I am a Danish-born specialist in Cooperative Learning, a teacher trainer, slow blogger, sometime researcher, impending author whose (most disturbingly to Brits) unrepentant Anglophilia prompted me to moved to the UK to open Werdelin Education in 2013. Cooperative Learning since has gone from strength to strength in this country, as it is the ideal way to balance your desire for learner empowerment without jeopardising full teacher control and smash results in a respectful, relaxed, yet highly effective, learning environment. Cooperative Learning is equally effective from EYFS to HE; I have successfully used the approach to teach Danish language at University of Leicester for a time. Most recently, I have been extending the approach into the realm of Knowledge Management, where the combination of facilitator control and bottom-up empowerment makes Cooperative Learning uniquely useful in tackling the complex problems facing large organisations.
Cooperative Learning is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. While brilliant outcomes in the forms of SATs and GCSEs cannot be neglected in the current climate, a great deal more is required by a functioning democracy and requested by businesses and universities, who pine for capable school leavers above all else. A good example is how the social interaction intrinsic to Cooperative Learning builds social capital in learners with very low capacity caused by psychological trauma, social issues, or special educational needs.
In terms of combining life skills, civic engagement, and social responsibility with measurable outcomes, I am convinced my ongoing development of a Participatory Budgeting in Schools will be one of the most important initiatives in the coming decade.
In a nutshell, Cooperative Learning turns every single learner into a teaching resource. Cooperative Learning is not to be confused with disorganised "group-work" or conflated with Enquiry or Project-Based Learning, nor is it to be juxtaposed to direct instruction and the acquisition of very specific subject content. Is the way forward for any school with low resources, tired staff, small budgets, and big challenges. I refer to the case study of my very first client, who moved from special measures to the UK Top-500 league within two years and remains the region’s guiding light for good practice.
Yet, such success stories only scratch the surface of the wider opportunities offered by this approach. The stunning results of the recently concluded Strategic School Improvement Funding project across 30 schools fullly demonstrates that Cooperative Learning may be used as a tool to create a shared language and a coherent approach to teaching across expansive school networks, such as maths hubs, MATs or clusters.
My engagement with West Midlands Police and my role on the advisory board of the University of NewCastle’s initiative on Community Curriculum Making is another example of how Cooperative Learning may be used in a wider context. More information about general community building here.
Growing up with a father who was then a leading figure in the Danish Communist Party and a mother from a major industry and banking family, my life has always been about navigating complexities through communication: From getting designers, programmers and clients to communicate effectively across Paris, London and Copenhagen in the IT-sector in the 90s to getting to schoolchildren to negotiate their understanding of direct instruction today.
Further to this, my take on teaching is enlightened by two FE degrees in media and communication, a diploma degree in psychotherapy from Bodynamic International, Middle East & Arabic studies at Copenhagen University, a Cambridge CELTA and a BA in Sociology of Religion - and having founded (at least) two companies; extensive work in IT and advertising; even my army service factors into my thinking.
For precisely this reason, I don’t fit into the black-and-white categories of right-left-traditional-progressive dichotomy which so dominates the education discourse. (And frankly, I am unconvinced anyone else does, either). In my opinion, we must acknowledge the need for teacher authority and clear boundaries to help children orient themselves. And we must also recognise that teacher authority on its own potentially stifles initiative, agency and empowerment necessary to thrive in a highly complex society. It is one of the greatest strengths of Cooperative Learning that it organically balances control and freedom. This should be seen in the wider perspective of work-life readyness, civic engagement and political inclusion and participation.
It is with this in mind I am moving Cooperative Learning beyond the classroom. In consultation with representatives from universities and the business sector, I am developing the concept of Co-Creative Conversation to handle hyper-complex debates with disparate stakeholders. Current events, from the national Pyrrhic victory of Brexit to local controversies around LGBT-teaching in schools, demonstrate the need for a new form of democratic participation and a new form of engagement more suitable to the 21st century; an approach that supports meaningful, respectful conversation. This ties in with Knowledge Management, an area that the education sector has overlooked to its detriment.
An ongoing interests of mine is how Cooperative Learning may turn the heterogeneous/multicultural challenge into an advantage as demonstrated by the 21st century British Muslim programme for the Association of Muslim Schools UK. A number of my research papers on social constructivism and student-centred strategies in traditional environments, and religion in relation to statecraft and media are available for peer review on ResearchGate, or may be downloaded as pdfs from my blog cooperativelearning.works, My most recent work is a paper for University of Copenhagen on the Birmingham Trojan horse scandal through the lens of Foucault and Peter L. Berger, the father of social constructivism.
I have spoken on these and related topics in several workshops, conferences and seminars, including the inaugural BRAIS conference at Edinburgh University, and the EIC in London in 2014, UKFIET 2015 at Oxford University, ASE in Birmingham, and lead a major conference in Turkey on Cooperative Learning and the education of Syrian refugees in 2016. Please see the event list for recent updates. You are welcome to contact me if you are looking for a speaker on these subjects
Education goes far beyond “schooling.” Education is the future of the world. The girls and boys whose lives you change today will change the world tomorrow. So, let us work together to make sure that that change is worthwhile.