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What makes a successful PYP leader?

By Emily Vanderkamp


New research explores the roles of principals and coordinators in schools offering the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP).

A recent study conducted by researchers at The University of Nottingham explored the links between school leadership and the implementation of the PYP. Using staff surveys and in-depth interviews, the researchers conducted case studies in six schools in five different European countries (Austria, England, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands) and Sweden.

At each school, teachers and school leaders (such as principals and PYP coordinators) completed a questionnaire examining their attitudes toward the implementation of the PYP within their school. In general, the responses showed very positive views of the PYP and its implementation. Principals were seen as “guardians” of the school culture and had the role of developing a vision for the school and a strategy for achieving the goals of the PYP. As one principal explained, “a curriculum is only part of the PYP. It is a mindset, a culture. It’s the whole package. Although [the PYP coordinator] will look at the curriculum and make sure that the teachers are ticking the boxes […] my job is the bigger vision about the school being an international-minded, inquiry-minded place.” Regarding leadership roles, the school principal was seen as being responsible for the overarching strategic elements of leadership while the PYP coordinator was perceived by staff as being more directly involved in the work of teachers and PYP implementation.

Responses also suggested that principals and PYP coordinators generally demonstrated the qualities of the learner profile. Respondents felt that PYP coordinators, in particular, were willing to listen to others and were enthusiastic about their own learning. One teacher interviewed said of the school’s PYP coordinator, “she coordinates all our planning and does a lot of coordination of the pre-assessments and keeps us all on track. She coordinates all the information from our pre-and post-assessments. She is on hand if you want help with conceptual learning […]. She is very supportive of us, and if you need help or support, she is always there.”

This level of support is a challenge to achieve, however. In all but one of the schools, PYP coordinators were classroom teachers as well as part-time school leaders. These multiple roles were sometimes overwhelming, providing little time for responsibilities such as the professional development of teachers new to the programme. Furthermore, PYP coordinators were often not members of the senior leadership team responsible for making key strategic decisions for the school, despite coordinators’ significant role in planning and implementing the PYP.

Based on the study, the researchers identified several implications for school practice:

  • The kind of structures and cultures established by the principal are likely to have either positive or negative effects on the quality, effectiveness, and practices of the PYP coordinator.
  • Schools in which principals have had personal experience with teaching the PYP are more likely to model PYP values and practices.
  • PYP implementation is likely to be improved when the PYP coordinator is part of the core senior leadership team and is provided with appropriate “time to lead” the induction and continuing professional development of PYP teachers.

Want to learn more? Read the research summary or full report.