31st Mar 2013

A Thinking Framework for Schools






Staying healthy in today’s society has come to mean physical health and yes I agree with the importance of this aspect of our being, however, there is a greater need for mental health among our young people. Mental health is one of the most important aspects that need be addressed in modern society and yet I have seen social environments that I believe are incredibly detrimental to the mental wellbeing of our young. In school settings, language subtleties can have a powerful impact on young children’s learning ability.


Mental illness is the third largest illness behind heart attack and cancer and it is an ever-increasing problem in developed countries. 45% of all Australian adults will experience mental illness at some stage in their life. I in 5 people will experience a mental disorder. Our schools today are as much about behavior management as they are about learning. 1 in 10 Australian children have a learning disability. Our kids suffer from depression, anxiety, autism, eating disorders, absenteeism, CD (Conduct Disorder), ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Separation Disorder, panic disorder and simple phobias. Schools have become increasing stressful environments to work and a large proportion of young teachers leave the profession within the first five years of their careers. In a recent article published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Melissa Davey cites a study conducted by Macquarie University in Sydney claiming that the major concern of Australians is work, social interaction and appearance.  It is predicted that within 5 years 25% of Australian teachers will retire and many young enthusiastic teachers leave because they feel reward doesn’t equal effort of enthusiasm in the profession.


Our school systems continually place academic needs at the top of the pillar and the other domains of human development follow. It is interesting to note Stephen Covey in ‘The Leader in Me” mentions the four basic needs of all kids as being;

·      Physical – safety, food, hygiene, health.

·      Social / emotional – acceptance, kindness, friendship, being loved.

·      Mental – intellectual, creativity.

·      Spiritual – meaning, character, moral fiber.


Most school vision and mission statements universally state the academic needs of all kids are at the top of the tree. Governments and Systems worldwide continue to use the academic domain as the measure of intellectual success. My thinking is that successful academic outcomes are a result of having the other dimensions of human development in place before academic success can be a reality.


I believe schools, systems, universities and governments need to be looking at a radical way of rolling out teaching courses. We need to be looking at the Science of Education and the Art of Learning & Teaching. Judy Willis, an American neurologist and classroom teacher in her book, “Research Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning”, believes that modern brain imaging technology has given us the science of education. Teachers now have insights into brain development, alertness, memory storage and retrieval that can only increase the effectiveness and excitement of learning. BUT is this happening at a fast enough pace.


At this point in our history, our education system seems to be looking to make things more prescriptive, more content driven and outcomes based where compliance and management are at the forefront of most administrators minds. When listening to many teachers talk about their work they often refer to teaching time being overridden by compliance demands. As a community of educators we need to find a balance between fun and satisfaction in our work and give children the dispositions, skills and confidence they need to succeed in a complex world.


What should be on offer in our schools?


I believe all schools should be offering a thinking framework that helps young students in particular, to make sense of what it means to learn. The true nature of learning has nothing to do with being intelligent but for so long, and still today, many young people equate being good at school means being intelligent.


If one is to examine the purpose of Australian Schooling according to the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, then it begs all schools to be offering some framework that promotes thinking and a clear vision of what learning looks like.





There are multiple schools across the global doing great things with various frameworks that I applaud. Wherever you find a passionate Principal who has developed a thinking framework then the students in that school community are getting something of great value. So what is on offer?


There is great work being done by Guy Claxton using the Learning Muscles. Throughout the UK and other parts of the world, BLP schools are doing a fine job educating students about the 4R’s – resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness & reciprocity. Within these four areas there are subsets of habits that have been refined and give meaning to many dispositions relating to successful learning.


One of the finest resources on human intelligence is a book by Lucas & Claxton “New Kinds of Smart – How the science of learnable intelligence is changing education.” The authors refer to eight types if intelligence. They give educators a language and freedom to develop the learning process with students. I believe it is an obligation for all educators to be informing students about the nature of intelligence on a daily basis and helping them assess themselves as learners against a framework.


Stephen Covey’s ‘Leader in Me’ program has spread across the globe and builds on seven habits of highly successful people. These being; be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win – win, seek first to understand, then to be understood, synergise and sharpen the saw. Once again each of these habits can be unpacked into smaller subsets of dispositions.


Then there are the Habits of Mind developed by Art Costa and Bena Kallick. The Habits describe cognitive and affective aspects of human behavior. I became interested in the Habits of Mind when I visited College Street Normal School in Palmerston North NZ, in 1995. The whole school was immersed in the language and framework of the Habits of Mind. You could almost reach out and touch what you saw. It started my passion for the Habits of Mind and my desire to implement them in my school. There are 16 Habits of Mind that stand alone without subsets of other dispositions. These being


·      Thinking flexibly

·      Creating, Imagining, Innovating

·      Remaining open to continuous learning

·      Listening with understanding and empathy

·      Wonderment and Awe

·      Gathering data through all sense

·      Questioning and posing problems

·      Applying past knowledge to new situations

·      Working interdependently

·      Persisting

·      Taking responsible risks

·      Striving for accuracy

·      Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision

·      Metacognition

·      Managing impulsivity

·      Finding humour


A recent framework that gave educators more scope for reporting student achievement was Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. His research suggested eight intelligences for which students could be benchmarked against and it seemed that MI theory gave the education community an alternative way to value students’ talents and abilities. The role of teacher shifted somewhat towards coach and implied a nurturing aspect that rightly or wrongly (historically even) was present when direct classroom instruction was the norm.

MI Theory       

·      Lingustic

·      Logical

·      Musical

·      Aesthetic

·      Bodily-kinaesthetic

·      Spatial

·      Interpersonal

·      Intrapersonal


Robert Sternberg suggests 3 intelligences that make up successful learners. These being a combination of academic, creative & practical intelligences. Sternberg states that traditional education discriminates against students who may be very bright, creatively & practical, but who don’t shine academically. I believe the Habits of Mind give educators the language and skills to develop the dispositions of an intelligent mind which supports the work of all the frameworks mentioned.