- Does your school emphasize developing students' thinking dispositions?
- Is there an urgency to make students' thinking valued, visible, and actively promoted?
- Does your classroom culture have at its core supporting and shaping learning above all else?
- How would you define the culture in your classroom? In your school? In your district?
We all have experienced being in different cultural groups in our lives. It's all about the messages sent and received among members of the "tribe." Ron Ritchhart defines a culture of thinking as one where the "group's collective thinking as well as each individual's thinking was valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular day-to-day experience of all group members" (p. 3). So what messages are your students receiving and embracing in the culture of your school about themselves as thinkers and learners and about the learning that is happening on a daily basis?
Ritchhart emphasizes that "if culture is the key to transform, then we must understand how group culture is created, sustained, and enhanced" (p. 6). In this book, Ritchhart identifies eight cultural forces that can shape and transform a school into a culture of thinking. My advice to you is to read this book in it's entirety this first time. Take notes. Reflect. Think. THEN...re-read it. The second time you read it, digest it slowly and push yourself through the stages of reading-discussion-action-reflection. I am going to briefly outline the 8 cultural forces in this post and then over the course of the 2015-2016 school year, I will be embarking on a personal journal of reading-discussion-action-reflection on each cultural force on the thinking page of this journal as I re-read the book.
- Expectations: Recognizing How Our Beliefs Shape our Behavior - expectations "for" students....the internal compass with which we operate... our theories of action. These expectations or theories of action MUST be based on an agenda of thinking: focusing on learning vs. work, teaching for understanding, encouraging deep learning strategies, promoting independence, and developing a growth mindset.
- Language: Appreciating its Subtle Yet Profound Power - includes the language of thinking, of community, of identity, of initiative and independence, of mindfulness, of praise and feedback, and of listening.
- Time: Learning to be its Master Rather Than its Victim - Connect this to Covey's 3rd habit - "first things first." What are your priorities in your classroom and school? Do you give thinking time in your classroom?
- Modeling: Seeing Ourselves Through Our Students' Eyes - includes both explicit and implicit messages. Do you, on a regular basis, model who you are as a thinker and learner?
- Opportunities: Crafting the Vehicles for Learning - the "bread and butter" of teaching. Do you provide opportunities for learning that have a low threshold (all can participate) and a high ceiling (not a lot of limits on what students can do)? (Papert, 1980).
- Routines: Supporting and Scaffolding Learning and Thinking - What tools, structures, and patterns of behavior are present in your classroom? Many people think of routines as managerial only....but they also include instructional, interactional, and thinking routines.
- Interactions: Forging Relationship that Empower Learners - How are you fostering relationships with students and supporting who they are as thinkers and learners?
- Environment: Using Space to Support Learning and Thinking - What messages about learning would a visitor take away from your classroom about the learning and thinking that is going on there?
If you want to push your thinking about transforming schools into cultures of thinking, I highly suggest reading this book. Not only does Ritchhart outline each of the 8 cultural forces in depth, he also gives suggested actions to try at the end of each chapter to explore each cultural force, as well as lots of stories from the field of educators who are already immersed in the transformation. I hope you will join me this year as I delve into each cultural force into more detail.