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The power of collaborative learning

#AldenhamAttributes #GrowthMindset #Aspiration

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Alex Camenzuli is currently Acting Head of Teaching and Learning at Aldenham School. Alex studied Biology at the University of Bath and completed his PhD in Molecular Microbiology. He worked in the Van Andel Research Institute, Michigan, United States focussing on cancer research, and completed his teacher training in the University of Exeter.

“Reach for the stars; you might just catch one” – Lori Greiner

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We have been actively rolling out the Aldenham Attributes across the school. The initial phase has involved feedback and discussion with both pupils and teachers covering several aspects of each attribute (Aspiration, Co-operation, Courage, Curiosity, Independence and Respect), including their definition, importance, things we currently do with them in the school and how we could further embed them in day-to-day school life.

Aspiration proved to be an attribute that was more difficult to define during pupil consultation, with the definition often blurred between aspiration and ambition. All groups agreed that aspiration means ‘being the best you can be’ with the idea of goals often mentioned. Pupils and staff felt that aspiration allows you to not only complete your goals, but also to visualise them whilst opening doors, building self-esteem, giving hope and purpose in school life and beyond. It isn’t surprising that studies have shown that pupils with high aspirations have higher school achievement than those with both low aspirations and low expectations1.

Year 7 and 11 pupils were asked to provide some of their own aspirations.  Not only are our Year 7 pupils thinking day-to-day, with aims of progression in both an academic and sporting setting, they are also already thinking longer term with many career focussed aspirations in both sporting and STEM fields. By Year 11 these aspirations become more refined, with specific A-Level and university courses and destinations in mind. An aspiration from one of our Year 11 pupils and one that really stood out to me was to “be in a position where I can sustain my family and those close to me”, one that I am sure many can agree is a noble goal.

Discussing this topic with our pupils led me to reflect on my own aspirations in school. For most of my school life I aspired to have a veterinary career; I loved animals and grew up surrounded by them in the country side (quite literally on several occasions), but work experience changed my direction of thought. In light of losing this aspiration I chose my A Level subjects based on those I enjoyed and those I felt I could achieve well in. I briefly considered studying Astronomy at university, but the UCAS guide at the time suggested few career opportunities, with most of those in NASA. I eventually settled on my passion of Biology and read this at university. Although an aspiration I had seemingly set aside, I did eventually end up working on a project with NASA in the United States several years later. I would encourage pupils to not only have a range of aspirations but also to be open to change as sometimes even the most unlikely of paths can lead you to your reach your goals.

How can we achieve our aspirations? Effort! It is no surprise that, on the whole, those who put in the most effort achieve most highly. Pupils should also be encouraged to draw upon the experience of parents, teachers and even their peers. I would also ask pupils to have the courage to ‘have-a-go’ at new activities that may lead to the acquisition of skills that could aid the journey to a desired aspiration. Encouraging pupils to not fear failure – none of us like to fail, it isn’t a great feeling, but getting back up and learning from failure builds character and helps us take another step towards our aspirations.

1http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/berj.3171/full

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