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!