Karachi at its best

Arriving at a bustling, sweltering airport with immaculately dressed pilgrims returning from the Hajj, my first visit to Pakistan was full of anticipation and nervous excitement. My usual browse through medical requirements and ‘sensible people’s’ FCO do’s and don’ts suggested plenty of caution but I have learnt to take each place I visit on face value and spend time listening to the people who live and work there. It makes sense.

I was asked by the British Overseas School Karachi to deliver three days of training on behalf on Dragonfly Training. CPD in Pakistan is almost non-existent. There are hundreds of schools with passionate, hardworking and intelligent teachers but very little investment in their professional development. So, day one was an invitation to local schools to participate in a day of training entitled ’21st Century Teaching and Learning’ – a course designed to cover essential strategies for effective differentiation, assessment for learning, better questioning and feedback. Teachers came from a wide variety of schools and phases, bringing a range of professional expertise to the day. It was a great day with time to chat with colleagues about the challenges they faced and what things they were looking forward to trying out. The intention is now to create a centre of excellence for CPD both in Karachi and the wider region

Day two and three were spent with staff from the hosting school, British Overseas School Karachi, with the usual mix of new teachers and experienced staff with a good smattering of well-travelled expat staff. Again, the focus was on effective strategies to use in a 21st Century Classroom including the use of some digital apps including Kahoot, Quizlet and Plickers.

Alongside the chance to inspire and ignite a little passion in teachers, I was able to sample local food, chat with other colleagues from the school about future plans and meet the exceptionally talented trainer, Pam Mundy, with vast experience in the Early Years and Primary phase. It is always professionally rewarding to connect with people on different levels. The warmth of welcome from the staff, the depth of passion and commitment from the senior leadership team, the exceptional knowledge of the Headteacher, Andrew Williams, of local and international context and the extraordinary efficiency of administration staff all contributed to an overwhelming feeling that Karachi is a great place to work. If you are looking for an exciting challenge in a fast moving city in a school that thinks of the past, present and future in equal measures then get in touch with the school directly.

My lasting memory, however, will be of the view of Karachi from the rooftop of the excellent Avari Towers Hotel, where I watched hundreds and hundreds of black kites circling high above looking for their next meal or maybe just enjoying the sights of downtown Karachi. Watching a kite close up, as it perched on my balcony, tucking into a small rodent was quite extraordinary.

Next stop, Nicosia, Cyprus, then Bogota, Columbia. Always excited to travel and make teachers lives more professionally rewarding and fulfilled with better outcomes for young people. Get in touch if you would like to find out more about some of the courses on offer.

 

Bottle of nuts to go!

Training in Lagos. What an incredible experience with memories to treasure.

A quick look at TripAdvisor or the FCO website and Lagos, Nigeria would probably not be top of anyone’s list. However, with a bit of research, some reassurance from fellow trainers at Dragonfly Training and a visit to Boots pharmacy, I packed my bags and set off for St Saviours School Ikoyi in Lagos.

As part of a structured professional development programme and a continuing relationship between the school and Dragonfly Training, I was invited to deliver a three-day programme for all staff entitled ’21st Century Teaching and Learning’. Day one was with a group of teaching assistants, full of enthusiasm, looking at effective deployment in classrooms. We examined a range of evidence of best practice and explored the essence of good working relationships. Day two and three were for teaching staff but many of the teaching assistants joined in (even on their days off). We worked on a range of practical activities that allowed staff to access a range of strategies to support differentiation, better feedback, stretch and challenge and assessment. There was also plenty of time for reflection, discussion and a bit of dancing.

The school is an oversubscribed independent prep school for just over 300 children from Reception to Year 6. Staff are mainly Nigerian, with UK teacher qualifications and a selection of experienced ex-pat staff mainly from the UK but also from France and the Czech Republic. The school is overseen by a highly committed and passionate board of trustees who make regular visits to support the school. The Headteacher is Craig Heaton, a charismatic, well-travelled, sharp-dressed leader with a knack for getting the best out of his staff. He quickly builds trust with all stakeholders and his staff enjoy working with him. His vision for the school, a place of the highest quality learning and teaching is rapidly becoming a reality. He is ably assisted by Deputy Head, Chinwe Ibekwe, who is a testament to the development opportunities available to all staff. She started at St Saviours over 20 years ago as a teaching assistant and has seen much progress. She is committed to providing a rich, challenging and professionally stimulating place to work and her enthusiasm is infectious.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Lagos via Amsterdam with Craig and his family for the last leg of the trip. On arrival, we were met by our security team and escorted through Yellow Fever checks, immigration and customs. Craig’s advice on being asked for ‘tips’ by customs and baggage checks is simple. His response is always ‘With four daughters do you think I have anything spare?!’ He tips where he needs to for his security staff and we swiftly move through to our car where an armed guard is ready to follow us into town. This is not an alarmist response just a sensible precaution and very much part of the way of life for many with significant roles in the city. We chat on the way in and arrive at the hotel about an hour later. Further security briefings included advice on leaving the hotel, chatting to ‘single ladies’ in the bar and contact numbers of half a dozen staff in case of emergency. I felt I had been fully briefed!

We spent two evenings out visiting the local Lagos Yacht Club for dinner, watching the tankers and newly built oil rigs saunter up and down the lagoon, trying peppered snails, and a high-class Thai-fusion restaurant overlooking a beach and nearby islands, with a stunning menu and an interior to match. Lunch at school was a decent helping of Jolof rice, spicy and tasty, with a chunk of chicken on the side.

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I was very aware of the significant contrast between rich and poor in Lagos. There is no hiding from the exceptional poverty and hardship that many people face. However, the industry, the willingness to work hard and the endeavour that people show every day is incredible. People travel from miles away to work in the city and then spend hours travelling back to their families in cramped, overcrowded, battered, yellow VW sardine cans. They hold their heads high, literally, with straight backs and find any way they can to make a living. For some, this means a suit and a briefcase, for others, it’s a large round tray of bottles of peanuts, or grapes or soft drinks or photocopied bestsellers or chewing gum often carried on their head in the middle of three or four dusty lanes of hooting, tooting, passive-aggressive car and lorry drivers. Note: road markings seem to be largely an optional extra and are often regarded as perfunctory. Quality of road surface is pretty variable too as the heat rapidly degrades the tarmac leaving cave size potholes.

I would encourage any teacher looking for an adventure in a developing country, working with passionate, committed professionals to consider St Saviours school in Ikoyi, Lagos. If I was many years younger and looking for a challenge, for memories to last forever and a professionally rewarding job, this school would be the place. The course was a great success with some great takeaways for staff (see below). If you would like the course ’21st Century Teaching and Learning’ in your school then get in touch with Mary Chapman, International Director of Dragonfly Training mary@dragonfly-training.co.uk  or call +44 (0)2920 711787.

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I’ll leave the last word to Craig Heaton, Headteacher at St Saviours School.

“I hope that our values, our teaching and our school will mean that one day a child will return to Nigeria as an inspirational leader and change the country for the good of all Nigerians.”

 

Return to Ethiopia – finding your ‘ikigai’

Whilst not quite the eye-opening experience of last summer, my return to Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, was none the less inspirational and uplifting. I was delighted to be asked back to work with an amazing group of teachers, many of whom were present last year. Retention of staff in International Schools is always an issue especially when they don’t get paid. That’s right. No pay. Teachers raise money through friends, family and their church groups in order to fund a year at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa. The funds cover food, some of the travel costs and general living. Many teachers bring their families. Lock, stock and barrel. They often commit themselves to at least two years with many staying longer or returning at a later date.

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This is where staff are: right in the middle.

There is an undeniable feeling of warmth and welcome in the campus. It’s not the weather – it was rainy season again and just about scraped into the twenties (seventies Fahrenheit) – but the people who work there. From the drivers, security staff, cleaners and cooks to the teaching assistants and teachers, everyone plays their part and very much contributes to the unique atmosphere at Bingham Academy. Their Faith is key. They come here to help spread the word of God. It’s not overt and ‘for the sake of it’ but it is interwoven in everything they do. They are fully committed to what they do. A husband of one of the teachers works in a recording studio, translating the bible stories into many of the 80 different local languages in order to improve literacy rates. Fascinating and inspiring.

Dragonfly Training delivers an extensive range of courses for teachers. This is my third year and they have sent me to all sorts of places to deliver training. It’s a real privilege to be part of a team committed to improving standards in education and supporting teachers with practical strategies to engage and inspire young people. Bingham Academy identified some key issues that were hindering their rate of progress. Children come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and educational systems. They often dip in and out and their starting points can vary widely. Add to this the fact that ‘results’ count and teachers are under pressure to make every lesson count. Dragonfly Training approached this with some teaching and learning fundamentals: Assessment for Learning strategies and good old fashioned differentiation. Teachers explored how to assess learning in a number of practical ways. Great responses and engagement from teachers meant each of the ideas generated even more suggestions for success within this unique context. A series of differentiation ideas and some Project Based Learning followed in the last two sessions with positive outcomes for all staff.

I will apply ‘digital’ strategies to learning wherever possible but the internet in Ethiopia often hangs quite literally by a thread. I offered some use of Spiral (www.spiral.ac) which with strong internet will be a potent tool for learning and assessment. We also had a play with Kahoot and Quizlet. The Ethiopian Government often disconnects the Internet (it’s a big red switch) at the first sign of political unrest or for days on end when there is exam season. Last year, exam papers were released online (unofficially) from which widespread cheating ensued. This year, WiFi went offline for 3 weeks in June which negated the (online) cheating somewhat. The school has to cope with regular outages and it just becomes part of life. I found it rather refreshing.

I had three evenings on campus; A chance to socialise and get to know a little more about what makes Bingham Academy such a great place to be. The first night was pizza night with board games. I haven’t really played board games for decades (apart from a family game of Scrabble which I ended up winning because I was the only player left!) and it was great not to be reliant on devices electrical or otherwise for entertainment. It was social networking in its truest form. New staff joined in and I became one of the family for the evening. I loved it. The second night was dinner in a family home with friends, stories, good food and the usual warmth of welcome. Thirdly, was dinner out with twenty teachers and a bit of local grub. Njeera is the must-have and requires a good palate, a taste for spices and plenty of antibacterial hand gel. A sense of adventure helps too.

I am looking forward to another return to Addis Ababa. The people are fascinating, charming and passionate about what they do. There is a great deal of commitment to improving things in every classroom from Kindergarten right through to Year 12. I have set them some ‘Project Based Learning’ ideas – sown a few seeds – and I hope that these have created enough of a spark in each teacher to take them through the year. I am keen to develop science teaching in the elementary and junior school and thinking of ideas that fit with their unique context. You can find out more about their work here http://binghamacademy.net/ 

With best wishes for the next year and thanks to all the staff at the school.

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Sound Matters

As a lifelong fan of decent music and in my new role as a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce), I attended my first RSA event at the Sallis Benney Theatre in Brighton: The Future of Urban Sound Planning on Wednesday 22 February.

With an eclectic mix of seasoned speakers, University academics, and engineers of soundscapes, I was instantly engaged in the content of the evening. Sound really does matter and how we respond to the multitude of sounds around us is complex, innate and fascinating.

Julian Treasure, he of acclaimed TED talks on sound and founder of The Sound Agency, branding machine for international corporations, spoke at length with crystal clear audio accompaniment on how sound affects us. Sound in the workplace, open plan office spaces, distracting sounds, painful sounds and calming bird song with rhythmic pulses of ocean waves filled the auditorium and carefully contextualized the importance of the evening. Julian highlighted the importance of protecting our wellbeing through careful choices and through ‘sound’ design and not just volumes but rhythms and types of sound. He explained how we are designed to respond to our ears much faster than our vision. Hearing is 360 degrees he explained, yet our world is dominated by the visual signals we are subjected to on a constant basis. Sound affects our behaviour – the deepest bin in the world clip demonstrates this. Sound affects our mood – melancholy or magical tones can lift us or bury us. Music too has its own place in our world. We are born with a natural response to rhythm and we just know how certain combinations of notes can make us feel. I believe that music has a significant and profound effect on our emotions, that’s why I founded Music4Learning. That’s why I was interested in hearing more about soundscapes and how people are working to achieve better sound balances in our lives.

A team from Brighton and Hove City Council are working on a number of projects to create better urban spaces through a more creative use of architecture and sound. In one of their pilot projects, they took a busy seafront location, full of traffic, people and noise and used focused sound to create a calm zone. The results were spectacular. Another part of the research took them to use cameras and music in a dingy subterranean tunnel from the main road to beach and promenade. With the sugar plum fairy music from The Nutcracker Suite playing,  skulking changed to waltzing and introvert switched to extrovert in a matter of seconds.

Andy Knowles from Anderson Acoustics described brilliantly the passion that some architects have for creating better soundscapes, responsive to our needs and promoting our well-being. Sadly, planning blocks, intransigence and bloody-mindedness get in the way. It’s a frustrating business to be in by all accounts. Generating ideas is only half the battle.

One of the last presentations was on how the study of sound from an academic point of view can ‘open our eyes and ears’ to more thoughtful approaches to urban design and public health. In one part, Dr. Emmanuel Spinelli described how he had studied the designs and subsequent noise output of a wide range of hand dryers. Interesting – particularly when you consider the noise output from a child’s point of view. They are tested to within an inch of their life in sterile sound-proof booths but not necessarily in a fully tiled echo chamber that exists in most restrooms and can leave a sensitive 4-year-old requiring another visit to the bathroom.

I found the explanations of how sound design can be better incorporated into our world entirely fascinating. My role as founder of Music4Learning is to help teachers change the atmosphere in their classrooms through careful choices of music. Sound really matters.

The event was supported by The Noise Abatement SocietyAnderson Acoustics, and The RSA. Our Twitter feed commented on the evening @music4learning #rsasoundscapes

Music4Learning #5

“Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not.”

Wellbeing is underrated. So many people pay little attention to their own or others. Hardworking teachers and students crashing and burning their way through an academic week means there is little left for anyone else come the weekend. Teachers are victims of their own regime. The timetable creates a Pavlovian phenomenon of knowing exactly what you are doing and when. But this hamster wheel is where we lose the ‘why’ of teaching.

Let’s refocus on the ‘why’ then. Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not. We nurture, guide and applaud young people. We push and pull, cajole and coax and equip brave young minds with resilience and tenacity. To survive this rollercoaster I need time to look after myself and my students. I need to know when I am pushing them too far. I use the music from I Can Teach to ‘chill out’. Generally, with no lyrics, the music allows me to refocus, to reflect and calm before the next onslaught. Try it before that ‘hard to teach’ class arrives. The effect is not short-lived. My favourite track in Chill Out has to be La Femme d’Argent by Air. You can almost feel the waves lapping around you and a gentle sea breeze keeping you nicely chilled. Follow this up with Homebase by dZihan and Kamien and you are in a different place – a different space. Northern Lights by Lux is delicious in its simplicity. You can melt away in this music.

So, you’ve tried the therapeutic self-awareness route and you are now confidently going to try it on that class of 8 year olds or 13 years olds that have bounced in after break. It works. It creates a calm, peaceful and purposeful atmosphere. It physically changes the chemical balance of hormones in the body. Calm teacher, calm class of learners. Greater focus means improved productivity and greater confidence. ‘Chill Out‘ does not mean ‘Doze Off’. There is an intrinsic purpose to this choice of music. It works.

ASAP Science: The Scientific Power of Music (2:00)

“More of the brain is involved in perception and response to music than to language or anything else.” – Oliver Sacks

Lastly, if you like the academic rigour behind all of this then check out Oliver Sacks – Tales of Music and the Brain. His site is here. Worth a good look.

Music4Learning #3

“I look into the window of my mind; reflections of the fears I know I’ve left behind. I step out of the ordinary, I can feel my soul ascending, I’m on my way, can’t stop me now and you can do the same, yeah……what have you done today to make me feel proud?” – Heather Small

Music4Learning is all about learning.  It’s the complex connections that we make when we learn something new. Music is such a powerful addition to the process that it reinforces it in so many different ways. The TEDx talk by Jessica Grahn at Western University highlights the proven links between brain activity and music.

The opportunity to use music for reflection is so important in my classroom. I use the Think section in I Can Teach as a powerful tool when considering heavyweight topics such as world poverty, migrants’ struggles, pollution, natural disasters and the list goes on. I might use Reuters Images as a starting point – add the music in the background. It might be Elegy by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy or it might be Cahuita by Oystein Sevag and Lakki Patey – both incredibly powerful. How about an assembly or a lesson on James Mollison’s photo series on Where Children Sleep – I used Adagio for Strings in G Minor – Albinoni – alongside these photos. The connections in the brain are stronger and reinforced.

Much of the music in the Think section, contains lyrics designed to provoke thought. So why not use it to do exactly that. Use the lyrics for analysis in English and as a form of expression and theatre in Drama. Use it in Religious Studies to consider compassion and understanding. True Colours by Cindy Lauper is a familiar and well-used classic piece of contemporary music. What do the lyrics mean? How can we make society fairer and more understanding? These are real questions for real learners.

My students show a greater understanding of ‘big issues‘. They can articulate their feelings about homelessness and famine and pollution. They report on issues that affect them. This is not a ‘citizenship’ lesson or ‘personal and social education’. This is real learning and music is integral to their progress. They tackle new challenges with greater confidence because they have better self-esteem and understand their own issues in context with those of others around them. They are better at learning and metacognition and make great progress as a result.

Finally, try this: Ludovico Einaudi – Nuvole Bianche (White Clouds) running alongside ‘The Mountain’ – if you haven’t seen it – it’s worth a look.

Music4Learning #4 will be about using the Wake Up section of I Can Teach. It does exactly what it says.