Why IB? Revisiting the Question 10 Years Later

This year’s IB Global Conference in the beautiful city of San Diego will be once again buzzing with energy as IB educators will be in-person for the first time since the pandemic to share their stories, experiences, and examples of best practice. It is always rejuvenating to attend this conference in normal years so having the chance to go back with colleagues after two long years away will make this trip all the more sweet. This year’s conference theme, “Embracing Innovation, Inspiring Change” is both timely and practical considering the massive innovation and change that was forced upon all school districts in March, 2020. For some, the change was rocky, but for others, including IB World Schools like ours, the change was smoother and much more seamless. This is a direct credit to the IB philosophy with regard to teaching, learning, and assessment. It was also a reminder to all of us that the question of “Why IB?” isn’t much of a question at all. The answer is obvious.  

In 2013, I wrote a piece after the conference in New Orleans that addressed the “Why IB?” question for the first time. Four years later, I came back to this question as our team presented at the IB World Conference in Orlando, and I now find myself coming back to it once again as we start to move beyond the pandemic. Similar to how I felt in both 2013 and 2017, the question of “Why IB?” is an important one as we continue to consider what is best for all of our students in what is clearly an ever changing landscape. Navigating the pandemic as an IB World School only further confirmed this point. While so many students and teachers struggled with a curriculum and program that was “test driven” and rigid during that time, our IB students were provided with flexible approaches that included a focus on academic skills, an emphasis on mental wellness, and a “non-examination” route that best honored the work of our students. All of this helped to greatly offset student stress while inspiring learning and, perhaps most importantly, providing certainty in the most uncertain of times.

Over the past ten years, our school (and district) tripled our overall participation in the IB Diploma Program, we became fully authorized in the IB Middle Years Program (MYP) in 2016, and our efforts were recognized when we earned a National Blue Ribbon in 2020. 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 attending an IB World School. That was certainly the case during the pandemic, and it continues to be the case as we get back to a new feeling of “normal” in our schools and around the world. 

So “Why IB?” Here’s why…

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 DFHS, all students enroll in at least two IB DP courses, all of our teachers are IB trained (including special education), students take an average of four IB DP courses before graduating, and all students fully access the IB MYP while completing a Personal Project. In addition, the qualities that are outlined in the IB Learner Profile, coupled with our earlier work using the IB Excellence and Equity Framework (E2), made our recent district wide focus on DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion) a natural one for our school. As always, our focus continues to be on creating a welcoming environment for all students while providing a curriculum that is truly representative of the diverse student body that we have at DFHS. This approach and philosophy is at the very core of the IB, and it is precisely what set our school apart from the rest when we were awarded a National Blue Ribbon in 2020. 

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,” and at DFHS we recently moved to “IB CAS for All” for students in grade eleven along with a service learning venture that all sophomores engage with upon completion of the IB MYP Personal Project. 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, “Embracing Innovation, Inspiring Change,” speaks once again to the IB’s commitment to preparing students with the skills needed for success beyond the brick and mortar of schools so that they may make a difference in all corners of the world. DFHS was well ahead of the curve on this front when we introduced a full 1:1 Chromebook program back in 2013, and we shared our story at the IB World Conference in Chicago in 2015. Our focus at that time was on how our 1:1 further promoted equity while allowing students to further develop the ever important 21st century “ATL” skills. Those same skills, as it turned out five years later, were put to the test and were ultimately on full display as we navigated the pandemic with greater ease and continuity than most other districts. As we now move to a “post-pandemic” world that is radically different from what we knew only a few years ago, this current generation of students will continue to compete for jobs and services that are yet to exist. In doing so, those same skills will once again be called upon as they will need to adapt, solve problems, collaborate, and communicate with colleagues in what is now a full interdependent world. 

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.” I first wrote about this topic nine years ago (check out the post “Why IB: Student Perspectives” (12/20/13) for more) and am planning to once again solicit this qualitative data from our recent graduates when we return next year. 

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, and this was especially an advantage for us as we navigated the pandemic. This year’s conference will be a wonderful opportunity to see some of the colleagues that we met during the pandemic “in person” for the first time. In addition to traditional “training,” all IB teachers participate in roundtable discussions with colleagues from local schools and have access to the My IB. This resource provides IB teachers with resources, updates, a robust program resource center, and an opportunity to connect with other IB teachers and Heads of School from around the world.

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