Geography imageLast term HPL Members enjoyed a webinar presented by Jeremy Reynolds, on High Performance Learning in geography. Here he summarises why he thinks geography is so suited to this approach.

Geography is an excellent subject to demonstrate how High Performance Learning can work and have an impact in the classroom. This blog suggests a variety of lesson ideas and strategies that can developed to illustrate the clear application of the different types of thinking and dispositions that are at the heart of HPL. I would encourage all teachers to reflect on their practice and lessons, thinking about their students, and I would stress the importance of being overt when developing these cognitive and behavioural competencies.

I suggest a twofold approach, that can be applied to all subject and phase applications of HPL. Firstly, look at existing successful and effective lessons and teaching strategies and ‘deconstruct’ them to see what thinking is being developed (ACPs) and what behaviours are nurtured (VAAs). Secondly, use specific ACPs and VAAs as the ‘drivers’ in planning new schemes of work and lessons in Geography.

Geography as the ideal subject for HPL
Geography readily lends itself to HPL and is an ideal subject for many reasons. It is a synoptic and connecting subject, linking together many other disciplines with a spatial focus. It is intrinsically relevant to the world around us and problems and issues that feature ‘in the news’. Several of the ACPs and VAAs can be automatically associated with Geography – those links to the real world already mentioned, and also enquiry-based learning. The skills and qualities of the geographer – e.g. the ability to analyse, synthesise, evaluate and present – are highly prized by employers and are part of HPL’s approach in developing students who are college-, career, and life-ready. Finally, Geography can and always should excite, fascinate and inspire passion for learning (through, for example, highlighting the grandness and splendour of the natural world), which surely is the key to motivating students’ high performance learning and achievement.

Geography 2

Developing the ACPs in Geography lessons
Metathinking can be developed by considering Geography’s contribution to the curriculum, linking together other subjects such as Economics and Biology, but giving a unique, spatial perspective. High performance is encouraged by asking students to ‘think like a geographer’ in understanding real life situations and issues.

Comparison and contrast of similar yet different things such as cities or ecosystems encourages linking; and two hugely important ideas in ‘big picture’ thinking are the concepts of geological time and human impact on the environment.

Analysing is fundamental to the understanding of all geographical processes and systems (e.g. rivers, glaciation, plant succession) and graphs can be brought ‘alive’ by asking questions, constructing scenarios and hypothesising, rather than just relying on closed response to simple data-led questions.

When students are asked to view issues and problems in different ways and come up with innovative solutions, creativity comes to the fore, and a personal favourite of mine is the use of geographic analogies, which can be hugely effective in developing understanding.

More ‘standalone’ activities used regularly in Geography, such as problem solving, role playing and decision-making exercises, cover many areas of HPL and there is value too in ‘working backwards’ from a stimulus such as a photograph, to encourage high level thinking and questioning in the form of Socratic dialogue. Spatial awareness and a good geographic general knowledge are both helpful to the geographer and demonstrate the ACP of realising.

Geography and the VAAs
The behaviours encompassed by HPL’s VAAs are also inherent in all aspects of Geography. Fieldwork and fieldtrips, so integral to the subject, provide wonderful opportunities to bring out the key features of HPL, and these do not have to be on a grand scale, as the local area offers opportunities as well.


In conclusion, Geography is a subject which ideally lends itself to High Performance Learning. Teachers who can develop their understanding of how to develop the ACPs and VAAs in students will be able to capitalise on Geography’s inherent advantages and enable all their students to achieve at the highest level.

In the second of our series from schools adopting High Performance Learning, Principal Steffen Sommer, Vice Principal, Neil Thomas, and Assistant Principal, Uzma Zaffar, explain how (and why) Doha College – a through-school in Qatar with 2000 students – is implementing HPL.


The Challenge

Steffen: Doha College is known, and seen by many, as one of the leading British curriculum international schools in the Middle East, so the challenge is always about keeping that outstanding position, and continuing to raise our performance even further. When we heard about HPL we decided to make it a central part of our three-year development plan, and I know that it will make Doha College an even better place.


Neil: Uzma and I were chosen to lead the implementation of HPL in both the primary and secondary schools of Doha College and so we attended the HPL induction in the UK this September.

The value of the two-day residential course was huge. Professor Deborah Eyre and her team clearly explained the HPL concept, and highlighted to us the challenge – but also the clear value – of implementing HPL in our school. Following the course, we felt well prepared to communicate the purpose and mission of HPL to all our stakeholders back at school. The course also gave us practical strategies which we could apply as we planned how to introduce HPL to our colleagues.

Uzma: We also had a great time at the induction, meeting teachers from the other Pioneer schools, who were looking to implement HPL this year, and the HPL advisers. The focus on growth mindset was inspiring – it really chimed with us and what we were already doing with our primary and early year’s students.

Steffen: When they got back from the induction, Neil and Uzma got straight to work on launching HPL with teachers, students, and parents. There was a real feeling of excitement, especially around the parents’ forum. We had a special message from Deborah to show at the forum, and our staff, who have started on their journey of implementing the pedagogy of HPL, nominated two colleagues – one from Primary and one from Secondary – to talk parents through the mindset shift their children had gone through already. A video was also produced to show how HPL is already being implemented within the school (both of these videos are available to see on our website). The video includes clips of collaborative project work and enquiry based learning using iPads and other resources.

Parents evening 1


Steffen: One of the first things Neil did was to develop an implementation timetable. This came in the shape of a scheme of work with clear objectives, timelines and responsibilities – it really is first rate.

Neil: Our key focus at the start of the year was to introduce ‘Mindset Shift’ to all of our stakeholders. This is now well under way with the concept of a ‘Growth Mindset’ being introduced to students in all year groups, staff, via a presentation, and parents via the forum.

Uzma: Parents are really key to a students’ development, and they’re being encouraged to re-enforce a growth mindset mentality at home.

Neil: Another thing we’re making sure to do is to take a view of where we are right now in terms of how our practices and processes align with the features of HPL and World Class Schools. We’re carrying out the HPL ‘Pulse Check’ with our leadership team, and asking our department and year group heads to look at what they already do to teach the ACPs and VAAs. 

We’ve invited our HPL adviser, Melanie Saunders, to run an INSET day at the beginning of January, so we can keep up our momentum and deepen our staff’s understanding of the concepts of High Performance Learning.



Neil: A lot of what we’re doing in terms of baselining our current practice will be really important for when we come to measure the impact of the implementation of HPL, and we’ll be thinking about what sort of evidence to collect when we do our Pulse Check.

Steffen: Although it’s early days, the impact is already being felt. The outcomes of the activities showcased at the parents’ forum and the steep learning curve for the children are really impressive.

Neil: As expected, the HPL concept has been taken on by both staff and students incredibly well and the concept is continuing to grow in stature. The primary school, in particular, has done a huge amount of work on introducing the concept.

Uzma: It’s great to be able to hear our students using common phrases such as ‘I can’t do that yet’.

Steffen: I’m really pleased with how HPL’s going: Doha College is a really exciting place to be right now.

Doha College is one of eight Pioneer Schools working towards the High Performance Learning Award. See their website for further information about their journey so far:



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by Melanie Saunders, HPL Associate Director

 "I was surprised by how clear-minded and knowledgeable they are."

Carlo Rovelli was very impressed with the students at Sydenham School when he visited in October, and no wonder. This is a highly reflective school where creative staff are really using the High Performance Learning framework to shape their students into the kind of confident, independent learners who can inspire, "the world's most inspiring physics teacher.".

The school has a history of pedagogy-led leadership where "lesson study" supports staff research into their own practice and professional development. This approach has been adapted to focus on introducing HPL's Advanced Cognitive Performance Characteristics (ACPs) and Values, Attitudes and Attributes (VAAs) into lessons and assessing the response of students. The school is currently encouraging staff to plan their lessons around playing with the ACPs and VAAs before moving on to map their coverage across the curriculum in a more formal way.

Rovelli has spoken about "beauty in mathematics" and this is certainly evident at Sydenham where I had the privilege to hear from maths teacher Seliat Agboola about the approach she has taken to expanding challenge and enquiry in mathematics. Her "learning pits" require children to exercise resilience and perseverance in tackling a mathematical challenge with no obvious solution. A range of different cognitive approaches are promoted which students must employ in order to climb out of the pit.

It was truly inspiring to see HPL in action at this HPL Pioneer School. Like Rovelli, I'm impressed.


 Author: Deborah Eyre    Posted: 30 Nov 2016

When I was in school we used to learn about heroes. From Grace Darling to Albert Schweitzer. Martin Luther King to Dr Barnardo. This all seems very old fashioned now. They were presented to us as important and untarnished – glorious individuals. As people who made their mark on the world and made the world a better place. It may be that in real life their stories were more nuanced, but that didn’t matter. As we looked across the lives of these people my classmates and I were introduced to a series of ideas which would influence us not just in school but throughout our lives.


We learnt that each of us as an individual has it within ourselves to make a difference. These were not special people but normal people who took it upon themselves to do special things.

We learnt that no one told them to take action. No one gave them permission or nurtured or coached them. They themselves took the decision to step up and lead in order to make change because they thought it was important.

We learnt that this major change, which was so admirable, had often started with a small step or an incident which could easily have been ignored but instead was the trigger to start to take action and take a stance.

We learnt that in making a difference the journey was inevitably fraught with problems, frustrations and even danger but that in order to succeed you needed to forbear through the dark times and hold fast to your ambition.

So it occurs to me that if we want to instil these same kinds of values, attitudes and attributes then maybe we need to talk more about heroes. We have plenty we can use, and not just those of the more recent past such as Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa, but also those active today – and not just famous people, but also people who achieve great things locally or quietly.

Why is this important?

Well, if we are serious about wanting better social mobility these types of role models are important ones. They demonstrate that anyone, regardless of background, has it within themselves to succeed. They just need to want it enough and be prepared to be unswerving in their efforts to achieve it. It gives individuals the confidence to take action and shape their own destiny. They don’t need to wait to be helped.

Equally, if we want a more compassionate society then these types of role models teach us that it is each of us who makes that happen by our own actions. By having empathy for the plight of others and being prepared to step in on their behalf. Big problems are not the preserve of others – they belong to us all.

Romantic ideas, maybe, in the twenty first century where the media routinely creates heroes and then routinely destroys them. But I would suggest that if in school we want to counter the cult of celebrity and instead focus on individuals becoming high performers through their own efforts, then we need to provide the heroes and their stories for them to emulate. 

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