Why IB? (#IBCHI2015)

This year’s IB Conference of the Americas (#IBCHI2015) in the beautiful city of Chicago is buzzing with energy as IB educators from “the Americas” are sharing their stories, experiences, and examples of best practice. As a school leader, it’s always rejuvenating to attend this conference and being here with colleagues from my home district only adds to the experience. In addition to “spreading out” to as many sessions as possible and sharing notes via Google Docs, we are also thrilled to present at this year’s conference on the topic of 1:1 technology and 21st century skills. It was an honor for us to be chosen and we are looking forward to adding to the “IB Story” while having the opportunity to expand our own professional network.

A few years back, I wrote a piece after the conference in New Orleans that attempted to answer the “Why IB?” question. Two years later, it’s not much of a question for me. It’s more of a no-brainer. Since that conference, our school (and district) has not only doubled our overall participation in the IB Diploma Program, but we are now in the candidacy phase for the MYP with the hopes of being authorized in 2016. To put it plainly, we are “all in” with regard to IB and we believe that all of our students are better prepared as a result of graduating from an IB World School.

So “Why IB?” Here’s why…

It Promotes International Mindedness: The curriculum and pedagogy of the IB focuses on international perspectives while emphasizing the importance of students exploring their home culture and language. A fundamental IB principle is for students to “think globally and act locally.” In Dobbs Ferry, this mindset has prompted our students to make incredible contributions within our village while allowing them to focus on the implications of their actions on a global level. Over the past few years we have also seen a rise in both new students and exchange students from around the world who have chosen to attend our school because we are an IB World School. This new development has not added to the richness and diversity of our school community, but has further allowed our students to examine all core disciplines from multiple perspectives and respective “ways of knowing.”

21st Century Learning: The theme of this year’s conference, “Educating for Life,” speaks once again to the IB’s commitment to prepare students with the skills needed for success beyond the brick and mortar of schools and certainly beyond the parameters and constraints of any standardized exam. 21st century skills such as adaptability, problem solving, initiative, curiosity, communication, and collaboration are at the heart of the conversations at this year’s conference. The world that students are now entering is radically different from only a few years ago as this generation will now compete for jobs and services that are yet to exist and probably won’t for at least another ten years. The IB Program was ahead of its time from its inception and is now “taking off” due to the ever-changing demands and an increasingly interdependent global market.

Connection to the Common Core (CCSS): The CCSS have now been adopted by 44 states in support of a nationwide effort to promote college and career readiness in all schools. While taking even a cursory look at the IB standards for learning, one would notice that the goals and core values of the IB are in genuine alignment with the aims and desired outcomes of the common core. In fact, the IB was one of five programs that the developers of the CCSS looked to as an example of exemplary learning standards. Both the IB and the CCSS are aligned in that both focus on inquiry, text complexity, evidence-based arguments, real-world application, and deep conceptual understanding. Interestingly, the CCSS are not a major topic of conversation at this year’s conference since the transition was such a smooth one for all IB World Schools. This was certainly the case in Dobbs Ferry as well.

The Program is Fully Inclusive: Perhaps the greatest quality of the IB Program is that all students receive meaningful and equitable access to the curriculum. At our school, for example, all students enroll in at least two IB DP courses, we have doubled the number of exams that we have registered students for over the past three years (average of 3 per student), and all students will fully access the MYP by 2016. In addition, the qualities that are outlined in the IB Learner Profile are embedded in all classes in grades 6-12 and are central to the vision and mission of our district. This trend of providing “IB for all” has also taken off in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as the district continues with its commitment to provide all students from all sections of the city with the opportunity to attend a local IB school. Whereas CPS had only 30 IB students in the entire city 18 years ago, they expect to have over 30,000 by the year 2018. This impressive development has positioned CPS to be a leader for all city districts nationwide while providing all schools around the world with a model for equity, access, and excellence.

The Research is Growing: A great deal of research has been conducted by the IB and outside agencies to determine the degree to which students are prepared for success in the more competitive colleges and universities in the world. Findings repeatedly show that IB students are not only accepted at higher rates, but graduate within four years at a higher percentage and with higher overall grade point averages. This point has been verified to us by our own graduates who come back to our school each year to discuss the high level of preparation that they had as a result of the IB DP and how, in some instances, they felt “over-prepared.” Check out the post “Why IB: Student Perspectives” (12/20/13) for more on this.

The IB Community: IB teachers are members of a special community of educators from around the world. As such, teachers are able to network and collaborate with colleagues that are both local and overseas. This year’s conference is just another example of that. In addition to traditional “training,” all IB teachers participate in roundtable discussions with colleagues from local schools and have access to the Online Curriculum Centre (OCC). This resource provides IB teachers with resources, updates, support areas for special education, access to online subject specialists, and an opportunity to connect with other IB teachers.

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