Hearts and minds in PNG

Reflections on serendipity in Papua New Guinea July 2019

The opportunities for growth in Papua New Guinea are enormous. Education is doing its very best to maintain a pace and enable change in a country that is dominated by headlines of poverty, crime, poor infrastructure and tribal infighting. The headlines are often true but underneath this lies the belief that the people of Papua New Guinea can bring about change themselves. They are beautifully diverse in their language, their appearance and their habits. They are warm and generous with time, humour and welcome. They are embracing their history and traditions, acknowledging their failings and looking to combine culture with commerce, people with prosperity and openness with opportunity.

I have been fortunate to work in some incredible places with some inspirational people. Papua New Guinea felt different. It was the serendipity of new connections, of random associations with previous travels, of conversations once had in dreams and laughter shared as if lifelong friends. So, the opportunity to work with fellow educators, to share ideas and challenge their thinking never felt like ‘work’. It was intensely professionally rewarding. Sharing ideas to ‘raise the bar’, to stretch and challenge learners, to promote positive learning experiences and develop a more resilient and independent learner was met with enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism. Teachers with vastly different experiences worked alongside each other in teams to develop their thinking.

Tony needs a special mention. Every school needs a ‘Tony’. Tony has been teaching in elementary and secondary schools for over 35 years. With a typical Melbourne-born approach to life (they get all four seasons in a day down there you know – makes you or breaks you) he never once offered the ‘seen it – done it’ line. He took every idea and moulded into something for the team. But above all this, after a quick trip home, he presented me with a PNG shoulder bag. Inside it was a pair of trainers, socks, shorts and a ‘Kokoda Track’ shirt. We were off trekking the next day into Varirata National Park, several hundred metres up and the start of something amazing. Tony does this trek as a practice run with pupils from the school, before they get ready to do part of the Kokoda Track further in to the Highlands region of PNG. But they also do residential camps on the more remote parts of the main island and even on some of the smaller islands. Skills and experiences that just don’t happen in so many other parts of the world. Tony provides this above and beyond his daily duties. The commitment is significant but he loves his job. One day he will get around to doing some serious retiring. every school needs a ‘Tony’.

So with Tuesday’s trekking, mud sliding, bird watching and burger eating all done, the focus shifted to middle leaders: the driving force of the school and so often the determinant of success. They are the actions in the ‘ethos’. We communicated on so many different levels, considering the vision required to make a difference and the ‘why’ we do what we do. Again, the two days never once felt like ‘work’. The outcomes were significant. A real shift in focus and a realignment of values. We all left feeling very positive about the future of education.

The final day was working with classroom (or learning) assistants. With no previous professional development for many years, these ‘significant other adults’ in the classroom were keen for new knowledge. There was a tangible feeling of progress, great humour and passion for learning. It was an incredible day. I would happily hang up my training hat right there and then, knowing I had done my bit.

The incredible context that those in education in Papua New Guinea find themselves, whether ex-pat or native islanders, creates a unique camaraderie, a philosophy of endeavour and triumph over adversity, a resilience to tough times and unpredictability, and a warmth of character that is quite unique.

The week finished with an opportunity to hike up to a ridge about 400m above the town of Port Moresby with Lauren and her fiancé, Demetrius. Breakfast to follow and a trip to the market before a flight to Hong Kong and beyond. Quite a fantastic way to end my short stay in paradise.

For those of you who are educators, looking for adventure and challenge, beyond the pale then try this experience. The Ela Murray International School, part of the IEA group, like many other schools in remote places, struggles on many occasions to recruit. It puts pressure on existing staff and leadership. Get in touch if this has sparked some curiosity.

For those of us privileged to travel the world, meeting educators in unique places, I believe we have a responsibility to share what we see and to tell others the good news. Our world is an incredible place. It’s up to us to hand it over in a better state than we found it.

If you would like to find out more about professional development around the world from Dragonfly Training, then get in touch with mary@dragonfly-training.co.uk.

STEM in Vietnam

Vietnam: An amazing week with passionate, professional educators. A pleasure beyond words.

Best advice: Cross the road carefully.

They weren’t kidding. The eyes in the back of my head (it’s a teacher thing) came in pretty handy when visiting Hanoi this February. I spent the week working with lecturers in education at the Hanoi Pedagogical University, developing their understanding of STEM and how learning outcomes can be approved when adopting the practical approaches of these subjects. Lecturers were mainly Vietnamese speakers, with a range of experiences both as lecturers and as teachers. They shared a passion for learning and teaching and were keen to adopt new ideas. The week was a joint venture between UK-based Dragonfly Training and Educe Solutions in Vietnam, a versatile and innovative company offering training and development for the education sector.

Hanoi is a long way from home but the hospitality I received was exceptional and a there was a warm welcome from University staff and the lecturers on the course. I was fortunate to have a couple of days either side of the course to explore the Old Quarter in Hanoi. It’s such a bustling place with something happening on every street. The buzz of motorcycles and honking taxis and cars is literally in your face for most of the day. There’s an onslaught for all senses, stimulated by smells, sights, sounds, the thick air in your lungs and street food stalls, tempting with doughnuts, skewered sizzling chicken or a waft of garlic, chilli and ginger as you pass another noodle bar. Locals perched uncomfortably on little seats (little from my perspective anyway), hunched over a bowl of Pho’, fiddling with chopsticks, supping the soup or spooning rice noodles into their mouths. The Sunday morning streets around Hoàn Kiēm Lake are pedestrianised and fill up rapidly from about nine o’clock as families gather to chat over coffee, play games, walk, dance, stretch, exercise, paint, build towers, take photos or just hang out with friends. Early arrivals are big groups of kids with load speakers practising their dance moves as if they were getting ready for the next big talent show. There were also a group of locals, picking up litter with tongs – it just seemed to be the ‘thing’ to do.

Hanoi: Sunday morning

I was not the only visitor to Hanoi that week. Much was made of the heralded arrival of two key players in world peace. At least that’s how many people see it. The flags were out, the blooms ready, the pavements swept and the security forces prepped. Trump and Kim t-shirts alongside hats, flags, badges, scarves, models and postcards decked out every souvenir shop along the way. Hanoi touts itself quite proudly as the ‘City of Peace’ and was keen to see it all end successfully. Never mind. We live in hope.

With a few recommendations #asktwitter and a knowledgeable local source I had some idea of things to try on the menu. Noodles was a must. Rice and egg. Both done in a broth with pork slices. The meat is not what you might find in the UK. It’s fatty, chewy and full of bits but it goes with the territory. The flavour is good. Chilli, salt, garlic, lime and ginger dominate with a hint of parsley, coriander and red and green perilla. We had sushi, spring rolls, rice: the usual. Throw in lunch at a buffalo restaurant, with blood, stomach lining and sliced steak and a local treat of seafood hotpot (with a central boiling pot where all the seafood is cooked along with noodles, herbs and vegetables) and you get the idea that food is major part of their life. Top of the list has to be the egg coffee. A whipped crème style custard floating on a viciously strong, thick black coffee. Didn’t think I’d like it. I was so wrong.

The most part of the week was spent an hour north of Hanoi, working at the University and residing at a beautiful lakeside resort. An empty resort. Quiet, peaceful and serene until the Friday night birthday party, accompanied by lots of ‘three cheers’ in Vietnamese and three hours of painful karaoke.

Five days of training meant building good relationships with delegates. Lots of laughs even through translation from Vietnamese to English and vice versa. Lots of practical activities, mainly sourced from Practical Action, to build STEM competencies and confidence. We looked at floating gardens, water filters and tomato carrying cable systems. All the resources for these are on the Practical Action website. Free and high quality (what’s not to like?) We also made balloon racing cars (they got very excited about these), spaghetti and marshmallow towers, vertical marble runs on a wall and egg-carrying parachutes dropped from the tenth floor of the huge central hall. We discussed key tenets of good teaching and learning, we discussed assessment, measuring progress, listening, questioning and promoting diversity and understanding. We worked hard to overcome the need to add labels to types of teaching or methodologies and through exhaustive post-training Q&A sessions we thrashed out the nuts and bolts of STEM for a 21st Century Vietnam. Through a sophisticated online academy, Educe Solutions have also been able to set assignments, quizzes, check progress of delegates and open forums for discussion over key issues evolving from training. Huge thanks go to all the staff at Educe (especially Thanh and Tuan), working on translations, site development and purchasing my extraordinarily long list of resources for the practical training sessions including sand, gravel, tomatoes and lots and lots of tape.

parachutes: couldn’t resist!

I will save my rant about Thai Airways, delayed flights, missed connections, broken promises and a disappearing suitcase for another time and place. It did little to spoil the incredible experience of a week working with highly educated, hard working and passionate educators. Hanoi has a great deal to offer. The down-to-earth, rapidly developing country with incredible people will stay long in the memory and will always be a place I would like to return to.

Brilliant Bogotà

Dropping into any big city for a few days means it can be difficult to gauge what real life might be like if you were actually living there. Bogotà, Colombia comes with a plethora of health warnings for personal safety and most people think of drug cartels, violence and political chaos when you mention either Bogotà or Colombia. I read the FCO advice before I travel anywhere for work or holiday. It means I have covered the ‘disclaimer’ issue should anything ever happen. However, I always work on seeing things first hand, meeting people who actually live and work there – taking things on face value. It works for me.

This trip was working with teachers at the prestigious Colegio Anglo Colombiano, a forward-thinking, hard-working school with dedicated staff, high-quality leadership and wonderful facilities for children from nursery to late teens. I was privileged to be representing Dragonfly Training again and able to deliver a range of courses to different groups of teachers over three days.

Day One was working with 25 middle leaders from the senior school. We explored the idea of the importance of a ‘vision’, to bring people on board, inspire them and provide a focus. Staff also considered how to observe, collect data and evaluate its importance, carefully planning the next steps in line with their vision. We also looked at managing change and planning for the future.

Day Two was with 120 teachers from across the senior school. We looked at a whole range of ideas for differentiation and how to challenge all students to reach their potential. One of the interesting aspects of this was that a large proportion of teaching staff was Spanish speaking and so, with a professional translation outfit, primed in their little booth and me, miked up, it was great to see how they translated some of the ‘teacher-speak’. They did very well apparently!

The third day was more bespoke to the needs of the College. We worked with a group of Teaching and Learning Champions; those that showed ambition, talent and potential (and were also willing to come in on a Saturday!). It was based around a ‘Stretch and Challenge’ theme and included a number of resources from Practical Action. Using STEM as a driver of progress has been a passion of mine for a very long time. Teachers and students are inspired and engaged. It is easy to bring an immediate and real-world context to each of the tasks. And it’s fun. We looked at the ‘Why’ for each of these teachers and considered how the world was going to change over the next few years for our students. Really thought-provoking discussions.

It was an immensely rewarding trip. Working with teachers and leaders who want to ensure that young people who are potential champions and sergeants of the future country are equipped with skills of compassion, empathy, purpose and determination to do better, was humbling, heartwarming and inspiring. I look forward to returning.

Also got a chance to sample some incredible Colombian coffee in a Coffee Laboratory. Just brilliant.

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.”

 

Running: a British School in Nanjing

I have always been an advocate of running. Good for the soul and good for the heart. Not so good for the knees. It clears my mind and gives me breathing space away from 4G, Wifi, browsers and emails. It’s always been a key to a better work-life balance.

As part of my work with Dragonfly Training, I was invited to run two training days at The British School in Nanjing. My two year visa and an excellent track record, meant I was a good fit. We had lots of time to find out exactly what the school’s needs were, so we formulated a toolbox of practical ideas to improve, regenerate and revitalise teaching and learning. After a long journey, my first priority was to explore the school, share resources and connect with senior staff. I was able to spend time listening to the Head of Senior School, Heidi Witt-Williams and the Headteacher, Matthew Shephard, describe the unique context of their school. It was time well spent.

I just want to say how much of a pleasure it was to host Marcus here in Nanjing. I think it’s often overlooked how important it is that training is enjoyable and that trainers need to be engaging. Marcus was excellent; I only got to sit in a couple of hours of the two days but I felt inspired. – Matthew Shephard, Head, BSN

The two days were filled with practical suggestions for differentiation, assessment for learning, stretch and challenge and ways to create independent learners. The final session looked at how to use projects (particularly STEM projects from www.practicalaction.org/schools) to bring classrooms alive. Staff completed the Squashed Tomato Challenge, starting with a scavenger hunt for various items and then constructing a working model to show how to bring small amounts of tomatoes down a Nepalese hillside to markets in the valleys. Great fun, highly engaging and a fantastic way to finish the two days.

Day one started with a ‘Keynote’ presentation to the whole staff. It was called ‘Brilliant Brains’ and was really a way to get people thinking about how connections, brain development and memories are key factors in learning. I have learnt a great deal from a fellow trainer at Dragonfly, Dave Taylor and been lucky enough to share ideas about how kids learn best and what makes us better teachers. I was able to use some of these during the first session.

Making connections with real teachers really matters to me. I invest a huge amount of time and effort in creating a tailored course to suit the needs of individual schools. I want people to enjoy it, but most of all I want it to impact on their professional lives, making work more rewarding, fulfilling and ultimately more enjoyable. I want children to be engaged and nurtured, stretched and challenged rather than become passengers in a classroom full of uninspiring content and knowledge. I was inspired by the passion of the educators at the British School in Nanjing, their flexibility and willingness to adapt to new situations, new buildings and new challenges. I have a follow up chat with the Head in the next few days to see how things are progressing.

The Head, Matthew Shephard, has a calm and uncomplicated approach to school leadership. He promotes quality first teaching, supporting and encouraging his staff. He is surrounded by a highly experienced team of educators who promote and model excellent teaching and learning from Nursery up to Year 13. We discussed leadership styles, teaching and learning……. and running. I suggested a simple program to build up to 10k over the next few months. Good for the soul. Good for the heart. I look forward to joining him on a run in Nanjing the next time I visit.

For details on Dragonfly Training courses, give Mary Chapman a call on +44 (0)2920 711787 or email mary@dragonfly-training.co.uk

 

East meets West in Shanghai

This was one of the highlights of training this year, alongside my second visit to Ethiopia in August. Hugely anticipated and requiring significant planning, this was always going to be an exciting trip. I was invited to work with Nord Anglia International School in Shanghai, Pudong on behalf of Dragonfly Training Ltd. It’s a long way to go for a day’s training so I managed to persuade myself that I needed a couple of days in Hong Kong on the way back to ease the jet lag.

Arriving a day before training, I had a chance to wander the old quarter of Shanghai and adjust to the new time zone. It’s a busy place with regular updates on smog and air quality available to its millions of people, many of whom were wearing face masks. The air quality that day wasn’t particularly bad so I passed on the face mask. I stood on The Bund and watched the enormous, heavily laden and almost sinking barges make their way along the river, puffing out diesel fumes and chugging away like old men with cigars hanging from their mouths.

The school was a fantastic, purpose-built venue, set in plenty of acres in the middle of Pudong. With a wide range of international students to cater for, from ages 3 to 18 and from all over the world, the school had exceptional facilities to offer them. The staff provided a warm welcome, with a great deal of enthusiasm for the training that day and great feedback at the end. I will always adjust course content to suit a particular context and I will always respond to feedback from delegates on how the day has been received.

I had a chance to look around the school, talk ‘teacher talk’ for a while and then prepare myself for a short (2 hour) flight to Hong Kong. Having never been to ‘Honkers’ before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I had done some background research which proved helpful. I hadn’t really pictured what such a huge number of people in such a small place would really look like. Shopping on the equivalent of Black Friday was not a wise choice. Pretty crazy shoppers – thousands of them – queuing up for bargains and rifling their way through piles of clothes, labels flying everywhere. On the Sunday, having walked miles on the Saturday, exploring the sights, I came across another peculiar human phenomenon: ‘Philippino Maid Sunday’ – they all have the same day off – they all meet in subways, underpasses, bridges, pavements, just about anywhere really and sit and chat. They dance, cook, socialise and buy and sell clothes and jewellery. It is a sea of humans and negotiating your way through is quite a task.

I have certainly learnt a great deal from travelling, exploring and asking questions about life on the other side of the planet. As I continue to work with teachers around the world, I can draw on these experiences, create unique contexts for the training sessions and empathise with different cultures. Fascinating.

The course I was delivering is called The Big Four – Sustainably Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning. Available through Dragonfly Training Ltd.