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Revitalising the advisory curriculum through a conceptual lens

Welcome to the second in a series of blog posts that feature stories from Middle Years Programme (MYP) practitioners in IB World Schools around the globe. We follow their journey of implementing the enhancements to the MYP following its review and first teaching in 2014. In this post we hear from Vicki Gardner, MYP Arts workshop leader and online facilitator, Senior reviewer for the new IB’s Building Quality Curriculum service, Diploma Programme (DP) examiner and contributing IB curriculum writer. 

vicki standing suitOver the course of my teaching career, I have become very interested in pastoral care and writing a pastoral curriculum that reinforces a holistic approach to education. In some schools this teaching time is called ‘advisory time’ or ‘tutor time.’ Having had responsibility for both pastoral care and the accompanying pastoral curriculum, in the UK and at international schools around the world, has given me plenty of scope for trying out new ideas and experimenting with the best way to use this advisory/tutor time to support the students holistically.

The release of MYP: From principles into practice (September 2014)* indicated that the significance of social emotional learning (SEL) in the IB programmes was increasing. The references to the role of SEL in this documentation triggered a new direction for the advisory curriculum in my school. What would happen if we taught SEL through concepts and big ideas? How would the advisory lesson change if the contents were connected to a conceptual and contextual unit? How could we design a pastoral curriculum that supported approaches to learning (ATL) skill development, age-specific pastoral topics, and enhanced the holistic nature of the Middle Years Programme (MYP) in our school?

In his work for Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Laboratory, the psychology professor Maurice Elias describes social emotional learning as, “The process through which we learn to recognise and manage emotions, care about others, make good decisions, behave ethically and responsibly, develop positive relationships, and avoid negative behaviours.” Through this definition, it is possible to observe clear potential connections to aspects of the Middle Years Programme (MYP) framework, including ATL skills, the IB learner profile, attributes, and international mindedness.

In order to begin developing an advisory/pastoral curriculum, a framework of basic principles was created to drive the work:

Pastoral Curriculum Basic Principles:

The curriculum must:

  • guide and counsel students
  • support students with the programme demands of aspects of the MYP
  • support students through social emotional learning (SEL)
  • explore developmentally appropriate topics
  • promote the development of balanced learners

An outline of the foundations of the Middle Years Programme (MYP) social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum

Building on these driving principles, the next challenge was to investigate whether it was possible to cover the traditional pastoral curriculum topics within a MYP framework. How is it possible to put topics such as bullying, sex education and school rules within a conceptual framework? The table below outlines the authentic connections that are possible to make between SEL topics and bigger, conceptual ideas.

Information Table

Outlining ideas for possible ways to conceptualise pastoral curriculum topics

This unique SEL curriculum was introduced to Bladins International School in August 2015. The scope and sequence includes three units for each of the MYP year; each unit concludes with a performance of understanding that gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the statement of inquiry.

Abenaa Uttenhal, an MYP year 2 advisor teacher at Bladins International School reflects, “When we teach the mentor curriculum through concepts, students can more clearly see the connections to their every day life – they get it! The discussions we have in class make us think about ourselves. It makes us realise who we are in the world. We are important in the world but we are not the only ones in it. Teaching SEL through concepts helps it to make sense to the students, it makes learning relevant and makes students see ‘this matters to me’.”

The SEL curriculum at Bladins International School has been enhanced by the local environment and visiting guest speakers. The UK Anti-Bullying Alliance team visited in April 2016 and delivered presentations to students from Primary Years Programme (PYP) and MYP. The focus of these presentations was to explore bullying in connection to cultural heritage and in how we relate to others online.

Lauren Seager-Smith, Anti-Bullying Alliance Coordinator commented that, “With adolescence comes sometimes painful self-awareness and the more we support our children to understand and value who they are, the more they are open to difference in others.”

Through the concepts of ‘Identity’, ‘Communication’ and ‘Boundaries’ and the global context, ‘Identities and Relationships’, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) presentation generated the statement of inquiry: Though we have free choice in the way we reveal our identity to others, our actions are often influenced by our personal and cultural boundaries.

Seager-Smith said, “This is not a stand-alone topic, but a work in progress that can be explored throughout the curriculum and school life.” This statement of inquiry would enable students to inquire into a range of related topics and, through this, understand the big idea much more deeply.

Thomasina Warren, an MYP year 2 advisory teacher at Bladins, sees that teaching the bigger ideas behind the pastoral topics has huge benefits for the students, “Teaching through concepts has helped students to take autonomy over the direction of their ideas and has increased the depth of self-exploration and understanding of how they fit in the world.”

The statement of inquiry has given students an opportunity to reflect deeply on who they are and how aspects of their identity are represented in different contexts. The unit will conclude with a performance of understanding that allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the big ideas explored throughout the course of the unit.

Teaching pastoral topics through concepts and contexts has energised the advisory classroom at Bladins. Suddenly, the pastoral curriculum has real relevance in the lives of the students, the connections in their learning are both explicit and authentic and students have an increased awareness of their place in the world. The benefits of bringing the MYP conceptual framework into the pastoral classroom are only just being uncovered, but early signs indicate that it is a positive thing for the community, the students and the programme as a whole.

“Success in school is closely related to personal, social and emotional well-being. At a time when students are establishing their identity and building their self-esteem, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) can motivate students and help them to achieve success in school and in life beyond the classroom.” – MYP: From principles into practice (September 2014)

* MYP: From principles into practice (September 2014) can be found on the IB programme resource centre for IB educators and authorized IB World Schools.