By Britta Jensen, DPhil

We are pleased to share news from in Sydney, Australia, where we recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of both our state’s not-for-profit association, the Association for Philosophy in Schools NSW (PinS NSW) and the Federation of Asia- Pacific Philosophy in Schools Associations (FAPSA).


At Newington College, an independent K-12 school in Sydney where I work, we are in the early phases of extending the seminal work of Lipman and Sharp that invites educators to cultivate higher order (critical, creating & caring) thinking in a classroom context through philosophical inquiry. As is well recognised, this model of teaching critical thinking skills is attractive in part because doing philosophy entails thinking about thinking (e.g., paying systematic attending to reason, argument, and conceptual exploration). We work to realise the claim made throughout the cannon of works that philosophy is well-placed to enable thinking in and thinking among the disciplines (cf Gazzard & Lipman 1988; Lipman, 1991).


Newington College is one of few schools in Australia to have developed a program of philosophy lessons for students in years K-10. Our headmaster (himself a philosophy teacher) offers guest lessons in philosophy to students on a weekly basis. Our current strategic and lived vision, as articulated in our strategic plan, is “to empower our students to develop great hearts, inspired minds and strong wings, ready to make a positive contribution to society and the future.” As a critical tenet in enacting this vision, we have forged a partnership between our local Association (PinS NSW) and the new Centre for Critical Thinking and Ethics (CCT&E) at Newington that is led by P4C practitioners and trainers with decades of collective experience in this area (cf Parker 1995; Jensen & Kennedy White 2014; Parker, 2014.) Through this initiative, teachers and learners at Newington aim to collectively put the Philosophy in Schools theory and practice into action throughout the school. The goals of the Centre include making Newington a “Thinking School” through our collaborative commitment to dialogue and in so doing becoming a hub of best practice; we aim to share our dialogic approach to others in our local, regional, and national communities.


At Newington, we have fashioned a whole-school approach that makes an optimum
use of three elements:

  1. A detached critical thinking program
  2. Reinforcing practice of critical thinking skills by embedding these skills in
    classroom activities across the curriculum
  3. Situating thinking in a collaborative, dialogic model (community of inquiry)
    that emerged from the Philosophy in Schools tradition.

Our detached program consists of critical thinking micro lessons each of which explicitly targets a specific foundational (generic) skill in the sense of Cam (2018). We have also provided professional learning to enable teachers to embed these skills via classroom activities across all subject areas. Even early in our work, evidence of the impact of both parts of the program is evident. (For a more detailed explanation of our initiative, please see our forthcoming article in FAPSA’s official open-access journal Journal of Philosophy in Schools.) Once our pilot programs have been refined, we will share our detached programs, lesson sequences, sample lessons, and classroom materials so that others can replicate or adapt some or all of what we have built.

The partnership with PinS NSW has been critical to the embedding part of the project since the success of this work depends entirely on the provision of high quality P4C professional learning opportunities and ongoing mentorship. FAPSA workshops we host (which are endorsed by the UNESCO Chair for Philosophy with Children) are open to teachers from all sectors. The twelve-hour course, “Introduction to Philosophical Community of Inquiry,” has become the foundational critical thinking course for our teachers and for others across our state. Over a third of our teachers and leaders at Newington have undertaken this course; several have since achieved the FAPSA Introductory Certificate, the premier micro-credential for Philosophy in Schools pedagogy in the Asia-Pacific. Since forging the strategic collaboration between Newington College and PinS NSW, the Philosophy in Schools workshops have been taken up by more teachers from schools in our state across all three sectors (public, Catholic, and independent schools) than in previous years, a welcome result.

To further cultivate enthusiasm for and to celebrate critical, creative and caring thinking, we have developed new opportunities for philosophy teachers such as our annual Engaging Questions series. We have also worked with subject specialists to showcase how philosophical inquiry can deepen conceptual inquiry in other subject areas (e.g., history, English, languages, and others); outputs have been delivered at conferences around Australia. These events help grow and solidify our community of practitioners. The CCT&E / PinS NSW partnership has launched interschool opportunities for students to practice working together in communities of inquiry, such as our Meeting of Minds day, run annually since 2022. Demand for these inter- school days has increased and, collectively, we foresee continuing to develop more opportunities for students to think together.

At Newington, we are very focused on the scalability and adjustability of our approach. We hope that the fruits of our work can be either used in other schools or taken apart and reconstituted to suit the needs of other programs / schools. To that end we are keen to collaborate with other teachers and educational and research institutions. We are also enthusiastic about being decent ‘critical thinking citizens’ – sharing resources, offering guidance, hearing criticism, listening to other perspectives and continuing to be a part of this necessary but underdeveloped pedagogical area. If you are keen to learn more, please reach out during your upcoming North American summer break. We are in the middle of Term 2 of our school year; Sydney is a beautiful place even in winter so please look us up and book in a visit!

References:

Burgh, G., and S. Thornton, Eds. (2018).  Philosophical Inquiry with Children: The Development of an Inquiring Society in Australia. 1st Edition. Routledge. Cam, P. (2018). The generic argument for teaching philosophy in schools. Journal of Philosophy in Schools Vol 5(1).Gazzard & Lipman (1988). Getting our thoughts together, Manual to accompany Elfie.
Jensen, B. & Kennedy White, K. (2014). ‘The case for philosophical inquiry in K-12 classrooms,’ Scan 33(2).
Jensen, B., Kennedy White, K., & Parker, M. (2024, forthcoming). Newington College: Building Thinking Communities. Journal for Philosophy in Schools.
Lipman, M. (1991). Thinking in Education. CUP: New York, NY
Parker, M. (1995). The Quest for the Stone of Wisdom
Parker, M. (2014). Talk With Your Kids About Big Ideas


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