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How Leaders Can Foster Critical Thinking

The next blog in Janelle McLaughlin’s series discusses how your whole school should have goals and think critically.

A chief responsibility for any leader is to model what she expects to see on her team. If teachers are expected to nurture and improve critical thinking and problem solving abilities with their students, then principals should equip teachers with the tools and strategies to do so. The leaders need to make sure teachers regularly practice critical thinking themselves and know how to incorporate it into the regular teaching and learning. As a leader, how do you foster critical thinking and problem solving with your team?

Step one is having every staff member write a focused and measurable goal. They need to have two or three actionable steps to take first to start working towards that goal, with dates committed to paper to have those first steps accomplished.

Step two is to have them share that goal and action plan with two people in their building. The first person should be the building leader. Leaders, you need to read each and every plan. This shouldn’t come from an evaluative mindset, but from one that is supportive and with the desire to know your teachers better. The second person may vary depending on the support people available. If there is an instructional coach on campus then it would make sense to share it with that person. If not, maybe a team leader or other colleague who is willing to act as a thought partner throughout the school year.

Step three is to go ahead and schedule a reflection time with one of those people. This date helps hold each person accountable to the action steps planned. The reflection cycle is where the biggest part of personal critical thinking comes in. It’s here that people are asked to practice metacognition. Some great reflection questions to work through are:

  • What is working well?
  • What do you feel good about?
  • What isn’t really working?
  • How is it going according to your goal?
  • What potential next steps do you need to set to keep pushing toward your goal?

Sometimes the thought partner acts merely as a sounding board. Other times, they are able to offer insight, and/or advice. During this conversation, support is important, and so is someone who will help stretch the thinking process. After this period of discussion, reflection, and metacognition, the teacher sets a few more action steps and the partners plan the next date for reflection.

This goal-setting and action/reflection cycle is so important to teacher learning and growth and increases their own critical thinking and problem solving abilities. Students can go through a very similar process. I work with a high school teacher who has every student write him a letter each Friday discussing how their week went as they work towards their own personal goals and what they will do the following week. It’s a quick, regular and intentional reflection time for students to think about their learning from the week.

Coming back to what I mentioned in the beginning of the post, if the principal is asking the staff to set goals, design action plans, and reflect with a peer, then the principal should be doing the same thing. Not only do they need to do it, but as the campus leader, they need to be transparent about the experience with the staff. This demonstrates the importance, and will increase buy-in leading to greater growth for everyone and translating into the classrooms and students.

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The author

Janelle McLaughlin is an education strategist, consultant, presenter, coach, keynote speaker and trainer. Over the years she has been a classroom teacher and district administrator. Today, Janelle is also an entrepreneur, author, a social media strategist and a tech enthusiast. These passions and experiences led her to begin her own company, Innovative Education Solutions. She gets to utilise her teaching talents by working with leaders at all levels to make their jobs easier and more efficient, while focusing on the people. Specialities include: Leadership Development, Student-Driven Instruction, Blended Learning, 1:1 implementation, Effective Technology Integration, G Suite, Chromebooks, Office 365, Process Management and Organisational Leadership.

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