Tag Archives: IB

Podium

The number one reason I’m thrilled that the Olympics are being held now is that it’s the perfect distraction from writing about whether or not we should mandate masks in August. (And of course provides an easy opportunity to chat about winning and losing).

I’m a sucker for the highlights of the ecstatic athletes like the Filipino weightlifter, winning the first gold medal in her country’s history. Her emotional outburst on this individual achievement was such a pleasure to watch (as opposed to the expectation that comes with many nations that anything less than the highest elevation at the podium is a failure).

I love sports because they bring a ruthless simplicity to life. You win or you lose. There are boundaries and nets, the rules are clear and there aren’t excuses. I will sidestep the irony of how this juxtaposes with the Olympic spirit, but my point is that this simplicity is very different from my day job. It would be relatively easy if all we had to do was achieve, to get a number that indicated we did a great job. But I’m not convinced that’s why I get up in the morning.

Which brings me to the release of IB scores in July, the podium moment for many international schools. Like many of my colleagues, I take a reprieve from the summer break to analyze the fateful IB scores, connect with families on their options, and reflect on how we can improve to expand opportunities for our students. As a practice, my school doesn’t post its achievement on social media. Of course I am happy for the collective achievement of international students, but for some reason it doesn’t sit well with me. For every 45, there’s a 22, for every university acceptance, there are dozens of fails. Yes, I get the celebratory aspect, especially in a pandemic, but aren’t international schools supposed to achieve at the highest levels?

I’m a sucker for a great story. I expect the achievers to achieve, just like the American, Chinese and ROC athletes. I don’t get excited about the medal count.

But give me the Italian high jumper tying arguably the greatest high jumper in history and I can’t stop thinking about it all day.

In our business, we talk a lot about growth as being our indicator of success. We want to move the needle on everyone, but the power of education to get someone where they didn’t expect to be (on the podium) is extraordinary. The girl from Syria, sent on scholarship by her family out of a refugee camp. The boy from Mali, displaced by conflict and accessing an international curriculum for the first time in his life. The Senior whose parents divorced and left him in a country far from home. Those are the moments, the indicators of our success, so much more than a number that, frankly, we are supposed to earn. We are, as privileged institutions, expected to be on the podium.

So, until the summer transitions to yet another pandemic opening, I will continue to watch my badminton, pole vault, gymnastics, and diving, looking for the opportunity to make a difference to that learner that might not expect to be on that podium, and to scream in adulation and excitement when they do.

Software in a Suitcase vs The Learner Profile

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By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Problem

Curriculum in a Suitcase, this is a common term and point of discussion in international schools. For anyone not familiar with the reference, it addresses the common practice of teachers arriving at a new school and bringing with them a curriculum they are comfortable delivering.

The current practice around curriculum planning and mapping is to avoid this practice. A school should have a curriculum that students and families can depend on, regardless of the staffing.

In Educational Technology there is similar practice known as Software in a Suitcase. Using the word software is being simplistic. Software, subscriptions, services, and even computer brands and operating systems are included.When teachers move from one school to another, they often try to avoid the new school’s technology plan, and attempt to implement an ad-hoc technology plan they are familiar with.

Technology plans can be flexible, but if a school is a Windows 10 Tablet school, or if they are using PowerSchool, those core structural pieces are not flexible. In fact, they are required from the first day. Usage is not negotiable.

Unfortunately, publishing a list of resources before new teachers arrive is not very helpful. They are counting on a miracle, because the motivating force is being comfortable and confident in what they are using. I cannot fault anyone for wanting to use tools that work or tools they have mastered. Nor can I blame a teacher for making a persuasive argument for trying to acquire a resource that has proven track record improving learning for their students.

The fact remains, limitations are limitations. Long term multi-year technology plans create a structure, but they also form boundaries and budgets. Creating niche technology projects around a large campus, without a planned budget, is impossible to support and sustain.

The Solution

The IB Learner Profile and ISTE Teacher Standards hold the solution to the problem of software in a suitcase. If schools want students to embody the ideals of the IB Learner Profile, then teachers and administrators need to model those ideals. Technology is the perfect medium to demonstrate communication, risk-taking, inquiry, and subject knowledge.

Being dependent on a set method and set of resources does not achieve the outcomes expected of IB students, nor does it meet the ISTE criteria for teachers to Model digital age work and learning and Engage in professional growth and leadership. 

Every year when new teachers are completing orientation, these core concepts should be part of every discussion around curriculum, assessment, and technology. Pushing people to see themselves in the light of the IB and/or the ITSE standards actually creates the middle ground needed to move beyond the problem. The challenge to be an adaptable problem solver, as a model to students, is one every teacher should accept. Adapting to a new technology structure should be seamlessly integrated into adapting to a new curriculum structure.

The trap with technology is discussing brands. People will often say, “I need XYZ software.” Replying, “Well we have WTY software.”, is not going to resolve the situation. This dialogue only creates a partisan debate.

The best way to approach issues related to technology is simply to ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” The focus should always be on the why first, or the outcome. From there, people can brainstorm the how.  Sometimes, the why is not even inline or aligned to the curriculum. Reiterating the technology plan is also not very useful. The core problem stems from an emotional reaction to change not a misunderstanding of a written plan.

Here is a common dialogue I have with new teachers coming to China:
Teacher: I just came from a Google School, and I need to use Google Drive even though I know it is not accessible in China.
Me: Ok. What do you use it for? (Avoiding the name immediately)
Teacher: I use it to store files and share files with students.
Me: Ok. So you need to have a solution to store files and collaborate with students.
Teacher: Yes.
Me: We have that. Can I show you? I can even help you move your resources quickly.

In most cases, there is a solution. Often, the solution is just time. Time to adjust. Time to privately realise the influence a brand is having on decisions. Time to see other options.
Support cannot be forced. People have to be ready to change. Creating the middle ground and bringing a person back to the core ideals they are working towards with students is definitely the best path to positive outcomes. In an IB school, that is The Learner Profile. The ISTE Standards, those are just for an extra shot of professionalism.