Mount Stuart Primary School

What is a Thinking School?

‌It is hard to encompass a definition for a thinking school in one short, concise sentence. The CEDU has asked some of its experienced 'thinking' contacts for their definitions which are given below.

If you have a more succinct definition, do let us know!

 

 

 

 

A Thinking School is ‘an educational community in which all members share a common commitment to giving regular careful thought to everything that takes place. This will involve both students and staff learning how to think reflectively, critically and creatively, and to employing these skills and techniques in the co-construction of a meaningful curriculum and associated activities. Successful outcomes will be reflected in students’ development across a wide range of abilities demonstrating independent and co-operative learning skills, high levels of achievement and both enjoyment and satisfaction in learning. Benefits will be shown in ways in which all members of the community interact with and show consideration for each other and in the positive psychological well-being of both students and staff.’ (Burden, 2006)

A Thinking School is 'an educational community in which all members share a common understanding and vision of the nature of the high quality learning and teaching for all pupils, and are committed to working together to make this vision a reality. They think deeply about their work, reflectively, critically and creatively, and spend time discussing the best ways to co-construct both a meaningful and purposeful curriculum and associated activities, drawing on a wide range of learning opportunities. They are committed to their own learning, keep abreast of research, learn from each other and are open to new ideas, considering these carefully before deciding whether they will usefully contribute to their vision for a thinking school.

A school which is successfully developing as a thinking community will strive to ensure that all pupils are developing and demonstrating independent and co-operative learning skills using a range of thinking tools and strategies. The school will generate high levels of achievement and an excitement and enthusiasm for lifelong learning. All members of the community will interact with and show consideration for each other, in such a way as to enable the positive psychological wellbeing of both pupils and staff to flourish (Knapp, 2006).

Perhaps a more pertinent question is ‘what is a non-thinking school?’ Isn’t thinking a key component of most learning and isn’t student learning the primary function of all schools? Unfortunately, a great deal of evidence would appear to indicate that a significant proportion of pupils pass through their 15,000 hours of schooling without being required to do much real thinking at all. External tests and examinations are prepared for and passed at every level by means of drills and rote-memory exercises with the result that a great deal of superficial information may have been accumulated without any reflection on its value or the meaning. Meanwhile, the notion of an autonomous (and group orientated) learner and problem-solver has been completely lost.

The point here is not to blame schools, overwhelmed by the demands of covering a largely content-based curriculum and the potential costs of failing to do well in Ofsted inspections or being placed well down in unofficial media-based ‘league tables’. Our suggestion is that there is a viable alternative which has its foundation in a return to the purpose of producing educated citizens of the world.
The indications are that placing cognition at the heart of the education enterprise and developing ways of establishing explicit links between critical and creative thinking and high quality autonomous learning and pro-social behaviour can have enormous benefits for the students, the ethos of the schools, and for the wider community. 

‌Our definition of a thinking school therefore is an educational community in which all members share a common commitment to giving regular, careful thought to everything that takes place. This will involve learning how to think reflectively, critically and creatively, and to employing these skills and techniques in the co-construction of a meaningful curriculum and associated activities. Successful outcomes will be reflected in students across a wide range of abilities demonstrating independent and co-operative learning skills, high levels of achievement, and both enjoyment and satisfaction in learning. Benefits will also be shown in ways which all members of the community interact with and show consideration for each other and in the positive psychological well-being of both students and staff.

In order to achieve this goal, a whole school approach will be necessary whereby all stakeholders (including parents and school governors) are fully committed to the school’s aims and how they can best be achieved. Staff will need to be specially trained and methods will need to be introduced into the curriculum for teaching the skills of thinking and associated cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies. The widest possible application of these skills and strategies should underpin all other aspects of the curriculum and should guide behaviour policies and expectations about human interactions at every level and care for the environment.

To become a thinking school requires (shared) vision, skilful in-service training and a great deal of hard work. In one sense, the process is never-ending, but we do believe that schools demonstrating that they can match a certain number of basic criteria can rightfully claim to be a thinking school. As an institution of higher learning which welcomes autonomous thinkers and learners as its students, the University of Exeter, through its Cognitive Education Development Unit, is happy to provide formal recognition to schools meeting those criteria and to make available to those schools a certificate and University logo as a mark of their recognition (Burden, 2006).