What’s your perspective?

Part Two- Cultures of Thinking and SSW Practice Blog

Remember the internet buzz about what color is the dress?

Do you see an old woman or a young woman?

Do you see white birds flying or black birds?


our thoughts of how we view a situation. It starts world wars. It creates conflict. It divides people. Developing empathy through understanding others ends conflict and unites people.

Our perspective provides a framework for our thoughts and gives us the foundation for how we begin to form those thoughts and opinions. As we begin to build a culture of thinking in our social work practices, we want to ensure that we are that we are providing opportunities for student to take their thinking to a deeper level and to develop a greater empathetic response. The thinking routine Step Inside is the perfect platform for our goal.

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Step Inside...

Step Inside is a digging deeper routine that elicits the thinkers to “get inside” an idea, person, or image and then visually express those thoughts either through words or drawings. This routine is flexible as it can be done with a whole class, small group, or individually with one student.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pick your topic. Are you looking to help students understand more about the ASD students in their classroom? Are you doing classroom lessons on bullying and you want students to have a deeper understanding of what it feels like to be a bully, a target, or a bystander? Are you working with a student with school anxiety and you want to help that student gain a greater understanding of his or her needs that will then give you more insight for how to help this student?

  • Provide the background information and introduce the routine. As part of my second grade friendship lessons, I read the book series Weird!, Dare! and Tough! (incredible elementary age books by Erin Frankel). As part of one of the lessons, I introduce the thinking routine Step Inside. We talk about how we do not really know someone by just looking at their outside behaviors, but we need to have more information about them and to get to know them better in order to understand their actions.

  • Show the image, read the book, set the scene.

  • Provide an opportunity for the students to draw or write about how it feels to be this person. What feelings does this person have? What does he think? What does he wonder? What would this person say if s/he was talking to you? The students can write this out, draw it out, or be as creative as you want. This can be done through a whole class discussion with you creating the visuals, it can be done individually or in small groups.

Here are more examples of Step Inside thinking routine lessons. Go ahead – try one out!

Videos are great ways to begin a Step Inside lesson. This lesson was designed to help the students in a 2nd grade class understand that the Cognitively Impaired students in their class just want to be treated like every other 2nd grade student.

First, the class watched the following video about a girl named Phoebe who has a physical disability and uses an augmentative communication device to speak. The students were captivated by Phoebe. After the video we had a whole group Step Inside discussion. As a class we created a poster showing Phoebe’s likes and dislikes, her hopes and dreams, as well as her feelings and other things that we learned about her. The class realized what life is like from Phoebe’s perspective. Once that discussion was through, we talked about the students with special needs who are part of their classroom. We did a Step Inside for these students too. As the class was sharing their thoughts, the conversation turned to how the special education students want to be treated just like Phoebe. They are looking to build friendships with their classmates. This thinking routine provided the framework for a classroom conversation, and the poster of Phoebe is hanging in the classroom as a visual reminder of the ideas that we shared.

(Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CL8GMxRW_5Y)

Many middle schools or high schools have peer mediation programs. These students are trained in how to engage in active listening, knowing the types of conflict, and the mediation process. You can use the Step Inside thinking routine to help the mediators have a better understanding of the disputants (the students coming to mediation). Decide the ideas that you want your mediators to explore (how a disputant feels when coming to mediation, what a disputant is thinking about during the mediation, why a disputant signs up for mediation, etc.) The next step can be done in two different ways. You can break your mediators up into small groups and have each group design a “Step Inside a Disputant” poster. Another way would be to take each of your ideas and put them on individual chart paper. The mediators can go around to the different papers and write down or draw out their thoughts. Finally, a whole group discussion is important to share the ideas and the rationale behind the thinking.

Jennifer Hollander, LMSW

Jennifer has over 23 years experience as a school social worker and is currently employed by the Huron Valley School District. She has facilitated Cultures of Thinking Presentations in her district and at the MASSW State Conference. She is currently receiving advanced training in CoT with the founder/author of the model.

(1) Blue/Black or White/Gold dress controversy

(2) W. E. Hill, artist

(3) M.C. Escher, artist

(4) Weird, Dare, Tough book series, (theweirdseries.com)