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Creating a dialogue about stress

Eleni Vardaki received her IB diploma from the Anglo-American School of Moscow and began her career as a theory of knowledge (TOK) and IB history teacher. She used her experience as both an alumnus and educator to address questions about the IB diploma from students and parents on her website. We invited her to present her views on one of the most common topics: workload and stress.


by Eleni Vardaki

Back in May 2016, I interviewed one of my lovely former IB History and TOK students, Kleio Kartalis, to talk about coping strategies for managing the stress of the IB Diploma Programme (DP). As a former DP graduate, I’m part of a minority of IB teachers in the world who have actually done the IB diploma.

One of the problems that arises from a worldwide education system where a significant majority of teachers (and parents) have never done the DP themselves, is that it can sometimes feel hard to know how to best help your students, or child, manage stress.

From the perspective of students, it can sometimes feel like no one “gets” what they’re going through.  And to top it all off, this is the first time in students’ lives when they experience so much independence, from making life choices to managing their time effectively, as well as so much responsibility. It can be a lot to handle. Exams, the extended essay, creativity, activity, service (CAS), and theory of knowledge (TOK). And then there are the life choices, where to apply to university, how, by when…

We must first appreciate the value of listening to IB students themselves…and understand what it is that they’re going through.

I have seen a surge in IB diploma students wanting to hear from successful IB graduates, like Kleio, as a sign that it’s time we all started bridging the communication gap between school principals, teachers, parents, and students, on the topic of stress.

While preparing for IB exams one of my IB history students once said: “Why can’t mindfulness and things like yoga lessons be scheduled into the school day?”

The answer is: it can.

And in some very forward-thinking IB schools, it is.

But such schools are the exception, rather than the norm. For a real change to happen to the well-being of IB students around the world, it requires a multi-layered approach to talking about stress amongst all parties in a school community, with a willingness for all to implement changes on the systemic level, as well as on the level of the individual.

But before any of that can happen, we must first appreciate the value of listening to IB students themselves, to listen to the words they use when they talk about stress and understand what it is that they’re going through.

Kleio’s talk is a gem of a resource for teachers and educators to share with their school communities, and I hope that it inspires dialogue around systemic reform and increased emotional support.

I encourage you to use Kleio’s example to create discussion among graduates from your own programme. Assemblies, homeroom, and professional meetings are all good times to listen to students. Success is more than just a number. If Kleio’s talk resonates with you, watch it and share it with the people who you feel would find it helpful! Because #sharingiscaring.


Eleni Vardaki is a former IB graduate from the Anglo-American School of Moscow with a Masters in Education from Cambridge University. She’s taught more than 300 IB Diploma candidates since 2013 in her roles as a TOK and IB History teacher. Her work life is now split between continuing to teach some IB and IGCSE History students part-time for a local IB school, as well as looking after her clients who enroll in her exclusive online confidence training programs. To contact her, go to: elenivardaki.com