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A Notable Decade: Interview with Judith Fabian, former Chief Academic Officer

Judith FabianJudith Fabian was at the heart of the IB programmes long before becoming the Chief Academic Officer. After a history of teaching and implementing the IB programmes in international schools around the globe, and 10 years of spearheading their development at the IB, she has recently left the organization. She took the time to speak to us before her departure.

Judith, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. I think I speak for many when I say that we are very sad to see you leave the IB.  How do you feel?
I have bitter-sweet feelings at this time, of course. I am looking forward to going back to Wales, in the UK, but will be sad to leave such a great organization and so many good people.

When did you know that this was the right time to move on?
I had always planned on staying for three years following the office move from Cardiff, UK to The Hague, Netherlands. I wanted to see the Academic Division through the relocation and make sure everything was stable, then I felt, and still do feel, that it would be time for someone new to take on the role and bring some fresh thinking and energy.

You have worked at the IB for quite some time, having earned respect inside and outside of the organization. What went into your decision to retire from the IB?
I am not planning on retiring just yet! I will be continuing to do some work for the IB in the coming year and also have some other educational projects that I am looking forward to starting. I am hoping to stretch myself by taking on projects and tasks that I haven’t done before, such as editing a book. But I also want to be back in Wales to be nearer my family and particularly my father who is 88 and has had a very difficult year.

Your career has been impressive. When you first began teaching English and drama in the UK, did you ever think you would make it to the forefront of shaping young global minds?
No. I loved teaching from the very start and felt I was in the right profession – after a few false starts in other jobs! I have never really planned my career, just followed my instincts and taken opportunities as they have come my way. Being Chief Academic Officer of the IB has been the most enormous privilege and pleasure.

You have implemented the quality control measures for all the IB programmes, overseen the development and launch of the IBCC, the new MYP framework, Approaches to teaching and learning (ATL), the PYP review, managed the office relocation and the setting up of the Global Centre in The Hague, and contributed to the 2020 transition. Your achievements at the IB are countless. Is there something that you are particularly proud of?
Of course all these achievements are the result of teamwork and some extraordinary people. I am proud of all we have achieved together as a team and feel proud that the staff I have entrusted to lead these important developments have achieved so much. If pushed, I would say the IBCC is proving to be all we hoped it would be and more, and clearly impacting the lives of students. Also I am very proud of our beautiful office and the way the culture of the office has developed.

Alec Peterson´s dream to develop “well-formed minds” rather than developing “well-stuffed” ones is a reality today. We see evidence of this in IB students and their impressive achievements. Is this something that is more palpable now than it was ten years ago?
I have simply continued what other people started, so I am not sure it is more palpable. What we have done in recent years is focus on approaches to teaching and learning so that teaching an IB programme is more clearly defined and explained, particularly in the Diploma Programme (DP). I taught the DP for 15 years and was always conscious that there was not sufficient emphasis on how the students were learning. There is still a long way to go in all the programmes, not because the IB hasn’t done all it can yet, but because teaching is an endless journey of discovery, of trial and error, achievements and disappointments.

“…nothing that is worth knowing can be taught,” is an Oscar Wilde quote you once cited. IB programmes teach students to embrace differences and be internationally minded. What do you think are the other things worth knowing?
I won’t quote the Learner Profile, though it does say it all! Good teaching is about developing the individual, imparting passion, enthusiasm and a love of learning. But I would also say one of the most important things any teacher can give a student is the love of reading. That is my bias!

What was the most challenging time in your career?
I feel very fortunate that I have loved every school and job I have ever done. Each school (seven of them!) and the IB have all had their challenges but have all been stimulating and enjoyable places to work. Two periods of time stand out as the most challenging. The first was having to evacuate Jordan just after the first Gulf War started, leaving the Jordanian students and staff behind with no idea at the time of what was going to happen – it was a situation that caused me to evaluate many things in my life. The second would have to be the period in the IB leading up to the relocation to The Hague Global Centre which was a very emotional time for all of us in the Cardiff office.

Do you have any regrets? 
Not really. Not spending enough time reading has been a perpetual regret – and not having made time to visit the Friesian Islands again in the north of Holland in my three years here!

What are your plans now?
Get a dog and spend many hours walking on the beach in Wales. Re-join my choir, spend time with old friends – and in between, do some work! Oh, and catch up with my reading!

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  • Louise Loxton

    Judith I am sure you will be missed by colleagues as you were by me when I left St Bonaventure’s in 1986!
    I’m back in Singapore but hope to see you in December in Wales!