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Roedean (SA)

| October 14, 2011 | 0 Comments

Becoming a Thinking School

By Sonja Vandeleur and Fiona Rogers

Imagine a school where pupils develop the multidimensional abilities necessary for the 21st century, such as innovation, critical thinking and problem solving; communication and collaboration; flexibility, initiative and self-direction; social and cross-cultural skills; productivity and accountability; and leadership and responsibility.1

Imagine a school where pupils develop dispositions to meet challenges innovatively by using strategic reasoning, being insightful, persevering. Imagine a school where teachers and pupils are deeply engaged in discussions about thinking, and where pupils’ recognition of their interdependence leads to an environment almost free of bullying. Such schools are becoming a reality in many countries and form part of a growing community of schools termed ‘Thinking Schools’.

The journey begins

In 2007, Roedean (SA) embarked on a strategic planning exercise that involved the whole school community. The purpose was to identify the strengths of the school and then to explore ways to ensure our sustainability by building on these strengths. Some identified strengths were our ethos and values, and our sustained reputation for academic excellence. Key imperatives emerged from this strategic exercise – namely the focus and development of Mathematics and the sciences, especially linked to gender issues; and a review of the curriculum, which although effective was no longer sufficient in taking the girls into a 21st century working environment. We decided that these key imperatives should underpin and inform any future operational decisions.

Thus, in 2008, a staff workshop was held to explore possible avenues for curriculum development at the school. Three priorities emerged from this workshop, namely the development of:

  • cross-curricular activities
  • research and referencing skills
  • explicit teaching of thinking skills.

The first two were undertaken immediately as they were relatively simple to implement. However, the teaching of thinking skills requires careful research and planning. Discussions about how to teach thinking were informed by staff who had attended two conferences: in 2006, the department Heads (HoDs) of Mathematics and Physical Sciences attended a conference entitled ‘Teaching for Understanding’ in Australia, at which David Perkins and Ron Ritchart of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, presented plenary talks; and, in early 2009, two Roedean members of staff attended the International Association for Cognitive Education in South Africa (IACESA) conference in Cape Town, where they were exposed to several different strategies for the teaching of thinking and to the concept of Thinking Schools.

Research of strategies, planning and training

A group of our teachers then set about researching various methodologies of thinking, such as Edward de Bono’s Thinking Hats2 and David Perkins’s Visible Thinking3. At the same time, the Curriculum Enrichment Committee – a team of eight Roedean teachers – was set up to drive the process of implementing thinking skills throughout the whole school. This team is chaired by the two Deputy Principals in charge of Curriculum from the Senior and Junior schools. More recently, a Head of Department for Cognitive Education has been appointed. At the beginning of 2010, staff training in the form of report-backs and workshops was given on the different theories and their strategies. Subject area groups were tasked with developing a proposal as to which of the researched theories and strategies should be implemented at the school. The result was a unanimous decision that Habits of Mind should form the over-arching strategy, and other methodologies would be implemented at appropriate levels.

Habits of Mind are “characteristics of what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems, the resolutions to which are not immediately apparent”.4 Some of these Habits, as identified by Art Costa and Bena Kallick, are: persisting; thinking and communicating with clarity and precision; thinking flexibly; and responding with wonderment and awe.

Following on from a visit by the Executive Headmistress of Roedean, Mary Williams, to Singapore, two practitioners of Habits of Mind from Bukit Batok Secondary School, Lysia Kee and Kitha Arumagam, were invited to present a two-day initial training workshop to Roedean staff in September 2010 to introduce to them the 16 Habits of Mind. This was followed by a staff training day in January 2011, during which our teachers experienced explicit Habits of Mind lessons presented by members of the committee. Our own explicit lessons were then developed by vertical subject area teams.

In November 2010, contact was made with James Anderson, an Associate Director of the Institute for Habits of Mind, who initiated a statewide initiative to include Habits of Mind in schools in Australia. A student-free day at our school enabled all the staff to attend his training, during which he gave us a better understanding of the reasons for, and benefits of, including Habits of Mind as a strategy, and gave advice on the way forward for the school.

According to Anderson, schools that have long-term success with Habits of Mind infuse the Habits deeply and meaningfully into the curriculum. So, a two day follow-up workshop with him was also scheduled for September to train a group of our teachers on how to infuse the Habits into their lessons. These teachers will then be tasked with assisting other staff members in this regard.

The way forward

At the beginning of May 2011, explicit Habits of Mind lessons were introduced into the Roedean curriculum for Grades 0 to 9. The Life Orientation department has been restructured and the outcomes for this subject will be subsumed into the thinking skills curriculum. This will enhance the life skills programme at Roedean and will give the curriculum more meaning and relevance. At Grade 8 and Grade 9 levels, the girls will eventually determine the direction of their own learning and, in so doing, will inform their own curriculum. Roedean strives to provide a relevant curriculum to 21st century learners who live in a world that is no longer predictable.

With the implementation of thinking skills, both as explicit lessons and infused into subject lessons, Roedean girls should be inspired to, as our school tagline suggests, ‘Lead a Life of Significance’.

Sonja Vandeleur is HoD Cognitive Education and Fiona Rogers is Director of Curriculum at Roedean School (SA).


1. Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2007) Framework for 21st century learning. Available at:

2. De Bono, E. (2000) Six Thinking Hats. London: Penguin Books.

3. Perkins, D. (n.d.) Visible Thinking. Available at:

4. Costa, A.C. & Kallick, B. (2000) Discovering and exploring Habits of Mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2011

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