What Does The Work Look Like in a Classroom?


While The Thinking Project Institue works creating Camps for The Work, we are also focused on bringing The Work through schools into kids. Below is the approach we use while we are working with schools.

Classroom Management

Fixed-mindset thinking can undermine classroom learning.  We know some students struggle with academic motivation, engagement, self-control, and social-emotional resiliency.  In a nutshell, The Work is a process that identifies and examines the specific thinking behind negative behaviors that can derail classroom management, community building, teacher-student relationship, and learning.  It interrupts the belief/thought that is motivating the behavior, and can help foster growth-mindset thinking.


Stressful thought inside student’s head: “No matter what I turn in, I will not get a good grade.”  “There’s no point in doing the work.”

Behavior issue that come from believing these thoughts: lack of motivation, disrupts classroom community, etc.

Stressful thought inside teacher’s head:  “Sammy doesn’t care.”

Once a stressful, limiting thought is identified (ex: “I won’t get a good grade” “There’s no point in doing the work” or “Sammy doesn’t care”), it is then taken through 4 questions, and turned around to examine new perspectives:

“I won’t get a good grade”  Q1.  Is it true?

“I won’t get a good grade”  Q2.  Can I absolutely know it’s true?

“I won’t get a good grade”  Q3.  How do I react, what happens, when I think this thought?

“I won’t get a good grade”  Q4.  Who would I be without this thought?

Turnaround to the Opposite: “I won’t get a good grade” turns to “I will get a good grade”

Turnaround to Myself:  “I won’t get a good grade” turns to “My thinking (in this way) won’t get a good grade”

Turnaround to the Other:  “I won’t get a good grade” turns to “Others won’t get a good grade” (are my attitude and behaviors influencing others and holding them back from doing their best?)

The Thinking Project Institute is testing out tools (in urban public schools) that are based in The Work.  When a student gets in trouble or is demonstrating low motivation, they identify the thoughts they are believing and then question a thought that they resonate with the most.  After doing The Work, they choose a way to repair the situation and make it right.  In this way, The Work complements already existing disciplinary models such as Restorative Justice and Discovery.



Metaphors can be powerful ways to communicate abstract ideas to students.  We use and develop metaphors to help kids gain an internal experience of the growth that come from questioning stressful thoughts.  We use all kinds of metaphors in The Thinking Project Institute camps and classrooms: boomerangs, snowballs, blue antennas, rulers and more to communicate social-emotional concepts.  Below is an example.


Wall of Stress- Tree of Questioned Thoughts - Sky of New Possibilities

Brick Wall of Stress

A metaphor we use at camps and on classrooms to “feel” stress is a brick wall.  Stressful situations and experiences are like hitting a brick wall.  Students write about a stressful situation they have experienced on a “brick” (a red sticky note) which they then place on the wall of stress.  We then begin identifying the thoughts underlying the stressful situation, and question them.


Tree of Questioned Thoughts

As students question a limiting thought, they write their thought on a leaf sticky note and tape it to a Tree of Questioned Thoughts.  The metaphor of leaves and a tree represent new growth.  Growth happens as we question stressful thinking.


Sky of Possibilities and Perspective

After students question a thought, they write a new perspective or possibility they see about their situation on a star, and tape it to the sky of possibilities.The star and sky are metaphors of all the options, perspectives and possibilities that surround us, that we discover as we question stressful thinking.


Analyzing Cause and Effect

What thoughts convince humans to exploit other humans?  In what ways were Gandhi, King and Mandela thinking differently than Hitler and Stalin?

The Thinking Project Institute helps students and educators study ways that thoughts influence decisions and actions of the past and present.  Thinking is the underlying cause of much of the political, economic, social, environmental, and technological landscapes we live in.  Can we better understand the past and present by understanding the underlying thoughts we believe?

We develop units, note catchers, sentence structures, activities, graphic organizers, projects and more that allow educators and students to identify and question thoughts.  The photo gallery demonstrates examples of what this work can look like in a classroom.





Building Classroom Culture

We believe schools can proactively support students to:

  • Take steps towards their dreams

  • Think and act in ways that build healthy and sustainable relationships and communities

We work with teachers and schools to develop classroom cultures that focus on student thinking and dreams.  We do this through focused assignments such as creating posters of ideal futures, dream-focused do nows/warm ups and reflective assignments, and identifying the thoughts that motivate or holding students back from their dreams.  We also develop classroom communication structures that support open-minded communication and thinking from multiple perspectives, during Socratic seminars, for example.  We are an iterative organization.  We love partnering with educators to design vibrant classrooms.  We are honored to learn from you and truly partner - integrating with and enhancing what you already do as you build classroom community.