Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey

Effective Thinking as a Future Curriculum

The first of four K-13 courses proposed by Prensky (see January 9 Sustaining the Journey) is Effective Thinking. He proposes the following to be the content that would be systemically taught.

Critical Thinking
Mathematical Thinking
Scientific Thinking
Creative Thinking
Inquiry Skills
Argument Skills
Design Thinking
Habits of Mind
Self-knowledge of One’s Own Passions and Strengths

His thesis is that these are only taught sporadically in some schools and this would become more systematic and systemic. Graduates would leave schools with consciousness, craftsmanship and efficacy as thinkers. Content would be a means to teach thinking rather than an end in and of itself. He proposes there would be some general skills for all and some individual differentiation based on student needs and interests.

Imagine how your own education might have been different if this was the curriculum. We believe the work of Habits of Mind ( is far ahead of its time in promoting this work. Schools adopting the work of Costa and Kallick have demonstrated dramatic results.

So apply your own critical thinking skills to this proposal. What are its merits? What might be some deficits? How might kids become different and/or more successful if they spent 13 years learning to think? Imagine…

Source: Prensky, Marc. “The world needs a new curriculum.” Educational Technology. May-June 2014.

An Adaptive Curriculum

Marc Prensky provides a provocative challenge to schools to rethink our traditional mental models of curriculum which are structured around math, language arts, science, and social studies. His thinking addresses the need to be adaptive for a changing environment as well as examining students as whole persons who are thinking beings. He states,

The far more fundamental reform needed to make education effective for the kids of tomorrow is not HOW we teach what we currently do, but, rather, to changing WHAT we teach –to reforming the world’s core curriculum. Because the world’s context has changed, for our kids to thrive in the future our goals for education must change with it. We can neither adapt to the new context, nor reach our goals, with the curriculum we now have. The entire world today is in need–desperate need–of a wholly new education “core” and set of “basics.”

Prensky makes a strong case for how we are tinkering with the system rather than truly reshaping it for a new future with new learners. He proposes an alternative which we will examine during January. While we are not advocating a position, we are offering food for thought.

The new organization Prensky offers would be to organize kindergarten through secondary curriculum around four key subjects:

Effective Thinking
Effective Action
Effective Relationships
Effective Accomplishment

He suggests these are the skills that all people need in order to be productive and successful in spite of their location, work, or interests. These would be the courses for 13 years as Pensky proposes. Some of the old math, language arts, science and social studies would still be taught as part of these courses, but not all of what we currently do.

What is your first reaction to Prensky’s proposal? How does it fit for the students you serve and the world in which they live? What makes you uncomfortable? What makes sense to you at a gut level?

Source: Prensky, Marc. “The world needs a new curriculum.” Educational Technology. May-June 2014.

Responding Effectively to V.U.C.A – “Hey, it’s crazy out there!”

Understanding V.U.C.A. (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) is part of living in an efficacious space in challenging times. A second consideration is how to be empowered in responding to the conditions which seem uncontrollable.

Lemoine and Bennett offer specific suggestions for being strategic with each condition.

Volatility requires investing in preparedness. For educators, this means providing professional development and coaching in order to respond to changing conditions.

Uncertainty means attending to information development. Personnel should be charged with seeking information and effectively sharing it and advocating for possible structural changes to respond to the uncertainty. This might mean creating a new class, reassigning staff, or revising current practices based on the most current information.

Complexity means resourcing the system for maximum flexibility. Alternative ways of working must be considered. Operating assumptions must be challenged. The three focusing questions of Adaptive Schools are critical: Who are we? Why are we doing this?
Why are we doing this, this way and whose needs are being served?

Ambiguity can only be powerfully addressed through experimentation. When variables are unknown, systems look at variables they have control of and hypothesize how to best employ their resources. Data is collected on experiments and adjustments are made in response to findings.

As you move toward some time away from work, reflect on how you are personally dealing with V.U.C.A. How might you respond more effectively in the New Year? What might be some questions you might ask to assist others with these challenges?

Source: Bennett, N. & Lemoine, G. J. “What VUCA really means for you,” Harvard Business Review. January-February, 2014.

What is V.U.C.A.?

V.U.C.A. is a term being used in the business world which is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. We think it is useful to those implementing Adaptive Schools as it describes the world of schools, as well.

Volatility refers to the unexpected or unstable challenges where knowledge is often unavailable. This can come in the form of new legislation, political upheaval resulting in new policies at a board of education level, or even just constant turnover of staff.

Uncertainty is often caused by external events beyond our control, even though we may understand the cause and effects. Examples might be a new superintendent, changes in demographics, or new curriculum.

Complexity is well known in the Adaptive Schools work. It describes an interconnected system with multiple variables all interacting in unpredictable ways. The ELL students are served by multiple staff members is one example. Another is the nature of a PLC working as individuals and as a team.

Ambiguity is the state of having “unknown unknowns.” Causal relationships are invisible and it is almost impossible to predict the future. The US presidential election has left states and school districts in a state of ambiguity. Court cases impacting schools also have this effect.

Which of the four elements of V.U.C.A. are most prevalent in your system? How do energy sources contribute to effectively intervening to create forward momentum? Which element is most impacting you personally? How are States of Mind resources for you remaining efficacious in challenging times?

Source: Bennett, N. & Lemoine, G. J. “What VUCA really means for you,” Harvard Business Review. January-February, 2014.

Cognitive CoachingSM Research: Outcome #7

Research on Cognitive CoachingSM has been conducted since 1988. Training Associate Jenny Edwards, PhD, has synthesized over 80 studies and has offered 10 outcomes as a result of the research. This annotated bibliography can be downloaded at During the month of November, we will look at studies behind several of the 10 outcomes.

Outcome #7 – Cognitive CoachingSM benefited teachers and principals professionally.
Chang, Lee, and Wang (2014) found that the teachers who used Cognitive CoachingSM improved significantly more than the comparison group in their teaching effectiveness in the areas of communicating, grasping teaching strategies, and applying teaching strategies dynamically.
Donahue-Barrett (2014) investigated the effects of Cognitive CoachingSM with six elementary teachers in a writing workshop. She found that with 4-6 cycles of coaching, the teachers increased in their knowledge of writing instruction, as well as in their instructional practices. She also found that the planning conferences, demonstrating lessons, and co-teaching lessons were most effective in helping to increase the teachers’ knowledge and instructional practices. The teachers said that they would have preferred to have had more time with their coach.

Cognitive CoachingSM Research: Outcomes #3 and #6

Research on Cognitive CoachingSM has been conducted since 1988. Training Associate Jenny Edwards, PhD, has synthesized over 80 studies and has offered 10 outcomes as a result of the research. This annotated bibliography can be downloaded at During the month of November, we will look at studies behind several of the 10 outcomes.

Outcome #3 – Cognitive CoachingSM impacted teacher thinking, causing teachers and administrators to be more reflective and to think in more complex ways.
Bjerken (2013) studied teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in a school district to determine their thoughts about how receiving Cognitive CoachingSM for four years had impacted their teaching. They had participated in three coaching cycles per year for four years with a certified Cognitive Coach. They indicated that they had increased in reflection and had decreased in their sense of isolation. Rather than focusing on the faults in their past lessons, they were able to focus on the positive aspects of lessons they had taught. They were able to apply their new learnings in future lessons and professional endeavors. In addition, participants focused more on the details of the lessons when they were being observed and coached than when they were not being coached. Teachers also focused more on planning for specific groups of students, as well as individuals. They became aware of how students were engaged while they were teaching, how they were interacting with their students, and how students were learning. They expressed the desire for more specific feedback and ideas for improving their lessons. Some participants indicated that they were more able to identify when students were achieving and were better able to measure student achievement
Outcome #6 – Teachers collaborated more.
In Eger’s (2006) study, which was done at the secondary level, “there was a strong conviction that Cognitive CoachingSM was responsible for developing deeper and stronger relationships with their peers, as well as with their students” (p. 57). Teachers said that Cognitive CoachingSM created more “collaboration, more conversations, and improved relationships more so now than in the past” (p. 58). They reported that they were able to listen more effectively, “become more patient with their colleagues and students” (p. 60), and improve their relationships with others. In addition, Cognitive CoachingSM “increased teachers’ appreciation and awareness of what other teachers did” (p. 60). They enjoyed having coaching partners who were in different departments. Teachers who had taken training in Cognitive CoachingSM reported that the training reduced their sense of isolation and helped them grow in trust (Dougherty, 2000). They also felt more of a sense of collegiality with other teachers in their school.

Cognitive CoachingSM Research: Outcome #3

Research on Cognitive CoachingSM has been conducted since 1988. Training Associate Jenny Edwards, PhD, has synthesized over 80 studies and has offered 10 outcomes as a result of the research. This annotated bibliography can be downloaded at During the month of November, we will look at studies behind several of the 10 outcomes.

Outcome #3 – Cognitive CoachingSM impacted teacher thinking, causing teachers and administrators to be more reflective and to think in more complex ways.
In a study by Gonzalez Del Castillo (2015), three regular education elementary teachers who were teaching children who were linguistically diverse received Cognitive Coaching from the researcher. “Participants…pointed out the increase in their use of reflective practice” (p. 114). They also felt “empowered to use skills and practices they were familiar with, analyze them, modify them, and apply them in a new way as a result of their participation in the Cognitive CoachingSM cycles” (p. 115). They felt the support of others as they were using the new strategies for working with their students, and they valued having the opportunity to engage in dialogue with their coach. In addition, the participants indicated that having the opportunity to discuss their planned activities prior to the actual lesson delivery was helpful, because it allowed them to create a mental picture of their lesson, see what needed to be adjusted, and what additional planning was necessary. (p. 116).
Jaede, Brosnan, Leigh, and Stroot (2014) examined the influence of Cognitive CoachingSM on 28 middle school and high school mentor teachers in an urban setting. They found that the mentor teachers increased their ability to reflect on their practice, and they were able to assist their interns in reflecting on their practice. Their use of Cognitive CoachingSM enabled them to become better mentors by focusing on the thinking and learning of their interns. They were able to assist their interns in becoming more autonomous, “help the interns develop their own perspective about teaching, and create their own identity as a teacher in an urban context” (p. 22).

Cognitive CoachingSM Research: Outcomes #1 and #2

Research on Cognitive CoachingSM has been conducted since 1988. Training Associate Jenny Edwards, PhD, has synthesized over 80 studies and has offered 10 outcomes as a result of the research. This annotated bibliography can be downloaded at During the month of November, we will look at studies behind several of the 10 outcomes.

Outcome #1 – Cognitive CoachingSM was linked with increased student test scores and other benefits for students.
Irons (2014) explored the impact of training in asking mediative questions (Costa & Garmston, 2002) and coaching with a trained Cognitive Coach for 10 weeks on the questions that one middle school teacher and five mentors asked their students. Irons found that the participants valued receiving coaching on how they were applying what they learned in the seminar; moved from asking closed-ended questions to asking open-ended questions; indicated that the structure of Cognitive CoachingSM gave both students and the teachers more “space” to think of an answer and slowed down the pace of classroom interactions; talked about how they had learned and grown as a result of the seminar; and indicated that their students were learning in the same areas that they were learning. In addition, they had implemented the elements of mediative questions into their practice.
Outcome #2 – Teachers grew in efficacy.
Student teachers who received mentoring during a semester from Clinical Faculty who were trained in Cognitive CoachingSM grew more in teaching efficacy than did teachers who received mentoring from Clinical Teachers who were not trained in Cognitive CoachingSM. Formative assessment and the language of support were most important in helping them grow in efficacy. Mutual trust, positive relationships, and formal feedback were also important in their growth (Maginnis, 2009).

October 24, 2016

Adaptive Schools in the classroom and in co-curricular activities can be very powerful. Thinking Collaborative recently received an email from an Adaptive Schools Training Associate. Here is what she wrote:
I’m not sure if you heard I changed jobs in July. I started at a new school district and am managing a new instructional coaching program. They have not had any exposure to AS or CC. I finished a cohort of AS in August. As always, the participants were so excited.

My favorite thing is I am seeing immediate implementation in the schools. The teachers and administrators are embracing the learning. I wanted to share a picture with you that a second grade team posted on Twitter. None of these teachers were at the training. One of the instructional coaches I work with shared fire circles with them. I am seeing more and more examples of this. I love it!

Here is the Tweet that the trainer refers to in her email.

Already this teacher/trainer can see the Principles of Complex Systems coming into play. Children are sitting in small fires to have dialogue and collaborative conversations. They are being taught the importance of rapport in community building and in creating emotionally safe environments that promote cognitive complexity.

Some of the Principles of Complex Systems (formally the Dynamical Principles) include:

1. Everything influences everything else.
2. Tiny events create major disturbances.
3. You don’t have to touch everyone to make a difference.

So, too, in an Upstate New York School District, the Norms of Collaboration are being posted in classrooms and used with both students and colleagues. In co-curricular activities, like the Yearbook Staff, decisions have been made using AS strategies like Criterion Matrix. Literacy Coaches routinely use the AS strategies in their work with classroom teachers or as district facilitators.
Not everyone has been through the training in the district, but the good word and the power of the work is spreading.

Tiny events really do create major disturbances. You can see the ripples spreading in these systems.

October 17, 2016

A seventh grade science teacher in Upstate New York exposed his students the Norms of Collaboration. In particular, he wanted to teach his students the importance of Paying Attention to Self and Others and Presuming Positive Intentions when they are engaging in Collaborative Conversations. The vehicle he chose for the conversations was the NASA Exercise: Survival on the Moon.

The directions for the NASA Exercise read like this:
You are a member of a space crew originally scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the lighted surface of the moon. However, due to mechanical difficulties, your ship was forced to land at a spot some 200 miles from the rendezvous point. During reentry and landing, much of the equipment aboard was damaged and, since survival depends on reaching the mother ship, the most critical items available must be chosen for the 200-mile trip. Below are listed the 15 items left intact and undamaged after landing. Your task is to rank order them in terms of their importance for your crew in allowing them to reach the rendezvous point.
The students completed the fifteen-item ranking on their own first. Then, they were placed in groups and engaged in a collaborative conversation. They had to use data, knowledge of the moon’s surface and related science, and conversation to navigate the conflicts and differences of opinion to create a group ranking. The instructor talked about different ways the students would have to pay attention to themselves with gesture, facial expressions, body language and tonality as they dialogued about the scenario.
During the debrief, students talked about the two focused norms and how they tried to remain mindful of them. They also pointed out the importance of other Norms, like pausing and providing data. This class has not yet learned to paraphrase one another, but that is next on the class’ agenda.

At the 2014 Thinking Collaborative Symposium, Bill and Ochan Powell did a presentation on The OIQ Factor: Raising the Organizational Intelligence of Our Schools. During their presentation, they used a similar ranking for a collaborative conversation. Their fifteen-item list was called the “African Safari Survival Simulation.” No matter what the topic of the ranking, the findings were very similar to the seventh grade science class’ conclusions. In all of the groups, the group ranking score was better than the individual ranking scores. So, we really can be smarter together.

October 10, 2016

When students get used to goal setting and planning conversations, it would be natural to follow up with Reflecting Conversations to check on progress. Teachers could schedule conversations to check on progress and the attainment of short-time goals, The Reflecting Map could also be used as a culminating project for a collection/presentation writing portfolio. The following questions have been used in a variety of ways. First, the classroom teacher has held one-on-one conversations with students using the questions as a guide. Also, the teacher has structured peer coaching conversations between students using the guide as a template. Finally, the teacher has used the questions as a pre-writing personal self- directed reflection that students completed on their own.

Here are some possible reflecting conversations questions for a final writing portfolio.

• Summarize your impressions of your growth as a writer.
• Analyze your success as a writer by comparing your earliest paper to your most recent paper.
o How has your writing voice matured?
o What was your weakest grammatical area and how has it improved?
o What did your early development look like (specific references, text-based details, your ability to draw conclusions, explain and analyze your supporting ideas) and in what ways have you improved?
o In what ways have your introductions and conclusions improved?
• What were some of the things you did to improve your writing?
• What do you think a college professor would say about your writing?
• What are you learning about yourself as a writer?
• In what ways do you still need to improve as a writer?
• What do you have to insist on in yourself in order to make that happen?
• What are some goals you have as a writer for your next 4 years?

The Reflecting Conversation can be adapted to mediate a student’s thinking about classroom projects or measuring the attainment of established learning goals.

October 3, 2016

Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coachingsm in the classroom can be very powerful. The September 8, 2016 of ASCD Express included an article by Patricia A. Hanson entitled “Starting the Conversation About Academic Goal Setting” (Volume 12 | Issue 1). Hanson writes about the importance of asking students both to define and describe what goal setting is and to encourage them to see the importance of developing the practice. In the early days of an English 12 class in Upstate New York where students were concurrently enrolled in a high school course for college credit, one teacher would frequently have planning conversations with students.

Hanson recommends a series of closed questions like:

• Do you set goals for yourself? Why or why not?
• What kinds of goals do you set?

• What is a recent goal that you set? Did you achieve it? How?

• How do you respond if you do or don’t achieve your goal

Instead, a teacher trained in Cognitive Coachingsm might ask questions like:
• What might be some of your goals for class (for your writing, for your reading life, etc) this year?
• What will it look like, sound like, feel like when you are successful?
• What might be some strategies that you can utilize to develop your essays?
• What might be some things you want to do really well this year in class?

Students could document notes from the planning conversations in their classroom writing portfolios. In addition to the essays, the teacher and the students could establish a coaching log to record short-term and long-term goals. Hanson writes, “Creating conversations about goal-setting in our classrooms, as well as what is working and what isn’t, allows students to engage in their education. Students learn the value of setting long- and short-term goals, and they learn from their peers about different ways to set goals and how to respond in a positive manner when we reach—or struggle to reach—our goals. By creating spaces to discuss goal setting and recognizing their successes and misses, students become vested in a true community of learners.” The goal of CCsm and its “sister body of work” Habits of Mind is to create self-direction in individuals. Goal setting via Planning Conversations is a first step.

Moss and Brookhart write in Chapter Four of Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom, “It’s no secret that students learn best when they are actively and intentionally engaged in their own learning. But classrooms full of actively engaged students don’t just happen. They are created when teachers intentionally work to develop self-regulated learners who set their own goals, select effective strategies to reach those goals, and monitor and adjust what they do depending on the demands of the task and their own strengths and needs.”