During the years I served as a principal, I remember how important it was to engage students in thinking critically. Today, critical thinking continues to be a much talked-about topic not only among educators but with those in other fields as they recognize the significance of developing the capacity of students to think deeply. I believe that teaching students to think both collaboratively and independently helps them experience greater success in academics and in social interactions. I strongly feel critical thinking can lead to increased achievement in our schools. The ability to problem solve, make quality decisions, and reach reasonable solutions is integral to high levels of performance in school, in the workplace, and in everyday life.

Teachers play an active role in unlocking and boosting the potential of students to learn and to think. The 9 Traits of Critical Thinking™ offered by Mentoring Minds can support teachers as they facilitate thinking among their students. However, the development of these 9 behaviors isn’t confined to a subject or grade. As a former principal, I also recall how vital it was to demonstrate continual support to teachers. This recollection prompts me to encourage principals (and any administrative leaders should you be so fortunate to have assistants) to join the critical thinking journey by supporting teachers in developing a thinking culture across the campus. You might wonder how? One way is to model the traits by infusing all 9 into the leadership role and building a healthy environment that fosters excellence.

The 9 Traits of Critical ThinkingTM

This is a graphic image of the 9 Traits of Critical Thinking.

By showing your application of the traits, you give value to the traits. It is my hope that your trait modeling will motivate teachers and students to apply the traits until all 9 traits become an automatic resource to use to strengthen the thinking process without being prompted. When the traits are internalized, they become tools that improve thinking capacity and lead to increased productivity. The 9 Traits of Critical Thinking will be a valued resource for use in school, in any career, and in our forever changing landscape of life.

The following examples serve as actionable ideas to use to spur creative thoughts for promoting further development of each trait through the leadership role.

This is an image of the Strive trait icon.

Strive: I use effort and determination to focus on challenging tasks.

Strive Trait Actions

  • Remind teachers and students to keep their attention on the tasks at hand and not give up before completion. Share: We must model a stick-to-it attitude. Strategies such as breaking a task into smaller chunks, numbering the steps in a task, or presenting a task with a checklist prevents feeling overwhelmed by a multi-step or complex task.
  • Suggest the use of multiple strategies and alternatives when seeking solutions or trying to reach personal and professional goals. Say: Sometimes the selected idea may not produce the results desired so we must consider another option. Other times, we are working hard to reach a goal yet immediate results aren’t observed. How will we support each other? What sustains our efforts so that we keep going?
  • Encourage staff to seek varied opportunities to solve problems (e.g., increased absenteeism). Share: Although absenteeism has always been a problem, we will face it and make a positive difference.
    • Model the use of a variety of solutions strategies.
    • Invite students to generate ideas.
    • Secure the input of staff who persist in wanting to make a difference and are solution seekers.
    • Keep the focus on the task and avoid being sidetracked until a secured plan in place.

This is an image of the Reflect trait icon.

Reflect: I review my thoughts and experiences to guide my actions.

Reflect Trait Actions

  • Incorporate frequent reflection opportunities to gain levels of understanding, to detect any misunderstandings, and to see other perspectives.
  • Ask teachers to think about the ideas they generate and if the ideas connect with the mission or school’s focus.
  • Guide staff to process their experiences to help them learn and grow in collective ability. They will often discover that it is the reflection process that helps them learn and grow rather than the experience itself.
  • Think aloud as you share some of your personal/professional reflections with staff.
  • Describe how you revisit your problem-solving steps before presenting issues to solve to ensure that you can effectively remain on course and monitor yourself as you work with teacher groups.
  • Share you feel you have improved the current way you work than previously as you have learned the benefit of pausing during a task. This allows you time to carefully think about the action you are taking and pausing after a completed task helps you self-assess your thinking and actions. You might say: I totally agree that having a plan and thinking about your actions before, during, and after a task make you a productive learner and problem solver! Reflection is our key to success.
  • Inform your staff that you periodically reflect about your individual display and use of the traits to help improve your own application. Present these questions to the staff as a reflection opportunity: Do you see evidence of our students using one or all traits? Where do you see such evidence? As we continue to focus on the traits, how are we as a staff showing improvement? How are our students progressing?

This is an image of the Adapt trait icon.

Adapt: I adjust my actions and strategies to accomplish tasks.

Adapt Trait Actions

  • Take time to comment to staff/students when you notice examples of using the adapt For example, you might say:
    • You showed flexibility in your thinking today. Even though you supported your initial idea in the end, your willingness to consider ideas of your colleagues helped you explore solutions other than your own before reaching a decision.
    • You impressed me when you considered options that your team members offered to solve the problem. Thank you for demonstrating that ideas of others can have value. Combining several ideas into one showed you value other viewpoints beyond your own thinking.
  • Be transparent in communicating how you adapt your original approaches or ideas to increase your success as a problem solver and leader. Think about: What is it that you change or adjust because of input by the faculty, students, or parents? How have you adapted procedures or processes that benefitted the staff and/or the students?

This is an image of the Communicate trait icon.

Communicate: I use clear language to express my ideas and to share information.

Communicate Trait Actions

  • Give examples to clarify what you are communicating to staff and to specify what you are saying. Watch not only your grammar, but your body language or non-verbal cues as you engage in conversations.
  • Check your written communication to parents for clarity. Engage a second reader prior to distribution to a larger group.
  • Listen to staff, students, and parents with empathy and understanding. Be clear about your intentions.
  • Create one-pagers or video clips that inform parents and the community about the importance of the 9 traits in the future of the students. Continue with updates as appropriate.
  • Appoint a designee/liaison and schedule planned real-time opportunities (e.g., Face-to-Face Chat Hour, social media) to share information and address questions about the traits.

This is an image of the Link trait icon.

Link: I apply knowledge to reach new understandings.

Link Trait Actions

  • Praise your staff when you see them applying the link trait and making connections. If observed, you might say:I am so pleased that you originally learned a problem-solving strategy to use in science class and you are now encouraging students to use that same strategy in math classes to solve new challenges. You really know how to make connections!
  • Encourage staff to identify strategies or other ideas that serve as effective tools to promote thinking and help students improve comprehension and meaning in other subjects (e.g., quotations stimulate conversations and inquiry).
  • Find and share traits depicted in literature, music, movies, or people (e.g., Adapt – Olympian Simone Biles, Communicate – Journalist and Anchorman David Muir, Strive – U.S. army infantryman J.R. Martinez, Inquire – Television show MythBusters, Examine – Goldilocks and the Three Bears). These examples will inspire your staff to form meaningful links showing how the traits connect to people, things, and everyday events.

This is an image of the Collaborate trait icon.

Collaborate: I work with others to achieve better outcomes. 

Collaborate Trait Actions

  • Communicate that it is acceptable to make mistakes. Share: The idea we have chosen might not work, but let’s give it a try. Even if are wrong, it will be okay. Encouraging your teachers to work together and move forward to test the idea is important.
  • Remind yourself to limit your talking in meetings so as not to inhibit others or shut down their thoughts. Listening with an open mind to the viewpoints outside of your own may create new opportunities or possibilities that you never knew existed.
  • Encourage the use of common strategies and resources across and between grade levels to promote individuals working together to explore and discuss possibilities.
  • Search for solutions to school issues by fostering effective communication and group decision making.
  • Establish norms for group collaboration to help all group members feel successful and supported, contributing to all voices being heard.

This is an image of the Inquire trait icon.

Inquire: I seek information that excites my curiosity and inspires my learning.

Inquire Trait Actions

  • Remind teachers of the importance of fostering student-centered classrooms comprised of students interested in learning. Pose the question: How can we use the traits to cultivate students who are curious and inspired to learn?
  • Express that questioning is a tool used by inquirers to uncover information not easily found. A carefully planned sequence of questions can help you move deeper into an issue or topic that is being explored or discussed. Stress the importance of carving out time to design quality questions. Present a topic and ask staff to collaborate and create questions for exploration.
  • Communicate that asking questions helps you gain clarity, and sometimes clarity gains the support of naysayers. For example, if you desire the ownership of all staff as you introduce a new initiative, encouraging questions is vital to the initiative’s success to increase interest and deepen understanding.
  • Model how questions can also maintain focus or redirect attention during discussions. You might find a need to redirect a discussion by interjecting: Our focus is on supporting students who are struggling to learn. Is what we are now discussing related to the focus?
  • Investigate how to use traits in daily life. Develop a list of questions associated with each trait and choose people from different walks of life to briefly interview (e.g., Uber driver, coach, doctor, businessman, homemaker). Ask one or more questions: AdaptCould you share an example of how you are flexible? Strive– How are you persistent in what you do? Collaborate – For what reason do you have to work with others? Communicate – Why must you be aware of how you speak to others? ExamineAre there times when you must look closely at a problem or situation and then make a decision? Share the findings with teachers to show the purpose of teaching about the traits, demonstrating how students will benefit from the traits beyond the classroom.

This is an image of the Examine trait icon.

Examine:  I use a variety of methods to explore and to analyze. 

Examine Trait Actions

  • Show appreciation when your staff member exhibits the examine Say: Your investigation of the incident was well thought out. You carefully studied the evidence, then you gave reasons to support the statements and recommendation you articulated.
  • Share how you use examine. One example you might say: When I have resistance, I look deeper at what is being said or perhaps not said by the individual. Sometimes this resistance helps open an opportunity to clarify or include information that I failed to communicate and make transparent.
  • Encourage your staff to take a closer look at the traits to determine which ones might need increased attention and which ones might be receiving more emphasis than needed. Dig deeper into determining how you as a group might explore other ways to integrate the traits into the curriculum. Examine the impact of the traits on different content areas, in the home, or in the community arena. Are there other voices (e.g., students, parents, business/community members) that you might invite to share their perspectives?

This is an image of the Create trait icon.

Create: I use my knowledge and imagination to express new and innovative ideas. 

Create Trait Actions

  • Invite the staff to form groups and generate ideas for promoting trait development. Using the list, devise a plan on what the school would look like if all staff and students successfully integrated the 9 Traits of Critical Thinking™ across the curriculum.
  • Form a small learning community that remains focused on the integration of thinking, including an emphasis on the 9 traits. Charge the group with brainstorming ideas before selecting a few to recommend to the staff for discussion and consensus. Allowing teacher experimentation shows support and a willingness to listen. Any implementation failures should be viewed as learning opportunities. 

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