Philosophical Teaching 

Philosophical Teaching is an inquiry-led pedagogy that develops student understanding and appreciation beyond the levels normally achievable though traditional teaching.  It brings together 6 strands of good teaching – whatever the curriculum or subject, and whatever the age of the students.  It provides a new and refreshing way for educators to  advance their skills in the 21st century. Roger Sutcliffe explains more in this TED talk:

How Does It Benefit Teachers?

By building skills in the 6 strands, teachers discover a powerful model for self-development and self-monitoring – and enjoy a more rewarding teaching experience.  The traditional demarcation lines between teachers and students diminish. Students take more responsibility for their own learning.  The teacher becomes a better listener, learning more about the students’ capacities to reason and understand, and about their personal interests and needs.

How Does It benefit Learners?

Philosophical Teaching equips students with the intellectual skills and strengths of character.  It has a healthy emphasis on questioning and reasoning.  Thinking Moves A – Z provides a rich vocabulary for meta-cognition.

The emphasis on personal, social and intellectual virtues helps students throughout their learning and their lives.  Personal virtues include self-confidence, optimism, resilience and enterprise.  Social virtues include respectfulness, trustworthiness, open-mindedness and empathy.  Intellectual virtues include fair-mindedness and wise judgement.

How Does It Benefit Schools?

Philosophical Teaching complements most 21st century curriculum strategies, especially inquiry-based learning and dialogic teaching.  Through its Valuing Virtues approach, it provides strong practical support for school value systems or mission statements.  It helps schools to turn their stated values into concrete guidelines for behaviour and learning dispositions.

In International Baccalaureate schools in primary years, middle years or at diploma level, Philosophical Teaching and Learning is an ideal way to interrogate and develop the Learner Profile. It extends and deepens inquiry-based learning and supports student conceptualisation. It is equally valuable in preparing students from non-IB schools for entry into the IB Diploma program.

Because philosophy as a discipline is closely associated with high-order, critical, thinking, Philosophical Teaching and Learning enhances the academic standards of any school.  It broadens the scope of thinking through the caring, collaborative, creative and critical styles of thinking that are central to P4C.

How Do We Implement Philosophical Teaching?

Whilst Philosophical Teaching should permeate all aspects of teaching and learning, we recommend a structured pathway to build familiarity and skills with the approach.   For teachers, the starting point is two days of Foundation training, based on the well-established and strongly-evidenced P4C Plus methodology. This training equips teachers to conduct philosophical inquiries with their students in a Community of Inquiry.  This is a safe space where students and teachers can start to explore philosophical concepts and develop their skills of Philosophical Teaching and Learning.

The Foundation training is followed up after 6 – 12 months by two days of advanced training in Philosophical Teaching, with different versions for primary and secondary teachers. This training helps teachers develop specific skills for taking Philosophical Teaching into all areas of the curriculum.  The third step in the Philosophical Teaching pathway is then a one-day course on Thinking Moves A – Z, showing teachers how to build student skills in this meta-cognitive framework.

Values and Virtues

Virtue is an ancient concept and the development of virtues of all kinds – personal, social, intellectual – is as vital in the education of young people as it is in adult life.

Many schools promote the language of values, rather than virtues, but there is no single, comprehensive list of values that everyone agrees on.  The chances of young people living out their own values are considerably enhanced if they can link them to a personal virtue. Anyone might claim, for example, to be in favour of fairness, but to be a fair-minded person, you need to have the virtue of fair-mindedness.

Listing, let alone nurturing, such qualities is not simple; and it is all the more challenging to include mental qualities, such as flexibility and clarity of thought, or ambition to learn. Roger Sutcliffe has created three lists of key virtues.  One group is Personal Virtues, but they could equally well be labelled as Character strengths.  The second group is Social Virtues, which could equally well be called Collaborative strengths.  The third group is Intellectual Virtues or Cognitive strengths.


We acknowledge the influence of classical philosophers such as Socrates and Aristotle and of pioneers in 20th and 21st century psychological and educational fields. Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp, the founders and drivers of P4C, have been the strongest influences.  They were building on the great philosopher-educator John Dewey, who said:

“If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men, philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education”.

We also acknowledge Art Costa, developer of the ‘Habits of Mind’ approach.  He inspired Thinking Moves, the meta-cognitive framework which runs through the whole of DialogueWorks’ practice – and which forms a central element of our training programs.

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