Cultural forces that define leadership…

What if Ron Ritchhart’s  cultural forces were applied  to the concept of leadership?

How might a leader, in any context, ensure that he or she provides time, sets expectations, engages in interactions, uses language, models actions, creates an environment and ensures opportunities that empower the community to flourish?

As a leader, irrespective of your context, what kind of culture do you create?

1. Expectations

Do you convey clear expectations and ensure shared understanding?

2. Modeling

Do you model the attitudes and dispositions you hope to see in others?

3. Time

Is there adequate time for in-depth exploration, planning, collaboration and reflection?

4. Interactions

Do you build positive relationships, respect the contributions of others and value diverse perspectives?

5. Routines

Are processes in place for  identifying problems, exploring solutions, reflecting and giving feedback?

6. Language

Does your language reflect shared beliefs, demonstrate support, reveal vulnerability and invite constructive questioning?

7. Opportunities

Do you encourage learning and growth, experimentation and innovation? Are there opportunities for new leaders to develop?

8. Environment

Does the physical, emotional and cultural environment facilitate autonomy, mastery and purpose. (Dan Pink)

Great questions have legs…


I have some questions to ask you…

Do you ask questions to check for recall of information?
Or to help students clarify their thinking and construct meaning for themselves?

Do you play ‘guess what’s in my head’?
Or do you encourage learners to keep digging deeper?

Do you stop asking once you  get the answer you were  looking for?
Or do you ask questions you don’t already know the answer to?

Do you think answers are more important than questions?
Or are you excited when questions lead to even more questions?


Do you hear the answers and move on to the next question?
Or do you listen really carefully so the responses can guide where to go next?

Do you praise students who give great answers?
Or do you push students further by asking them to explain, elaborate and justify?

Do you rephrase the question if you no one responds?
Or do you give learners time to think, discuss and make connections?

Is every question and answer directed through you?
Or do students respond directly to each others questions?

Great questions have legs. They propel the learning forward.

(‘Making Thinking Visible’ by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison)

(Reading the above. Some of my thinking made visible here!)


Making thinking visible…

A recent tweet of mine kept reappearing over a period of days as it was picked up by others.  Someone had asked for tips for the new year and this was mine:

Reading Ron Ritchhart’s latest book (co-authored by Karin Morrison and Mark Church)  ‘Making Thinking Visible’ on a recent flight, I made many connections and was reminded yet again of his powerful influence on my approach to teaching and learning.

I first participated in a reading group some years ago, discussing extracts from his earlier book  ‘Intellectual Character’ and experimenting with Project Zero’s Visible Thinking routines.  Many of our teachers have since attended his workshops.  Most found the idea of a  ‘culture of thinking’ as transformative as I did.

One of my most visited posts, ’10 Ways to Create a Culture of Thinking’  a year ago, was influenced by Ritchhart and I have blogged about many of the Project Zero  ‘thinking routines’ over time.

Unpacking Thinking…

The first chapter of ‘Making Thinking Visible’ unpacks thinking. This initial list of  ‘thinking moves that are integral to understanding’ really resonates for me:

1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
2. Building explanations and interpretations
3. Reasoning with evidence
4  Making connections
5. Considering different perspectives
6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
7. Wondering and questioning
8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

This is what meaningful learning is about.

No wonder I am not a fan of such things as worksheets, over-planned units, prescriptive programs, teacher-centered instruction, content based curriculum and  standardised testing.

I want to SEE my students thinking…


10 ways to create a culture of thinking…

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, as well as his work with Visible Thinking through Harvard’s Project Zero, describes the forces that comprise a ‘culture of thinking‘ in the classroom. Here’s my take…

10 ways to create a culture of thinking…

1. Model thinking.

Talk about your own thinking. Make your thinking explicit. Share ideas. Wonder aloud. Explore possibilities with your students. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers.

2. Allow thinking time.

Don’t expect answers as soon as you have asked a question. Don’t repeat or rephrase the question if there isn’t an immediate response. Get used to the silence. Give students time to formulate their thinking. Don’t call on the first kids to have their hands up. Sometimes, get every student to write their thoughts down before you call on anyone. Give time to discuss their thoughts with a partner or group before sharing with the class.

3. Provide  opportunities for thinking.

Pose problems. Encourage exploration and inquiry. Set meaningful, real-life problems. Encourage students to take and defend a position, make predictions, support their ideas with evidence, articulate and test theories, make connections with prior knowledge.

4. Create a physical environment conducive to thinking.

Don’t have seats facing the front. Arrange the seats in groups so that kids can collaborate and construct meaning together. Allow movement for interacting with different people. Display student thinking on the walls. Put up a series of sticky notes showing development of thinking over a unit.

5. Introduce thinking routines.

In the same way that classes have routines for management and organization, students get used to thinking when it becomes routine. Routines need to be short, clear and easy to remember and repeated often.  Thinking routines provide a scaffold and structure for thinking. They give students guidelines within which to think and a direction to head towards in their thinking.

6. Show that you value thinking.

Name and notice thinking. Avoid praise for individual thinking. Acknowledge every contribution. Make it clear that all thinking is acceptable. Respond respectfully to all students. Ask for clarification and development of ideas. Encourage students to build on each others’ thinking.

7. Give them something worth thinking about!

Make sure your stimulus is always something worth thinking about. Create tension and cognitive disonance. Create strong provocations that will invite students into the topic. Ask powerful questions. Think laterally, it isn’t always something obvious. Use art. Use music. Use artifacts.

8. Let go.

A thinking culture works best when the teacher isn’t in charge.  Sit at the back sometimes, don’t always stand in front. Don’t paraphrase student’s thinking into what you think they mean. Every response does not have to go through the teacher. Don’t be the filter.

9. Focus on big ideas.

Don’t teach only facts and content.  Look at big ideas, rather than just topics.  Explore events and ideas through one or more conceptual lenses for deeper learning.  Facts are locked in time, place or situation, while concepts are transferable. Encourage transfer of learning to other contexts.

10. Focus on learning, not work

Make sure you and your students know the reason for every learning experience. Don’t give ‘busy work’. Avoid worksheets where possible. Don’t start by planning activities, start with the ‘why‘ and then develop learning experiences which will encourage higher order thinking.

11. Your suggestion… (leave a comment)

Series of posts on ’10 Ways to…’ #3

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning

10 ways to foster a love of learning


Establishing a culture of thinking…

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, talks about teaching children to think and the importance of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom.  His work with David Perkins, Howard Gardner and others at Harvard University on Project Zero and Visible Thinking is well worth exploring.

He describes eight ‘cultural forces’ that define a thinking classroom. These forces foster thinking, and hence deeper understanding and more meaningful learning:

Time for thinking
Expectations for thinking and learning
Opportunities for engaging in thinking
Routines & Structures that scaffold thinking and learning
Language & Conversations that name, notice, and highlight thinking
Modeling of thinking
Interactions & Relationships that show respect for students’ thinking
Physical Environment in which the process of thinking is made visible

I’ll start with the easiest one.  Time for thinking.  It’s easy to talk about.. not always so easy to ensure in the classroom.

How often do teachers ask a question, then rephrase it if no-one answers in the first few seconds?
It’s easy to call on the same child who always raises his hand, yet again, if no-one else volunteers.
Do you ever answer the question yourself if no-one else seems ready to?

Sometimes it’s difficult to allow waiting time, if there’s no response right away, but we need to allow time for thinking if we want our students to think!  One possibility  is to give students time to think and to write down their thoughts, before calling on anyone to respond. That way, everyone has enough time to formulate thoughtful responses and there is much greater participation.  Another is to allow time for students to share their thinking in pairs or groups, before calling on individuals to answer.
Time for thinking’ also implies time for in depth exploration of topics.  The PYP encourages higher order thinking and engagement with conceptual ideas through units of inquiry.  We have definitely seen a difference in the way our students think, since our school introduced the PYP  a few years ago!

Cultural forces in a thinking classroom: Part 1: Time