IB MYP: Gearing Up for Authorization

I recently attended an MYP Head of School training in Baltimore in preparation for our school’s MYP authorization in the fall of 2016. I’ve written a great deal about the IB program at DFHS over the past few years and have also shared our school’s story as we move forward with the MYP in our quest to continually increase student participation and performance in the DP. I typically do a great deal of reflecting whenever I attend any training or professional development session. This time was no different. While the training itself was superb in that it allowed me to further establish an MYP network, it also provided me with an opportunity to closely examine the MYP Standards & Practices in relation to the work that we have done at DFHS to this point.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the training was that DFHS is working from a position of strength with regard to the MYP. I have said this from the beginning. This is due in large part to having teachers in grades 9 and 10 who have worked for years on designing learning experiences that are in-line with the IB Learning Standards. In listening to some of the obstacles that seem to “trip up” other schools as they transition to the MYP, I generated a list of takeaways that I shared with the DFHS staff at a recent meeting as a way to assess where we are as a school and where we still need to be. I connected each of these takeaways to one of the IB evaluation standards and positioned the discussion as a jumping off point for our department leaders and teachers as they plan their curriculum work for the second semester.

While I shared many takeaways with our faculty, the five listed below are perhaps the most significant and can inform both IB and non-IB schools that are considering a move to the MYP. They are as follows:

Takeaway #1–Faculty and Community Buy-In: A major challenge that so many school leaders face is with buy-in and how to get all constituencies on board with a shift to the MYP. For non-IB districts (or schools), this is a major undertaking and can require years of upfront work. While daunting, this is certainly not impossible and, if approached correctly, can lead to a clear articulation of what all members of the school community value in terms of teaching and learning. The end result might actually lead a school away from the IB and that’s okay too. At DFHS, the “buy-in” side of things was avoided since we have such a strong Diploma Program and have been clear about communicating an instructional philosophy and vision that is directly in-line with the core tenets of the IB. As a result, we have a community (and staff) who were asking why we didn’t have MYP as opposed to why we should. (Standard A: Philosophy)

Takeaway #2–Our Focus on 21st Century Skills: Our school’s focus on 21st century “survival” skills (Wagner) and the recent work that we have done around 21st century careers (see post on 12/2/15) is a fundamental component of both the IB MYP and DP. This approach has not only allowed our teachers and students to see greater meaning in our work, but has also helped to further expand our thinking beyond the school in both the present and future. IB School or not, this point is critical and is one that must be at the forefront of all curriculum development. (Standard C3: Teaching and Learning)

Takeaway #3–IB for All: What always seems to set Dobbs Ferry apart from other districts is our belief that IB is for all students instead of an “elite” group. For some, the perception may be that IB means “harder” and that some students may struggle with the IB curriculum. This is another topic that I have written about (see post 7/22/13) and is one that was raised by several school leaders at this most recent training. At DFHS, we are guided by the belief that all students are “IB students” and all engage daily with a curriculum that is guided by both the IB Learning Standards and the IB Learner Profile. Our differentiated approach, which includes a full commitment to co-teaching, has led to all-time highs in both IB DP participation and performance. Specifically, all students now enroll in at least two IB DP courses with nearly 30% of our students attaining the full IB Diploma. This “IB for all” philosophy has naturally moved to include the MYP and, as a result of our success with the DP, has been well received by teachers, parents, community members, and most importantly students. (Standard A: Philosophy; Standard B: Organization)

Takeaway #4–Having Awesome Coordinators: What new Heads of School never fully realize is the critical significance of having “rock star” IB coordinators to manage the nuts and bolts of the program. Without this, the program will flounder and will never be implemented to its greatest extent. The best coordinators are both instructional and managerial leaders. They possess all of the characteristics outlined in the IB Learner Profile while being extraordinarily detail and process oriented. At DFHS, we have two of the very best in @meghalberg (IB DP) and @MsHM2011 (IB MYP). Please do not contact them to offer them jobs…! (Standard B1: Organization)

Takeaway #5–Getting Started: For schools considering a move to the MYP, it is not necessary to wait for a “go ahead” from the IBO to start examining the standards, looking at the curriculum planners, and designing IB learning experiences for all students. Prior to our official move to the MYP, our teachers were designing units of instruction that served to directly prepare all students for the various paths that they might pursue in the IB DP. Our curriculum work was rooted in Understanding By Design (UBD) and what we found was that the MYP unit planners were modeled after the same approach. In addition, we have shifted our focus back to content-specific curriculum work and we now have numerous “MYP units” created in all of the disciplines, including fully completed interdisciplinary units in grades 9-10. With still over eight months before our official authorization visit, we are well ahead of the pace and are in a great position for this final phase of the process. (Standard C2: Written Curriculum)

Is your school considering the MYP? Please feel free to leave a comment or suggestions…!

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