Pathways to Thinking Schools


Edited by: David N. Hyerle & Larry Alper

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    Countries around the world are implementing educational standards they hope will guide their schools to produce the high performers needed to guarantee their vision of their ability to globally compete for the highest levels of productivity. Many school systems have shown that creation of programs to address the standards have resulted in increasing academic achievement scores for many; however, not only does a gap continue to exist between students labeled as achievers and those labeled “low achievers,” but data from new assessments that focus on higher levels of thinking illustrate that the number of students on the lower end of the bell curve is increasing (Hernández & Gebeloff, 2013).

    The most unfortunate collateral damage of the increasing pool of students labeled “low achievers” on these assessments is the interpretation of these results as indicative of these students' incapacity for high levels of thinking. The underestimated (or totally ignored) reality proven by the eminent psychologist Reuven Feuerstein (and substantiated by neuroscience) is that these students are not incapable of high levels of thinking and performance. Instead, it is the mental processes and “habits of mind” requisite for high levels of thinking and intellectual performances that are underdeveloped.

    So what is a critical root cause of this problem and what is needed to ensure the development of thinking so the vast capacity of all students can be elicited, nurtured and guided for high performance?

    I have dedicated my practice to these questions and proffer one significant recognition: The focus of education on academic scores and/or global competition has steered us away from the original purpose of education upon which the word is derived; that is, to draw out and encourage high levels of thinking for activating the vast potential of an individual. This purpose of education is the catalyst for a new vision for schools, a vision that transcends the narrow focus of instruction on high test scores indicative of school achievement (where a large portion of students continue to underperform), to a vision of stimulating high levels of students' thinking, enabling all students to the recognize and act on the vast capacity of their abilities for self-actualization and personal contribution to the world.

    Thinking Schools presents us with explorations into schools where such a vision is a reality. In these schools, instruction becomes instead mediation of learning designed to address the intention that every student be a deliberate, reflective, critical, and creative thinker for personal achievement. With this as the intention, explicit attention is on developing thinking to critically analyze, engage in comparative behaviors, reflect, question, critique, evaluate, forecast, and innovate. This laser focus is delivered through cognitive tools that create the neural patterns that make learning more efficient and effective and practices that cultivate habits of mind that animate the self-determination needed for self-directed learning and high intellectual performance. The empirical evidence and neuroscience that substantiate these cognitive tools and practices are described along with guidance and insights from these Thinking Schools educators so this vision can be facilitated in every school for all students.

    Paolo Freire once said the question we have to address is this: When we emancipate all students to be deliberate, reflective thinkers who question, critique, and want to take action, will educators, systems, and governments be ready for the power that will be unleashed? The answer to that question is clear: We are at a seminal point in the evolution of a global community. The paradigm of a global community negates competition among countries. In a global community, countries recognize reciprocal interests and the need and benefit of interdependence. Therefore, this new paradigm of a global community calls for Thinking Schools internationally, schools where students will be equipped to think dialectically, reflecting on the ramifications and possibilities of interdependence; schools where students will be cultivated to transform themselves to be self-actualized and make contributions to transform the world so this millennium is the one in which we achieve the global success of cooperation, high productivity globally, and innovation of efficient and effective use of our most promising and productive resource: our mind and the thinking it generates.

    YvetteJackson, Ed.D., Author of The Pedagogy of Confidence, Chief Executive Officer of the National Urban Alliance
    Hernández, J. C., & Gebeloff, R. (2013, August 7). Test scores sink as New York adopts tougher benchmarks. New York Times,


    The title of this book represents a declaration of what many people inside and outside of education from around the world now believe should be the central focus of education. Presented within these chapters is documentation showing how the explicit focus on thinking may become a foundation for every school, from many different vantage points and from several different countries. In one sense, our schools need to “recharter” their vision of schooling. We know that our work as educators is no longer simply about delivering more content knowledge, better technology, or more complex testing regimens. We need to explicitly develop our students' thinking abilities so that they deepen content knowledge, build concepts, and filter the abundance of information flowing through virtual networks. The ultimate purpose of the Thinking Schools approach is to enable every student to become drivers of their own thinking and learning. We believe that for this to happen we must structure the school environment as a whole—not just in isolated classrooms and virtual mediums—so that students learn to engage interdependently and empathically with others, to become more reflective within their own, unique, ever-developing networking minds. We also believe, with our evolving understandings about the human brain, that every child needs to become more aware of—and take care of—the complex brain that hums unconsciously behind every thought, feeling, and action.

    The ideal of schools teaching students for, of, and about thinking has been voiced, practiced in isolation, researched, and envisioned by many educators for decades, reaching back past the thinking skills movement in the United States and internationally during the late 20th century to John Dewey and, if you wish, back to Socrates. The educational community at large knows so much about language and cognitive development, facility with critical thinking, the independent and collaborative dimensions of learning, multiple and emotional intelligences, the neurosciences, and more recently, a bit about technologies and social media. Yet there have been few offerings of systematic, deep, and adaptable approaches supporting whole schools to make the systemic shift toward explicit teaching for what drives learning: thinking. There have been extensive research projects, theories, examples, and more convincing rhetoric about “changing mindsets” than real changes in classrooms around the world. Even the expanding use of technologies in the classroom is still primarily focused on delivering or accessing information rather than on how information can and should be processed and thought about. While this book does contain research of various forms, it is only presented in service of the documented work surfacing from schools. The authors of this book are educators who are committed to systematically catalyzing, cocreating, and coaching “learning” communities that want to “thoughtfully” shift the paradigm over time toward becoming thinking communities.

    Note: Before utilizing Thinking Maps™ as discussed herein, the educators highlighted in this professional book participated in required Thinking Maps™ training. Resources and training are provided by Thinking Maps™, Inc. ( Thinking Maps™ is a registered trademark of Thinking Maps™, Inc.

    Several abiding questions are boldly held up for your scrutiny and are met head-on throughout these writings: What are the similarities and unique differences between information and knowledge? Learning and thinking? Thought and language? Brain and mind? Please hold on to these challenging questions and your own educational background as frames of reference for considering what these authors are proposing.

    The wider purpose of this book is to offer an introduction to the approach and adaptive implementation design developed by Thinking Schools International (TSI; Our work emerges from previous work, and there is nothing radically new here other than a group of people coming together to attempt to integrate what we have learned about the explicit development of thinking into a coherent, scalable, and sustainable approach for whole school change. Okay, maybe this is new!

    There are eleven chapters ahead. The introductory chapter is the entry point description of the “what, why, and how” of Thinking Schools, a global initiative led by TSI. This is a group of educators who

    • offer a broad vision of a Thinking School,
    • model and train school faculty in practical tools for immediately beginning the shift toward a classroom and school-wide focus,
    • support schools in planning a multi-year implementation design for making the shift, and
    • work with the school to implement student-centered models for improving learning performance and long-term development of integrated thinking abilities, inquiry skills, and dispositions.

    The TSI group is focused on working with a school faculty so that teachers, administrators, and the larger community creates and fully owns their own change processes. Key to this work is our commitment to documenting and networking schools from around the world so that they may share “best change models” as Thinking Schools. This book is one effort to document, communicate, and sustain this network.

    The ten chapters following the introduction have a unique design, reflective of our interest in having multiple authors from different parts of the world, each with unique entry points for facilitating “thinking.” As editors, we decided that we would write introductory comments for each chapter that would serve to introduce you to the authors, engage you in anticipatory thinking about the topic, and make thematic connections and transitions from one chapter to the next. After each chapter, we have offered reflective questions to further propel your own thinking and for use in book studies with colleagues.

    We have also given each chapter a one word heading, each of which may be thought of as questions that are essential to educators as they consider this approach:

    • Chapter 1: How do we catalyze thinking across whole schools?
    • Chapter 2: Is there a moral imperative for thinking schools?
    • Chapter 3: How does our brain, mind and thus thinking develop over time?
    • Chapter 4: What are broad criteria for thinking schools?
    • Chapter 5: What has informed the journey of thinking schools?
    • Chapter 6: How does a thinking school keep moving forward?
    • Chapter 7: Can a school system make this shift toward thinking?
    • Chapter 8: Where is the common ground for language and thinking?
    • Chapter 9: How may we visually coach teachers' thinking?
    • Chapter 10: How does leading thinking develop across a school?
    • Chapter 11: Is a country-wide vision of educating for thinking possible?

    As you will find across these chapters, the Thinking Schools approach has a structured yet adaptable design based on the central concern for developing every member of the school community as better thinkers for problem solving, decision making, and making productive changes needed around the world. This design was also created so that many schools within a region or country may be “scaled up” and be sustainable over time through face-to-face and virtual networking.

    It is premature to announce that the Thinking Schools approach is an unequivocal “proven” success, but case studies, student- and school-wide performance results, and many other indicators of success presented in this book are strong indicators and are showing ways forward to improvements. A recent partnership is one proof of concept on a very large scale. The Malaysian education system is now in its second year of a five-year plan. It is a comprehensive, countrywide effort to transform all its 10,000 public schools from a lecture/rote learning format toward becoming Thinking Schools, using its own uniquely designed iTHINK approach. The Malaysian Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the Prime Minister's Office of Innovation, is creating a blended professional development model and an integrated layering of the three student-centered models offered with support from TSI that will be used by learners daily as they think more deeply and learn academic content.

    A team of educators conducting follow-up visits in a school in Kuala Lumpur (one of 10 showcase schools geographically spread across the county) found promising results very soon and a structure for sustaining change. Eight months before, this team had seen in each of the 10 schools most teachers standing and lecturing in front of rows of students. Students were quietly working or boisterous but with very little deep academic interaction and minimal explicit engagement or improvement of their thinking. Mostly lower level questions were being asked, and verbal and written repetition was the norm for memorizing information linked to tests. These were content-driven, teacher-focused classrooms by an outdated design established long ago. Actually, this was the norm across Malaysia … and much of the world. What was observed during these return visits was a transformation: Students were in pairs and groups, actively mapping out the content together using visual tools (the Thinking Maps model in this case), with a very high level of engagement. There was a joy in learning that teachers and administrators expressed was a 180° shift. It was also obvious, as these visitations continued and further reporting and evidence was offered, that this was not a “showcase” in the sense of a mocked-up performance: When queried, it was clear that students had truly learned more about how to think better in order to learn better.

    So does the Thinking Schools process work? The approach works only when each school plans its own the journey of transformation over time, not as an “outsider” quick fix for short-term performance pressures. Some schools have moved faster and deeper than others. Others will slowly shift, all finding their own pace of change.

    Much of this book does describe in detail the positive outcomes and some of the pitfalls. The process and the “products” are found within case studies, assessments, surveys, and direct feedback from over 90 schools that have been accredited after creating their own design based on broad criteria for a Thinking School (see Report on Thinking Schools at It is important that, though many schools are focused on thinking for learning, this does not mean their unique character and public identity is solely determined by the term thinking schools.

    The dramatic changes that can happen in some places such as in these Malaysian schools does tell us something we all intuitively know: The human qualities of thinking already exist in every person—students, teachers, administrators alike. The sculptor Michelangelo believed that carving from stone was a process of “releasing” from the rock the form that was already inherent within. Unlike other sculptors, he worked freehand, allowing the figures to be freed from the stone. Along the entry hallway to his carving The David, Michelangelo offers us a series of half-carved stones, jagged, uncertain figures seeming to emerge on their own as if they were held, as their title decrees, as Prisoners … all for us to view before looking up to his inspiring masterpiece of a human form.

    Here is a metaphor for growing thinking students from the inside out. This is a vision held in this book for Thinking Schools: A range of ways of thinking, of abilities and dispositions in every child, are developed with care, artfully and with explicit, refined attention over time, as we give children the tools for unveiling their own forms of thinking evolving from their developing minds in dynamic interaction with the minds of others. In resonance with our time, here is a wonderful quote from Maxine Greene's (1995) Releasing the Imagination:

    In my view, the classroom situation most provocative of thoughtfulness and critical consciousness is the one in which teachers and learners find themselves conducting a kind of collaborative search, each from her or his own lived situation. (p. 23)


    The distinct field of thinking development draws deep from the well of human experience across time and cultures, from Eastern and Western traditions, and with current ideas being dynamically shared across the continents. From Socrates to Laozi to John Dewey, we acknowledge that we, the authors and editors of this book, are indebted to reflective teachers, philosophers, and sages from over the ages. While there are many people who have dedicated themselves to the work at hand over the last few generations, one of our authors, Dr. Bob Burden, Professor Emeritus at Exeter University, long ago gave himself over to the vision of more thoughtful schools. Through his conversations and writings, Bob leaves us sturdy guideposts designed to bend to our needs, caring reflections, respectful skepticism, and cautionary signs along this transformational journey of evolving processes of thinking … a journey that has too often remained hidden within each of us over our lifetimes and that now is surfacing brilliantly from within every child and educator in schools around the world.

    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • John Barell
    • Professor Emeritus, Montclair State University
    • Montclair, NJ
    • Sheryl L. Dwyer
    • Managing Director, Comprehensive Thinking Strategies LLC
    • Orange Park, FL
    • Rita Hagevik
    • Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina
    • Pembroke, NC
    • Steve Hutton
    • Superintendent, Beechwood Independent Schools
    • Ft. Mitchell, KY
    • Lynn Macan
    • Superintendent, Cobleskill-Richmondville Central Schools
    • Cobleskill, NY
    • Joy Rose
    • Retired Principal, Westerville City Schools
    • Westerville, OH
    • Rosie Young
    • Principal, Jefferson County Public Schools
    • Louisville, KY
    • Diane P. Zimmerman
    • Retired Superintendent
    • Fairfield, CA

    About the Editors

    David N. Hyerle, Ed.D., is an independent researcher, author, and consultant focused on literacy, thinking-process instruction, and whole-school change. He is the developer of the Thinking Maps language and is presently codirector of Thinking Schools International, a consulting and research group based in New England. He is also founding director of the Thinking Foundation (, a nonprofit organization funding research and development on Thinking Schools and other approaches that make thinking a foundation for learning in schools for those with the greatest need.

    Larry Alper, M.S.Ed., is a former elementary school principal, codirector of Thinking Foundation and a Global Trainer for Thinking Schools International. Larry facilitates professional development seminars on leadership using Thinking Maps and is the lead author for the seminar guide Thinking Maps: A Language for Leadership. Larry is presently focused on research and development of the Thinking Schools web-based portfolio design used by schools from around the world and across cultures to reflect on and share their transformations as they continue to evolve.

    For contacting the editors or contributors: David N. Hyerle, Ed.D.,

    About the Contributors

    Elizabeth (Lisa) Dellamora, Ph.D., is a national educational consultant supporting teachers, principals, and other district leaders as they work to improve their practice. Previous to her full-time work as a consultant, Elizabeth worked as a primary teacher and reading specialist. She has successfully worked with students from pre-kindergarten through high school, as well as undergraduate and graduate students. Elizabeth's expertise is in primary and intermediate literacy, cognitive learning theory, visual tools for learning, classroom management, curriculum development, educational policy and supporting learning in urban school settings. Elizabeth has published on phonics, classroom management, and the impact of No Child Left Behind on the teaching and learning of urban students. In addition to her consulting work, Elizabeth is currently the Director of Thinking Maps in the northeast region of the country in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.

    Kimberly Williams, Ph.D., is an independent consultant, author, and speaker and works as a teaching support specialist at Cornell University. She also teaches graduate education courses at Plymouth State University. She is the author of multiple books about education, most recently Healthy Children, Healthy Minds with Marcel Lebrun (Rowman Littlefield, 2014). Her author page can be found at

    Robert (Bob) Burden is Emeritus Professor of Applied Educational Psychology at the University of Exeter, UK, where he founded the Cognitive Education Development Unit on his retirement as Director of the Graduate School of Education. The development of his interest and expertise in cognitive education was inspired in the 1980s by the mentorship of Reuven Feuerstein, whose theories have provided the foundation for much of Bob's subsequent research in introducing cognitive education to various aspects of the school curriculum as well as to teaching English as a second or other language (TESOL) and the training of school psychologists. He is a longstanding Fellow of the British Psychological Society and former President of the International School Psychology Association, from whom he has received several awards for his contribution to school psychology research and practice.

    Gill Hubble, M.A., LTCL, Dip Tchng, is an international consultant on teaching thinking strategies, the design of whole-school thinking and learning programs, and organizational change. Associate Principal of St. Cuthbert's College for 16 years, she now supports the development of Thinking Maps in many schools, school districts, and countries.

    Richard Coe, B.A., is currently Vice Principal at the Federation of Glenmoor and Winton Arts & Media College, UK. Over several years, Richard led his previous school, Rochester Grammar, to become one of the first to gain Advanced Thinking School Accreditation status from Exeter University. He is now enjoying the challenge of facilitating the journey of Thinking Schools within his new school community on the South Coast of England. Richard is also a National Director/Global Trainer for Thinking Schools International and was one of the lead trainers for the TSI Malaysia project.

    Donna J. DeSiato, Ed.D.,, a respected leader in the field of public education, proudly serves as superintendent of the East Syracuse Minoa Central School District (ESM). During her tenure as Superintendent of ESM since 2005, the District has realized significant gains in student achievement, experienced a continual increase in the graduation rate, and developed innovative educational models with business partnerships. Most recently ESM was recognized nationally by the College Board on their 2011 AP Achievement list and by Newsweek for their Best 2000 High Schools in the nation. Dr. DeSiato is highly regarded in education and in the business community for her expertise and leadership in 21st century learning and preparing graduates for our global society.

    Judy Morgan, M.S., is a former Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability and principal with over 25 years of experience in schools. She is currently an educational consultant working with school districts on strategic planning and the implementation of research-based instructional strategies. She also serves as president of New York State ASCD.

    Estrella (Estee) Lopez, Ed.D., is a professor and the Assistant Director for the Center of Teaching Learning and Leadership at the College of New Rochelle, NY. She is also a Director/Global Trainer with Thinking Schools International. Estee is a former teacher and school district administrator with over 40 years' experience leading schools, engaging in state education policy and standards development, and ensuring equity and high-quality teaching and learning experiences through professional learning communities. The essential focus of her work is on the integration of language, literacy, and cognition with an emphasis on the most challenged and underserved student populations: struggling learners and second language learners. Estee is the author of two educator's resources guides, CCSS and ELLs: Common Core State Standards and English Language Learners (2012) and ELLs: Thinking Skills and CCSS Focus on the Six Shifts (2013). Her dissertation, The Effect of a Cognitive Model, Thinking Maps, on the Academic Language Development of English Language Learners (2011), provides empirical evidence to support a “Model for Full Access for High Achievement.” She is a national and international presenter since 1990, most recently presenting at the International Thinking Skills Conference in the UK, State Association for Bilingual Education, Puerto Rico TESOL Conference, Bank Street College of Education Language Series, and NYTESOL Conference on Early Child.

    Kathy Ernst currently serves as senior advisor to Thinking Foundation. She has served in various roles in education, including co-founder of an alternative elementary school, teacher of grades Pre-K–8, developer and teacher of gifted programs, adjunct professor, mathematics coach and professional developer, and consultant for the Vermont and U.S. Departments of Education. For over thirty years she has been a change agent, providing school-embedded support to schools throughout the United States to improve mathematics teaching and learning. She has used Thinking Maps Register to develop collaborative, efficient, and explicit processes of lesson study, professional learning, coaching, and supervision. Kathy is co-author of Success From the Start: Your First Years Teaching Elementary Mathematics (NCTM, 2014). She holds a M.S.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Bank Street College of Education.

    Robert Seth Price is an independent international consultant on teaching thinking strategies, the design of whole school thinking and learning programs, and organizational change. He has recently co-authored Growing Thinking Schools from the Inside Out and the accompanying “MoM Handbook” for the documentary film Minds of Mississippi (2010) produced by Thinking Foundation. He has developed and written the Structuring Thinking Environments guide, which has been used as a professional development model. His work with “student voice” includes developing and implementing a model for National Urban Alliance that the organization continues to use as part of its professional development. Robert has also produced, directed, and edited many short films and developed and created other multimedia models with students, educators, and NGOs. His website is

    Bereket Aweke lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and has over seven years of experience in the education and training sectors. Having graduated from Addis Ababa University in Applied Biology, he has worked with several educational institutions as a teacher, coordinator, and director. Bereket has passion and commitment for teaching and children. He believes it is through quality education that sustainable, long-term change could come to Africa. While teaching in a private school in Ethiopia, he was introduced to the Thinking Schools Ethiopia program. He became lead facilitator, certified trainer, and later Director of the program with Eminence Social Entrepreneurs. The program, under his leadership, achieved public recognition from government ministries, private schools, and NGOs while training over 2,000 teachers and school leaders. Bereket had been involved with the initial pilot of Thinking Schools Ethiopia since its inception in August 2009 including all professional development in Addis Ababa and Hossana Ethiopia. This includes professional development in Thinking Schools, leadership, visual tools, and other sessions that were attended by educators and representatives from NGOs committed to these change processes.

  • Appendix

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    The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better.”

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