Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Full Circle

July 6th and I am sitting in LAX (Los Angeles Airport) waiting for the flight home. The photo attached was taken in almost the same place on the way out, so I have come a full circle.  No photo this time as I am on my own. Russell has stayed on with family in Cleveland and then will head to Boston to attend Harvard. I am eager to get home and join the family celebrations with the anticipated arrival of a new grandchild. I am marvelling at technology as I receive updates on the progress of our new grandchild into the world in real time, and remember back to delivering a child in Papua New Guinea and my mother only hearing about it when it was all over! It would have been two days between her hearing that we were going to the hospital and finally getting news of the child's safe arrival from us.

Looking back over our adventures as recorded in this blog I feel like I haven’t recorded the half of it and hope to go back and fill in a lot of gaps before we forget the details. Every day we appreciate how blessed we have been to have received this opportunity and are thankful to the people who have enabled us to go away for twelve weeks. Obviously the Woolf Fisher Foundation who gave us the impetus, but also our family, friends and colleagues (who are friends) have added to their loads to make this possible and we recognise this and are truly grateful.

We have learnt so much and have simply enjoyed being curious and going from experience to experience and soaking up ‘stuff’ and making connections. We have connected ideas and people, dredged up memories long forgotten and added new ones.

This is not the last post, but there is a sense of rightness in noting that I was here on April 30th, looking forward to an amazing adventure, and here I am on July 6th having lived it and more.

Green Water

I had to laugh when I saw this sign in the shower at the airport in LAX. I am quite sceptical of the energy saving notices in commercial establishments when they relate to water.  In this case it meant that the water pressure was so low it took three times as long to shower and wash the shampoo out of your hair so they would have been better providing normal pressure and getting you out of the shower faster.

Many of the places we have stayed have displayed a sign similar to this telling us that if we reuse our towel we will be saving the planet.  I would be a lot more convinced if they also provided plugs in the sink.  We have stayed in 20+ different accommodations in our travels and the ONLY places to consistently provide plugs in sinks were the homes of our families.  In some places there was no plug in the kitchen sink, many either had no plug at all in the bathroom, or it leaked rapidly and was completely ineffectual.

In some places we had no option but to wash our clothes under running showers as they provided no washing facilities and no plugs in basins.

I will believe these signs are more than money saving gestures for the hotels when they do their bit by providing well sealed plugs in the basins.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Travelling Companions

There is no doubt at all about who was the best travelling companion on this trip - especially now I am completing the journey on my own.

But there have been a couple of other items that must be mentioned. The first is my trusty Trakdot. I bought this fabulous device back in 2013 after seeing it in a gadget magazine.  I had had a bad experience losing my luggage in LAX and this wee device seemed like just what I needed.  I have used it nearly every time I have flown since, from local trips in NZ to Asia to the UK, from Australia to Europe to the USA and it always delivers. When I land I get an SMS and an email from my suitcase telling me where it is in the world. And if I have my bluetooth on I usually get advance notice that my bag will be appearing on the luggage carousal any moment. It is wonderful.  I did note on one flight this trip that TSA seem to have taken an interest in it.  I had the notice inside my suitcase that TSA had been borrowing through it and my Trakdot had moved from the bottom of the case to sitting on the top. But nothing was said, so it must have been deemed kosher.
The notification emailed reads:
Your Trakdot device: NamedXX is indicating its location is within the area of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). If this is a final destination of a flight you are on, proceed to baggage claim to pick up your luggage. If you are at your final destination, but it is not the location of your Trakdot luggage, then proceed to your carrier's Baggage Claim Office and arrange for the luggage to be sent to you from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).Battery: Full.

The other must have is the app TripIt Pro. All your travels in one place. You download the app on your phone and you sign up to create an account with them. The Pro Upgrade costs a fee that is well worth it.  I had to allow access to my GMail, and then it takes every travel looking document and adds them to my TripIt account.  From there it handles all my bookings like a travel agent sending me notices 24 hrs in advance that I need to check in, what Gates and terminals and even tracks my seats.  It informs me of flight delays, Gate changes etc on the day right up to boarding. It provides maps and information about the arrival destination as part of the deal. My human travelling companion has come to accept that TripIt will always be the first to let us know of any travel changes.  I have stood in an Air NZ terminal, with the AirNZ app on my phone, and TripIt has informed me of flight changes before AirNZ themselves do - every time. It is well worth the investment.

Notifications received like this:
TripIt Pro alert: Connection summary for DTW DL 98 arrived at DTW and will disembark at terminal M, gate A3.Your connection DL 5264 (DTW to CLE) is currently ON TIME departing from terminal M, gate A61, at 5:45pm EDT. You have 1h, 53m to make your connection.For help or changes, contact FLIGHT CENTRE BROKER JIM: 09 815 6675; Delta Air Lines: 1-800-221-1212View your trip to access the latest flight status information.Happy travels,The TripIt Pro team

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Future Ready

The opening Keynote for ISTE 2016 Michio Kaku — futurist and theoretical physicist-  connected with a train of thought that has been running as we have travelled around the world and connected with educators in many countries on the #BurtsLearn journey.

First a little about the Keynote.
Michio Kaku was an entertaining and knowledgeable speaker who challenged every preconception any of us non-scientists may have had. He posed all kinds of challenging questions from a physicist’s perspective and had the engaging ability to laugh at himself and make the audience laugh. His topic was a futuristic one and he undertook a wide-ranging view of the world our young people will be living in when they are our age.

I am not going into detail here about his speech as the journalists from the ISTE team have done a wonderful job of recording his points and they can be read on the ISTE Blog.

It was his reflections on education that connected with me most directly as I was able to bring a modicum of intelligence to the content, whereas I simply had to take his word about the medical and technical insights he shared.

Before I comment on his predictions I will backtrack over some observations from the previous couple of months.

  1. In some of the places we visited and shared with educators they expressed surprise that our parent community in Manaiakalani subscribe to a pervasive 1:1 digital approach in our schools.  We heard many stories of parents defining the number of hours, or in some case minutes, that young people were allowed to be on digital devices in school for various reasons cited by parents.  One of the recurring themes was that digital devices isolate children and stop them being sociable.
  2. We have heard around the world of the growth of compliances as allergies dictate the actions of schools and teachers. Approximately 1 in every 13 children in the United States lives with food allergies. That’s roughly two in every classroom. Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction. Classes and schools are issuing stringent rules curtailing the eating behaviour of the 12 in every 13 children who do not have these allergies - and of course the teachers have to abide by these rules too. Then there are the non-food allergies, some of which are potentially fatal.
  3. We were quite taken aback at one District conference we attended to find a notice on our table requesting we refrain from wearing scented products eg perfume or aftershave, as it could produce a fatal reaction in those allergic to it. These environmental allerigies are being taken very seriously in Canada with schools having policies about this.
  4. We have also seen and heard a lot about the fear in schools of acts of random terror and violence on a large and fatal scale.

These barrier and risk free environments being created in school systems may well a the pressure point that causes society to look closely at the industrial model of education, which is less than 200 years old, and question how much longer we can continue to bring children together for much of their waking day and contain them in social groups for the purpose of learning. Particularly when we consider that there are many more factors (take unacceptable behaviour as an example) that make parents concerned about the particular group of young people their own child is required to spend the day with.

It may well be that the parental concern about time on devices in point (1) above will be counterbalanced by the subsequent points. And they may conclude that the benefits of learning in a different physical environment being supported by technology delivering learning opportunities, outway the increasing risks when children who are strangers are brought together in one place.

It would be a shame if it was negative drivers that brought about the disruption to the status quo of ‘school looking like it was when I, the parent, went there’ that innovative teachers and school leaders have been modelling in increasing pockets of a number of countries around the world. But it is looking quite possible that it might be far more pragmatic factors than striving for innovative approaches to learning enabled by modern technology and creative minds that change the way we bring young people together in school buildings.

And so I return to our Keynote speaker. Professor Kaku introduced us to exciting technologies and innovations that will make learning even more delightful and engaging, and accessible to more people, perhaps everyone in the world. Where I was disappointed was that the examples of applying these futuristic innovations was in the context of a kind of school building/congregating system that is an extension of what we currently do.  One of his examples was that when unable to attend school a child would be able to have their surrogate sit in their chair and absorb the learning.  

It is understandable that with an audience of 15, 000+ educators he felt the need to assure us several times that we would not be losing our jobs and schools and kids will still need teachers. But I had been hoping for more.  I had been hoping that he would have taken us beyond this industrial model to a time when our children will not be herded unilaterally into groups for hours for learning to occur.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Happy Place

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA
From our arrival at the small airport (Wellington size), to our stay in a condo, to the conference, to the time spent on the beach, to our departure through TSA we experienced unfailing friendliness, helpfulness and genuinely happy people.

The beach itself is an endless stretch of white sand which is both long and wide, with choppy surf, and balmy tropical water temperature and atmosphere. An extensive stretch of sand pools form between the soft sand and the surf, creating warm pools for children and those who are content to wallow. And the concept of burn time which governs our lives on the beach in NZ doesn’t appear to feature as you don’t seem to burn!  Lots of surf life saving teams on the beach as there was quite a strong drag in the surf while we were there, so only confident swimmers were out in it.

We are blessed to live in a country with stunning beaches and to have sought out beach paradises in many parts of the world, including PNG. But the thing that struck us about Myrtle Beach was how happy everyone was.  Groups of people enjoying themselves in all kinds of ways.  There were those lined up under the obligatory hotel umbrellas with two loungers, but the majority of people had other ways of doing ‘holiday at the beach’.  On my last walk along the beach I took my phone to try and capture some of it to preserve this feel good memory.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Profile of the SC graduate

Many schools in New Zealand have developed a ‘Profile of a Graduate’ from their schools and it is a huge task.  

It was refreshing to be introduced to the 'Profile of the South Carolina Graduate', as something which has been developed for the whole state.

The framework that supports the profile of the South Carolina graduate is vital to helping our state stay competitive in today's global economy as it addresses the need and solution for a sustainable, educated and qualified workforce. More here

It undoubtedly contributes significantly to coherence between schools and across the age levels of schooling.

  • Rigorous standards in language arts and math for career and college readiness
  • Multiple languages, science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), arts and social sciences
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Communication, information, media and technology
  • Knowing how to learn
Integrity. Self-direction. Global perspective. Perseverance. Work ethic. Interpersonal skills

Does the benefit gained from the process of wrestling with the tough questions in our school community as we gain understanding and consensus around “What does a graduate from XYZ School look like?” outweigh the benefit of having a rigorously developed state profile?

Undoubtedly the people who were present at the time when the school went through this process gain enormously and get a great return on their investment of time and creativity. But over time, as more new staff arrive and go through an induction process rather than a development process, you have to wonder if the benefit of contributing to a profile that has been widely adopted brings a greater long term sense of satisfaction.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Leadership Keynote

The opening Keynote for the SCASA conference was Chris Fuller speaking on the Five levels of leadership. Chris works with The John Maxwell Company and is one of the world’s leading motivational speakers. He warned us at the outset that he speaks in Tweetable soundbites, and the next hour+ verified this.

I don’t have a hope here of reproducing his speech, despite two of us taking notes flat out. What did become apparent was that the essence of his message had been shared with us by our kaumatua, Ihaka Samuels before he passed away; “If you want to know whether you’re a leader, look behind you and see who is following. If no one is, then you’re not!” Ike had several ways of delivering this message, but you knew what he was referring to when he said, “Look over your shoulder!”

Chris Fuller quoted Margaret Thatcher in a similar vein, “Being a leader is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.”

His own way of stating this message was, “If I think I’m leading and they’re not following, then I’m just taking a walk!” adding the quip, “And I’ve walked for some power walkers in my time!”

The Five Levels of Leadership he led us through:

1. Position -The Level of Rights

People follow because they have to. You have Positional Leadership. You are the Boss. They don't have a choice. They have to follow, whether they want your leadership or not.
Note: Your influence will not extend beyond the lines of your job description. The longer you stay here, the higher the turnover and the lower the morale

2. Permission - The Level of Relationships

People follow because they want to follow YOU. They believe in You. They trust You
They Don't Have to, but they want to follow You.
Note: People will follow you beyond your stated authority. This level allows work to be fun

3. Production - The Level of Results

People follow because of what you have done for the organisation. Your accomplishments.
Note: This is where success is sensed by most people. They like you and what you are doing. Problems are fixed with very little effort because of momentum.

4. People Development - The Level of Reproduction

People follow because of what you have done for them. What's in it for them.
Note: This is where long-range growth occurs. Your commitment to developing leaders will ensure ongoing growth to the organisation and to people. Do whatever you can to achieve and stay on this level.

5. Personhood - The Level of Respect

People follow because of who you are and what you represent. Your Values.
Note: This step is reserved for leaders who have spent years growing people and organisations.
Just a few make it to this level. Those who do are BIGGER THAN LIFE.

Some of his quotes captured throughout this keynote:

Every leader gets the team they deserve, eventually
The law of the lid: Your leadership ability is the lid to your organisation
No one wants to be managed, Lead people, manage things
If you don’t have a SUCCESS-OR, then you’re a failure
Start training your successor
Every team has a Swing Dog - The one who impacts whether the leader’s vision is carried out or not
People join companies, people quit PEOPLE
Teams need a dragon to slay or a princess to rescue
The elevation of the external keeps us from the squabbling of the internal
Create a leadership team - if it’s lonely at the top something’s not right.
Only secure leaders empower others
Ask the children of your employees whether they like it that Mum/Dad works for you.
If they reply “Oh, it’s a 3 wine night” you’ve got your answer.
If we're not getting better, people are getting bitter

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Innovative Ideas Institute

We were privileged to be invited to attend the annual conference of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. The title of SCASA makes it clear who the intended audience is and the theme “Innovative Ideas Institute” makes the purpose clear. Innovative leadership was front of mind throughout the three days, and was unpacked through the keynotes, sessions, vendor exhibits and networking opportunities. And clearly anyone prepared to hold their conference practically on the sand of a stunning surf beach and rely on the delegates to show up to sessions has confidence in the coherence of the group around their vision.

We had no idea what to expect and discovered a group of warm and energetic educators at an event the size of ULearn in NZ - about 1500 attendees. The focus on innovative leadership was inspiring and I will post notes from some of the sessions I attended. We sat in on conversations at the state, district, and school levels and have lots to take home from their approach to teaching and learning as well as leadership.

We knew these people were onto something, which is why we reached out to them in the first place! Back when we were first considering moving from our Ubuntu based ASUS netbooks to Google’s Chromebooks, it was Donna Teuber, Director of Technology Integration and Innovation at Richland School District 2, who generously gave us her time and the District’s resources to share their journey with us.  They were one year into the move to Chromebooks and had documented the successes and pitfalls and we learnt so much from that.  Some of us still belong to their Chromebook Google Group where we get to see and learn from daily interactions from their extensive team about what is and isn’t working with their various tech solutions around GAFE and Chromebooks. These guys are dealing in numbers that sound more like our whole country than our cluster, so they really do have sample sizes to learn from.

It is resources like this 1:1 Implementation Site  and the vision outlined, that demonstrate the power of the robust technology solutions we have learnt so much from:

In Richland Two, students will work collaboratively in digital age learning environments on authentic problem and project-based activities which enhance creativity, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. Through personalised, authentic and collaborative experiences, our students will develop the skills to prepare them for a future that we can only imagine.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Welcome to Portland

Our first impression of Portland, Maine as we flew in at 11pm was, “What a bunch of friendly and welcoming people live here”. Even on the (small) plane strangers were chatting across aisles and offering advice and help. When we landed and one bag didn’t arrive someone came up to us and asked if we had a luggage problem, showed us to the luggage counter and we were reunited with it immediately. Somehow travelled solo on an earlier flight and they had put it into storeage.  So we were feeling very buoyant when we were able to get a cab quickly with only a short drive into town ahead.

We were half a block away from our Air BnB apartment and checking addresses when “Whack”! A car appeared out of nowhere, did a U-Turn in the middle of the street and accelerated straight into the passenger side of our car. We were both sitting in the back and I was on the passenger side. My head ricocheted off the door and cracked into RGB’s head. Our driver was pretty shaken but unharmed.

We pulled over and very quickly (under 10 minutes) had police, fire engines and ambulance on the spot. Most impressive and never experienced in NZ! Everyone was very kind and helpful to us, but other than feeling a bit sore we really couldn’t identify any injury to justify the ambulance. Those involved were dead keen to get us off to hospital for CAT scans etc but at 12.30 am we just wanted to go home and sleep it off! Fortunately one of the service men had spent time in Christchurch helping out during the earthquake, and recognised our stoic state as reflecting a national characteristic rather than a deep concussion and let us go home armed with directions on how to access the trauma unit at the hospital nearby if needed. He was also undoubtedly aware of our non-litigious society!

The car was pretty munted along the side, but in hind sight we are impressed by how well the Honda we were in stood up to the impact of a large Volvo ramming it. No glass broken to cause human damage and internally the car kept its shape.

This morning we have woken feeling very grateful to answered prayers for protection while we travel. We thought we had got through the worst of it when we returned the hire car in Sicily, but clearly we need to keep praying! We have a few aches and bruises and I've discovered that the side of my head that collided with RGB is more tender than the side that whacked the door. All our gear was undamaged and my MacBook Air which was against the car door on the floor in my backpack fired up fine this morning.

Keep praying for us people. And buy cars with those side door safety impact features if you can.

Photo is from our walk along the Portland waterfront this morning before heading out to work. Glorious sunshine to clear our heads and walk off the aches.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Full Day Kindergarten

In Toronto, Ontario it was a pleasure to make daily visits to Post's Corners Public School in the Oakville neighbourhood. This is a learning environment with beautiful facilities, a calm atmosphere, clean and tidy property, and a place where mothers and fathers walk their children to school and linger for chats at the gate with the teachers and each other.

We took particular note of the Junior school programme. The Full Day Kindergarten for 4 and 5 year olds would be the envy of New Entrant teachers in NZ. The class size is 15 -25 learners and has TWO trained teachers; one a fully qualified ECE teacher and the other a fully qualified primary school teacher. (NB: less than 15 learners and the teacher ratio reduces to one teacher).

Read what they have to say about it on the class site or a snippet below….

Here’s what you can expect:

Enhanced learning during the school day  
  • Teachers and early childhood educators will work together in the classroom to help young children learn and grow. This team approach will bring out the best in your child through activities and play, guided by a new full-day kindergarten curriculum.
A stronger foundation for learning
  • Research shows that early learning has long-term benefits for a child’s academic and social skills. A full day of learning early in life can help improve your child’s reading, writing and math skills later on. It also makes the transition to Grade 1 easier – for you and your child. Good for kids, good for parents, good for Ontario
  • Full-day kindergarten is an investment in our future. It’s part of the government’s plan to better prepare our kids by giving them the tools they need to succeed and build a stronger Ontario.

Read the government research published about Full Day Kindergartens.

My instinctive response was, “Imagine the progress we could make in our Manaiakalani schools if we were resourced like this!” And then remembered, well actually our MDTA classes do have two teachers and evidence to date has proven significant acceleration is possible.
See Michelle and Karen’s posts from 2014 and Steph from 2016 - all New Entrant teachers demonstrating the benefit of a powerful pedagogy and two teachers.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Local Produce

We had been looking forward to the food Sicily is renowned for and it did not disappoint. We shopped at the local markets, supermarkets, gelato shops and bars (which are a very different place from a bar in NZ) and on the side of the road.

The tomatoes are always amazing in Italy and the fruit was fabulous too.

We provided amusement for the people at the supermarket with our shopping conversations involving a great deal of mime and some Google Translate. Twice I brought home meat to cook that we never did find out what it actually was - but it tasted great.

It was a bit tricky only having a frying pan and a gas ring, but we managed to create a camp oven out of it when needed.

I do like the way meat, salami and cheese is presented when you buy it from the butcher or supermarket. It comes sliced to your requirements and neatly laid out in layers between sheets of grease proof paper then rolled and wrapped - see the photos on the right.  

It sure beats polystyrene.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016


I have been intrigued by observing the sheep farming practices on the land by the sea surrounding our cottage. Whenever we went out walking we would hear the sheep before we saw them, as a couple were wearing large bells around their necks. 

There were no fences that we could see so they were always accompanied by their shepherd. He could take a while to locate if he was on his back under a bush.

Two things stood out from a kiwi perspective; they were foraging for food in sparsely vegetated  dry and dusty land, and they were carrying very heavy wool in a climate where we were glad to be wearing jandals and singlets.
Today they were moved up the hill near us and I was relieved to see that they were freshly shorn. Just in time for the heat of Summer.