Transformative learning is best facilitated within a culture of thinking (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison 2011; Tishman, Jay, and Perkins 1993). This is a culture that values, nurtures, and rewards a love of learning and a willingness to inquire and think in active and creative ways. In this type of supportive environment, learning is the natural and expected outcome; it is the rule, not the exception.
A further requirement of transformative education is the presence of trusting and mutually respectful relationships. At its best, education is deeply personal: it affects a student’s basic beliefs, desires, and inclinations. However, impacting students at this level requires that they possess a certain degree of openness and vulnerability, which in turn requires that they feel cared for and respected by, and that they also trust and respect, their teachers and other advisors.
Students will not be inspired to grow, to expand their minds, or to push their limits unless they can clearly see and feel the value of doing so. Such growth also requires guidance and ￼11 ￼mentoring.
For these conditions to be met, students must be exposed to good intellectual role models who are willing to serve as mentors in their intellectual development. By having personal access to these “exemplars” of intellectual virtue, students will see the value of the relevant traits and feel inspired to exemplify them in their own thinking and learning; and with the mentoring they receive from these exemplars, they will receive the required guidance and support.
While learning best occurs in a context that is in many ways student-centered, this does not negate the importance of high objective standards. On the contrary, if intellectual character formation is a central educational goal, high standards are imperative, for intellectual virtues themselves “aim high,” that is, they aim a deep understanding and thoughtful application of important knowledge. However, high standards will promote student learning only if students receive the kind of guidance and support necessary for achieving those standards. This requires considerable effort and forethought on the part of teachers. It requires that they differentiate instruction and use other techniques to meet the educational needs of all students, especially of those who face special challenges (e.g., ELLs and students with special needs). As this suggests, learning best occurs in an educational environment marked by high standards and a commensurate level of student support.
Finally, education is most transformative in contexts where curiosity and creativity are permitted to flourish—indeed where they are actively encouraged and fostered. These intellectual virtues are crucial to the nurturing and sustaining of a genuine love of learning. They also promote intellectual autonomy and open-mindedness, which in turn give rise to a host of other virtues of the mind.