Sunday, December 8, 2013

An IB State of Mind

For the past four days, I've been taking my first real swim in the International Baccalaureate pool. Previously, through a visit to an IB school and some discussion with colleagues and administrators, I've just dipped in my toe. This time, though, it was a full cannonball as I traveled to St. Pete Beach for my Category 1 training.

On the first day of training, I found myself in awe of the IB. Their mission statement echoes so much of what I believe about education, stating it, "...aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world..." as well as "encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate, and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right." When I look at that, I just see empathy and global connectedness. I couldn't be more excited.

We also examined some motifs that appear throughout the IB curriculum:

  • Students should be agents of their own learning--students must guide their own understanding with my assistance; they must be actively engaged
  • Everything is an argument--students need to make claims and support them with details because truth is so often determined by the individual's personal experience which means there is rarely, if ever, a single truth
  • Knowledge is a negotiation--students must derive meaning from all they read, see, and do, making knowledge a negotiation between what is presented and what is received
The IB waters were refreshing, indeed. But, come day two, it got a bit chilly.

While the IB claims ten different learner profiles, highlighting risk-taking and communicating and caring among many others, we started to dig into the assessments--all of which are fine; I mean, any company can use any assessment it likes. But I didn't initially see the ways that the students could use their learner profiles within the papers, oral commentaries, and exams. After day two, I was concerned that the ideals of the first day didn't mesh with the realities of the second.

But then, after leaving the pool a bit cold, I wrapped up in the warm blanket of the third day. 

On the last day of training, I started seeing my own students in the work. It brought me some calm, some warmth. I became convinced that, though they'll be pushed, they'll be successful because there is an incredible amount of choice within the IB curriculum. Yes, students have to write an essay, but they decide on the question and approach. Yes, students have an oral commentary, but they get to determine the direction in which it will go.

Our day-to-day class will be about negotiating our knowledge, about arguing with support, about being engaged in the learning. It will lead us to become more careful thinkers and, finally, to a world where we understand multiple versions of the truth because each individual's experiences are so different throughout the world. 

With IB, empathy is a desired trait.

And that is a pool I can swim in any day.

(I can't write this post without recognizing and thanking my district for sending me to this training. It's so rare for teachers to go on business trips, but this one was worth it. It was a great place to be and, for that, I'm thankful.)