Journey of a Thinking School during a National Lockdown

By James Smith, Assistant Head at the Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School and Nursery, Liverpool.

It’s been quite the journey for us at Sacred Heart over the last four years. We have a whole new Senior Leadership Team in place, a stable staff team, a bespoke curriculum developed and have become a real hub for the community. We were also excited to start the Thinking Matters whole school approach to thinking and to be working closely with Ged Murphy, TM Consultant, who has been integral to our school improvement.

Becoming a thinking school is something that we have been discussing for a few years and in November 2019, I was lucky enough to visit a Thinking School in the North West called Trinity St Peter’s. It was then that we were able to reflect on our practice in school and realise that we already showed signs of beginning our Thinking School journey. In January 2020, we hosted a Thinking Matters conference in the school and even though a national lockdown began not long after, we felt confident that it was the right time to begin and so we connected with Thinking Matters to begin our journey officially.

Promoting thinking skills, conducting research and developing displays

September 2020 rolled around and there was a real buzz in school because we began more thinking training, delivered by myself as Thinking School Lead and Ged Murphy, from our first inset onwards. Teachers were interested because they could see the science behind it, but they could also see that we were already developing good thinking practices within school. We made the decision to limit the number of visitors coming into school but this didn’t stop us from continuing to access support – we carried out online training with Ged to ensure that we kept the momentum going.

We quickly established a Drive Team that consists of teaching assistants, NQTs, senior teachers, senior leaders and even our business manager – everyone could see the potential of becoming a Thinking School. With Ged’s guidance we establish the Drive Team and have since held monthly meetings to discuss new strategies and approaches, evaluate our progress and impact so far and to develop further actions. We have a Thinking School action plan in place which is shared with all staff so that everyone can see the actions being taken. Our Drive Team also split into sub-teams for promoting thinking skills, conducting research and developing displays. This helped to give a further focus within our meetings.

Some of our early actions were put in place quickly and we can already see an impact. We raised the profile of the classroom thinking practices by establishing displays around the school showing thinking hats, thinking frames, metacognition and how we think, growth mindset and more. Classrooms also have displays of thinking practices and we developed ‘Lexicon Libraries’ in all classrooms from Nursery through to Year 6. As a result, children have already begun to show a greater understanding of how to organise their thinking, how different styles of thinking can be used to solve problems and they have been applying higher level vocabulary in their writing with more confidence.

Thinking hasn’t been limited to the classroom – a range of posters around the school pose questions for people to think about whilst they move around. You will often see children (and adults) in deep discussion over these.

Teachers and children are growing in confidence when using thinking frames and these have continued to be used remotely, with children editing and adding to work on thinking frames online and completing paper copies also. Moreover, we have continued to explore collaborative learning (a strength of the school for a number of years) through the use of the ‘Jamboard’ app on Google Classroom, where children have been able to share ideas and support one another in their learning. It is clear that the early efforts in establishing this wasn’t wasted as children from across the whole school have continued to demonstrate excellent thinking and tackle the challenges, often in new and unusual circumstances, with growing confidence.

With children returning to school we are determined to keep driving our progress. Our Drive Team will pick up face-to-face meetings after a period of online meetings, and more classes will start to explore metacognition in greater detail. A wider range of thinking frames will be introduced across all year groups, modelling different thinking processes. And, most importantly, we will continue to develop our children as thinkers and independent learners so that they are able to apply these key skills in our ever-changing world.

James Smith
Asst Head
Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Liverpool

Find out more about thinking at Sacred Heart Catholic Primary school by visiting their website

To find out more about becoming a Thinking School

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