Culture of Thinking

When you think of the word “culture” what comes to mind? There are different definitions, of course. The one I’m referring to in the title is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. Harvard researchers have identified eight cultural forces that exist in schools.

The forces are: time; opportunities; routines & structures; language; modeling; interactions & relationships; physical environment; and expectations. These are elements that simply exist–in every classroom all the time the world over. The question is, how do we use them to nurture thinking?

Do we allocate time for thinking, or just parroting back what was heard? Do we provide purposeful activities that require students to engage in thinking, not just memorizing? Do we provide the structures that support students’ thinking now as well as build patterns of thinking for lifelong learning? Do we use language in a way that that provides students with the vocabulary to describe and reflect on thinking? Do we model thinking—make it visible—so that our thinking can be discussed and shared? Are we mindful of how we build relationships such that we respect and value others’ contributions? Is the environment tended to such that it promotes thoughtful interactions and makes thinking visible? Are learning expectations clear–do they focus on the value of thinking and learning, rather than just completing work?

That’s a lot of questions! But those questions really explain those cultural forces. As educators, it is our job to marshal those forces so that our students are not just task completers, but thinkers—people who notice closely, think deeply, and wonder incessantly.

When you walk into a school (mine included), I hope you notice evidence of students’ thinking. I hope the staff there are always working to be better at what they do and more mindful of how they use the cultural forces to promote a culture of thinking—a culture where thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the day-to-day experience there*.

I encourage you to join in this cultural shift from one that is work based  to one that is steeped in thinking. Ask your student or child,

  • What do you think about ___?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What do you notice?
  • Tell me more.

If you start to make time to listen to & encourage your students’ or child’s thinking, I believe you will be pleasantly surprised to see that young person become a capable and confident thinker!

*Ron Ritchhart’s definition of a “culture of thinking”. For more information about this, go to:

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