Sunday, August 29, 2021

The 6 Dimensions of Disruptive Thinkers

What is really needed for success in the world today?  I think this might be the million-dollar question. Even though it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the future, we can examine current trends and societal forces to determine the competencies that learners need to thrive.  While some will remain the same, others will evolve or change completely depending on the disruption at the moment. What I think we can all agree on is that in the face of disruptive forces, conditions in classrooms need to empower learners to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems.  This is how I define disruptive thinking.

On the front lines of this endeavor are educators tasked with balancing mandated curriculum and testing with the responsibility to prepare students for college and careers. The former can result in perceived roadblocks to accomplishing the latter.  Success relies on instructional strategies and pedagogical techniques that both engage and empower students to dive deep into standards and concepts while applying them in meaningful ways.  While there is a time and place for content to be disseminated through instruction, the key to accomplishing all that educators are tasked with is how the learning experience develops a student’s ability to think and do in relation to the current and future workforce.

In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I identified six dimensions of disruptive thinking. Now I didn’t refer to them as these in the book, but the purpose of my blogging is to share my reflections and expand on ideas. Maybe dimensions aren’t the proper term, but to create a culture of disruptive thinking in a classroom or school, learning should result in students developing into:

Creative scholars generate and explore ideas and make original con­nections. They try different ways to tackle a problem, working with others to find imaginative solutions and outcomes that are of value.

Reflective learners evaluate their strengths and limitations, setting realistic goals with criteria for success. They monitor their performance and progress, inviting feedback from others and making changes to fur­ther their learning.

Collaborative workers engage confidently with others, adapting to different contexts and taking responsibility for their own role on the team. They listen to and take into account different perspectives. They form collaborative relationships, resolving issues to reach agreed-upon outcomes.

Active engagers readily explore issues that affect them and those around them. They actively engage in the life of their school, college, workplace, or wider community by taking responsible action to improve others as well as themselves.

Self-directed managers organize themselves, showing personal responsibility, initiative, creativity, and enterprise with a commitment to learning and self-improvement. They actively embrace change, respond positively to new priorities, cope with challenges and look for growth opportunities.

Autonomous inquirers process and evaluate information in their investigations, planning what to do and how to go about it. They make informed and well-reasoned decisions while recognizing that others may have different beliefs and attitudes.

Preparation just for promotion, graduation, or an exam doesn’t serve the best interests of kids. Each of the dimensions above allows for students to explore the curriculum in relevant and authentic ways while more than adequately preparing them for any standardized test they are forced to take. Each plays a critical component in fostering a disruptive thinking mindset. More importantly, they empower learners to develop essential competencies that will serve them well no matter the chosen path in life.

Incorporating these are not as difficult as you think as they naturally result when sound pedagogical strategies are employed, such as cooperative, personalized, problem-based, blended, and project-based learning, just to name a few. Many can also be developed or amplified through extracurricular programs, virtual courses, independent study, and work-study options.  Disruptive thinkers are what the world will always need. Let’s make sure they are readily available.


  1. Hey Eric,

    Thanks for the great post (and visual !). What I love about this is that it can also be applied to each of my staff members: do they have a disruptive thinking mindset? How will they develop and foster it ?

    Looking forward to reflecting on these questions with them (with the help of this great visual) !

  2. It's always good to work with the disruptive innovator vs. The defender of the status quo. Great article. Thank you.

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  4. Hi Eric, I agree with you on the fact that with these 6 dimensions of disruptive thinkers, we as educators will be able to prepare our students to pass "the forced tests " as you mentioned in the article. Thanks for the great article.

  5. This is a good article and was inline what we do now in promoting New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.