The Evolution of Writing Unit Planners from a Newly Authorized School Perspective

Tracy King-Holmes, IB Coordinator, Burgess-Peterson Academy, USA

Since the release of “PYP: From principles into practice”, IB World Schools around the world have been engaging with the content and planning for implementation. Four schools at different stages of their IB journey are sharing their approach to understanding and implementing the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) enhancements in their own context. Here is the second story in the series that features a candidate school in the USA and illustrates how they are exploring the enhanced content.

 We have been on our journey to Authorization since August 2015.  As with any journey there is excitement about the final destination, however there are also some reservations because there are unexpected twists, turns and definite unknowns.  We started our journey really excited; there was buy-in from administration, faculty and staff, stakeholders and definitely our parents!  The car was packed, we had mapped our course.  We were fueled up and ready to go!  We had no idea what it would take to get there but we were all ready for this amazing ride!

After riding along, we embedded the learner profile attributes into our day-to-day schedule. Every teacher has an inquiry board in their classroom with the learner profile, transdisciplinary theme, central idea, lines of inquiry, key concepts and students wondering/questions.  We learned more about inquiry, key concepts, transdisciplinary themes and action through in-house professional development and official IB trainings.  We were finding our way slowly but surely.  There isn’t a roadmap that tells you how to become authorized because all schools are different and I’ve found that you can ask questions all day but in the end, you have to do what works best for the students that you serve.

The first attempt at writing planners for each grade level was interesting.  We set a goal that by the end of the first year of implementation we would have two planners written, taught, and reflected upon!  Thinking back at this goal, I chuckle because we didn’t equip ourselves with enough time in our master schedule to get this goal accomplished.  At the end of year one we had two planners written for grades Kindergarten through Fifth, one planner completely taught, another planner rushed and neither of the planners were reflected on…a far cry from where we thought we would be.  This was absolutely a different kind of work than we were doing previously and if we were going to complete 36 planners by year two, we had to rethink the time we spent developing our planners per grade level. To make things more interesting, our state standards were changing the upcoming year, so I felt the work that we had put in would all be in vain.

If we were going to get our planners developed, we would have to find much more common planning time in order to collaboratively work together.  This common planning time would be found by strategically developing our master schedule for the upcoming school year.  I can honestly say that master scheduling has never been my favorite thing in the world to do.  I would much rather do cafeteria duty alone the day before spring break than to figure out the intricate details of an effective day to day schedule!

The master scheduling team, headed by our principal, went to work devising a plan to incorporate “Super Specials” in our daily schedule in which our teachers would have back-to-back specials at least twice a week.  During this uninterrupted time, homeroom teachers could plan collaboratively twice weekly for 75 to 80 minutes to write, revise and reflect on the planners.  The Specialty teachers transitioned the students when it was time for them to go to the next special.  The implementation of “Super Specials” within our master schedule made all the difference and gave us the time that we were needing write effective planners for our programme of inquiry.

During our planning time together, we would focus on different sections on the planner.  We used an IB resource called the “bubble planner” that walked us step by step in developing our planners.  We wanted to make sure that our planners were transdisciplinary. We used Social Studies and Science standards to start, but we also incorporated English Language Arts with fables and folktales from diverse cultures as well as stories and literature that provided facts and background knowledge. This way students would be challenged and questioned to make sure that they referred back to texts they had read or heard to push critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills that are required for success in life.

It was important that all teachers were included in the collaborative planning process.  We were definitely making much more progress than the year before.  Weekly professional learning community time was uninterrupted and we found our rhythm in planning, writing, reflecting and revising planners as needed.

One problem we encountered was figuring out how to incorporate our specialty team (Art, Music, PE, Spanish, Tech) into collaborative planning on a consistent basis.  As a solution, we decided to structure a teacher work day such that the specialty team spent time collaborating with each grade level team.  The planners from each grade level were presented to the specialty team and each teacher gave input and ideas on how to drive the inquiry within each specialty area.  These sessions were very productive and now our planners are even more transdisciplinary because we are including specials into driving the inquiry.  As we schedule more sessions like this, our planners will become richer in content.  Our next step is for the specialty team to collaborate on writing a planner together that will be centered around our school wide “field trip” to Jamaica so that students can inquire into the culture of the Caribbean natives, and so that international-mindedness can be cultivated within our students.

We are still learning and improving, however I can say there is a clear difference in the quality of our planners from the first attempt to where we are now a year later.  All of our planners are written and we have even written a few stand-alone planners.  We have focused on creating purposeful, authentic learning engagements for our students.  The planning is more intentional through our teacher collaboration sessions.  Learning is more student-centered with an emphasis on inquiry.  Our students are able to make more connections through the teaching of concepts across content areas.  The IB learner profile has improved overall student attitudes and behavior. We have interwoven the IB learner profile into our daily Social Emotional Learning to enhance our approaches to learning.  The school culture has truly embraced IB through conversations, active participation and a general awareness of international-mindedness.  I am proud of where we are in such a short time and I know that we are only going to get stronger in the months to come!

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Tracy King has a total of 24 years’ experience working with elementary students and teachers. She has been the IB Coordinator at Burgess-Peterson Academy since 2014. The school is focused on becoming an IB World School. Tracy supports teachers in improving the quality of  inquiry-based lessons. She is a proponent for promoting student agency by leading a group of IB Student Ambassadors who are a representative group of students serving as the student voice of Burgess-Peterson Academy. She is passionate about the overall well-being of all students and providing them with an equitable, high-quality education on a daily basis by supporting, assisting, inspiring, motivating and preparing teachers to be catalysts for change. You can follow her on Twitter @IBatBPA.

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Be on the lookout for the third in a series of planning for implementation stories next week. We will share the continued journey of an IB World School in India.

2 Responses to The Evolution of Writing Unit Planners from a Newly Authorized School Perspective

  1. Zulfia Harisingani 15 May 2019 at 2:40 am #

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s go to know that all our learning journeys across the world transpire and culminate in similar ways. Good luck to you and your school!!!

  2. Niru 19 May 2019 at 5:29 am #

    I’d love to see a copy of this. Do share..if you are ok with that.
    niru.raghuram@etonhouse.edu.sg

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