I, along with two teachers from my school, spent 3 days last week in Atlanta, GA going through training for the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. Our school has a very active IB program and as “Head of School” my training is required and we are constantly sending more and more teachers for training so as to stay current with the curriculum and the structures of the program. I have to say that it was eye opening to finally understand what many of the acronyms associated with the program actually mean and to engage in conversation with other admin from mostly the southern US all centred around the best ways to establish and grow this very demanding, but rewarding program.
I spent the three days questioning, challenging and taking in lots of ideas, concepts and ideaology from the people and presenter and I have to say that it was a very worthwhile pack of PD. I have a bit of a bias though as I am a sucker for pedogogical conversations. I can get lost in debates about good learning and progressive ideas and if you throw in a couple of interesting and even humorous You Tube Videos (below), you got me.
If I had to break it down to two things that were most rewarding about the training I would have to discuss two fundamental tenants of the IB:
1. Concurrency of Learning
2. Global Mindedness
1. Concurrency of Learning: This is really just a fancy way of saying that students should be taking all courses at the same time. Essentially all IB students take their classes over a 2 year period and so there is a continual message and connection. In our school that means that they have the same teacher for grade 12 Mathematics as they did for grade 11 and so there is a consistency and a relationship that develops that can be very powerful and helpful for students.
That is the technical reality but I think the concept of concurrency of learning has much more power than simply familiarity. I am a big believer that we need to erode the silos that exist in our educational structures, particularly as they exist in the high school model. When you think of it, high school is sort of like a “hiatus” from reality because at no point in their lives, (perhaps in university but don’t even get me started on that!), will they have to approach a problem, a situation or an opportunity from a singular focus. All humans experience the world as a whole, not as a segment or from a discipline specific vantage point.
To articulate this point I often use this example. It is impossible for me to see my vocation as a teacher the same since I had children as I did before they came along. I instantly became a different teacher, (and I feel a better one), the moment I became a parent. I am not saying that those without children cannot be excellent teachers, I just know that I changed. I had to approach the decisions I made in my profession based on many things that were happening to me personally. I cannot just shut it off. I understood and experience the debate about American identify differently because of the fact that I am half American. I cannot shut it off. When I watch a movie my opinion is influenced by different books that I have read, places I have visited and people that I have known. I cannot shut it off. Yet we regularly, (daily in fact: specifically 4 times a day!), tell kids to shut it off. We tell them through our structures that this is the room in which they study Math and English happens down the hall and after lunch! We then ask teachers to make connections for students but that is nearly and impossible task, when the building is literally set up to discourage that.
The IB program, through its component of concurrency of learning, challenges educators and students alike to consider and interdisciplinary viewpoint. In fact, there is a course called Theory of Knowledge that is meant to explore that very idea. Having this as central, foundational element is truly the power of the IB program.
2. Global Mindedness: This was a concept that was central to the entire session and in fact the one plenary session for all participants focussed on this idea. The concept is that the IB program is based on the foundation of developing in students, a greater sense of their community. That to be properly prepared for the lives that they will lead, they need to have a global perspective and to approach all problems, even the ones incredibly personal and local, with the perspective of a global citizen. I take great comfort in this approach because I think that even a superficial understanding of history, politics and even religion can lead one to see that most of the fundamental problems of the world have been caused by very small, and individualistic thinking. Humanity has shown a remarkable tendency to make grave and history altering decisions when they don’t look past their own yard. The idea of producing global citizens is not just a good idea; it is an essential one. With a world shrinking through social media, the internet and mass access to information, tomorrow’s citizens need to be able to see their neighbours across the globe. This is a fundamental and foundational element of the IB program and quite frankly, one I would like to see in all classes of our school.