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Education For Thinking & Action

By Dr Charles Margerison


It is common feedback from employers that students are not properly prepared for employment. A major part of the problem is the traditional focus on individual exam results. However, more schools are introducing a project team problem-solving approach that requires students to use the skills of coordinated thinking. We need to have people who know what they are talking about and who also have the teamwork skills to work cooperatively with colleagues. This article outlines major levels of thinking that students need and how they can be developed.

Modes of Thinking and Action

To think through issues and the action required, at the individual and team levels, students need support and guidance in three major levels of thinking. These are –

  • Critical Control Thinking.
  • Constructive Creative Thinking.
  • Coordinated Cooperative Thinking.

Critical Control Thinking

The term critical thinking has gained popularity in schools. It implies the ability to assess the evidence and sift through the relevant data in a controlled way in order to make a judgement. However, the word ‘critical’ may imply a negative mindset associated with criticism, and may involve looking for weaknesses, rather than opportunities. Nevertheless, critical control thinking is important, as we need people who can detect errors and false logic. However, it is not sufficient.

Constructive Creative Thinking

It is equally important to train students in constructive creative thinking. This is where they go beyond the status quo, identify options and develop innovative improvement proposals. This involves gathering data to develop creative possibilities. Helping students to perceive options and to pilot test ideas, is integral to constructive creative thinking.

Coordinated Cooperative Thinking

In addition to both of the above approaches, students need to be trained in coordinating their thoughts with those of other people. That involves cooperative teamwork, for example, by contributing to meetings. A key skill involves listening to facts and opinions from colleagues and making agreements to ensure action is taken. This will involve the ability to negotiate who does what with the resources available. This type of coordinated cooperative thinking is required in the work place, where project groups and established teams face challenges. To be successful, it is necessary to coordinate the thoughts of many people, so that they cooperate to ensure tasks are completed to a high standard.

Learning from Action

From the age of 16, when I was first employed, I have worked in teams. I now lead a number of education teams to develop innovative resources for both students and adults. In each one of these teams, I have seen critical and constructive thinking. However, as the team leader, I let everyone know that it is coordinated cooperative thinking and action that counts to achieve results.

Rather than just following procedures, I look for people who can bring proactive coordination and cooperation skills to the team. They do so by assessing the problems and exploring possible solutions, and then working with others to meet the challenges.

Therefore, how can teachers provide more time and opportunities for students to develop coordinated cooperative thinking and action? In practice, this means enabling students to work together on group projects, and to learn the principles of teamwork. 

Example of Teamwork Training

To achieve coordination cooperative thinking and skills, students can be trained in –

  • Writing a project brief.
  • Setting out an agenda for a meeting.
  • Arranging a time and place for a meeting.
  • Chairing a meeting.
  •  Writing up the summary minutes of a meeting.
  •  Checking on the follow up action.

This will all involve coordinated cooperative thinking skills and behaviours.

In our educational work, we support students in these processes by outlining key issues they can address in the meetings. These include

A – How to define the problems and challenges.

B – Ways of facilitating team debate on the issues.

C – Means for testing ideas and options.

D – Deciding on team action and the implementation.

E – Reviewing the applications in order to improve.

Exemplars of Coordination and Cooperation

Via Amazing People Schools (, we encourage students to look at the ways in which amazing achievers applied coordinated thinking to their work. We provide a list of exemplars from the 500 and more life stories that we have researched.

These include great scientists like Einstein and Keller, outstanding medics like Nightingale and Blackwell, and humanitarians like Tubman and Gandhi. In addition, we look at those who succeeded in politics and business. They all developed coordinated cooperative thinking and helped those around them to link the proverbial dots in order to gain action.

In the world of business and politics, the following are exemplars of people whose coordinated thinking and action led to amazing achievements.

  • Percy Julian was born in Alabama, USA in 1899. He was the grandson of slaves. Although he gained entry to university, he was the subject of discrimination. However, that did not deter him. He qualified as a chemist and led the way to synthesize drugs from plants. In particular, he discovered valuable health applications from soya beans. He used critical, constructive, and coordinated thinking to create successful businesses.
  • Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner for 27 years before becoming the President of South Africa. Instead of seeking retribution on his enemies, he coordinated the ‘rainbow nation’ revolution through his coordinated thinking and action.
  • Sarah Breedlove was the daughter of slaves and had little education. Despite this, she developed a hair care business under the name of Madam Walker. She employed thousands of women in an age when it was difficult for people of colour to gain paid work. Her coordination thinking and action were the keys to her success.

Educational Applications

In addition to providing exemplars, it is important to invite students to choose and research their own exemplars. They can do that by working in a project group to meet people in their community who are doing amazing work – for example in the fire, health and police services. In addition to writing up the interviews on the type of thinking and skills people used in various jobs, students can write a paper on ‘what I learned about my own thinking from the project.’

Through being involved in such activities students will learn a lot about the value of critical, constructive and coordinated thinking.


To help students make the transition from school to work there is a need for the integration of personal thinking with teamwork and group problem solving. To do that, teachers can take the following action.

  • Provide students with the language of critical control, constructive creative and coordinated cooperative thinking.
  • Ensuring students are given the opportunity to develop their proactive coordinated cooperative skills via team projects.
  • Encouraging students to write and discuss ‘what I need to do to improve my thinking and action in team projects.’
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