Monday, 31 March 2008

Gareth's blog now reaches 50 countries

I am delighted to note that my blog has now been accessed from 50 countries around the world with a large number of repeat 'hits'. This encourages me to continue posting as I work on a wide range of new projects... thanks again for reading my blog - please keep revisiting.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

NOT a 21st century working environment! Reasons to get rid of corridors!

21st century working environments should be fun, vibrant, bright airy spaces. These photographs are really good examples of what they should not be and why we should get rid of corridors and go for flexible open spaces. Staff here do have their own little spaces but they are so small all you can do is go in, (reverse in in some cases) and sit on your chair. Forget flexibility, forget visitors. The walls and useless corridors take up as much space if not more, than the working space. In my terms this is one of those examples classified as a nightmare!
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Corridors have become storage spaces as the 'offices' do not allow filing and the overall effect is just a horrible working environment for everyone. How can anyone enjoy working here?
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Compare this to the new office we opened here in Cayman a few months ago, a bright cheerful flexible working space which most people love working out of. (Follow Link here to blog entry about new Countryside Office:

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Team work - a fantastic way of working

A great Ministry of Education team: Louis Payne (Head of Corporate Communications), (hidden from view: Vaughan Carter, Deputy Chief Officer), Hon. Alden McLaughlin (Minister of Education), Gina Matthews (Assistant Head of Corporate Communications), and Angela Martins (Chief Officer / Permanent Secretary). Missing from the picture? ME - I took the photo!!
As I reflected on my work and work styles over the past week or two, I considered how so much of the really creative, exploratory and detailed work is done in a variety of team situations.

Most people know that a well constructed team working together can produce fantastic, original ideas, push boundaries, include checks and balances and give opposing views. I particularly enjoy exploring options through suggesting 'out of the box' ideas and then playing the 'devils advocate' whilst considering implications and alternatives. The beauty of this team approach is other group members bring their own experise and we all extend our own thinking much further than we expect and, of course, we all learn and develop during the process. This blog reflects just a small number of the groups I work within.

The result is nearly always a well considered researched decision with a variety of implications and consequences of any idea identified. Few people would disagree with this approach, no matter what job or role they have. We all also know that the 'my way is the only way' approach is usually least reliable or useful.

If we think that most people know this, why do I still meet and talk to so many teachers from all over the world that don't like or encourage students to work in this, or many other way? I get SO disappointed when I go to classrooms, with rows consistently facing the front where students have few options but to work individually. A class full of students will have so many preferred learning styles within it - and teachers working in this way inhibit or worse totally prevent them learning ... with the resulting negative impact and commitment.

Just recently a teacher said that they could not even think about trying a new approach to teaching as they had one specific class that was "so bad" that they couldn't even think about doing anything different - even though what they were doing was not, and never had, engaged the students. So they were just going to keep on doing more of what was not working, failing the students and themselves - a continuing downward spiral for all concerned. (NB: the same group of students worked well for another teacher using a vartiety of teaching styles!)

Even worse, many of the same teachers insist on group planning and discussion - if it's the best way for them, why isn't it good enough for their students?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

School blogs and students as teachers,

It's just great to see more and more schools developing their own blogs and using them in so many ways, communicating with students, staff and the wider community, celebrating students' work, as a learning tool for students and as an online diary of the school year.

George Town Primary School is the latest school in Cayman to 'go live' and as always with Principal; Marie Martin, they have started, and I know will continue, with real enthusiasm. Importantly students are contributing to the blog and by linking with other schools internationally, the blog becomes a real learning tool for students and staff.

They just have so much more immediacy, impact, relevance and excitement than other ways of recording knowledge and are much more appealing to students. Blogs also do, of course, continue to their develop students' ICT skills (as well as literacy and other skills).

What is really fun is that many staff still do not know how to set up a blog or post an entry. Students teaching teachers is just a great experience and confidence builder for these young people, and also lets them see teachers in a new light. For the teacher to be a learner, taught by students, no matter how young, should also be a really positive experience!

It certainly worked for me as a Headteacher a few years ago when I wanted to 'jazz up' a PowerPoint and make it really eye catching and 'sexy'. I asked my Head of ICT for some tips, she replied that she would send the best person in our large comprehensive school. When they arrived shortly later, I found my self looking at a Year 7 Special Needs student - his ICT prowess was amazing, after after listening to what I wanted, and looking at me in pity, he proceeded to guide and coach me to do just what I wanted. I used him a lot - and he was just brilliant at this aspect of his work.

Apart from me really developing my own skills, it also got me to challenge a lot of staff on what we were doing to support him, so he could use these skills to achieve far higher grades than he was geting at the time. Guess what - it worked and he even became an early entry student for external exams achieving A grades! But why did I have to ask the question and challenge - why hadn't someone else picked up on it as soon as he entered the school?

Thursday, 20 March 2008

21st Century Education: Communication, consultation, feedback.. - the only way it REALLY works!

Chief Officer of the Ministry: Mrs Angela Martins, Leader of Government Business: Hon. Kurt Tibbetts, Minister of Education: Hon. Alden McLaughlin, Cheif Education Officer: Mrs Shirley Wahler, all live at the Cabinet Media Briefing
As I sat as in my advisory capacity at a live media 'Cabinet' broadcast I was reflected how rare it was that Ministers really explained live on radio and television how new initiatives would REALLY work and what it would mean for the children of the listening public. The only agenda item was the radical reform of secondary education in the Cayman Islands, which I have been deeply involved with.
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This hour long broadcast was followed a few days later with the Hon. Minister taking part in a two hour live phone in radio programme answering questions from the public about every aspect of education reform.
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There is NO doubt that communication, consultation and being willing to receive feedback is a critical part of education reform - an example that HAS to be followed at every level if new ideas are to really work. The problem is that not enough people are prepared to accept responsibility for new education strategies and be prepared to defend ideas in public.

This Minister is really exceptional at doing everything he can to engage all stakeholders in the education reform process. The experience of being the Strategic Development Advisor to the Minister, focussing on education transformation, continues to be one of the best education jobs in the world currently! Even better, reviews of our work show that it really is making a very positive difference to students learning - the only reason we started the transformation strategies!!

I have taken part in so many live broadcasts - it always raises the adrenaline because in the end you have no idea what the next caller will say. The exciting part is the massive endorsement of the Minsters' approach to education transformation - the level of support for this is just massive! This makes it even more exciting for me and the rest of the team!!
Radio Caymans' 'Talk Today host Jay Erhart, the Hon. Alden McLaughlin, CEO; Mrs Shirley Wahler and Minisery Chief Officer; Mrs Angela Martins

National Education Conference - Elaine Foster Allen - inspirational speaker!

Chairing the Cayman Islands National Education Conference for the third year running, I have been really pleased to see how the conference has developed and improved since we started in 2005.

Each conference has been totally different in format, the first year was really a consultation exercise allowing all stakeholders of the education system to give feedback on how we should transform education - this led to the 'National Consensus for the Transformation of Education in the Cayman Islands'. The second year allowed expert input from such international visionary speakers as Professor Stephen Heppell, Prakash Nair and Robert Gregory.
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This year we were most fortunate to have Elaine Foster Allen as a really inspiring key note speaker focusing on 'Teaching for Excellence'. Currently Principal of Shortwood Teachers College in Jamaica, she also has considerable experience in the UK, as teacher, Headteacher and also as one of her Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools. She directed her address to every one of our educators no matter where they came from and really got everyone involved in her thoughts - she spoke, she sang, she danced, she encouraged, she challenged, she scolded low expectations and results, she pulled no punches, she praised high expectations..... Elaine was the first of our key note speakers ever to get a full standing ovation from the 700 people present.
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Having spent several days with Elaine, and having had a number of really excellent professional discussions with her I just know that students emerging from her college will have been challenged to face 21st century learning. They are fortunate to have her inspirational leadership - I just hope that her students join schools where they are allowed to work with students to face the global needs of the 21st century.
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Anyone who has the opportunity to hear Elaine speak - I encourage them to do so - she is a just a great lady!

My last appearance as Chair of the Cayman Islands National Education Conference

21st Century Learning Environments - views from around the world


Top: Trung Le (oWp/p - Chicago), Ty Goddard (School Works - UK) Professor Stephen Heppell (Heppell.net - UK) and Peter Brown (Brain Spaces - Dallas)
Bottom l-r: Elizabeth Han (oWp/p - Chicago), Rick Dewar (oWp/p - Chicago), Helen Hirsh Spence (Education Consultant - Ontario), Dr Thomas Mueller (VS-International - Frankfurt), Shelagh Wright (DEMOS Think Tank - UK), me (garethl.com - Cayman Islands /UK)
I was really honoured and rather humbled to be invited to fly to the UK to be part of a small group working dinner / charette focussing on our thoughts about 21st century inspirational learning environments. Whilst no one knew everyone in the group prior to this dinner, the links and common views quickly created a tight knit working group.
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This small group all exuded passion for the transformation of education systems, environments along with teaching and learning. There was mass sharing of knowledge, ideas and views in really exciting challenging thought provoking ways. No one wanted the conversation to stop as we discussed our views in increasing depth late into the evening. Luckily the whole evening was recorded (sound and photographs) - there was so many ideas and discussion points!
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This working dinner is one of the initial parts of a much bigger project about new inspirational learning environments, the design features of buildings, the design and flexibility of furniture and the educational pedagogy of the teaching and learning that could take place within them.
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Equally creative were the many informal conversations in the days around the evening dinner, over lunch, in taxi's as well as walking down the street.
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I am so grateful for the invitation and I really look forward to the next meeting of this group - it really was an inspirational event and the ongoing project should be just fabulous. More later on this over the next few months....

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

21st Century Learning Environments: The Ingenium

I was very pleased to lead a small group of professional colleagues from Chicago, Frankfurt and Ontario to the 'Ingenium' Classroom of the future in a secondary school in Richmond upon Thames recently. All these colleagues are dedicated to new designs for effective learning environments of the future.

This unique classroom, full of technology to ensure the quality of the learning environment, including air and light, is always inspiring. Careful white board design, the nature and quantity of furniture, the colours, the range of technology available as required, the flexibility of the space, the storage, the bathrooms, the acoustiscs, are all carefully factored in to the space available to maximise the learning experience for students.

This is at least the fourth trip of professional colleagues that I have led to this classroom and still it does make me feel that I would like to return to the clasroom to work in a space like this. The options for flexible and challenging learning are endless.

My colleagues were enthralled with the space and the many features incorporated into the design.

Many of these ideas contined in the design are replicable in any school, without spending thousands of pounds / dollars - it just depends of peoples priorities. The fact that students love to work in there, and the results it produces regarding students work increase immediately, demonstrates the effectiveness of the design. Wouldn't it be great if the whole school could produce the same results in every classroom?

Friday, 14 March 2008

21st Century Learning Environments - the Learning Plaza

Visiting a school in Maidstone UK last week, I was really impressed to see the first of three 'Learning Plaza's' that is already in use. The other two are currently being developed. .

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Ninety students use this intriguing and very flexible space for between 50%/60% of their lessons and already it has been reported that it has, apparently, had an amazing impact on improving their learning, attendance and behaviour. The 'specialness' of the space is highlighted by fantastic acoustics (a pet hobby horse of mine), adjustable lighting and a wide variety of moveable furniture which creates learning zones. (Students also remove shoes in this room which adds to the the special nature of it.) Just out of shot on the right is a small seminar / breakout room with large windows for small group work..

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All students have their own handheld device to work on, in addition to the PC's shown and there is a large focus on technology which will be expanded further in the new spaces with high levelk screens etc. The flexible space allows a full range of teaching and learning styles between same / different year groups working on same / different subjects..

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This space is very similar to the many new learning environments we are building in the Cayman Islands - it is encouraging to see the practice we want to develop already working effectively. We should really build relationships and share good practice around the world as we develop what is being called future teaching styles today. By working together we learn from each other - why reinvent the wheel?

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Even doors can be interesting...

I like collecting interesting and original ideas as I travel around. The set of doors above caught my eye last week.
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Take a set of frosted glass doors and a projector showing a video image of a fish bowl, complete with goldfish. The ever moving display featuring 'giant' fish was incredibly eye catching and effective. The chair in the photograph above gives a sense of scale. If you look at the image carefully you can also see the curves of the bowl etc.
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This clever idea could so easily be adapted in schools to celebrate students work especially at night on to an outside window. It could also be a great learning opportunity as well. I really liked this!

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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

New Age Seating?

Earlier posts show furniture that I like or would be fun for school. I always keep my eyes open. Staying in a hotel in London last week I was surprised to see a row of gold stools shaped as teeth. Unusual - yes, 'cool' - maybe, comfortable - not very.
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Trendy and unusual seats are fun but they have to be comfortable, especially if we want people to use them. The dead straight line of stools does suggest not very heavy usage in what was an extremely busy foyer. Looks aren't everything - and I am not even sure quite how trendy they are either for that matter! I asked two young people - I won't print their reply.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Making outdoor spaces interesting..

In London again and as I walked through Euston it was great to see imagination and real care being taken with outdoor spaces. The focus was clearly not just making them attractive but also seeing creativity with what could have been just empty spaces. High quality well kept "wavy grass" and sculptures at the entrance of the building I was visiting all really added to the interest and experience of the pedestrian.

Many new schools and learning environments are now considering the impact of outside learning spaces and the role they play in developing students and adults. The more we do this the better the quality of the space and the experience for students and adults. It is so much better than barren empty courtyards and pavements!