How every student can be a high-performance learner

Gemma Thornley, Secondary Principal, GEMS Wellington Academy – Al Khail, shares how introducing a high performance mindset and framework at school can radically transform learning outcomes.

We know that children inhabit two different worlds – one in school and the other at home. It is vital that schools and parents work closely together to connect these two worlds and help students transfer the skills learnt in one to the other. That’s because children thrive when they have ownership of their learning in all contexts of their life, be it in the classroom, on the sports field or on stage. If they can see the connections between subjects and their extra-curricular activities, they will see that what they are learning is relevant, helping to drive educational success for all.

That’s where High Performance Learning (HPL) comes in. The brainchild of Professor Deborah Eyre, HPL is a research-based philosophy that states all students have the potential to be high performing, unrestricted by ability. The HPL framework is teaching and learning based. It aims to grow and develop cognitive skills in students, giving structure to the maintenance of a growth mindset within schools.

So what does HPL actually look like in action? Well, Professor Eyresays that in order to help students realise their full potential we have to recognise that “more pupils than we previously thought have the potential to perform at the highest levels”.Through a framework like HPL schools can work with students and teachers to develop skills for lifelong learning.

At my school, GEMS Wellington Academy – Al Khail, for example, we look explicitly for opportunities to teach linking, analysing, creating, metathinking and realising as part of an enriched curriculum. I recently watched a PE lesson in which Year 7 girls were learning how to kick, dribble and pass a football. This is a perfectly natural skill to learn, but when questioned about the process involved, the girls found it hard to articulate an answer.

The teacher therefore worked with the girls to break down the skill of precision that falls under the HPL Advanced Cognitive Performance (ACP) characteristic of being able to analyse. This helped them see that they needed to work effectively within the rules of precision in order to get better at the skill of passing the ball. The teacher helped them apply the skill of analysis and, in particular, developing precision in passing the ball. They looked critically at what was physically being done by the passer and then compared it to the ideal method, after which they adapted their method so they could pass with greater precision.

Rapid progress can be made once we understand, as educators and parents, that learning should no longer be seen as a private activity dependent on a child’s general intelligence. Instead, it is more about the way in which social and individual processes feed into how a child learns. Schools that are invested in developing application to learning, and looking for ways to help encourage the students in their care, will be developing students who can process important concepts.

Imagine being labelled as having a limit to what you can achieve and know. Most of us wouldn’t like it. And the problem with limiting children based on what is perceived to be their ability is that it can block their ambition and result in them thinking they just “can’t do” a certain subject, or that they are “never going to understand” something. This is made worse by the fact that children are also often scared of failing, following the perceived notion that if we say out loud that we can’t do something straight away, then others will doubt our intelligence.

A framework like HPL, however, helps to shift the mindset from “I can’t do it” to “I can’t do it yet”. And in HPL, it’s not only about teaching the explicit ACPs, but also ensuring students understand and identify with the features of personal development such as resilience, self-regulation, positive sense of self, and personal and social identity. While these things may not be measurable in economic indicators, they provide great benefit to our cultures and society.

I firmly believe that education should go beyond what economics says students should be able to do. And by introducing and modelling a pedagogical skills-based framework like High Performance Learning, we can help enhance important personal development behaviours and attitudes in our children. Thereby setting our students up to leave school and face the next steps in their lives with so much more.