Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Give seventy architects....

Give seventy architects, designers, educators and more, a current school design, and ask them, in teams, to come up with some sensible cutting edge designs, 21st century agility and so on, allowing for everything we know that helps great education and guess what: an ideas storm commences!

Such was just one of the tasks at one of the seminars at the cefpi conference. Some massively respected brains and practitioners started working collaboratively on a load of designs. It was great fun and what happened of course, is that really high quality debate and interchange starts happening. It really was great fun.
A by-product, of course, is that the architects running the session have tons of ideas of what to do. Smart move really and very low cost- in fact - nothing!
Is that good business sense or what?
Lots of stunning ideas abound

Monday, 28 September 2009

Size AND service

The Reception is huge...
I stay in a lot of hotels, but I am currently staying in probably the largest I have ever stayed in, with the number of rooms well into four figures. Everything is massive, reception, buildings, corridors and even the cars.
This hotel is used for everything from Presidential Inaugural Balls through to multiple simultaneous conferences. However, size has not affected service - it is just phenomenal. There are no lines, service is always immediate and very polite. It is a real lesson in demonstrating that size does not matter when it comes to quality of service.
I spoke to staff who had been there just a few weeks, and apart from occasionally getting lost (no surprise there -there are even four ballrooms), she noted that the training and expectations are massive, but they were always supported and helped to ensure that they learn, standards are achieved and they are valued.
I would just love UK students to have internships, work experience and so much more in such highly professional venues as this. Everyone has such a commitment to caring and ensuring everyone knows where they are going and have no issues. The vocational learning is massive.
I have been to the States lots and I love it. But when you experience the service reality - they really do get it right!
Two of four sides of just one building is huge
Another part of the hotel is huge
The corridor linking buildings is really long
and the cars are, obviously, massive

Coaching, mentoring, personalisation

Keynote speaker at this years cepfpi conference was the fascinating and energetic Per Havgaard from Denmark.

Per focuses on projects where he makes learning a fun and challenging experience. He spent some time describing his Danish television project on the TV2.dk program 'PlanB'. This involved taking a group of 'failing' Grade 9 students who were about to drop out of the education system. He had three weeks to make a difference and, obviously, it worked).
Whilst the exact approach would not be replicable in big schools, there were many 'ingredients' that are applicable to all. Interest, personalised, relevance, supportive, aspirations, expectation, learning spaces that worked for each individual.
This specific programme was a mid week residential programme, but tough, including an hours exercise each morning, healthy meal every three hours, with fruit and water always available, minimum of 9 hours sleep and a hours rest in the afternoon and so on. (In just three weeks the young people changed and are now all in higher eduction following a variety of courses - something that previously would have been unthinkable to them, their teachers and families)
Per is now working in major companies and with students of all ages on a real approach to change based on research and understanding.
This was a riveting and very human presentation - it fully deserved the standing ovation he got from the massive audience. (www.perhavgaard.dk)

Hundreds of delegates from around the world

Virtual learning - real food

It's always fascinating when you get a group of people all sat round talking about one subject. Whilst here in Washington for the cepfi Conference I co-hosted and presented to a working think tank dinner on virtual learning a couple of nights ago. Organised by colleague Dr Frank Locker, with representatives from all over the States, Mexico, Canada and the UK the full range of virtual learning was covered.

The enthusiasm was infectious as we contemplated the impact of virtual learning on schools and colleges. We were talking before, during and after dinner and really did not want to stop.
The issues are the same, increasing opportunities, increasing impact, more personalised and maybe less need for being together. Subjects included, partial and fully online curriculum, the impact on the informal aspects of school, socialising, social skills, virtual environments, assessment strategies, use of sharing websites such as YouTube, futures thinking through to whether we needed to be building schools in the future, rather than other types of buildings. We also discussed the impact of ICT within the UK BSF programme.
Lots of people thinking, learning, sharing always creates a great atmosphere. Everyone wants to rerun this session next year and see how the thinking and reality has developed - one thing is certain - it will be different and just as much fun! (the food was fab as well)

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Talking about Transformation

I'm enjoying the cefpi World Conference in Washington enormously, listening, learning, sharing, meeting old friends, networking and meeting lots of interesting people.
One of the sessions today was led by Frank Locker, all about transformative school designs and development planning. Focusing on the journey between the whole range of teaching (or instructional - well I am in the States) styles, the way they develop to transformational approaches, the impact the change has on space design and the mismatch if teaching and environments don't move together. Just fascinating stuff!
With representatives from the US, Canada, Australia, Singapore (and UK obviously) in this one session, a global perspective was possible making it even better.
Later, during the three hour session the focus was the design exhibition/competition. The task was to collaboratively analyse the several dozen entries regarding traditional, through to transformative space design. It really is fascinating how this disparate group of architects, district officials and educationalists, unknown to each other prior to the session, arrived at common collective decisions. Debate and analysis was thorough, professional and supported by general agreement how working collaboratively had bought so much professional development to each of us.
(We know collaborative working is effective - not just for adults but students too - if we allow it!)
There were some simply fab designs that got everyone talking - a post on just some will follow later. What was depressing was that there were still some designs that showed little education philosophy or forward thinking. Just new 'Victorian' spaces. Even some of the American Architects present were 'not impressed' (polite version). Rows and rows of 'cells and bells' design, lots of endless corridors, badly placed stores that prevented adaptability (and there were alternative equally convenient locations). They just created perfect stimuli for discussion, sharing and learning.
It's all too easy to be so so busy that we do not attend such functions such as this. (You don't have to travel abroad - I know I'm fortunate to be encouraged to attend). The rare opportunities for real professional debate and sharing is invaluable. The fact that it is global debate is even better.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


One of the key concerns of any teacher we meet when considering new learning spaces is storage. Teachers always want more storage for resources, supplies and then for many many things, that can only be called 'stuff'!

Many teachers are prolific hoarders because a range of 'stuff' really will come in useful one day". Touring a school recently, the dreaded tatty cardboard boxes, plastic bags and plastic crates emerged, full, overflowing, never used, firmly in place and never moving. I banned them lying around in my school years ago for this very reason. They never look good and start creating a tatty environment before we start.

During one design engagement, a teacher asked where her 29 filing cabinets were going to go. I'm sorry but no one can regularly use 29 filing cabinets. I am fairly certain that many contained 'stuff' that rarely saw the light of day.

This is an interesting conundrum as more and more schools, or senior teams at least, plan to go to almost all 'on-line' resources. There are now a number who have declared that books will be largely library based - everything else, resources etc, will be on virtual learning environments and work done on hand held devices eliminating the need for exercise books. This is probably the way forward in the 21st century. Therefore there will be less need for storage. I worry if all the staff in these schools have bought into the vision yet and how much support they will get for this big move. It is a massive step for many.

Seeing all the old boxes, bags and crates in the school I visited, I also did wonder what would happen if and when there was no room to 'carefully store' them. Especially as school staff become more mobile, more technologically dependent and have less access to their own dedicated rooms.

Will staff lose all their physical 'stuff', and if they do, will it be replaced with a special dedicated on-line site just for 'stuff' - even if it is 'virtual stuff'?'

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The little things...

A satellite working office of the IoD
I often work from my home, but when that is not practical (due to electricians, plumbers or young children!), and I don't have to travel, I use a local satellite office of of the Institute of Directors to work and have meetings in. (The reason I am a member is specifically of the ability to use their offices, rather than a desire to be a member of a particular club!).
It really is a great working atmosphere, with a number of tables to hot desk at, soft seating for more informal meetings and others to relax in. I always get loads done when based there and it is used a lot by people to work alone, work collaboratively, hold meetings, do interviews and so on. I am always surprised about just how busy it is.
One of the reasons is the level of provision, which supports a concentrated working atmosphere. Obviously it is fully wireless, but supported by a myriad of floor boxes providing power and hard wire internet access if needed. The smaller touches that make all the difference include coffee etc always being available, phone chargers for every make of phone, newspapers, headphones if you want to listen to the television news channel and not disturb everyone, lots details of available professional development and networking opportunities and so on....
In a meeting there this week, one person noted what a fab professional school staffroom it would make. Too many school staff rooms are simply 'slump places' where people store 'stuff', frequently in carrier bags or battered cardboard boxes. Just last week a teachers was deploring the state of their staff room and it was only the second week of term!
An increasing number of schools seem to be abandoning central dedicated staff rooms. They are frequently, terribly under-utilised spaces, empty for large portions of the day in schools desperate to make full use of spaces everywhere else.
With the increasing numbers and types of staff in schools, and if there is to be a staffroom, maybe a more work focused room similar to the one above would be more practical. They would have to be fully serviced however and equipped as fully as possible to support teachers make their life easier and treat them as the professionals they are, as the one above does for us. It's just a thought.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

In India?

Whilst I get a number of approaches concerning projects, an potentially interesting one has arisen concerning providing some support to a company hoping to build new international schools in India.

I have no idea how this project will/will not develop, but the variety of work and potential work is just fascinating really.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Conferences continue....

Dr. Frank Locker
Lots of seminars, conferences, and more are coming up right now. Some are good, some.... frankly, have little new. I'm really pleased to have been asked to participate in a number of them, which I hope will be really exciting.
The next one I'm involved with is co-hosting a 'Virtual Learning Think Tank Dinner' (no I didn't come up with the title) in Washington DC next week, with friend and colleague; Frank Locker, internationally renowned school planner. There are just about twelve of us and it promises to be a fascinating evening with lots of interesting thoughts and ideas about future learning!.
This takes place during the massive Annual International cefpi Conference which looks to be excellent as usual. This is the largest of the American conferences on the theme of 21st century learning environments. I am really looking forward to it and catching up with old contacts.
I have also been asked to chair a seminar during BCSE's major World Learning Environments Conference in Knowlsey later in the year. This also promises to be a very major conference this year, with some great speakers and sponsored by Balfour Beatty. Even better it will be held in one of the fab new Centres for Learning in Knowsley. (For more on this conference click here).
There is more coming but the forthcoming months look very exciting (as usual!).

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Old Team..

A lousy photo but.....
It was great meeting up with the 'old team' yesterday at BAFTA. The team members present being Angela Martins, former Chief Officer and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education in the Cayman Islands, Professor Stephen Heppell and myself. It's a pity some of the rest of the broader team were not there.
We worked together for several years and achieved loads. Hopefully as we explored ideas there will be opportunities for us to work, as a whole team, together again. Great to be together again, in what was a very dynamic energetic team!
Pity about the picture quality - the photo was taken on my Blackberry - and nothing to do with the complimentary champagne, ..... honestly.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Learning environments have to be great....

I am fortunate enough to visit a large number of schools during the year. One I am working with now has space, lovely luscious fields and fab mature trees all round. Another, photographed above, has not a tree - and almost no grass, just a small patch - I mean almost nothing. As one walks out from school, all one sees is flats and other buildings crowding in on you. It is, frankly, very depressing indeed to witness.

All students, no matter where they live, have a right to high quality learning environments, where aspirations, hope and skill development are all possible. They deserve the best environment they can get, no matter where they are located.
I cannot count how many times I have heard people say the equivalent of "well, it was good enough for me" - that was xx decades ago. I must admit I am fed up of hearing them. Those people need to get real with the 21st century and young people of today. This just does not mean that it is good enough now, especially if we are really going to give every student equal chances, be truly inclusive and encourage the whole community to get engaged with life long learning. This is particularly true of those community members who have had bad experiences of schools.
Schools have to be different from the past - they have to be fit for purpose in a 21st century environment and they have to be as fab as they can be. Our young people deserve nothing less.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Agile Learning and Meeting Spaces

Grandeur and formality - but not agility
Part of yesterday was spent taking part in a design/ideas workshop yesterday with friend and colleague Professor Stephen Heppell. It was held in just a fabulous meeting room... well in style and grandeur anyway. As a workshop area though the room was dominated by a massive table boardroom style layout which was not fab and implied instant formality.

Great for some meetings no doubt, but no chance of intimacy, real engagement and close communication - the layout was so wide. Inevitably, when the real work started, people wanted to move around, sketch on tablets, on paper over plans and have off line more informal conversations as ideas flew around and got developed. It would have been quite an ordeal to start rearranging the room.

It was really interesting to see the difference between broad agreements being made when around the table and more specific detailed decisions when standing around in small groups.

It really demonstrated, yet again, the importance of agility in furniture in our schools and workspaces - we just cannot over emphasise it!

Centre l and r: Professor Stephen Heppell and yours truely with colleagues

Back to TV....

Mobile technology is everywhere and it's getting smaller - well mostly.

It was slightly alarming to see one of the 'Ikea' girls on Manchester station giving away catalogues, carting an entire TV on her back. I did feel a little sorry for a couple of youngsters were trying to watch it as she roamed around the station concourse. No one could actually see or hear anything effectively though as she kept moving.

Probably a great idea or gimick, but it just looked a little bizarre, especially as it was so big and bulky!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Who needs comfort?

We spend a lot of time these days talking about agile and appropriate furniture, with a range of seating that allows multiple use with work chairs that are ergonomic suitable for growing young people.I was horrified to visit a school in London very recently with these really old fashioned metal and plastic 'church hall types' chairs.

I didn't actually realise that this design chair still existed in schools today. There is no pretence that comfort is an important factor here and no way that students would choose them for socialising on. They are horrible - a total nightmare!
Although it can be said that they do stack efficiently, this is not the first reason for having them.
It is entirely coincidental that my blog and that of Professor Stephen Heppell both focus on seating this week in different parts of the country. (To visit his blog, click here) It does demonstrate though that there is a great deal of work still to do in the whole area of educational FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment)!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sharing expertise!

Visiting the wonderful people at Treloar School, (Alton, Hampshire), one of the biggest Special Needs residential and day schools very briefly for a meeting last week I was very impressed to visit their new outreach 'Trailblazer' vehicle.

This brand new mobile assessment unit will be visiting schools to assess students and identify their needs. It will also offer a range of therapy support.

Although when I visited it had not even started work it is already booked up for three months. This well equipped specialist vehicle is great but I suspect there is demand for more of them.

What is encouraging is to see this very specialist school sharing their expertise so more and more students can benefit. Although Treloar provides very specific services, there are a number of schools who could share a range of skills and opportunities. The more that do .... the better.