Friday, 31 August 2007

The media - aaaaah!!

I do hate it when a few journalists let others down. A story published today reflects an interview I and others were in. The journalist neglects to mention that he interviewed us some weeks ago, prior to performance data being available and he also failed to follow up nearer print time. The results are now here! There are glaring factual errors in the story - maybe next time he interviews us for a story he may want to check facts. It would really help if he had put at least one word down in the notebook he held the whole time - it remained blank for the entire one and a half hour interview! Perhaps it was designed to give us confidence in his reporting ability - if this was so - it failed! When a whole country is trying so hard to improve standards it can be demoralising when parts of the story are not accurate.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Non visionary architects

Whilst sitting on a panel selecting architects for a new primary school that matched our country's vision for 21st century schools in a new paradigm of education, it was very depressing to see one local firm acknowledge that they knew all about our new vision for schools and then sit and present old plans for an existing school. They then compounded the issue by informing the panel that they would just add more square boxes (or classrooms) to increase the capacity. It was mindboggling in its "wrongness". How do apparently "well respected" companies bid for such a major project and demonstrate so little lack of understanding or even the most basic research?? All the information is on the web! The panel was really lost for words - unusually. Mind you, arriving late and saying they would have to leave within a certain time if we were not finished did not show real commitment to wanting the job! Another view to consider though is that if they didn't get the new moves in education - do other more vital stakeholders, including parents? Ummm!!

Watch out for the men

It was really funny to see that some staff at one of our high schools still do not believe that new schools are being built in Cayman. Today, at the start of the year, those disbelievers were asked to check out the school playing field, but were also asked not to disturb the workmen preparing the site. Maybe now they will begin to believe.....

The photographs may only show some new fence posts, but the message behind the start of this work is huge.

A new year... a new start.

Photo to follow

It is such a good notion that a new Chief Education Officer would not just have a "start of term staff meeting" with all education staff in the service, but also have all her new team present and demonstrating what is going to be different. It is not just talk - this is real! Having the support of the Minister of Education and Leader of Government Business present lends real weight and kudos to what we are trying to achieve. It was a priviledge to "MC" this event and see some long serving and at times cynical teachers actually begin to believe something will be different. Never before has there been this demonstration of services, led by able professionals, and diversity of talent to support learning for all students. An truly impressive start!

Communication, communication, communication

Photo to follow

A really fascinating day on Cayman Brac with the new Chief Education Officer, and her senior team simply telling teachers what was going to be the new future of education in the Cayman Islands. There was real explanation of each persons new role and how they were going to be available to support all teachers in improving learning opportunities for students. There was more interest and "buy in" than I think I have ever seen before. We need their commitment if we are to be as brave as we want to be in the transformation of education process. People often forget how essential real and continuous communication is to ensure teacher "buy in" - we forget at our peril.

Welcoming Reception??? NOT

This is, without doubt, the worst reception area I have ever seen in a building associated with education. The glass is so dark you cannot see through it, which leaves any visitor just two options. If tall you can peer through the tiny round hole, or if even slightly vertically challenged, you have to double up and peer through the narrow slot at the bottom of the window. This gives a clear message, but not one of welcome! What really concerns me is how anyone with the slightest intelligence could have a) have designed it and b) when it was installed think it was acceptable. It stayed there for two years!! Needless to say it has now been torn out altogether to provide open more flexible spaces.

Schools should be FUN!

It's great to see a school incorporating fun into a student social area - it is so important to link high expectations with enjoyment in learning environments. However not many schools would feature the Minister of Education driving the bus and I fear the cartoon person behind the driver is supposed to be yours truely!! A compliment I am sure.

Travelling in style?

Just not too educational but it was great fun to fly across to Cayman Brac for the public launch of the new Education Service to education personnel and have a plane to myself and my colleague. I fly a lot between the islands and this is pretty unusual. The rest of the group, travelling later, had a very full plane. But alas, no champagne - the only refreshments being a cooler with little bottles of water. Hope they get it right next time.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The start of something new!!

Fascinating to be in on the start of something new and exciting. The first staff meeting of the new look Cayman Islands Department of Education Services demonstrated how things are going to be different with really focussed professional discussion requiring teamwork with considerable consultation and input. The very positive reactions from everyone present show that this really is going to be a dynamic Department to watch in the future as students really are placed at the centre of the system! This shift will be quite challenging to some of staff who have been in our system for years (or decades) and never seen anything different ACTUALLY happen. This culture change will take time and need really consistency by all "players".

Thursday, 16 August 2007

How to start 5 - bring on the heavyweights - the 2005 Conference supported by all.....

The "buy in " for the national education conference was tremendous. The pure political weight shown here demonstrated the total Government commitment to making Education a central focus of its term. Almost all the cabinet attended along with a wide range of elected members, including the Opposition. This was the most high profile event I had organised but the adrenalin rush was great!

From L to R: Leader of Govt. Business, Minister of Education, His Excellency the Governor, Dept. Permanent Secretary, Chief Education Officer and yours truly.

How to start 4: The 2005 Conference

Being asked to organise and chair the first real National Education Conference where stakeholder feedback was sought exceeded all expectations - the 750 invited guests actually became over 800 for the opening event, prior to the splitting into detailed workshops. All government teachers and school staff were present along with representatives from: Education Department, Schools'Inspectorate, pre schools, the tertiary sector, private schools, local businesses, parents, past students, media and the community
To see so many people wanting to be there to help make a difference was just fantastic! The two day conference was incredibly hard work but one of the most professionally rewarding experiences I have had in my life!

How to start 3: Get the media "on board"

Getting the media was crucial. (Click to get link) A working lunch for all media got their commitment and for a month every radio station, television and newspaper sought the public view through articles, endless phone in programmes, tv appearances and "man on the street interviews"on the current education system. I've been on radio and television several time before but this was really my first experence of dealing with the media in such a sustained wayfor over a month. I really enjoyed the endless media appearances, especially the live radio phone in programmes where I could answer questions and talk to professional and challenging interviewers about our plans. All the findings were collated by the media and a well attended "findings" dinner allowed them to present them directly to the Minister - again a first for Cayman. For some reason he then gave them straight to me........

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

How to start 2:Developing the plan for change

During the Ministers tour of schools (june 2005) one Principal suggested a conference where every person working in schools had the opportunity to say what was good in the system and what they considered needed addressing. Still sitting in a school hall the Minister told the Chief Officer and myself that we were immediately adopting this idea. There and then I was asked to organise a National Conference in just over nine weeks that involved all employees of the education service. Also invited were representatives from every stakeholder group, including: parents, the community, early years, tertiary, Schools Inspectorate, the thriving business community, the media, other Government agencies amongst others. Working with a small Conference committee. A two day conference was planned at the very start of the next school year for about 750 delegates - the largest internal conference ever organised by a Government Ministry to date. At that stage I did not even officially work for the Ministry - I just got sort of "adopted" - but I never left.

Friday, 10 August 2007

How to start? : A Minister PASSIONATE about education!

The whole concept about total reform of the Education system started with the newly appointed Minister for Education, the Hon. Alden McLaughlin. Immediately after election in May 2005 he visited every Govt. school in the country. Not just a formal cursory visit but spending several hours in each, sitting down talking to staff, about their views of the existing education service. This was the "first of many firsts" and one that made most staff really believe that this time, maybe, something would happen. The type of fundamental change that they wanted though will tae time t oimplement if we are to get it right!!

The start of this blog:

I have been involved with so many exciting things in the past two years but, despite reminders only recently started recording them - I know that I should have been doing it from the start. Therefore for the start of this blog, there will be a series of entries that reflect the background and the progress we have made as I have lived through the process. This is personal and not an official MInistry blog.

The whole concept of total transformation of the Education Service in the Cayman Islands is massive. I feel extremely fortunate that, as Strategic Development Advisor (Education) in the Ministry of Education, directly advising the MInister and Chief Officer I am at the very heart of change at every level of change from strategy through planning to implementation. This is an opportunity available to very few.

The advantage of being in a small country is that due to it's size we can introduce TOTAL change of the education system in one go. In countries like the UK it has to be done by an endless train of initiatives. As a small Ministry, there are only a small handful of us working on this strategically - the most exciting challenge of all. It also allows me to constantly work extremely closely with some of the worlds leading experts of 21st century education, including Professor Stephen Heppell, and Prakash Nair, both of whom I consider good friends.

Another aspect is the total replacement of Government High Schools on Grand Cayman as well as one primary school, replacing them with real 21st century buildings , which look and feel different, allowing all students to learn in flexible specifically designed spaces.

How exciting can that be???