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How Stanley Park Infants School in Sutton became a Thinking School

Stanley Park Infants’ School gained accreditation as a Thinking School in December 2007 after a four-year journey of development. We are extremely proud of being a Thinking School, and we believe that this achievement has impacted on all members of our school community, to ensure that not only every child matters but everyone matters. Our school motto is “Be the Best You Can Be” and our accreditation, we believe, has enabled and empowered everyone in our school to be just that.

Why did we become involved with the Thinking Schools Network?

Our journey began in 2003 when as a school we realised that there was a missing part of the jigsaw puzzle in our children’s learning and, indeed, in our own learning. After hearing an inspirational presentation by Gill Hubble, an international consultant on teaching thinking strategies, we reflected on our own practice, and realised that our learning needed to be rooted in thinking. Our children needed to be able to understand how they learn as well as why and what they learn. Cognitive and metacognitive learning in partnership became, therefore, the heart of our ongoing development.

How did we develop our action plan?

After contact with Richard Cummins and Kestrel education, my deputy and I formed the Drive Team which led the introduction of thinking skills across the school, disseminating to all staff through whole school training and whole school performance management targets. A detailed teacher-led review of a range of thinking tools and methodologies left us with four priorities:

  • The need for a whole school approach to thinking
  • The need for fully understood visual learning cues
  • The need to fuse together academic learning with personal, social and emotional development
  • Ultimately, the need to become an emotionally intelligent Thinking School

How did we put our plans into action?

Right from the start we had targets as a thinking school integrated throughout our school improvement plan and our school self evaluation/monitoring processes. However, our first steps, with the help of the Kestrel team, involved introducing a school-wide common visual language for learning with David Hyerle’s Thinking Maps, with a particular focus on raising standards in writing across the school alongside the consideration of higher-order questioning as part of effective differentiation. Thinking Maps provided staff and pupils alike with a construct which was the same for everyone. After trying Tony Buzan’s mind mapping as well, it was agreed that Hyerle’s thinking maps gave us the consistent approach that we needed with young children, so that thinking and learning could be understood and adapted for all. During the same year, we also provided training for parents and governors and became lead school for the Sutton Thinking Skills Development network. This enabled us to share ideas with colleagues, and grow in our understanding that different approaches are needed for different contexts of learning. Thinking Maps were highly successful but we wanted more; we wanted our children to be both creative and critical thinkers.

Next came the introduction of De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, and work as a pilot school for the National Strategies SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) project. Once again, the visual element of the Six Thinking Hats (a set of which were provided for every classroom and in our hall for assembly usage) was an essential part of success for our children. De Bono’s Hats gave us the tool to take Thinking Maps even further by using them in partnership for extended and higher order learning - for example, using the Circle Map with the White Hat for factual information alone, or the Multi Flow with the Green Hat for the causes and possible consequences of new ideas.

The SEAL project also allowed us to begin to consider children’s attitudes to learning and the positive habits that we also needed to promote to ensure the highest quality learning, progress and most of all provision across the school. Each half term we chose a different theme and linked learning intentions to both subject based-targets and metacognitive-based targets. Therefore, in each lesson, children knew and understood why and how they were going to learn, supported by the thinking tools (maps and hats) that we were using. Extremely soon, we began to link our SEAL work to that of Art Costa’s Habits of Mind and worked with the staff team and parents to promote positive habits. At the same time we introduced a new home/school planner which reflected our approaches to thinking and learning - a quick user-guide to Maps, Hats and Habits of Mind which has proved invaluable for parents and has enabled us to transfer our Thinking School approach across into home learning.

What have we learnt so far?

Along our journey we have needed to highlight best practice to support staff development and peer mentoring, to provide model plans and lessons, and to ensure that new staff could be trained effectively in our approaches to learning and thinking. We have achieved this through highly skilled and knowledgeable senior leaders, with the Headteacher driving thinking school improvement, and a Leading Teacher for Thinking who teaches all children for one session every week during the teaching staff’s PPA (Planning, Preparation and Assessment) time. This teacher has also built up a portfolio for other staff and visiting teachers to access to look at development over time. This has ensured the sustainability of our Thinking School.

How is our work developing for the future?

In order to ensure that thinking will continue to be embedded in our practice, and disseminated across all aspects of school life, we have run parent workshops, family learning evenings, special ‘thinking’ weeks with problem solving, creativity projects and reflection times, alongside ongoing staff training and development and senior leadership and governing body support. As a school we have also committed over the past five years to identifying an aspect of thinking development as a performance management target for all teachers and teaching assistants, to ensure accountability and, ultimately, success across the school.

Opportunities to engage with the Thinking Schools Network, and be a part of an ever-growing community, have also supported us and ensured consistently-renewed vision along the way. Following our accreditation in 2007, we began to consider the impact of reflective thinking and measuring that impact. Since then, we have introduced the PASS system (Pupils Attitudes to Self and School) to highlight children’s strengths and areas for improvement. We have also adapted thinking courses to children’s needs, both as whole classes, small groups and individuals, alongside introducing Philosophy for Children across the school from Foundation Stage through Key Stage One. All children take part at least weekly in a philosophical enquiry, and levels of thinking, learning and understanding have soared.

We are continually committed as a whole school community to the highest standards of professional development, and we enjoy our work with Bob Burden and the team at Exeter, and Richard Cummins and his team at Kestrel, to ensure that we empower all children and all members of the school community to be active thinkers and learners and always be the best they can be!

Rachel Jacob
Stanley Park Infants’ School

December 2009

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