Learning Principles: A Thinking Toolkit (2023-24)

The Thinking Toolkit for Teachers is a professional learning programme delivered in collaboration between Ecolint and Oxford Brookes University. 

The programme is described as a ‘thinking toolkit’ because it is intended to equip teachers with concepts and ways of thinking that can be applied practically in diverse aspects of their professional lives. Specifically, these tools will help to shape research-informed practice around the following five essential statements:

My teacher…

  • Knows me (Culture, Structure, and Diversity)
  • Checks what I already know and can do (Learning, Knowledge, and Understanding)
  • Teaches in lots of different ways (Mind, Memory, and Meaning)
  • Pauses to see if I understand (Fear, Failure, and Flourishing) 
  • Gives me choices (Confidence, Courage, and Criticality)

The thinking toolkit offered by this programme will help teachers to feel more confident, critical, informed, and fulfilled by developing research literacy. Ultimately, the programme aims to dissolve the traditional distinction between educational theory and classroom practice, instead championing the value of seeing practice and theory as inextricably linked parts of what it means to be an educator.

The toolkit comprises the following tools:

  • Critical questioning of practice informed by educational theory
  • Cultural awareness: The capacity to understand and respond to cultural complexity
  • Understanding the Mind: an emerging understanding of how cognitive processes work, and alternative framings of the relationship between mind, memory, and meaning in education
  • Research Literacy: The ability to engage with educational research in an informed and confident way, adopting your own critical stance towards evidence
  • A Sociological outlook on your practice that takes into account the broader economic and political landscape of international schooling, particularly in relation to the future aspirations and anxieties of our students. 
  • Productive Dissent: The capacity to engage critically with theory, research, and practice in a way that allows you to step back, think afresh about your personal and professional intentions, and to actively and productively shape positive change in your setting.  

Programme structure

The sessions will take place synchronously online, with asynchronous discussion between sessions via a dedicated online Google Classroom. All readings will be structured and guided by the programme lead, and readings will be made directly accessible to participants. The programme will progress at a moderate pace in order to give participants the time to engage thoughtfully with the themes, and with each other. 

The sessions will take place online via Zoom on Monday afternoons from 16.00 - 17.30.

Those who participated in Learning Principles in 2022-23 are warmly invited to continue with the programme in 2023-24 (specifically sessions 1-3).

Learning Outcomes

Ultimately, the programme aims to give teachers the time to engage intellectually in a community of practice focused on exploring the core principles underpinning teaching and learning. This is part of an institutional shift towards cultures of thinking, through which teachers will be encouraged and empowered to engage in intellectual work of interrogating their practice to seek the best outcomes for staff and students alike. At the end of the programme, participants will complete a reflective piece of writing in which they outline a plan for research engagement beyond the life of the programme, such as a reading group, adopting a critical or philosophical approach to a specific practice, engaging students in discussions of programme themes, or carrying out discrete research projects of their own - or simply strengthening the intellectual life of the organisation through talking, reading, writing, and discussion about education.


Reminder: Those who completed Learning Principles in 2022-23 only need to attend sessions 1, 2 and 3.

Session 1: Monday, 02/10/2023 - 16:00 to 17:30 CEST
  • My Teacher Teaches in lots of different ways (Mind, Memory, and Meaning)

This session focuses on  how teaching is enacted. The focus will be on exploring diverse approaches to teaching and the rationale for deploying particular approaches in specific contexts. On what assumptions do we rely for our teaching practice? How does learning actually happen and how do we frame it in diverse ways? To explore these questions, this session will consider the wider notion of ‘evidence-based’ practice and how practitioners and leaders engage with educational research to inform their practice. 

Session 2: Monday, 30/10/2023 - 16:00 to 17:30 CET
  • My Teacher Pauses to see if I Understand (Fear, Failure, and Flourishing) 

In this session we will turn our attention to a simple but important question: when do students have time to think and understand? Asking this question raises a number of connected issues about purpose, pace, and progress in education, which in turn link to questions of wellbeing, anxiety, and flourishing. The discussion will take us beyond well-established concepts such as Dweck’s  ‘growth mindset’ to think in more complex ways about how schooling prepares young people for a meaningful existence. We will explore how aspiration towards individual and collective ‘flourishing’ - of intellectual and ethical growth - may require more profound shifts in our practice, and longer pauses for thought. 

Session 3: Monday, 04/12/2023 - 16:00 to 17:30 CET
  • My Teacher Gives me Choices (Confidence, Courage, and Criticality) 

In this session we will consolidate our discussions from sessions 1 and 2 in order to explore how we can move towards a model of educative ‘flourishing’ that incorporates failure and challenge, and which builds on a sense of productive dissent, or the courage to deploy educational theory and thinking in a way that can challenge existing systems and assumptions in a positive way. This will allow a complex consideration of what it means to give students authentic choices - or to give students agency for change - in our everyday practice. Finally, we will explore how these ideas might also be shared with our students, so that this kind of critical, confident, courageous approach can become the foundation for educative processes in your setting.  

Session 4: Monday, 29/01/2024 - 16:00 to 17:30 CET
  • My Teacher Knows me (Culture, Structure, and Diversity)

In this session we will develop tools for critical questioning and cultural awareness and  understanding cultural complexity. Going beyond simplistic framings of ‘third culture kids’, the aim of this session is to reflect deeply and critically on the cultural identities of students and colleagues when framing our approaches to teaching and learning. Importantly, we will explore how this approach  applied both at the level of cultural collective (e.g. a national cultural identity) but also at the level of the individual. Finally, we will explore how understanding cultural complexity can be used to carefully engage with questions of race, colonialism, whiteness, and white privilege. 

Session 5: Monday , 04/03/2024 - 16:00 to 17:30 CET
  • My Teacher Checks what I already know and can do (Learning, Knowledge, and Understanding)

This session will explore the linked themes of Learning, Knowledge, and Understanding. 

By asking the question ‘What are we teaching?’, we will begin a discussion of the foundations of what education and schooling entail. Should the substance of teaching focus on subject or disciplinary knowledge? Should we be teaching values, ethics, and dispositions, and if so, then how? What is the process by which this learning takes place? Are schools the best context for generating understanding?

In exploring these ‘big’ questions it is important to emphasise that we expect neither clear answers or consensus - rather, the aim is to establish informed, critical questioning as an essential part of teaching and learning. 

In this final session we will bring together the different themes of the programme and review the skills or tools that have been developed to engage in a profound way with the Learning Principles. Each participant will have an opportunity to reflect on their experience during the programme, and to share their initial plan for continued research engagement going forward. 

Please note, all course times shown are CEST/ CET.  Convert to your time zone. 

A link to the online meeting room will be shared via email at least one week prior to the start date.

About the Facilitator

Patrick Alexander is Professor of Education in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes University. He is also Research Lead for Education and Director of the Centre for Educational Consultancy and Development. Patrick’s research focuses on the anthropology and sociology of education with a specific focus on schooling. He also specialises in research-informed professional learning for teachers and leaders.



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