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.

Brainstorming policy with the Hon. Minister

One of the best parts of the job is sitting with the Minister and a few members of the senior team as we work out the finer details of new policy and considering all issues regarding the implementation of decisions made - this is really exciting and always challenging as we consider the national implications of policy and the "knock on" effects for other areas of the Government. A key issue is that we are moving forward so fast,that we have to explain the reasons why we do everything repeatedly and the advantages of our policies. We are being brave and questions we ask are always based about whether others are brave enough to walk the journey with us. This is challenging for many in a culture where things have traditionally evolved slowly - many do not really understand the need and our quest to be the "best in the world". Changing that view is interesting.

Interesting conundrum... technology in schools

Interesting dilemma as we toured schools last week ...
  • we are encouraging students to use technology of all sorts in our schools,
  • we are trailing a range of new technology devices in every school from interactive white boards to hand held devices,
  • Stephen Heppell wants schools to encourage students to use the huge potential available within their cell phones,
  • the technology department at this school, with an incredibly enthusiastic teacher, demonstrated to us cell phone holders his students were making using a range of materials from wood to perspex and metal.....

but the school actually bans students from bringing cell phones to school....... it's kind of hard to see how this makes much sense really and, unfortunately demonstrates that there is not total buy in to our work yet... or more likely much more professional development is needed to help teachers get used to how to use the new technologies. This is a big challenge for all of us!

Thursday, 18 October 2007


Prakash Nair from FNI is an inspirational colleague in Cayman. As Education Planner his visionary thinking for the new schools makes so much sense, as do his concept designs. I am delighted to know he is working in over twenty countries right now as he challenges all conventional thinking about school design. (See I am humbled that he quotes me when in Cayman asking "are we brave enough" - the issue is not this but do we have the professional development for all our teachers to work in the new schools that he has been instrumental in designing. That is our challenge - not his, and one that I am really involved with. Changing teachers perceptions after years of non development to thinking about future trends is really challenging. We are brave enough- - are the staff? The new facilities will be there - can we use them as they should be? I hope so.

Annalise and the EFEI from FNI

Annalise, a member of the FNI team, based in Australia, talking to His Excellency the Governor Mr Stuart Jack, during the groundbreaking ceremonies for new schools. Annalise has undertaken a superb piece of work in evaluating all Government school facilities using the FNI evaluation tool, and working on a fifteen year plan for the development of our facilities. This has never been done here before and the EFEI has really proved itself a very effective and powerful detailed tool. It should really be used more widely as a standard for all school evaluations throughtout the world. Annalise is a great member of the FNI team who people quickly grew to respect with her very intelligent and thoughtful contribution to discussions - I particularly enjoyed working with her in the week she was here and am particularly impressed with the research she did! Good job!

New eyes.... with Team ago go

It is really interesting walking around schools, talking to staff, with experts in different fields. Visiting schools with FF&E experts Kate and Steve Stewart from "Team ago go" we started examing what we expected students to sit on. The small lab stool that Kate is holding above, is no more than a small circular piece of wood - no thought to comfort or even size (it is woefully small for the size of students attending there). I've been in this room many times, in fact it was one the rooms converted last year as we split the GH School in to four schools within a school campus. Never have these stools, or other pieces of furniture really caught my eye. We also examined a small examination desk that did not collapse - why would anyone invent such a thing and why did we buy it? It really asks the question about how we treat students and whether this contributes to incidents of non engagement in the lesson - because they are so uncomfortable. Interestingly most of the teachers have upholstered chairs...... does this send a message??

Venue for good designs??

Where's the best place to meet a group of education interior designers and FF&E experts.... no real problems here - a bar seems the obvious place. This informal relaxed picture, at "Breezes in the Bay" in Grand Cayman is deceptive and actually shows formidable talent and ability. I am so lucky to be in a situation where I can work with, and learn from, some of the best in the world in what they do. I would hate to suggest that the bar is where they have lots of their best ideas but we were swopping a range of ideas and designs. Crucially they are all such nice people as well as being so incredibly professional at what they do. The real benefit for us is that they all have different experiences and contacts so they are also feeding off each other as well as trying to provide us with the best possible ideas. This is a dynamite team who, quite correctly are challenging us in every area of our ideas. There is a massive difference from many local retailers who just want the deal and will sell us whatever we can afford - even if it is not the most appropriate educationally. No local retailer has ever asked how we want to use FF&E. These guys want to know what we want in relations to how it supports the delivery of the curriculum - an obvious and challenging way of working which is how it should be - this is really helping the country.
From l to r: Kate Stewart: Team A go go from the UK, Kris Fielding, He3ad of Creative Design from Felding Nair International, based in Tampa, Wendy... Head of Interior Design, OwPP in Chicago and Steve Stewart, Designer, again from Team a go go.

Little Cayman Technology Project

One of my many new projects has been to project manage the wiring of the education service in Little Cayman to a variety of technological devices, thereby enabling the four students (Grades R, 1,2 and 6 - all boys) to link with schools all over the world, but specifically to Stepping Stones School in the UK in the firtst instance(linked to Prof. Stephen Heppell). Providing each student and teacher with a Mac Notebook, as well as a iPod video Nano, as well as a super smart 24" Mac screen (above) staff and students now communicate daily to Stepping Stones in their lessons and developing a whole new focus on teaching and learning, with technology absolutley integrated into all aspects of their work. The Nano's enable podcasts to be taken home and shared with parents, (two weeks ago the question was "whats a podcast?) the Mac notebooks have enabled all sorts of new work including music, animation, comic strip work, creating blogs etc to be integrated into lesssons. What has been really cool is students from the UK teaching them how to use the software, and students in LCES teaching the staff. Importantly it has already raised the expectations of the staff about thier students because they have adapted to the technology so fast..... As they go live with their blogs I know that the staff are drafting posts for students - I want them to be brave and let the students post their work and learn from it that way as they discuss it......... this change in culture is challenging though and we must encourage teachers to go on the journey with their students, rather than using the computer as a final work presentation machine.

The next stage is to link LCES into schools on Cayman Brac so students can literally join lessons - both ways and have the benefit of interacting with their students as well.

Pictured above, Jonathan Furness (Stepping Stones) talking to students from the UK following his trip to LCES to set up the hardware and demonstrate how to use it to enhance teaching and learning, and yours truely talking to parents about why we have piloted this project in Little Cayman.

IB - do parents REALLY understand what we are saying?

I am always concerned as we aim to consult more, be more transparent and seek opinions how much parents really understand what we are talking about, especially regarding the curriculum. Parents trust most teachers and they all want the best for their children.

The photo above shows a large group of parents listening carefully as Clive Baker from the Dartment of Education Services explains all about the International Baccalaureate and its role in promoting high quality teaching, learning and assessment. This is part of an ongoing series of presentations to parents of all government schools and PTA's giving information and seeking their feedback. At the end of the presentation a show of hands indicated that there was overwhelming support for the proposal for the school to further investigate the IB process.
Sitting in listening to this, and watching the audience, I am not at all convinced many really understood what would be different. They did like the international credibility discussion, but the difference to teaching amd learning did, I fear, fly straight over the heads of many. This is a real difficult issue - they want to know - they are interested, but their context and understanding is based on their experience, linked to the fact that no one has ever really talked about these things before. When many hear it they don't really understand because it's always been down to someone else - the professionals. An interesting dilemma and one we must continue to keep working to do better.

Ofsted Meeting - so who makes a decision?

I know I am a civil servant right now but I am so used to being able to get things to happen - fast!.... I recently visited Oftsed (the UK's schools inspectorate) with Stephen Heppell and senior leaders from "The Inclusion Trust" concerning "on line" assessment etc. Now I know the Cayman Islands are small and I am used to being able to get things done, but here visiting in the UK I was genuinely shocked at the beaurocracy! Whilst the civil servants we met were very pleasant - there was clearly no consideration of Ofsted being involved with "on line" assessment, and it was not on the future agenda..."as far as they knew". Why not?? Everyone in the world knows that that is where education must be going! Even more scary these senior civil servants could not confirm whether it would be a priority, whether they could even agree a further meeting and whether a Minister would ever be involved in making a decision, as it was up to someone else. And that is to someone of the credibility of Stephen Heppell. I was kind of reluctant to ask who could make any decision - but we were all appalled as we left the building - no one was really thinking about the future of assessment - they were too busy worrying about what they did and who would actually consider changing to anything relevant.! Never will I place myself in that situation - I, like the others , was sooooo depressed after that meeting. Who gets anything done? Who is thinking about the future?

Randy Fielding wins international recognition

I was delighted that Randy Fielding of Fielding Nair International has just been recognised as International Planner of the Year by the Council of Educational Facility Planners, in Toronto last week. I have worked with Randy a great deal over the past year and a half as he has been involved from the very start of the high schools project. He is frequently in Cayman as a key member of the project team. Fielding Nair INternational are the Facilities Planners for the new high schools in Cayman, doing all the consultation and concept design work. FNI have also done a concept design for the new George Town Primary School. I would really like to congratulate Randy on this international recognition.

Heppell in Bafta

A great bonus of my current role is to be the link between the Cayman Islands and Professor Stephen Heppell, who is really the guru to our education transformation work here. If I had stayed working in the U.K. I would only ever have seen Stephen on stage at some conference or other, let alone meet him. Having met him here nearly two years ago I now consider him a friend and we always have some "none work" time both in Cayman and the U.K when I visit -not that he ever really has "none work time". Recently I spent three days with him in London as we worked on a variety of projects for Cayman, including working with Teachers Television and attending a conference in Birmingham he was a key note speaker and talked about technology and the Cayman Islands. He really is inspirational and no wonder he is in such demand around the world.
The photo above was taken in BAFTA as we selected TTV programmes for the Cayman Islands and also read the Ministry of Education blog, on the screen on the laptop.

Education Law reform - working with the experts.

Pictured: Sarah Morgan, Solicitor - Wales NUT, Graham Clayton, Senior Solicitor NUT and Amanda Brown, Barrister NUT.

Spent a great day working with the legal team from the NUT in London, all of whom have been to Cayman, as they help us develop a new Education Law for the Cayman Islands. Those that know me know that the detailed minutae is not necessarily my thing, but working with this fantastic team was absolutely fascinating as we examined every phrase in sections of the law and pondered the fullest implications for the country and the system. Between them they hold massive experience and I thought on more than one occasion a) what a great team they were, and b) how fortunate I was was to work with them. These guys are a team I will not lose contact with!

the world is watching

On the way to a conference in Birmingham, Stephen was emailing from the train to a contact in Scotland about splitting large schools into smaller schools (Schools within schools), simultaneously I was reading that days paper online from Cayman about students perceptions of splitting their large school into four - one year on. Stephen took that link and sent it to Scotland and also included that into his keynote lecture, which was also being beamed into from Hong Kong. This meant that four countries were discussing a Cayman initiative by 4.00a.m. and sharing that days paper before anyone in Cayman had even seen it. This is a real demonstration about the power of the technology in sharing ideas and best practice around the world and one we must develop for our students. This is so exciting but challenging for many people.