The power of collaborative learning

Berkhamsted Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference #TLAB16

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The staff at Aldenham School recently had the opportunity to attend the Berkhamsted Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference 2016. Director of Teaching and Learning Jess Burger, along with Breakfast Club Coordinator Niamh Brewer, feed back on their experiences.



If you teach in and around Hertfordshire/North London and haven’t heard of TLAB, you are missing out! Berkhamsted School hosted another fantastic day of professional learning and networking on Saturday 5th May. It was my first time attending the conference, but it has inspired me to give up many more Saturdays sharing best practice with some of the most inspirational teachers and leaders in our field.

Following a fabulous talk by John Neal, drawing on his experience of ‘growth mind-sets’ and coaching professional sports teams, I chose to attend the Leadership Panel Debate as the first session. With 4 top school leaders on one table, it was set to be an exciting half hour debate! I certainly wasn’t disappointed – we heard opinions on everything from the curricula of the future, to making our pupils more resilient and even teacher retention and recruitment. 

After lunch I decided it was time to push myself outside my ‘humanities’ comfort zone – time to head to Science! I am so glad I did, as in Paul Gillam’s session on ‘The Paperless Classroom’ , we examined our obsession with printing paper – what purpose lies behind filling our students’ files with handouts? Do we ever pause to evaluate the effectiveness or is it simply to assure us that we have armed them with more knowledge than they know what to do with? Can we make our classrooms more collaborative spaces, with learning going on beyond the walls (in the flipped classroom sense) or even ON the walls and tables in some cases! What support can teachers offer via blogs and VLEs or other online learning platforms? As leading practitioners, we engage in this world of learning ourselves and yet our classrooms often remain more traditional spaces and our students rely on us being in front of them (preferably with our photocopied handouts) for support.

I cannot recommend TLAB highly enough and shall be getting my ticket for 2017 as soon as they are released. I am looking forward to St Albans School Forum of Education on Saturday 28th May, which is set to be just as exciting.


For me, the best talk of the day was the opening keynote given by John Neale. He was considering how we produce long term sustainable winners from the perspective of sports, suggesting that schools should shift their focus from ‘we need to always win’ to ‘how good can we be?’ He outlined nine key characteristics which Olympic coaches look for:

  1. Bounce Back Ability – this, he argued, relies on losing
  2. Self confidence in ability, not just at winning
  3. An understanding of why they are good
  4. Highly intrinsically motivated – if you win, you stop dreaming as much
  5. Achievement orientated
  6. The ability to think under pressure, and get it right
  7. Curious learners
  8. Courage

Whilst related to sports, it was incredibly clear to see how all of these could be applied to a school setting. So often we can become obsessed with students passing their next exam, rather than thinking of the overall development of the pupil. His assertion that we should not ask ‘did you win?’ and should instead ask ‘how did you perform and what did you learn?’ is one that I think could be applied to all areas of school life.

Next I went to a talk titled ‘Mindset Matters.’ Here Katie Yardley spoke about how she has applied Growth Mindset to her classroom. The argument underlying growth mindset is ‘whether you think that you can or that you can’t, you are usually right.’ As part of developing this environment in a classroom and across the school, staff need to encourage the following:

  • Take on challenges
  • Learn from mistakes – a notion of acceptance needs to be created
  • Accepting feedback and criticism – this needs to be framed according to the learners
  • Perseverance
  • Asking questions
  • Taking risks

Finally, students need to stop thinking ‘I can’t do this’ and should instead feel ‘I can’t do this yet.’



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