flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

In his book, The Thinking Teacher, Oliver Quinlan questions the tendency of teachers to find inspiration in every new thing they come upon online. Whether it is be a TedTalk video or a resource picked up online, we need to be wary of taking on and trying everything we discover. As Quinlan states:

We all need a bit of good feeling in our work, but perhaps we should be aiming for achievement not inspiration.

The alternative to inspiration is being purposeful and working towards sustainable habits.

Quinlan’s concern regards inspiration verses achievement got me thinking about my own practise, both online and off. This is something that I am often challenged with as a connected educator. Why share? Why save links to Diigo? Why read endless books and blogs? Why write posts (like this one?) Are these examples of inspiration, achievement or something else altogether? This led me to reflect on my current ‘episode’ exploring documentation, visible thinking and all things Reggio Emilia.

The first question that we are confronted with is who is the judge as to whether something is purposeful or not? It would be easy on the outside to see my interest in Reggio as an example of short lived inspiration. Latest link picked up online, thrown into the classroom, but never properly ingrained. However, to see it as such misses its place within my own learning inquiry overtime into supporting students during the process of learning, not just at the end. Here then area few moments which have influenced how I got to now. Steps in the iterative process.

Starting out as a teacher all those years ago now, I remember manically trying to manage student workbooks. The big problem, as I saw it, was collecting and communicating with students in a timely manner. This was and is always difficult, especially if you only saw students once a week. This led me to explore the use of digital workbooks. Beginning with a simple Word document shared via the school share drive, I soon moved to a cloud solution using Google Apps. This meant I didn’t have to depend upon students placing a copy in the right folder and that I could respond at any time.

In 2013, I attended a keynote at ICTEV by Dan Donohoo who discussed the idea of the village. Amoungst other things, Donohoo made mention of Reggio Emilio. I had never really heard of Reggio Emilio, but his discussion of it piqued my interest and so it became something I became consicous of and looked out for in regards to listening to all voices in the classroom.

At the same time, I had the opportunity to work with an instructional coach. After some discussion, we identified taking notes and keeping evidence during the lesson as my goal. Although I did not necessarily achieve what I set out to accomplish (a simple solution for collecting notes), I did come to the realization that I was trying to own the learning and that maybe I needed to rethink the problem. Rather than how I could capture every moment, maybe I needed to think about how I could support students in sharing and celebrating their thinking and learning.

I have long followed the work of Cameron Paterson and Bianca Hewes are their use of project-based learning as an answer for student-centred learning, especially in the Secondary classroom. In particular, I have been influenced by Paterson and his work around all things Reggio Emilio. It has helped me begin to reimagine questioning, thinking and learning in the classroom.


I understand Quinlan’s warning about the tendency to dip in online for inspiration. However, failing to actively spend any time around the idea well, as David Culberhouse puts it, risks waiting for solutions to fall out of the sky. The challenge is to always be mindful of why we do it. Sometimes I feel that when we talk about achievement verses inspiratiion, the question that is not asked is whose achievement are we aspiring for and in denying inspiration, we are denying teachers a sense of agency? To be honest, I am really not sure, what about you? How do you find balance between inspiration and achievement? Balance between learning with intent, while at the same time allowing space for serendipity and perpetual beta? As always, comments welcome.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I am not sure exactly what I thought when I started Oliver Quinlan’s The Thinking Teacher, but a part of me wondered whether maybe it would be a step-by-step guide on how to teach the art of thinking, incorporate it within the curriculum, assess it, measure it. And in many respects it was, just not in the manner that I expected.

Unlike other edureads which set out to provide some sort of defined answer, slowly unpacked across one hundred odd pages, Quinlan provides a book of questions and beginnings. It is not as much about the answers as it is about the act of reflecting.

Touching on a range of different facets central to education, such as the lenses we apply, the purpose to learning, planning for learning and what might constitute success. The book never feels like a lecture or a diatribe, but rather an invitation to get the reader to think for themselves, providing alternative points of view to get things started.

The Thinking Teacher is one of those books which in itself provokes thinking. The well intended irony is that in the end the thinking teacher is you, the reader, the teacher, the learner. As Quinlan asserts,

Asking questions that we do not know the answers to can lead to change – either a change in how we interact with the world or about how we think about the way it works.

The succuess of this book is not because it provides a series of checklists or resources in the appendix covering all things thinking, but for providing a context to reflect, wonder and imagine.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.