer, really praised the work that we are doing in education live on air and noted that there was considerable public support for the education transformation work taking place. She said this not just as a journalist, but as a parent with children in the school system right now. As a public and very recognisable figure, she gets lots of feedback from other parents and has her feet 'firmly on the ground' and will certainly raise issues if she feels the need.

Six minutes live TV is not a long time to explain what we are going to be doing in London, but today, combined with a return visit after the conference should help ensure that we keep the community fully updated on the international interest in the Cayman story.

Whilst I arrived in the dark, as we left the television centre after the interview my eye caught the beautiful reflection of the trees in the early morning light in the studio windows - hence the photo. (Otherwise it might have been a much more boring photo of me in the studio! :)

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Spreading the education transformation word

I continue to be amazed really that there is so much interest in the education transformation process under way in the tiny country of the Cayman Islands. It is the holistic approach to total transformation that is most interesting to many. I written about it before but the Hon. Minister, accompanied by a small team of us to act as a panel, go to 'Moving Young Minds' (World Ministers seminar on technology in education) in London where he will address potentially dozens of other Ministers about our vision and progress towards achieving it. One hour of the session is Q and A's to the panel for which I have been trying to prepare.

Spending the day preparing presentation slides for unknown but anticipated questions from Ministers is quite challenging - the first time I have prepared work for this size audience of this calibre or status. We're trying to be really professional and have slides/images for almost every possible question allowing for technical questions, but not too technical, detail but not complex and so on. It doesn't matter if we don't have the slide - we have the people to answer the questions - it's just a matter of preferred style really. I'm just wondering really how many really obvious ones we'll miss!

This massive international focus on Cayman is AMAZING and I am delighted to have been an integral part of the process from the very start. A unique opportunity in the education world.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas to everyone! When I started this blog just a very few months ago I did not expect it to now be "hit" by people from 20 countries so far - I am surprised. The numbers of unique visitors is into three figures and the blog is visited every day by a number of people.

The much better publicised blog for the Ministry of Education,
"Building Cayman's Future" which I also largely maintain, has been "hit" from 78 countries with quite a large following. Amazing!

Have a happy and safe Christmas all - no blog entries on Boxing Day - that really is family time!

Monday, 24 December 2007

A tidy desk.......

It is rare for my desk to be quite so tidy.... and even the files will be gone when the new filing cabinet arrives... the effort to tidy it is really satisfying but so often the work keeps flooding in - well... it is a great excuse but that's all it is!

Time management and efficient filing systems are great skills - I just wonder why we still have so much paper when we are so into electronic filing systems. Much of this "stuff" is e-filed and backed up in goodness knows how many places - and then we collect the paper as well "just to make sure". I'm sure most of it is unnecessary. Potty really!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Grabbing 15 minutes

Planning with the Hon. Minister and Chief Officer at the same time is often quite challenging as everyones calendars are so packed full of meetings, engagements and other activities. Being together even in the same buildiong is rare. That means that whenever we are together we find a space even for 15 minutes and make the most of it by agreeing how we transition the next stage of the education transformation process.

As we plan for the international confererence in January, where the Minister presents the "Cayman story of education transformation", we need every opportunity to agree the words, images and resources. It is great fun but time is running out as we approach the Christmas season - the conference pack paperwork has to leave tomorrow, the rest follows very very soon!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Help Matopo School in Zimbabwe

A good deed for Christmas - Matopo School in Zimbabwe is trying to raise a few funds by encouraging people to log onto its new blog. Just by clicking onto this link will help raise some revenue.

Please click on the link below to help them get something extra - and please do pass this link around. I know traffic to my blog will slow down for Christmas so this link may reappear later at the start of the new term.

Click here and thanks!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Rum Cake - all for the sake of work - honest!

As we have spent the last few days preparing a major visual demonstration for the Minister to give at a World Ministers of Education conference in London early January, we had to take a photograph of a rum cake.

Why rum cake? - well Cayman is best known as being one of the largest financial centres in the world, and also as a top tourist destination. Less well known though is that its largest tangible export is ..... rum cake - thousands every day.

Having bought the cake, we worked in my office taking dozens of photographs. I thought it would look better sliced open.... the team working with me were happy to oblige. Lots of smiles, lots of crumbs - never was quite sure where the big slice went :) Needless to say it is absolutely delicious and as soon as the photoshoot was completed Ministry staff appeared from everywhere and the cake vanished just as fast! I do recommend it if you haven't tried it - hic!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

New School - create a reputation - one unbelievable self inflicted event - wrong reputation!

In one school I led as Headteacher, the vital priority was to transform the reputation of the school, especially in the local community. This takes time and needs a constant and consistent high quality approach to all the messages leaving the school, ranging from paperwork down to the messages that staff, students and parents carry out with them by written communication, word of mouth and behaviour.

One event, handled wrongly, MAY have a major negative impact, but inevitably in a school full of teenagers, things do happen. It's how they are handled that is important.

Folkestone Academy, with one the best new school buildings in the UK, open for just one term (Motto: Providing Excellence for Pupils of all Abilities) has just had all its good PR work for the term, as it builds a new reputation, totally damaged by the unbelievable actions of at least one teacher who apparently tied a student up with electrical cable in a lesson and told him to "grovel" if he wished to be released. This witnessed by a group of other students gathered round laughing. The fact that any teacher would think they could do anything like this really does defy belief. It has tried to be explained as a "good humoured" incident - this just doesn't wash.

The problem is, that as the school closes for the Christmas vacation, this is the last public message coming out of the academy with massive unfortunate national press covereage. The fact that two teachers were immediately suspended is a strong positive response, but some of this incident has the potential to hang around in peoples memories for years. This is not helped by the mobile phone video playing on the internet also showing students using inappropriate language in the classroom.

What are parents just choosing a new school for their yong children in that area supposed to do? They are looking for the highest quality teaching and learning experiences for their children. Do they treat it as a "one off" unfortunate incident, or as a signal of concern about the academy? Parents and community have very long memories - this will need a major professional and concerted PR job by the whole academy community to: a) undo the damage and b) build the reputation of the school back the excellence it aspires to.

I feel very sorry for Principal John Patterson. Starting a new academy is demanding enough - having to deal with a member of staff who does something like this he needs like a hole in the head! As for the teacher - well I think he needs to look for a new job! How can he go back to that academy? The potential "stick" he could get from students, parents alike could further damage the reputation of the school even further and be the cause of other disciplinary issues.
BBC report of the event

Watch video footage of the incident here

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Yes please - lets DO talk in lessons!

Some schools still have these unfortunate rules as standard in them - depressingly!
I was amused to read this week that a study from Cambridge University have advised that children should be allowed to talk more in class. It also advised that co-operation and collaborative working should be encouraged as providing "valuable opportunities" for learning.
Whilst the study goes on to note that the educational value of collaborative learning has been clearly demonstrated by a variety of research: "In particular, encouraging children to pursue joint goals, explain their understanding, express different points of view and attempt to reach consensus through discussion have all been found to help learning and understanding."
I just feel that the best teachers already know this and have, for years, been allowing their students to work collaboratively, discussing ideas, identifying solutions to challenges and evaluating their findings. This study really should come as no surprise to anyone!
It really is an artificial world if we constantly expect students to work in silence - we are actually harming students social and work skills. Adults don't work in this way - we may have to teach some of our young people how to use talk to aid learning, but that's how most of the learn during the times when they are not in schools. Social interation plays a key learning role in the social development of students. No one is saying that there are not some lessons where silence is important - but a variety of teaching and learning syles is important for everyone. The days of students working all day in silence in rows of individual desks has surely gone!
I can't wait to see how the Department for Children, Schools and Families prepare the promised materials that will provide guidance to teachers and children in how to use group discussion and talk about issues to solve problems. Isn't it common sense and wouldn't it be better to find and use good practitioners for those not confident in using discussion rather issuing a rule book?

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Never ever underestimate students....

This is a great bit of video that just demonstrates how a student achieved despite the odds.... I have seen so many teachers that do not see how their students can possibly achieve anything, simply because they do not do what they have asked everyone else in the class to do in the same way at the same time! The concept of emotional intelligences and using multiple teaching and learning styles to meet these still needs considerable development with terachers in many places.

One fit does not fit all - how often do we have to say it! Personalised learning is the only way forward for ALL our students. They have to have the opportunity to demonstrate their potential and they have to be accredited for their abilities and skills - some thing we still do not do enough of.

How do we know how anyone can perform unless we give them the opportunity and encouragement. This video just sums it up really - and it just not just apply to sports..... but so many different areas.

Click here for a great event, especially for the student concerned! -

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Schools within Schools CAN work

Images of one of the new campuses being built on the "schools within schools" model
Splitting one large dysfunctional school into four separate schools within one campus was one the initiatives I managed last year for the Ministry. With just 15 weeks to achieve every aspect of this total transformation, the challenge was high. With over 1,000 students on buildings spread over nine acres there were a myriad of issues including low expectations, morale and student behaviour. Big challenges bring adrenalin and as we achieved the target it yet again demonstrated the real importance of teamwork. We achieved what everyone said was impossible.

Sixteen months on, this "schools within schools" model each with a maximum of 250 students has made a dramatic difference to students and staff morale, parent satisfaction and the teaching and learning opportunities for students. Crucially achievement has begun to rise.

The three new high learning environments that we are building also reflect this "schools within schools" model. For this concept to work however, it is vital that we employ exceptional leaders and teachers with good (or better) teaching ability, skills and vision. There MUST be a culture of high expectation throughout and poor practice must be consistently challenged. The balance of the team is important ensuring that all core skills are taught (including literacy and numeracy) and that there is total access to the full curriculum. The sense of belonging has been significant in our experience but special focus must be given to those staff working "across campus" along with any subject coordination issues.
Where schools have split into smaller schools without this focus, then results have been really what one could predict. If you do the same thing as you have always done, even in a smaller environment, it is unlikely much would change. (The styles of teaching and learning within these new campuses MUST be different - there are few traditional classrooms - these are not "cells" and "bells" but large flexible teaching spaces but much more on this is in a separate post)

Other benefits of these smaller schools have been apparent and may be better than expected. The increased sense of identity and ownership of their small schools by students and staff has been dramatic, and the individual school identities, with a series of unique ideas and intiatives have been just plain exciting. Despite their own autonomy and acccountabilities, the School Leaders and Campus Manager fully function as a Campus management team ensuring full co-ordination.

If we can achieve this culture of high expectation an "ownership" on our new campuses, the future does indeed look very exciting for all those people using these new facilities and indeed for the country and students achieve higher standards.
Architects of new high schools: oWp/p, Concept designs by Fielding Nair International

Saturday, 8 December 2007

"My hope for the new high school is to get the right mix of education so that I can not only be noticed on the island but also be noticed worldwide"

A Year 10 student wrote these words recently ago when asked about her hope for the innovative new schools we are building in Cayman. They really sum up student aspirations. Her words have featured not only in a Ministry brochure updating the community about developments in education transformation but were also an important part of the recent public meetings chaired by the Minister as he updated all districts of Cayman.

This students' words now go international as they are being used for a major international education conference in the UK in January, where the video of her speaking them will be played to numerous Ministers of Education during a presentation about the education transformation process in Cayman by the Minister.

What is is even better is that the recognition given to her words has created ongoing dialogue between her student peers. What more can a system ask than the ongoing engagement of students?
Filming her at this location (Seven Mile Beach), also allow us the opportunity to also show another aspect of the Cayman Islands at the same time. (It may also make people jealous though!)

Friday, 7 December 2007

Christmas cups...

A clever idea - this cheery Christmas message is done by recycling plastic cups and pushing them through the dreary chain link fence - this school has had really positive many comments about their original idea and I think it is quite good fun. It works in Cayman where few if anyone would think of touching it, but I can't help thinking that in some communities someone might rearrange them to read something totally different and less appropriate overnight!

Pleasingly, since this photo was published on the blog it has been added to the Stepping Stones School (UK) on line Advent calendar which is, in itself, a brilliant idea. This really deminstrates how effectively ideas can be shared across schools and across continents! To look at the Stepping Stones calendar click the link and click on Dec 9th.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

MacBooks and wireless environments

A MacBook has crept into our PC dominated office - several staff have felt the need to "have a little play". It is really getting quite a few fans with a number of people wondering whether they should get one. There is no doubt that Macs have the design issue sorted - they are very very "sexy". Lots of debate going on, but the fact that a number of our professional visitors also use Macs often makes people wonder why. Those that use them seem to swear by them.

I also "borrowed" it for a weekend and trialed it (played?) at home - it was so easy to use and obvious (this from a life long PC user) that I must admit to being tempted. Interestingly, as I turned it on it promptly "found" an unsecured wireless signal, from goodness knows where, which allowed me the potential to access the internet. In many countries I would be guilty of stealing someone's signal. Already you can read of people appearing in court and being fined for doing precisely that.

Surely a priority of Governments should be to make wireless environments available for all - it's going to happen at some stage - it would be fantastic if it was sooner rather then later.

In Cayman, students at the University College already have free WiFi access (thanks to Digicel)across half of Grand Cayman, with total access by January 2008. This means the students can sit at home, on the beach or in their hammock to work, in other words, work where they want when they want. As one student noted -"it encourages you to want to work - I do far more work and research than I used to because I can always get on line" This probably says it all!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Economists monitor transformation progress

Meeting with Ms Christine Dawson and Mr Clarence Hinkson, Country Economists with the Caribbean Development Bank.
An interesting perspective today was a meeting I chaired with The Caribbean Development Bank’s Country Economists, as they to continued to conduct an assessment of the performance of the economy during the year for inclusion in their Annual Report. The particular focus of our meeting was, unsurprisingly, the education transformation agenda.

During the meeting a number of issues were discussed including: the ongoing initiatives to enhance education system in the Cayman Islands, the Curriculum review, school enrollment and pupil-teacher ratios at September 2007 and progress on new schools construction.

They were incredibly impressed with the work that we had undertaken so far receiving far more information than they expected, but particularly with the clarity of the vision, the breadth of the projects under way and the progress that had been made so far. This is just one of the many international organisations watching our progress with considerable interest, many cannot believe the ambitious agenda and timescales, but that is precisely what is making it all work.
The international focus is growing almost daily and the Ministry blog has, in the last month, attracted hits from 52 countries amazing us all!

Monday, 3 December 2007

Planning to communicate to an international audience

Presentation planning in the office with (centre) Professor Stephen Heppell and (right) the Hon. Alden McLaughlin, Minister for Education
A stimulating day as we plan a major international presentation for the Minister to present to several dozen of the worlds Ministers of Education later next month. Whilst the focus is on working towards 21st century education, the audience's context is so varied, ranging from those countries with everything to those with nothing, not even power in many regions, that how we communicate what we want is a stimulating challenge. However, all are interested in moving towards 21st century education styles.

The interesting thing is that, if you consider what we are doing in Cayman, that is the holistic approach to total transformation, the steps we are taking (or "ingredients") could be the same world wide, although the local "recipe" will vary from country to country. Our challenge is to put it in a way that is accessible to every country, and allow them to understand the process we followed.

This is not just about building new schools - it is about putting students at the centre and creating a system to support them to develop personalised learning styles and the skills and competencies that will prepare them for the future - something rather different from traditional approaches which try to prepare students for something that is either already irrelevant or about to become so. However, we are fortunate to be able to support this move with fantastic new learning spaces which will reallly enhance the opportunities for students, staff and the wider community as we encourage and move towards life long learning opportunities.

We have learnt much in the past two years, there is much that we can share and discuss. For those about to undertake a similar process in other countries, there are many people (and countries) who can provide support in a variety of ways. The real value will be from those people who are actually doing it, gaining the experiences and learning the lessons, rather than from those who hypothosise but have not actually been involved in implementation. Trying to improve the education system of an entire country presents a whole range of unique challenges, no matter what the size of the country and is totally impossible without coordinated teamwork across a range of expertise.

The international interest in what we are doing continues to grow and it is a real privilege for the Cayman Islands to be asked to do do this presentation at such an eminent gathering. As one of the "panel" for the event it will certainly be my biggest conference to date. I look forward to it with enthusiasm!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

If you get it right....... then who knows what follows!

So all you need is one good idea and combine it with passion, energy and drive right?? Maybe!

Paul Allen's yacht (business partner of Billl Gates) has caused quite a stir this week in the harbour. At $200m dollars to build and $20m annual operating costs, a permanent crew of 60 (including several Seals), two helicopters (one visible) , a 60 foot tender (visible) and a ten man submarine amongst others on board, the link below is really worth a visit - even for non yacht geeks - there are loads of photos - I love the water level hot tub and bar (with jet skis of course!) .

All you need is one good idea.........! Do check out this link!!!

Friday, 30 November 2007

What signs and signals DO we give out?

Whilst this road sign always makes me smile, it really is one of the least helpful signs I have ever seen - as one family member said "it's a bit late once you've read it!"

However I nearly always then end up thinking (worrying) about the signs that we consciously and unconsciously project as we take the entire education (not just teaching) force on a rapid journey towards 21st century learning - from 0 to 140 in two years (or less) - the only speed limit we have is our own capacity (as drivers of the project) for change! Nearly every aspect of their world will change and although the journey has already started, the challenge is to ensure that we take everyone on the same road - at the same time where ever possible.

We are learning as we go, we are looking at good international examples, but our journey is unique and we must project the most helpful and constructive signs in everything we do to support all those that work in our education system - all the time. The use of consistent vocabulary (with definitions) is vital and everyone has to have and believe the same road map.

Looking at road signs and thinking about education (again) - interesting!! (Perhaps I should get out more!)

Thursday, 29 November 2007

What - no rows of desk??

It is always inspirational when working with some of the worlds best really innovative forward thinking people, especially when they are both friends! We spent most of the day in my office planning the next stage for Cayman and the ongoing challenges. Transforming everything in education in one go is challenging (but also very exciting), reflecting on every stage of the process is a vital part of that developmental thrust which we ignore at our peril.

Whilst we take all best advice, especially from
Stephen Heppell and Prakash Nair, we are learning as we go, trying to make the best possible decisions, holding on to the vision and being brave. There is a reality issue though, as we build new learning environments without traditional classrooms (cells and bells), in ensuring that we take all those who will work and learn (which should be everyone!) in these new environments on the same developmental journey. Getting them as ready as possible for a totally new way of working is even more important than getting the buildings absolutely perfect. That is our challenge now - we have eightenen months! The planning continues tomorrow for hours - it really IS a good job we get on well.

A circular blog..

A bit bizarre really and a truely circular blog - me on a building site taking a photograph of Stephen Heppell taking a photograph of one our 21st century school's building sites. The resulting photo (above) on the Ministry blog links directly to Stephens' blog (27th November entry) which in turn links back to ours..... and so on..... is there no end?.... especially as this blog links to both!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Teachers inspiring through their own work

I received this poster recently promoting an art exhibition of work done by teachers in their spare time. It just made me think however, that shouldn't we be encouraging staff to undertake this type of work during the school day as well - in a variety of learning spaces, not being tied to specific specialist spaces - but ensuring that we provide opportunities for all forms of flexibility (or agility) in learning environments.

Most students I have worked with over many years love to see staff working on their own ideas and genuinely are interested - the questions and dialogue that emerge can be both inspirational and huge learning opportunities in their own right. There seems to be a reticence about doing that generally as we continue to "compartmentalise" our work in schools. It doesn't matter that at least one of the teachers is an english teacher rather than art - think of the creativity that could emerge of this combined discipline in some lessons, especially when looking at imaginative writing and thinking. There is no one right way to respond in this type of work.

These particular teachers may argue that painting is how they relax and that they don't want to mix work with pleasure, an argument I totally accept and I haven't asked them. However it did raise the question about how we encourage staff to develop their own creativity and use that ability to help inspire students formally and informally.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

How do we get students to care about clean environments?

Spending a few days in Washington DC, it is without doubt the cleanest city I have visited. Curiously, throughout my visit I have not seen anyone actually cleaning. Equally, neither did I see any anti litter signs or see anyone drop any litter, from groups of youths strolling around eating, to adults with loads of shopping and fast food. This was true in the morning and late at night, in shopping malls and in the streets, from national sights of historic interest to side roads.

This expectation that the environment is neat and tidy is clearly one that we should try and ensure all our young people value and want to incorporate into our learning environments. This really is an important message for all - easy to say but how easy is it to achieve in some school environments? Society, culture, public expectations, ownership - all are key factors that we HAVE to aspire to. It can be the only way forward. Students have to have ownership of their learning environments.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

ICT - students view - c/o Jonathan

Really interesting post by Jonathan regarding UK students view of the use of ICT - under the heading of "Action Research into mixed age teaching groups at a local primary school". Also interesting is the mixed age teaching concept, something we have been talking about here in some detail. It is a bizarre concept, as Professor Stephen Heppell is always saying, that we herd students into like age groups no matter what their ability - the only time in their lives that we do this to people and expect them to all learn at the same time.

Why do we almost always do that - even now and even if it doesn't make a lot of sense. The frequent answer of "that's how it's done" really is not good enough in the 21st century!

To read Jonathans' blog click here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Setting examples in rudeness

I spent some of yesterday sitting directly behind elected members in the Legislative Assembly whilst the Hon. Minister read two prepared statements, one a progress report on progress towards the transformation of the countrys' education service, and secondly an outline of the new roles for the existing Schools' Inspectorate, both of which I, amongst others had spent hours crafting. I was, again, fairly irritated that most of the members of the Opposition spent the whole time chatting, laughing and joking between themselves. I suppose one of the reasons I was a little fed up was that they clearly had no idea how long we had spent crafting the words to avoid confusion, ensure clarity and get as much information across as efficiently as possible. As least the members of the media present were taking copious notes! I was conscious that we have spent two years with copious consultation with members of the public, and many are really engaged with the process - to see the lack of interest, at this stage anyway, showed, in my opinion rather a lack of respect towards all those who have contributed to the national picture.

Unlike the UK the L.A. is not televised and I often think that this is such a good job. It sets such a bad example for those young people who may be visiting especially as they were talking about education! However, having said that the behaviour in the House of Commons in the UK is often far far worse!! We want people to be engaged, to participate and challenge - not ignore people talking to them. I appreciate that this is politics, but it just always appears so RUDE, and is certainly no example to others!!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Heritage does need to count

Visiting a school today in Cayman, I was given the rope, made from Silver Thatch Palm, photographed above (click on picture to read the caption). This was during a heritage day as all sorts of traditional cultural crafts were demonstrated. As we move more to a multicultural diverse and global community, it is really important that we keep that which is special to being a Caymanian within our system.
The priority is that being Caymanian should be "infused" throughout the curriculum, the school design and all aspects of school life. If it remains as a bolt on "special day" then we will too quickly lose that which is special. Having worked extensvely in the UK I know that it is already too late to celebrate being British there, society has moved on - Cayman is different - we can preserve it and make being Caymanian special. Whilst lots of people publicly pay lip service to achieving this. it will take all their concerted effort to achieve it - we can't just rely on the overworked teachers to do everything!! This is a society issue!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Tough places to work - Cayman Brac style

Pictured from left to right: Chief Education Officer; Mrs Shirley Wahler, Chief Officer of the Ministry; Mrs Angela Martins, and Rick Dewar Principal high school architect; owP/p
I am frequently caught talking about how basically you can work everywhere and a variety of working and learning spaces are vital for everyone. Visiting Cayman Brac for a public meeting with the Hon. Minister, a small group of us spent the whole afternoon working hard on notes and a presentation. We did actually work really hard for several hours - the location, with a warm breeze did help though. The view, rather than distract, encouraged us to work - although we did stop to note how inspirational a working environment it was.

Many students work in environments with no view, with windows covered or blocked, even though it is well known that this cramped "low vis" style negativley affects the ingenuity and quality of learning. Teachers who work hard to create these closed environments argue about about avoiding distractions - if the lessons were inspirational and exciting - this would be far less of a problem!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The planning and consultation brings results

Having chaired the National Education Conference 2005 and being one of the four people that wrote the "National Consensus on the Future of Education in the Cayman", it is really exciting to watch many of the ten strategies not just being planned but also now actively being implemented across the country. These include the implementation of the new governance model for the management of the education service, a new national curriculum, the establishment of a new Early Childhood Services unit, as well as as working on a new Education Law.

The implementation is really having an effect on many aspects of education in Cayman, and the resulting feedback is very very largely positive. You will never please everyone but there is now real structure to the system and improvements being made in almost every aspect of education. The small size of Cyaman makes rapid change possible - but there must be lessons here that can be shared with a variety of other interested countries - we have learnt so much!
Click here to access the National Consensus Document

Monday, 12 November 2007

Harnessing the passion and commitment...

The Cayman Islands national festival: "Pirates Week" started this weekend.... as normal amongst energy, excitment and fun, was the usual noisy but fantastic street parade, featuring a number of talented steel pan bands. These bands feature many of our students, including the John Gray High School Pan band which also features in the video link below.

At another school here, students in their steel pan band rehearse for two hours, three times a week and also for four hours every Sunday. This energy, commitment and determination to really achieve in pan does pose an interesting challenge for us. Many are more committed to this than their school work. The students have proved that if they have a "buy in" they are committed.. What is it we are doing, or not doing that does not engage them in their school work and a passion for life long learning?

There is no passing the buck here - it is about what we teach, how we teach it and engaging the students from the start so they can see the significance and want to be involved. Technology is a key response but not all the answer by any means. Many people still blame the students - get real - we need to really look at what we are doing and how we are doing it - this has to be done really soon before we switch any more off talented youngsters.!!!
Click here to experience the JGHS steel pans in action - it is worth it.

Getting the facts out......

(Pictutred above: Chief Officer of the Ministry; Mrs Angela Martins, Minister; Hon. Alden McLaughlin and me.)
One of the challenges, mentioned in an earlier post in this blog, is about trying to ensure we get the facts out about , not just the new schools, but also the progress made on all aspects of the education transformation process. Newsletters, press releases, brochures all do their part, but the Hon. Minister decided that we also needed to go "on the road". Last week, five public meetings over six evenings, with two more this week, has allowed him to give an up to date progress report complete with the facts. It also allowed the architects to present the plans for the high schools to everyone. This was followed by an "open mic" session for questions and answers - a whole team from the Ministry and Department of Education Services were also present to cover every angle - we stayed each time until they finished. It really did stress the importance of "getting out there" and mixing with the stakeholders. Interestingly, two of the main vocal opponents of the schools, who do not seem to have all the facts but who keep talking, have not attended even one of the meetings so far - perhaps tonight!.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Sustainable designs

As we (the Hon. Minister and team) have presented the new school designs at numerous public meetings all round Cayman recently, Rick Dewar, (pictured above), Principal architect with owP/p, has really been stressing the sustainability of the designs of the new campuses. This was a key requirement from the start of the design brief, but the public concern to ensure this happens has been high. Using the LEED criteria these schools will feature very high on the ratings in all respects.

Most importantly, Rick stressed to the audience that "these buldings, as much as any school in the world, will allow endless change in future teaching styles". This was also a key requirement from the initial stakeholder workshops with teachers, educators, parents, the private sector, led by Prakash Nair (FNI) and architects.

The intelligent use of glass in the Global Learning Centres has been one of the interesting discussion points - also to be used as a hurricane shelter, the public here are used to minimal windows in such buildings. The technological innovations taking place in all such building components are at such a speed that, unless we communicate it carefully, people are not aware of them, and therefore do not necessarily trust this move away from "what they know". Again, an interesting communication challenge for us all.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Creativity, ingenuity, and flexible working spaces

(Pictured from l to r: Trung Le of owP/p, with Craig Goodman and Maureen O"Shaughhnessy of CS&P Architects Inc.)
Ingenuity, creative thinking, conversations, sharing ideas, collaboration and discussion happen wherever like minded people find themselves together - they are rarely restricted by the lack of formal meeting venues. Often, these spontaneous interactions between colleagues can result in really high quality creative thinking and ideas. It usually takes little effort to find a small space that has the flexibility to let motivated people work - wherever they are.

Informally meeting up in the departure lounge of Owen Roberts International Airport, Grand Cayman, our architects from two different countries, working on separate education projects, waiting to fly in different directions just started talking and sharing thoughts, ideas and plans - we were really working in one sense.

The whole point though, is that it is no use us knowing how people like to work, unless we ensure we incorporate these types of flexible learning spaces into our new schools. Students are no different from adults - they WANT to work in a variety of ways - they keep telling us that. The design of "cells" or boxes" as learning spaces in new schools really does inhibit indivdual ways of working - we know that also. The challenge is not in the fact we know we need well thought out learning spaces (although they must be designed "very right"), but to challenge teachers to "be brave enough" (my usual quote) to adapt and learn news ways of encouraging students to learn the way they want to. Students will adapt to new style spaces and working styles extremely swiftly - their agility must be matched by the staff! We know that this just has to be the way forward!

I just love working with the motivation and creativity of these highly talented and committed professionals, - they are really just fantastic people and genuinely enthused about the world wide interest and excitement concerning the unique holistic approach to the Cayman Islands education transition plan.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Students really do know how they learn best...

Students really do have very clear views about how they learn best and what would help them do even better. Year 5 students working with architects today made it very clear what was important for them to be in their new primary school. They really quizzed and challenged the architects from CS&P - not just wanting to know what the new school might look like, but were very keen to ensure that it included a whole variety of spaces to enable them to do..... just about anything!
Boys, interestingly, were especially interested in how they would learn - and what their lessons might look like. they were not just interested in technology, but the importance of outdoor learning spaces, the need for flexible spaces for group work, teacher led work, "quiet" work and so on - the list was huge.
Another of their suggestions was for a "concentration room" so students could do their homework after school in a specially designed space - luckily for the architects, on site homework is one of the plans (with a different name though!). Between them, unknowingly, they covered many of the learning modalities identifed by Randy Fielding and Prakash Nair of FNI.
There was such enthusiasm and passion about learning it was a fascinating afternoon - I did wonder though a) how often do actually ask students about their preferred learning styles throughout our system and b) how we aggressively try to harness their enthusiasm and passion throughout their school career!

Monday, 5 November 2007

The second digital divide....

People still refer to the apparently decreasing digital divide - the increasing numbers of students and adult who have access to computers at home, the haves and have nots. Teachers are becoming increasingly confident in their use of ICT, both personally and in the classroom. In deed teachers interviewed for employment in the Cayman Islands, like increasing numbers of schools around the world, have to practically demonstrate ICT capability as part of the selection process. It will surely be almost impossible to function as a 21st century teacher soon without total ICT capability.

However, those just crossing the first of the digital divides are facing an even bigger and rapidly increasing hurdle that is scaring many to death - what I'm calling the "second digital divide". This refers to the massive growth of programmes such as instant messenger services, of "Face Book", "My Space", "You Tube" and so on. For the teachers just getting confident with email and introducing school based software packages to students learning, many have no idea what students are talking about if they get an email saying that they have been "poked", been "bought a drink" or had "fish added to their aquarium".

Some schools are "blocking" these sites, just as some still ban mobile phones - but none of these things are going to go away. Banning them is rather a futile exercise, destined to add enormous stress to teachers enforcing the policy whilst simply making them even more attractive to determined students. To quote one article I read recently - "get used to it - it's not going away!".

Schools (not just teachers) have to find ways to harness the energy, commitment and massive ability of their students in these communication forms. Why not harness the energy of cameras and web browsers in phones? It is really established practice in the more enlightened schools, who already have students on field trips sending photos and text back to school based students during a combined project. Students already do have homework discussions with their peers on Face Book, but have the added advantage of their other contacts contributing, often improving the quality of the work and discussion. They send work to each other and work collaboratively back and forth. Just recently I watched my daughter hold thirteen simultanous on-line conversations, whilst working - and the ideas about course were bouncing between each other, including giving advice on how to approach the project differently. Students are doing it now - its the staff holding them back!

The challenge is developing the protocols, training and ideas for the development of this technology and create the learning environment for students to use it without abusing it. No one has said it is easy but students will get used to it far quicker than most teachers!

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Challenge - How do we communicate to EVERYONE?

I am really concerned that we tell as many people in Cayman (and beyond) the progress that we are making in the transformation of the education system.- it is actually a real dilemma how we do this constantly, effectively, efficiently and accurately. This is really SO important as so many people in Cayman are affected. It is also important to counter the uninformed (and often inaccurate) comments of those opposing the new schools being built - mainly on the grounds of cost. They fail to mention that schools are but a portion of the total transformation process under way. The new campuses are so much more than schools: community buildings (open 7 am. -, community sports facilities, hurricane shelters etc.)

Press releases (when they are actually published) are often out of date straight away, not every one reads the papers. Media adverts are expensive, and there are only so many times one can do radio and television slots. The added issue with these is that one tries to get too much information out at once, and listeners, viewers don't take it all in. Again, there are only so many pubic meetings people will attend to hear progress reports.

The relatively new Ministry blog is just one way - this seems to be attracting quite a few readers - but again not everyone even knows what a blog is, yet alone read it. Giving all teachers an education email means that we can encourage them to read it easily..... the wider community is the challenge.

Our approach to this dilemma right now is to try and just constantly inform and encourage people to keep up to date... Suggestions???

No pressure then!

I am so happy that I started the Ministry of Education blog as we try to keep asany people as possible constantly updated with the very rapid progress we are making in the transformation of the education system. Importantly though it will it act as some record of the whole process. The readership is growing and we know that people from over 30 countries have already "logged on". I just wish we had started it earlier - Professor Heppell did suggest it a year ago.

I currently appear to be the main "author" though, with other staff writing from time to time and occasional posts from such key players as Professor Stephen Heppell, Prakash Nair and the architects.

Attending a public meeting with the Hon. Minister yesterday I was pleased to find us continuing to promote the blog with the address advertised on display boards, brochures and x thousand "give aways". However, this really means we have to constantly keep it up to date. I must really must increase the number of authors....... no pressure then!

For those who have not visited the Ministry of Education blog - click here!

Friday, 2 November 2007

The school environment really is important!!!........

Take one of the drabbest buildings I have ever seen in a school, (that has remained the same for years), appoint one new Principal who recognises the real importance of the school environment, add students work - and the results can make a real positive difference! The sudden appearance over the mid term break of these amazingly colourful tile panels makes a massive difference to the Administration block of one of our schools. Additionally, not only does it celebrate students work, it also emphasises the local culture - both massively important.
This is just part of an new but ongoing programme of sharing students work in all public areas thoughout the school, including inside the building, around the compound and in the Principals office. With this building slated for demolition in less than two years, it would be really easy not to bother - but we have a duty to make things as pleasant and as comfortable as we can for those who remain in the school. Far too many people do not consider the school environment and the impact it has on student attainment and attitude.
It is phenomenal how many people have really positively commented on this artwork in the week that it has been up - but it's not rocket science!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Too much work - not enough play!

This week I took just two days off mid week - the first since March - lazing on virgin sand on the fabulous Seven Mile Beach for both days and darting in for a pub lunch and a few games of pool the short times it rained made me feel so much better - the work life balance thing is really important - I'm a great one for saying "I don't have time there is so much to do to take time off" .... but these two days reminded me I really don't have time to miss the opportunties I have whilst living here. I've vowed to take more time off - we'll see what the reality is!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Yes - we really do want your views..

Thinking back on the schools I have led, everyone is always so busy doing "things" that it is often claimed that there is not sufficient time to really do enough of the critically important things - like thinking about how we really want teaching and learning to be like both now and in the future.
In one of our best primary schools, which is about to be replaced with a new building, a series of staff meetings with architects, followed by another led by myself, the Chief Education Officer and other Education staff, really started them thinking "outside the traditional box". From a fairly "heres another talkshop" start, the conversation got really animated and high quality discussion and ideas starting bouncing around the room. "One teacher simply requested - just let the buildings allow me to be as creative as I want to be" when talking about the way she worked, in groups, collaboratively, practically, using project areas, research, quiet areas and so on....

What was really great was that their really excellent ideas were not about "just give us more: space, facilities, resources, staff, storage etc" but making much better use of similar spatial areas - flexibility was a key word. As an ongoing discussion, there is no doubt these guys are on the same page as us. With more meetings planned really soon the conbversations should just get better and better.
It was just so refreshing to hear a united staff, who are already creative, wanting to do things different and keep getting better.

The best commuter journey??

I often take for granted the 35 minute commute to meetings on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, which I do frequently and again twice next week.... no where can beat the beauty and colours as we fly across to some of the most idyllic islands around - Cayman Brac is my second home. Photos from planes never do them justice but it sure beats the M25 in the UK. I really must appreciate these journies whilst I can I guess - you certainly can't beat them!

Schools as community facilities - design implications in reality -

So we are designing a three new high schools and one primary, each with a full range of facilities to help the community. Meetings have taken place with medical people for a small treatment room, a dental surgery, community library folk, the youth department, the sports departments for sports events, social services, the police, - all very commendable and truely the direction I feel school should go as we move to a 7 - 11p.m facility.

However, visiting a school last week with a colleague we noticed three teenagers "floating high" as they weaved through the school compound. Their purpose - if they remembered, was, they claimed to visit the Social Services office, which was located, rather bizarrely, literally in the middle of the primary school campus. There is no way to get to it without walking through the compound with potentially very easy unlimited access to students - nothing to stop them! This is not helped by the fact that they can walk through the other side of the site - it is therefore a short cut as well for the less enthusiastic walker. Now nothing has happened ....... so far ...but the risk factor is high!

As we develop the new facilities I really do believe that they should be community campuses, but the design of where things are physically located and how it relates to the actual layout for students on a day to day basis on their site is a real issue of safety and child protection. How to integrate community services without affecting student and staff safety is the challenge for all. It is easy to say "don't have them on site" but that really is against our whole philosophy - interesting to see how we resolve this.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Little Cayman LIVE at "Be Very Afraid" in London 2

Students from Little Cayman Education Service live in "Be Very Afraid" have now taken part in a three way interview with Professor Stephen Heppell in London and the Minster; Hon. Alden McLaughlin in Grand Cayman.
This was followed by a two way conversation with the Minister as they described what they had been doing for the previous five hours in their live connection with the BVA exhibition. The electronic links were very reliable and a wide number of people from all over the world "chatted" to LCES students, including Norway, Zambia and Australia, whilst also being filmed by Eygption television.
This was an incredible morning for these students who, just three weeks ago, had very few ICT skills. It really is a great feeling to lead a project that has such a tangible feeling of success as it works. Just a few weeks ago they had little daily applications for technology - now "they all love it!" and use it heavily in their teaching and learning.
The other great asset from this event, albeit unseen by the majority, were the parents and community attending this event to see what was happening and how it worked - the two Dad's from the fire service (until the plane came in), grandmother who hadn't gone to bed the night before (not sure why) and at least one Mum who opened the Post Office late so she could see as much as possible. Only in Little Cayman!

Little Cayman LIVE at "Be Very Afraid" in London

History was made to day as students from the Little Cayman Education Service join in live the "Be very Afraid" exhibition of students using technology in London. This project, which I managed for the MInistry, in conjunction with Stephen Heppell and Mnistry technical staff allowed Little Cayman Education Service students demonstrate how they used their new technology to link with the UK to share lessons and learn from each other. The progress they have made in the three weeks they have had their Mac Note books has been truely remarkable and really has demonstrated the value that using technology can add to lessons.This particular blog entry is being written during this five hour event. Students, teachers and parents got up at 3.00a.m. this morning to start the link at 4.00 a.m. Year 6 student Arrowe has talked to over twenty people so far, whilst simultaneously taking their photographs, creating a picture wall, writing a blog entry and emailing work to the BVA event in London.Pictured above: Arrowe showing people in the UK where the Cayman Islands are, with Mr Mark Ray from the Department of Education Services holding the laptop with in built camera to show the map, and Arrowe talking to visitors at "Be Very Afraid", something he will be doing for five hours. Year 2 student Jovian was rather too shy to talk although he did wave at some visitors.