Monday, 31 December 2007
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Sunday, 16 December 2007
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! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6cOp6EDFlI
Thursday, 13 December 2007
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"
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?
Friday, 7 December 2007
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
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
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.
Monday, 3 December 2007
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
Friday, 30 November 2007
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
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.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
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
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
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
Monday, 19 November 2007
Thursday, 15 November 2007
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 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
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.!!!
Saturday, 10 November 2007
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
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
Monday, 5 November 2007
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
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???
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
Sunday, 28 October 2007
Thursday, 25 October 2007
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.