Opinion: Unleashing Learning Potential

Every parent will 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, writes Gemma Thornley, Secondary Principal, GEMS Wellington Academy, Al Khail.
Opinion: Unleashing Learning Potential
By Jenny Mollon
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Children thrive when they have ownership of their own learning in all areas of their life, 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 and this will help drive their educational success, writes Gemma Thornley, Secondary Principal, GEMS Wellington Academy, Al Khail.

That’s where High Performance Learning (HPL) comes in. The brainchild of Professor Deborah Eyre, HPL is a philosophy that states that each and every student has the potential to be high performing, unrestricted by ability. It aims to grow and develop cognitive skills in students, giving structure to the maintenance of a growth mindset within our schools.

So what does HPL actually look like in action? Well, Professor Eyre says 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”. This is the vital point that parents should understand…schools that use the HPL philosophy see the absolute potential of every child.

At GEMS Wellington Academy – Al Khail, for example, we look for opportunities to teach in ways in which powerful connections can be made between each area of our enriched curriculum. A great example of this… 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 took this opportunity to work with the girls to break down the skill of precision. In doing so, she helped them to 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 own methods. I am delighted to say that the end result was our girls being able to pass with far greater precision!

The GEMS Wellington Academy football team in action!

Our children will make increasingly rapid progress 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.

Imagine being labelled as having a limit to what you can achieve and know! Most of us adults wouldn’t like it. 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. This is made worse by the fact that children are also often scared of failing, following the 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”. In HPL, it’s not only about teaching academics, 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 measured in traditional economic indicators, they provide great benefit to our cultures and society.

I firmly believe that education, at home and at school, should go beyond what 'economics' says students should be able to do. By introducing a skills-based framework like High Performance Learning, we can help enhance important personal development behaviours and attitudes in our children. In doing so, we set our students up to leave school and face the next steps in their lives with so much more!

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