We are celebrating our achievement as the first Advanced Accredited Thinking School in South Africa!
In 2010, we embarked on a journey towards attaining our international Thinking School status with the University of Exeter in the UK. We received our accreditation as a Level 1 Accredited Thinking school in May 2014. We are now delighted to confirm that Advanced Thinking School Status has been awarded to Kingsmead Junior School by the University of Exeter’s Cognitive Education Development Unit.
As an advanced accredited thinking school we join an international community of accredited schools of excellence. As such, our details have been added to the CEDU network of accredited schools for alerts about future developments and research in thinking skills and dialogue. Our details have also been added to the Exeter Professional Learning and Inquiry Network (ExPLAIN), and additionally we receive live streaming links for the Graduate School of Education Research seminars when available.
After her in-depth analysis of our digital iBook portfolio and visit to our school in February, Lena Green (Ph.D
Extraordinary Professor, Faculty of Education, University of the Western Cape and Honorary Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter) compiled the accreditation report submitted to Exeter University. We share some excerpts from the accreditation report:
The portfolio integrates the criteria for Advanced Accreditation with the requirements of the recently developed pro-forma, was submitted early in February. It takes the form of an iBook that includes both formal and specially created documents, photographs, PowerPoint presentations and videos of presentations, interviews and student initiatives. Additional information was provided in school yearbooks for 2014, 2015 and 2016 containing reflections by teachers and by students of all ages, including one by a grade 4 girl who wrote “It feels like I am now part of a thinking family”.
An extremely thorough page of the portfolio details how the school not only demonstrates that it is a thinking school to the broader community, parents, staff and students but also shares its expertise in a variety of ways. These include involvement in the Thinking Schools SA online digital platform for Student to Student learning, various pamphlets, presentations at conferences, hosting of regional cluster meetings, student-led Open Days, training in thinking tools at schools across the country, Information Evenings, orientation of new families, a range of professional development activities for staff and several initiatives to engage parents.
Head of Critical Thinking, Research & Enrichment at the Senior School for her impressions of the girls coming from the Junior School. Ms Bocher wrote “My impression of girls coming from the Junior School is that they are utterly fearless and doggedly determined in their pursuit of learning. These are self-assured, independent students who embrace challenge and problems with enthusiasm and call on an arsenal of thinking tools to assist them.”
The Inquiry Based Learning initiative, introduced as “a vehicle to practice skills and strategies”, was said to have resulted in “a marked difference in the way girls approach test questions”, presumably towards being less inclined to concentrate only on ‘right answers’. The inquiry based class which I observed included an online inquiry, shared with me by one of the girls, in which it was clear that the students were capable of thinking for themselves, thinking flexibly, and generating creative ideas.
In 2014 it was already observable that Habits of Mind and Thinking Maps were well established in the school. By 2018 attention to thinking and the tools to enhance learning is taken for granted by most teachers and students, which makes for a more relaxed atmosphere. As one staff member wrote, “The teaching of thinking is now an integral part of who, and what, we are as a school”.
At a school like Kingsmead with its high standards of teaching and reputation for excellent academic results, the professionalism, creativity, questioning and discourse of the majority of teachers is historically at a high level and the lessons I observed confirmed this. Changes that were referred to frequently in the portfolio were the rethinking of the teacher’s role from instructor to facilitator of learning and the vital importance of a Growth Mindset for the entire school community. It is recognized that being a Thinking School is not a state the school achieves but a dynamic identity that will continue to evolve. The accreditation process was aptly described as “a pause in the school’s journey” and the preparation for it as a growth experience for the staff involved.
Teachers’ professionalism is expected to include sensitivity to students’ social and emotional development as well as to their ability to think and learn. A recent initiative has been to extend pastoral care such that every student belongs in a small support group led by a LEAD teacher. Informal reports indicate that this has already shown itself to be a valuable initiative.
Areas identified as requiring continued focus:
Follow-up of girls after they leave the Junior School (would be valuable data); planning for appropriate and sustainable support for less-privileged schools in the community; ways of supplementing the existing rich qualitative data with some independent quantitative measures besides academic a
chievement; and ways of mediating certain lower-order thinking skills, a need identified by staff.
The school is developing as a thinking institution rather than just ‘a school that practices various approaches to teaching thinking’ and is aware of its own challenges. It is, therefore, well positioned to share its skills and insights with the wider community.
We will be sharing our excitement of this achievement with our girls at the final assembly of the term. You are most welcome to join us in our celebrations.
Ingrid Beekhuizen – Head of Academics