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Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: TLA Berkhamsted (page 1 of 2)

Thank You

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore opens #TLAB15

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore opens #TLAB15

I want to thank all the speakers, workshop leaders and delegates for making the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted (#TLAB15) a memorable one.

You can find a collection of the tweets from the day here.

Blogs posts on the day:

Sally Thorne:

Drew Thomson:

Jonathan Peel:

Nikki Able:

Emma Kell:

Amy Harvey:

Kevin Carson:

Kamil Trzebiatowski:

Helena Marsh:

Workshop materials:

Dave Stacey:

Tom Boulter:

David Fawcett:

Darren Mead:

Mark Steed:

Candida Gould & Crista Hazell presentation


An excellent team is taking over next year. Alastair Harrison and Laura Knight will be leading things from the Berkhamsted School end. They will be joined by the Astra Teaching Alliance  & Chesham Grammar School in planning future events. I was asked yesterday whether it is hard to ‘let go’. My answer then (and it is the same answer now) is that the conference was never meant to be linked to one person, school or sector and the teachers attending and leading workshops are proof of this.  I know my colleagues at Berkhamsted and beyond will take the day to new heights as the workshop leaders and speakers already do. They are the leaders we have been waiting for.

Professor Barbara Oakley closes #TLAB15

Professor Barbara Oakley closes #TLAB15

One of the most interesting conversations yesterday was around the need for such events in other areas of the country and beyond. It is just an idea at the moment but will now be floating around in ‘diffuse mode’ so feedback/comments are welcome!

One tweet stood out for me yesterday:

Great education and professional development is not the preserve of a particular education sector yet certain social forces and loud voices seem to suggest otherwise. I hope that when the conversation occurs again (as it will), there will be one concrete and successful example people can point to where all involved are seen as educators who care about the ‘work‘.

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#TLAB15 – All in the Mind – Saturday 21st March 2015

CPD panel at #TLAB14

CPD panel at #TLAB14

Seeing the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted grow since 2013 has been a joy. Hundreds of teachers have been enthused, challenged and engaged by the day and I am pleased that we have a fantastic group of workshop leaders and keynote speakers for the 2015 on the 21st March. The theme for #TLAB15 is ‘All in the Mind’ and we are very fortunate to secure our two main speakers. Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is a Royal Society University Research Fellow, Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL and has been Leader of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Group at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience since 2003. Her group’s research focuses on brain development in human adolescence.

 You can see her TED talk below:

 Our closing speaker is Professor Barbara Oakley. She is a Professor of Engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and her research focuses on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behaviour. Described as “revolutionary” by the Wall Street Journal, she is also a former U.S. Army captain and worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers during the Cold War. She is the leader on the Coursera MOOC ‘Learning How To Learn’ and has recently published ‘A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science’.

 You can see her TEDx talk below:

 As usual, there will be a range of subject workshops led by teachers from across a variety of schools and locations. See the draft workshop list below:

The conference, as usual, is non-profit and the price is £50. This includes all refreshments and lunch.

If you would like to attend next March, tickets will be on sale at the end of October from the conference website. Make sure you purchase them as soon as possible – one school is bringing its entire staff!

This will be my last TLAB event. In true ‘Multipliers’ spirit, I will be handing the organisational reins over to three colleagues at Berkhamsted and some new partner schools (announcement to be made at the conference). TLAB was never meant to be exclusive affair and I already know the new team have some very exciting plans for 2016.  Rest assured, the conference will continue to be non-profit and provide a stimulating and collegiate atmosphere as usual.

I do hope you join us on March 21st for what promises to be an inspiring day.

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Berkhamsted School CPD Review

Earlier in the year I posted about the CPD programme at the school. As we draw closer to the end of the academic year, I thought I would share some of the feedback and where we plan to go next. The current CPD programme can be found below:

As with any change, there were concerns that the curent programme would be a drain on staff time. The answer then, as it is now, is that it is our duty as a responsible employer to provide high-quality training to colleagues and we planned to do this by:

  • Providing training that was specific to our context and led by current and recently retired staff; of staff providing training (which
  • Working with Dragonfly Training to fill in the knowledge/confidence ‘gaps’;
  • Provide ‘executive coaching’ to all staff;
  • Draw different members of the school community to become workshop leaders at #TLAB14.

The sessions (with refreshments provided – an important point!) ran over the course of the year. After each twilight course, I sent out a feedback form via Survey Monkey asking colleagues to rate the sessions on a ‘useful scale’ and provide additional contextual information (the scale is below):

  • Very Useful;
  • Quite Useful;
  • Unsure;
  • Not Very.

Overall, there was an 83% approval for the CPD programme (combining the ‘Useful/Quite Useful” categories). 12% was rated as not useful and 5% were unsure. On the ‘Not Useful’ figures, most of these came from one session where the presenter had a different idea to what we wanted. As for the ‘Unsure’ figure, I saw no reason to be alarmed. One reason behind this approach is a rejection of the simple ’cause and (perceived) effect’ of CPD provision. This is neatly summed up in Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ and the notion of ‘Slow Hunches’. In it, Johnson argues that there are many ‘hunches’ yet they come together through ‘liquid networks’ such as the web, cities and complete ideas. In this sense, if we as a school can help nourish this sense of ambiguity through mutual conservations/observations/further sessions, then it will work. The NTEN is interested in evaluating the impact of CPD and I look forward to see how they handle the idea of ‘slow hunches’ in their research. 

NTEN also forms part of our programme next year. The first inset day and the first two twilight sessions in the first half of the Autumn (Michaelmas) term are given over to Lesson Study. This planning time will allow staff to prepare lessons within departments together and then observe the learning that has occured as a result of the joint planning. The potential ‘friction’ for this is reduced because it fits within our already existing mutual observation programme and it is the only twilight session on offer during the first half of term.

As was the case this year, staff are expected to attend four internal sessions. The other two sessions will be within our ‘pathways’:

  • Head of Department (HoD);
  • Deputy Head of Department;
  • Head of House (HoH);
  • Deputy Head of House;
  • General.

The programme as a whole has also been adjusted to cover ‘NQT to Retiree’ including sessions on financial planning for retiring members of staff and more linked sessions so single CPD activities will be eliminated. We have also augmented the ‘pathways’ by including a number of externally provided and validated courses such as Prince2 Project Management, the Independent Schools Qualification in Academic Management (ISQAM) run by HMC/GSA and the IoE for HoDs and the Emerging Leaders’ Programme run by Ashridge Business School as part of the Astra Learning Alliance for HoHs and aspiring leaders.

The one area where last year’s programme was deficient was the focus on subject knowledge. This will partly be addressed by the introduction of ‘masterclasses’ where academics will be invited to come and provide a short lecture/seminars for subject departments.  Having already asked for areas to cover I will be contacting HE providers over the next few weeks and asking them to suggest academics we can work with to introduce the latest research/new developments in their fields. For anyone planning CPD in their school, this is relatively easy to set up. University researchers now have to show ‘impact’ for the Research Excellence Framework (20% of the grading is based on this) and working with schools is an easy way to demonstrate this.

Of course, #TLAB15 will also form part of the CPD programme and so will the ‘CPD of the week’ emails and providing books for staff members to read.

With our new ‘grid’ appraisal process now in place and a new CPD booking/logging system to be released shortly, it should be a very interesting year for professional development at Berkhamsted.


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All gone (and extras)

I am very pleased to announce that the original ticket allocation for the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted has been sold (similar to last year). As a result (because we don’t like turning people away) we have released a few more tickets on sale with the absolute closing date of the 17th March. The date is not arbitrary. We need to finalise the admin for the event and this is the latest we can leave it so if you have not bought a ticket by then…

I look forward to welcoming you and over 200 other educators to the event. See you on the 22nd!

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Teaching, Learning & Assessment, Berkhamsted 2014

Happy New Year! A brief reminder that the tickets for the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted are now on sale. The £50 ticket price includes all refreshments (breakfast, coffees/snacks and lunch) and enables you to attend three workshops and two keynote sessions. We have less than 100 tickets left so don’t miss out!

The conference site and booking page can be found here:

Once again, teachers and educators from around the country (and further afield) have decided to give up their time for free to share their expertise. No-one is being paid a fee for this event and this includes the keynote speakers. All the money raised by tickets sales and any sponsorship covers the running of the day. We will provide the video of the sessions and keynotes as a resource to delegates and will be sharing elements of it via YouTube/Twitter. We also have a team of students filming/interviewing people on the day to create the conference iBook with the help of an Apple Distinguished Educator. If you know of any Media/ICT students who may be interested in taking part in this experience, please get in touch.

The principles behind the conference are simple:

  • Workshops will have a clear learning problem driving them;
  • The focus for the workshops will be on classroom practice, learning and teacher development;
  • Workshops will be interactive with workshop leaders taking you through some of the activities/research so you can experience the idea yourself;
  • Workshop leaders will be upfront about the tech/resource costs;
  • Workshop leaders will provide key ‘takeaways’ from the sessions – either in terms of ideas/resources.

Many came away from the day last year and used the word ‘inspirational’ to describe the workshop leaders/speakers. I do hope you can join us for what promises to be a great day of learning!

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Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted – review

When you get a positive review from a journalist who is widely respected, you should pass it on as the praise is due to the people leading the workshops and presenting. Merlin John visited #TLAB13 in March and this is what he had to say about the day:

Berkhamsted may be a leading English independent school but the attendees were from both sectors and from all over the UK…the presence of students was a helpful bonus and attendance affordable. The balance between inspiring keynotes and the hands-on workshops was finely tuned and the only difficulties lay in some of the choices between events – all were worth a visit…what impressed was the appropriateness of the event for its audience. Schools are so much more likely to get that right than independent commercial event organisers, no matter how sensitive they might be to teachers’ needs. Emphasis added

The workshops for #TLAB14 on March 22nd 2014 are led by educators who:

  • Have been instrumental in moving their school from special measures;
  • Work in ‘outstanding’ schools;
  • Teach and lead in independent boarding/day and Prep schools;
  • Conduct internationally recognised research in cognitive neuroscience and teacher effectiveness;
  • Support the learning of students in Pupil Referral Units.

Tickets will be on sale at the end of the month for £50. The last event was sold out. To register your interest in the interim, email

I hope to see you in March for what promises to be a fascinating day.



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Date for #TLAB14

I found the day to be well structured, thoughtful and thought provoking. I very much enjoyed the day and would like to congratulate the organisers. Even the catering was good. Please thank everyone on my behalf.


Totally and utterly inspirational. I loved it. I am so grateful you put the event on and I am bussing my staff in next year!


The best CPD one-off day I’ve been to.


81 different schools, 3 HE providers and 4 Education Consultants attended #TLAB13.  Nearly 70% of schools were from the maintained sector and colleagues came from as far as Belgium for the sold out event.

Next year we aim to improve and we have listened carefully to the feedback.

I can confirm the date for next year’s conference is the 22nd March 2014 (so no rugby conflicts!) and we have a few tweaks/special guests planned for the day. I am very pleased that Elise Foster, one of the co-authors of The Multiplier Effect, has agreed to give a keynote. More information will be forthcoming in September.

Look out for the #TLAB13 iBook next week!


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TLAB Welcome

Text from the conference programme

Welcome to the first Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted (TLAB)!

It really is an honour to have educators from a wide variety of schools and sectors to discuss and deepen our understanding of the work that really matters in schools.  Teaching and Learning (or Learning and Teaching) is fundamental to all that we do, yet the opportunities to hear from school based practitioners can be limited.  TLAB seeks to rectify this and is part of a burgeoning movement of teacher-led professional development where we benefit from colleagues addressing the common issues in education.

These problems can seem overwhelming at times and the conference logo, designed by one of our Year 8 students, Ollie, reminds us that that they are not insurmountable.  In explaining his design decision, Ollie wrote, ‘The hand gives guidance to the growing plant, providing help to support the growth and development of the plant.  As a metaphor, the hand represents the teacher and the plant the child.’  Our job is not an easy one, yet we have the capacity to make a significant difference, as Ollie points out, to the lives of the young people under our care.  By pooling our collective wisdom through events like the one today, we can support and nurture our students more effectively than if we do it alone.

Any event relies on the generosity of others and I am very grateful that Mr Alistair Smith, Professor Bill Lucas and Dr Bill Rankin have agreed to speak to us today.  They represent different elements of the larger discussion about education and I am sure you will find what they have to say challenging and illuminating at the same time.  I also want to express my thanks to the workshop leaders who have given up their time and experience.  I am inspired by the work they do and I hope you will be too.  Thanks also to Dai Barnes, Neal Watkin, Rosie McColl and Laura Knight for their help in shaping the agenda. Rebecca Brooks also deserves a special mention for doing the essential work in orchestrating the day.

Finally, I also want to thank you.  This event was a fleeting idea when I sat down to discuss it with the Principal of my new school last summer.  A non-profit educational conference with workshops covering a variety of subject areas led by actual teachers?  Your support has made this happen and I hope the day is viewed as your day. It has been great fun to coordinate and I am confident that you will take away something that will enrich your continuing work to nurture and enable your students to flourish.

Nick Dennis

Deputy Head, Berkhamsted School

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Saturday saw the culmination of months of planning with the launch of the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted.

One of my colleagues likened the event to throwing a party and taking pleasure from seeing others have a good time. From the feedback received so far, it seems that many got something practical to take away from the event. I can only thank the workshop leaders, main speakers, students and delegates for making it work.

The question is, where do we go from here? Alistair Smith in his presentation mentioned the problematic nature of events such as this and TeachMeets because they appear to be disconnected from everything else (a topic to be addressed in a further blog post). This was never in the plan for TLAB. I felt very strongly from the beginning that what was said and done at the conference should be spread as far and wide as possible.  The first thing we intend to do is release the video from the main sessions via YouTube (with Alistair Smith’s talk  available here and Bill Lucas’ talk here). The second thing in our plan is to include the video, summaries of the workshops and their resources  into an iBook that will be available via the iTunes store. There will be no cost for this.

We are already looking ahead to next year and your feedback (via a form coming your way) is needed. A couple of things we already have in mind are a stronger Prep/Primary focus and also a distinctive leadership strand where colleagues who have ‘walked the talk’ will share their experiences. One other thing I feel very strongly about is the ability to bring young people/students to the event and we are considering the possibility of providing childcare facilities for parents.

We hope to see you next year for what promises to be a more focussed event.


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