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!!!