Nurturing a Sustainable Culture of Active Thinking

As the school year launches, teachers prepare for their new and returning students, school leaders to welcome new and returning staff and the focus turns to designing ways in which learning communities can come together, develop and thrive. In my experience this often means that team building activities are dusted off and there is a flurry of discussion about how to communicate expectations and set the tone for the year ahead. Brief side-note, I still struggle with the term ‘expectations’ and gravitate much more towards ‘beliefs’ as a stance that asserts a more outward-facing and growth-orientated mindset, see my earlier blog post ‘No Expectations’ for more.

As someone who loves the back-to-school buzz of bringing everyone together, I wondered about shifting focus; from team-building and expectation-setting to co-creation towards a culture of active thinking. What I mean by this is to treat the bringing of groups together as an opportunity to nurture leadership, to invite decision-making and facilitate co creation as opposed to team-building being ‘done’ to the group. The process itself of bringing the group together being the ‘team-building’ experience rather than a fixed outcome from an activity. Sometimes, we, (read ‘I’) tend to get so immersed in the scheduling and ‘doing’ to structure collaborative time perhaps we miss the most crucial piece, letting go a little, carving out space and enabling opportunities for others to lead.

So, what if we let go and shift focus to invite our learners, our colleagues, our community members as decision-makers, as leaders, as creators and we truly fully embraced this? What an impact there could be. This could be a powerful mechanism to elevate towards process driven community building where a culture of active thinking is celebrated and reinforced. Moving from passive activity to activation of a mindset where all members see themselves as creators, contributors and leaders.

What might it look like in practice?

Some experiences, ideas and wonderings:

  • setting up learning spaces together – this being a collaborative process and part of the back to school experience. Community members organise and design spaces together.
  • setting intentions/outcomes of what is to be achieved and then teams designing how they will get there as part of their collaboration or meeting time.
  • posing the questions that we might use to provoke our planning to the students or our colleagues to gather their input on how we could respond to these. For example, in a Grade 1 classroom – How can we get to know about each other? or with a Grade Level Team – What structures can we put in place in our collaborative meetings to ensure balance and equity? or with a Grade 5 class – How will we demonstrate our learning around our classroom?
  • inviting community members to co-create a rubric to guide self and peer assessment of a task.
  • what if… student guides were invited to design and lead the back to school parent information sessions?
  • what if… students were asked to design their morning circle routine or gathering place rituals?

This requires a shift in approach and thinking, and ultimately ownership. It calls on us as leaders of classrooms, spaces, teams or communities to step back, listen, observe and find the balance to sustain this active thinking culture. I would be interested to hear from others’ experiences as they shift their focus to one of nurturing active thinking in an ongoing sustainable way.

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