High Performance Learning
One school’s experience
High Performance Learning is fast changing the way we teach, children learn, and parents support. Steffen Sommer, Neil Thomas and Uzma Zaffar report on the imapct of “HPL” at Doha College.
Aim High – Fly Higher
Seminal advances in cognitive science over the last two decades have changed our understanding of the capabilities of the human brain. Now that it is scientifically proven that the brain is much more malleable (brain plasticity) than we had previously thought, that a person’s potential is extendable, and that the IQ, once measured, is far from static, good schools are beginning to accept their responsibility for doing exactly that.
Since accepted approaches to teaching and learning are generally based on an outdated understanding of the processes involved, innovative leaders of high-performing schools quickly recognised the revolutionary potential of Professor Deborah Eyre’s recently published philosophy of High Performance Learning.
Adaptable to the priorities of any school or education system, the core idea behind the philosophy is as simple as it is ingenious. It is positive psychology applied to the daily workings of a school, ensuring that the right skills and aptitudes are being learnt, and practised, with and alongside the academic knowledge that students need to acquire. Starting from the way children think (Advanced Cognitive Performance Characteristics, ACPs), and the way they behave (Values, Attitudes and Attributes, VAAs), Eyre developed a growth-mindset approach which, if translated effectively into the context of any given school, pervades all aspects of the learning environment.
It reinvigorates classroom activities and creates high levels of motivation and positivity in all students which, in turn, encourages high performance at all levels, and from all students irrespective of what their previously established potential may have suggested. (Click on the book covers to link to Amazon)
The beauty of the philosophy is that every school has to make it their own – it is not a how-to guide. For it to be a success, schools must involve their staff, their students and, most importantly, their parent community. Indeed, it is the all-embracing nature of HPL, the inclusion of all constituent parties in the educational triangle and the support that is provided from the center that makes it such a success.
Becoming an HPL award school
The journey at Doha College started in September 2016 with Neil Thomas, Vice Principal, and Uzma Zaffar, Assistant Principal, attending the HPL Induction Residential. The value of the two-day course was significant. Professor Deborah Eyre and her team outlined the essence of High Performance Learning as a concept, and highlighted the challenges that it sets, never losing sight of the discernible value that is added in the process. On returning from the course, the scene was set to explain to and discuss with stakeholders the raison d’être of HPL, and how it would impact the students’ learning. Having placed HPL at the very center of the Doha College’s three-year development plan, and with the aims of it fully clarified, we were ready to launch this exciting venture with students, teachers and parents. Unsurprisingly, it quickly generated notable excitement, especially within the parent community.
Behind the scenes, one of the key parts of introducing HPL was the creation of an implementation timetable which was devised in the shape of a road map with clear objectives, timelines and responsibilities. The document spelt out, in some detail, the objectives for each term, and assigned a key focus derived from the seven pillars that support HPL. At the start of the journey, our focus was ‘Mindset Shift’, a concept which, by sheer coincidence, had previously been discussed within a staff forum and subsequently generated traction with colleagues and other stakeholders.
Staff were encouraged to display HPL posters, which highlighted the 20 Advanced Cognitive Performance characteristics (ACPs) and the 10 Values, Attitudes and Attributes (VAAs), in their classrooms. With regular outreach sessions conducted by Neil and Uzma, colleagues quickly identified ways to incorporate the ACP’s and VAAs into their practice, using cross-dissemination of ideas as a motivator and driver. Once the concepts of mindset shift and parent engagement were embedded, we started covering the remaining pillars in a similar fashion.
HPL calls for a student-centered approach in order to imbue the skills required to be competitive in a global society. Having discussed the best pedagogical approach to achieve this, we started, as a first step, to deconstruct how we taught core subjects such as mathematics. This process was led by middle leaders with SLT guidance, which ensured staff ownership along the way. As a result, and sometimes unwittingly, most colleagues found themselves engaged in the implementation process which, in the case of mathematics, generated dynamic groupings.
Following the example of mathematics, we were keen to go further, so we started to work holistically on an enquiry-based curriculum which has unlocked our students’ curiosity and generated no mean amount of excitement. The transformation in the students’ learning behaviour was phenomenal; it has turned them into critical thinkers, self-starters and confident communicators who self-regulate and collaborate with others. They now naturally link the knowledge they learn in different areas of the curriculum.
Going further with HPL
We now want this fantastic growth-mindset philosophy to pervade all areas of the school, making high performance thinking the norm at Doha College. All central services, admin and support staff are currently involved in developing their skills, defining the behaviour and setting the example we want our students to follow.
Doha College have made the HPL journey their destination, and were delighted to have received the highly prestigious distinction of being the first ever school to be awarded the status of HPL World Class Award School.
The journey which started two years ago, has also ensured that approaches to teaching and learning at Doha College are fully akin with the constantly changing demands of modern society.
Dr Steffen Sommer
Principal, Doha College
Vice Principal, Doha College
Assistant Principal, Doha College
For more about HPL at Doha College see https://www.dohacollege.com/high-performance-learning