It’s really an exciting time to be a teacher. There’s hardly a day goes past when something new doesn’t appear to read about education, either a new book or an article on Twitter. And working at Notting Hill Prep (NHP), a thinking school, means that there’s a constant conversation about pedagogy or happiness or wellbeing going on in staffrooms and over lunch.
If that sounds exhausting, it is! Working here has stretched me more than any other job, and coordinating the Thinking School puts the onus on me to try to keep my own practice up, and keep developing my teaching. I don’t want to be the one who’s telling my colleagues how to improve without trying it first myself!
There’s so much out there available to us, that it’s tempting to get carried away with the next big thing. However, we already have a lot in place, having started our Thinking School journey back in 2003 at the founding of the school. This journey included much exploration, as well as the implementation of structures that have become mainstays of the education. This includes Philosophy for Children (P4C), as well as habits of mind (The NHP Habits & Values) and the use of thinking maps throughout the school.
So, the strategy this year has been what one member of the Thinking School Drive Team refers to affectionately as ‘Eat and Repeat’, returning to the things we’ve got already to make them better.
I’ve found simplicity to be the best way to go, particularly when no one has much time to spare. So, we selected two areas of focus for 2017-18, and we’ve been working on them steadily, drip feeding training and reminders throughout the year.
- Thinking maps
In the Autumn Term, we ran a workshop for new teachers to introduce them to the Thinking School. Having already had an overview of the full ‘toolbox’ we wanted to give them something they could walk into the classroom and use the next day. Thinking maps seemed the best choice. The workshop was delivered in a carousel, with small groups getting direct instruction from an experienced member of the Drive Team on one or two maps. This is something we would repeat next year, but open it up to include the whole staff body.
Following this, we picked up questioning in the Spring Term. Again the Thinking School Drive Team delivered a targeted training session for staff on questioning. For the purposes of clarity, it was divided into three categories:
Questioning for planning, using Bloom’s taxonomy.
Questioning in lessons to promote recall, making use of Doug Lemov’s ‘cold call’ and ‘wait time’.
Building good questioning in children through teaching the ‘question quadrant’ in P4C and in lessons.
Finally, in the Summer Term, we moved our focus to parents, recognising the importance of ensuring that they also know about what we are doing inside the school. In May we ran a Critical Thinking Dinner at school attended by parents, pupils and staff (as well as Richard Cummins and Alasdair Wade from Thinking Matters). It was an evening of deep thinking and great conversation.
Next year we want to keep building on the success of this year, linking Thinking Maps to an understanding of memory and developing the expertise of the staff.
In May 2019 we also aim to host a one-day festival of thinking at Notting Hill Prep. It will be open to those within the educational world, as well as parents, prospective parents and other interested groups. We’re looking to work closely with local schools with a similar mindset to ours to explore what it means to be a Thinking School and how it can help pupils’ learning.
So there’s a lot to do in the next year, a lot to read over summer and a great way to go before we get to where we want to be. But it’s exciting and working with great teachers in the Thinking School Drive Team makes it feel much less like hard work.
In the meantime, here’s a few books teachers in the Drive Team are enjoying at the moment:
• Carl Hendrick and Robert Macpherson – ‘What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?’ • Daisy Chrisodoulou – ‘Seven Myths about Education’ • Dylan Wiliam - ‘Creating the Schools our Children Need’ • David Didau and Nick Rose - ‘What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology’
You are welcome to visit the school to see what we’re up to and chat about thinking!