A personal 'Thinking' journey

Written by Duncan Holland, Deputy Headteacher, Oaklands Junior School

“If we all think alike, no one is thinking.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Throughout my education, I was governed by orthodoxy. Things were done the way they had always been done and there was no need for change. Exam questions had set answers and if you dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s then you would pass and progress on to the next stage. Woe betide you if you thought differently. And yet, throughout my education, I couldn’t resist pushing the boundaries and trying something different. I admit that I jumped through the hoops when needed but I did it knowing full well that I was playing the game.

Little changed when I started my career in teaching. I wanted to do things differently, but it seemed that every time I did, it was very much frowned upon. I tried changing schools; it made no difference. The job was soul destroying because I knew the children deserved more but it would take a brave person to do things differently. Results mattered and it was too risky to try anything novel.

Then I moved to New Zealand, and more specifically to Fendalton Open Air School in Christchurch. For the first time, I experienced a truly collaborative environment and one where thinking was at the forefront of everything we did. The staff were incredibly supportive, everyone was a teacher and a learner and I was drawn into a world where a common ethos of thinking pervaded the place and thinking differently was encouraged. I was invited to meetings of the senior leadership team because I thought differently – for the first time I understood I was a Black Hat thinker and not just negative.

We developed our understanding of each other’s strengths and used them accordingly. My team leader had a wonderfully creative mind and she would phone me at all hours to share her new idea, knowing full well that the process involved in making it happen was my thing. I would never have had the idea but I could certainly run with it once it was in my head. I had four wonderful years at Fendalton and it gave me back my love of teaching.

But mother nature intervened and the dramatic events of the summer months, before and after 22nd February 2011, inevitably led to me returning to the UK with my young family. I got a job in the first school that would have me, and plenty wouldn’t because I had been abroad for 8 years. The same frustrations reappeared. Results were all that mattered; don’t dare to be different. I got the same sinking feeling as I felt mired within a system that wasn’t willing or able to think differently.


Sometimes things are just meant to happen. My wife heard through the grapevine of a job advert for a leader of Thinking Schools at Oaklands Junior School. I had never heard of the Thinking Schools network and I was intrigued. Added to this, I had been a fan of the Oakland Raiders for many years. By chance I was meeting up with my old team leader from New Zealand around this time and she said it was a no-brainer, although I think her actual words were probably a little saltier.

I was successful in my application for the job and my association with the Thinking Schools network began. The opportunity to be part of a network that values thinking as a basis for learning is both refreshing and empowering within the English education system. I no longer feel I am alone and fighting against the tide. I now feel I am part of a rising tide and I have the opportunity to share the benefits of a metacognitive approach to learning with a wider and more receptive audience.


During lockdown, children put a coloured hexagon (the Oaklands thinking symbol) in their windows. They were when the children returned to school to make this powerful display

Since we have embarked upon our journey as a Thinking School, we have seen many benefits in both the staff and the children. The Thinking approach encourages the children to become more involved in their learning and lessons become more interesting due to the varied and novel approaches. When children leave us in year 6, they are asked to complete a survey. The most common word children use to describe their time at Oaklands is ‘fun’ and feedback from parents reinforces the fact that our learning prepares children well for the next step in their education.  This is the legacy of a Thinking Schools approach as it engages all learners, makes learning relevant and develops skills that are applicable for life.

Duncan Holland
Deputy Head
Oaklands Junior School

If you want to join the Thinking School Network and become a Thinking School…

Scroll to Top