Togetherness as motivation - a 21st Century skill?

The conference took place at the 24th of November 2016 at the Independent Academy for Free School Teaching in Ollerup in Denmark. Participants were invited to visit free schools on Wednesday and on Friday morning. Apart from inspiring lectures and workshops, we enjoyed a cultural program and fantastic food provided by the kitchen crew of the academy.

Participants came from Finland, Norway, Estonia, Germany, Scotland, UK, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Belgium, Israel and of course Denmark to attend the conference and to enjoy discussions at mealtimes and between lectures.

Togetherness lies at the heart of the Danish educational system. When Danish schools are held up as a model for other educational systems around the world, it is in large part because the concept of togetherness has proved to be such a powerful tool in nurturing individual ambition, social well-being and a participatory democracy. 


By cultivating a shared understanding of the common good, of the need for balance between rights and responsibilities and for appreciating differences, the Danish system creates an inclusive and secure learning environment. 


How can togetherness be understood and how does it work? Can a sense of togetherness realign pupil motivation? (Taken from a text on togetherness by John Mason from the Independent Academy of Free School Teaching in Ollerup).

Some of the buildings of the Independent Academy for Free School Teaching and a detail of the boat which has been build by students of the academy

The Independent Academy for Free School Teaching is the only place in Europe where young people study to become teachers at free schools. Each student has a range of core subjects including "storytelling and narrativity"and "pedagogics, psychology and didactics". Learning goes hand in hand with practice: of the 5 years spent at the academy, each student teaches one year in a school in Denmark or abroad. Togetherness is a core element of the time spent at the academy - students study together to become professional teachers, they are engaged in democratic decision making processes, they share a rich cultural life and spend part of their free time together.

Here are some of my notes from the lectures given at the conference. Papers for download can be found below and also here.

Yuri Belfali from OECD pointed out that the academic performance and the sense of belonging of students vary in the different countries. Despite growing up in an uncertain, complex and ambitious world, OECD wants students to become active actors in shaping the world. How can education provide a compass to navigate the world? What kind of skills and competences do young people need in the future? The goal of OECD is to provide quality criteria and indicators, to define challenges and to identify possible strategies applied by different countries which can be adopted to local contexts.

Prof. Ziehe from the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University in Hannover gave a lecture on the changes in youth mentality. He said that whereas in the past, a set of firm rules gave structure to the life of young people, young people today live in a much more unstructured world and are faced with multiple choices. Individualization leads to a focus on the "self-world" of the pupils which is increasingly disconnected from the outside world. Young people find it difficult to "refrain from themselves" and to "think out of themselves" - abilities that are central for self-reflection.  

The panel discussion with Prof. Ziehe, Prof. Jackson and Prof. Katznelson explored the different types of motivation which are common in classrooms. Though grades are the dominating structure in schools they do not induce pupils to prepare for tests. Fears of failure lead to defensive strategies of pupils in order to avoid to be shamed in front of their friends. There is a huge variety of ways to deal with motivational challenges. Some pupils blame themselves for not performing well. To be accepted by their peers and friends is highly important to young people and many of them feel that "to work hard" on academic achievement is "uncool" and might lead to a loss of popularity. 

An important part of the conference has been to sing together as pupils all over Denmark do each morning when they start school. To sing together is a part of being together and the music and the words are remembered and are a source of inspiration throughout life.


" Never let the world defeat you when you fight for what you prize, keep your eyes and visions leveled at the blue beyond the skies. Once the aim of all your strivings fills your heart, you have the key and you're free. "


Excerpt of the lyrics of "Freedom". Text and music by Carsten Borbye Nielsen. English version by John Mason from the Independent Academy of Free School Teaching in Ollerup.

Speakers at the conference included


Yuri Belfali (OECD), Thomas Ziehe (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University Hannover), Prof. Carolyn Jackson (Lancaster University) and Prof. Noemi Katznelson (Aalborg University)


Workshops were held by


Prof. Dr. Ove Koorsgard (Aarhus University), Prof. Carolyn Jackson (Lancaster University), Prof. Noemi Katznelson (Aalborg University), Prof. Lene Tanggaard Pedersen (Aalborg University) and Assoc. Prof. Jonas Lieberkind (Aalborg University).

Below you find some of the papers which where sent to the participants in preparation of the conference. If you are interested to read all the papers, you will find them here.

The culture of learning, changes in young people's mentality and the individual's own world
Thomas Ziehe.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 291.4 KB
Teacher-pupil relations: the significance for motivation
Carolyn Jackson.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 472.9 KB
Motivation, learning and togetherness
Noemi Katznelson.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 487.6 KB

The blog entry has been posted by Lilian Jüchtern. Lilian is a board member of effe and a board member of Freie Comenius Schule in Darmstadt (Germany).