Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Reflections...

Interviewed today by Basia Pioro, Cayman Free Press
Taking part in another press interview today really gave me cause to reflect on just how much we have achieved in the education transformation journey in the Cayman Islands.
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There is no other country that has set such a challanging and ambitious target to change every aspect of the education journey at one time. Being centrally involved in this process from the very start has been just an awesome experience - challenging, but great fun. Many times I have told people that I honestly believed my job to be one of the best in education in the world.
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Often we have been so busy 'doing' and evaluating progress, that we forget just how much progress has been achieved and how things were before we started.
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The key words for this national exercise have been: vision, determination, commitment, challenge, holistic, energy, coordination, timing, interfacing and facilitation. At this stage there really is tangible evidence of improvement in so many areas!
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Although the journey will never be complete (as review, evaluation and change will be ongoing), the Cayman story is a great example of how the political will and determination of the Minister of Education, Hon. Alden McLaughlin, with a fantastic team of people, led by the dynamic and inspirational Permanent Secretary and Chief Officer Mrs Angela Martins, really can make things happen.

This is a remarkable story focussing entirely on the desire to produce bright, engaged, collaborative life long learners. Isn't that what we are about?
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Thanks everyone ...

Just to publicly thank again all those people who contributed to gifts for me as I leave the Cayman Islands after four years, mainly working as Strategic Development Advisor (Education) for the Minister. The gifts are great and many many thanks for the thought. The experiences, opportunities and challenges in the Cayman Islands have been and will continue to be just amazing.

What is absolutely fantastic is that the holistic education transformation process continues uninterrupted, even after three years! I trust that it continues, as such progress is being made and the world really is watching!
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Schools of the Future - hanging out of helicopters

The Clifton Hunter Campus - the lying water was from Tropical Storm Dolly which passed nearby yesterday
Another first today as I flew across all the sites of the new Cayman campuses to take the first of a series of ariel photographs to record the building progress. I have been in helicopters several times but this was done with the door taken off. I was almost hanging out in mid air but with fantastic unlimited views - slightly alarming at first on the ground, but bizarrely not so once we took off. It was really great fun with the wind rushing past!

Recording progress like this is a really important part of the development of the new campuses and an important part of the education transformation process. Not many people have the opportunity to go up in a helicopter to do it, but so often people 'forget' to record progress from the start and then regret it later.

Cayman helicopter with the door back in place

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Students voice on learning and environments - you mean you actually ask them?

Communicating with an overseas journalist today, I was really extremely surprised to be asked "Can you spell out why there was a need to get student input?", as we changed arrangements and environments for their new schools.
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Most young people today are very clear about how they learn and have a clear idea of the environments in which they would learn effectively. Some views may be extreme, others may not be practical, but it really should not be a surprise that the vast majority of students are very sensible and ambitious about their learning styles and the need for appropriate environments to support them. For the vast majority, the traditional 'cell' like rooms simply do not do the job! They are also far more innovative and forward thinking than many teachers would believe - hence the importance of asking them!
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We really should be listening to students far more if we are to support them achieve the ambitious and usually realistic heights that many want. Why wouldn't we?
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Monday, 14 July 2008

We must use student's digital literacy skills NOW!

There seem to be just more and more people, (educators, journalists and bloggers) writing right now on the need to really change the culture of teaching and learning to give students a real change to demonstrate their learning skills, and be encouraged to use them to help their learning in schools.

Employers, more and more, want students with a whole range of different skill sets, than from just a very few years ago. Schools SHOULD play a vital part in supporting students develop these skills for this reality. Any failure to deliver on an obvious priority is a problem particularly as a new type of digital divide is developing so fast in today’s society. There is a massive divide between the worlds of learning at home and learning in the classroom. We must lose this gap and let students really show us what they are capable of!

As an article in the ‘Irish Times’ stressed this recently “Rows of students sitting in front of a blackboard is outmoded for teaching and learning in the 21st century. Without cutting-edge technology, the classroom is out of touch with its students and is unable to adequately prepare them for their futures”. It goes on to note that “technology is a prerequisite for teaching and learning in today's schools. In its absence, schools are failing to make the most of their most valuable resource: the experience, skills and interests of their own students. The complex and more important challenge facing Government is not putting technology into schools, it is about bringing the golden nuggets of out-of-school learning, into the classroom.

All students should be supported in learning 21st century literacy skills The delivery of these skills needs to happen NOW though – it cannot delay. We are already ‘losing’ so many students to lack of engagement and involvement in their learning.

Some people are taking about a process of evolution rather than any quicker process. Doug Belshaw talks about “championing digital literacy and the use of technology to improve learning -- is a process of evolution rather than revolution”. That evolution, if that’s what it is, needs to be rapid and immediate!
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Monday, 7 July 2008

The door to imagination

Imagination, ingenuity and play are key aspects of education, especially for young children. All too often these aspects are ignored when designing outdoor learning / play spaces. I found a great example yesterday.
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Visiting a site I was really pleased to find a small but really well landscaped corner complete with a 'distressed' door with "Imagine" written on it. The hanging door, all by itself, leading to nowhere, is simply there as a children's imaginative play corner.

My daughters, (see above), promptly went to it and the eldest of the two immediately started playing and making up a story about the door..... and what happened behind it. Whilst my youngest daughter is a little young she also joined in playing together happily with a story about the door and the different things behind it!. It was great to see - they could have stayed for ages. As we moved on more children were headed for it - rather like a magnet attracting them.
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Equally, of course, as a stimulus for drama, creative writing, poetry, art etc, it is just perfect!
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The designer of this play area clearly put children first, and trusted them. They did not specify how it had to be used or what type of story or play was to be imagined- they just let them get on with it. A great and really successful example.
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Friday, 4 July 2008

Even more international readers from over 75 countries

I am amazed and pleased (and a little flattered!) that my blog is now being read in over 75 countries all around the world. I have really enjoyed maintaining it and with a return visitor rate of between 40% and 50% I seem to have some very loyal readers. Thanks so much for your interest.
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Shortly my professional life will move to include even more exciting ventures involving 'Schools of the Future' and 21st century education as I return to the U.K. in a new role. This will result in even more variety to my posts. More details to follow in the next few weeks!
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There is still much work to be done here in the Cayman Islands though, and I will be working (and blogging) right up until I get on the plane with my family to fly to other family members, friends and great education opportunities in the U.K..... Many have said I must be mad leaving this paradise island of warm sea, fantastic beaches, friends and great education innovation! I will be sad to leave but it was my choice to accept the new opportunities and challenges that await!
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Thursday, 3 July 2008

Media interviews at dawn ... and yes - size does matter!.

The international interest in the transformation of the Cayman Islands education service continued today with a breakfast time telephone media interview by the UK 'The Guardian' newspaper with me and one of the senior teachers of the island. This story will appear in a Building Schools of the Future supplement in September.
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The story focused on the splitting of the large George Hicks High School into four smaller schools based on one campus. The four schools, which opened in September 2006, have really transformed the education experiences for students and staff, with smaller numbers of students, better relationships, communication, competition and the ability to be agile in approaches to learning.
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Having four schools on one campus has allowed, through economies of scale, a wide range of subjects to be offered, whilst retaining the ability to be agile in approaches to teaching and learning and establishing the close relationships possible in smaller schools.

The increasing concern about the anonymity of students in the monolith schools in the U.K. and America is not an issue in this 'schools within a school' concept. I suspect many more districts will be need considering this approach soon as they plan for the future. It is already too late for the students in the mega schools who are already 'lost'!
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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

21st century learning environments - the construction starts

The construction of the first of our new 21st century learning environments has now really started in earnest and already the steel is protruding from the ground in what seems like no time at all. This has caused great interest and excitment from staff, students and the community, they are now actively talking about the 'talk becoming reality' almost everywhere we go.

The cutting edge designs will really allow agile learning environments encouraging the widest range of teaching and learning to take place. Interestingly, similar cutting edge designs are now being built in numerous other places - but excitingly, we will still be one of the first places to open them to students.

Art work? ... even the ends of the steel is painted in different colours

Child Centred approach to celebrations!

I'm currently attending numerous School Leaving exercises and Graduations, literally every night, sometimes as a guest, often to present awards to students. The halls are always nicely decorated and look good, but it was real pleasure last night to attend one of our smallest primary schools end of term leaving exercise where the decoration really reflected the fact that the event was all about the young students in the school!

The two layers of pictures represented the students when they joined Reception or Year One with their teddy bears through to their self portraits above. The whole decoration was not done by a professional company but by teachers reflecting a child centred approach for an event attended by students of every age from Years One through Six.

The whole evening, attended by dignitaries including the 'Speaker of the House' and Minister of Education reflected the schools' ethos of the child being at the centre of everything the school does.... it really was a joy to attend.