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Candidacy and connectedness

Jonathan Shrapnel, year one teacher, Caulfield Grammar School, Malvern Campus, Australia

This article reflects on the journey of an IB candidate school in Australia and the immediate benefits of a sense of connectedness across the community.

Connectedness, authentic collaboration and the catalyst for much-needed change – this is what candidacy for the IB PYP brought to the Malvern Campus of Caulfield Grammar School last year. Only a few months into our journey and the sense of optimism and enthusiasm for this change has continued to rise.

Prior to our involvement in the Victorian PYP Network, Australia, our school was its own proverbial island within an archipelago of similarly isolated private, independent schools. The nature of such schools meant that sharing was not always encouraged, so teachers were limited in their capacity to learn with and from other practitioners outside of their own context.

Then came candidacy and our teachers were released into professional development opportunities such as the “TeachMeet” initiative and “Open Schools Fortnight”. In spite of our infancy, a significant proportion our teaching staff chose to present at these TeachMeets, sharing our practice openly and learning from other passionate educators. Every teacher visited other PYP schools in the first six months of candidacy, forming new partnerships, reaffirming our practice and skyrocketing our learning in an impressively short time. No longer an island, we became significantly connected to other schools who shared a similar vision.

However, the sense of connectedness ran deeper than simply networking with other schools. Within our own staff, greater cohesion began to develop. Owing to our commitment to collaboration through the development of a new programme of inquiry, individual teachers were no longer solely responsible for their context. We began to embrace collective responsibility for the learning programmes across all year levels, and were given equal voice in the construction of others’ curriculum. This was thrilling for some, threatening for others and ultimately outstanding for our students. The rigour of our academic programme has advanced significantly, due to this practice. Whereas before each teacher owned their corner of the curriculum, with little regard for anything outside their context; now each teacher is committed to the learning of every student, to the betterment of all.

Another unexpected, yet welcome consequence of our commitment to collaboration has been the increased involvement of our local community in the learning of our students. Teachers have been encouraged to invite authentic,
relevant participation from parents and other organizations to further enhance the rigour of our programmes.

One example of this was the action taken by our Junior Primary staff. In the midst of a unit of inquiry focused on the ‘brain’, teachers invited parents who are doctors and surgeons as guest speakers and collaborated with our
secondary school students and staff in providing our year ones with the opportunity to dissect sheep brains. Teachers, students, parents and the local community partnered together in learning – yet another example of greater connectedness.

It is my hope that connectedness will run deeper still in the months to come. The growing thread of common PYP language among the whole community, intertwining with the trandisciplinary strands of a concept-driven curriculum, will soon result in a richer tapestry of learning at our school. It is amazing to think: we have only just begun.

Jonathan Shrapnel is a Leading Teacher for the Prep to Two team, teaching year one from 2017 at Caulfield Grammar School, Malvern Campus in Australia. He has been working in a PYP school for a year, but has had the privilege of teaching primary-aged students for the past fifteen years. He is passionate about student well-being, digital technologies and ensuring quality learning for every student for life. He tweets @jshrapnel.