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Using local leaders to launch the PYP exhibition

In this article you will read how a PYP school in Germany—as a way to spark enthusiasm—launched the PYP exhibition using community leaders who have turned their passions and beliefs into action focused careers.

As an initiative to kick-off the PYP exhibition, our grade 6 team planned a special whole-day event that would take place a month prior to the start of the unit. The purpose behind this was to increase engagement, spark curiosity and generate ideas that could be used for the exhibition groupings. A variety of mini-workshops were planned that focused on useful areas of the PYP exhibition, including: collaboration, identifying concepts, taking action and thinking about all of their interests. Before the workshops began, we led with an event that was particularly successful; guest speakers sharing how they turned their passions and beliefs into actions that empower people. This idea arose from a new colleague who had tried something similar in a previous school.

During the preparation process, we agreed to use the many resources we had in our community, namely the expertise of the people. We developed some loose criteria for who we should invite: ideally, the group would be representational of our diverse school community and be able to share how they turned their passions/beliefs into action. We set ourselves the challenge of finding leaders who could demonstrate how these actions may be local, global and sustainable. It was important to find engaging speakers who would ensure the students feel that their inquiries in the exhibition will make a lasting impact. Fortunately, we did not have to look far outside of the school walls.

After reaching out to multiple people, we secured several local leaders who were available to support us on the kick-off day. The idea was to keep it short and exciting, giving each speaker ten minutes to present and answer questions.

Here is a brief summary of the guest speakers:

  • A young environmentalist who became passionate about saving the rain forests when he was the age of our students and now works for an organization that raises awareness and funds to purchase and protect swaths of land. He shared pictures, personal stories of camping and research work in the rain forest, and how it has forged his future.
  • Another speaker shared his work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the creative side to solving complex problems. This was particularly interesting to the children as they had previously spent time inquiring into The Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
  • A parent shared her exciting journey from the Netherlands to Berlin in order to start a business that helps other companies collaborate better, celebrate milestones, and develop a culture of creativity.

It was a lot for our students to process, but judging by the questions and discussions that arose following the speeches, it left a positive impression on them. They understood the interlacing threads that connected all of the speakers. It brought out ideas and questions of leadership, following interests, being happy with their profession and most of all, a better understanding of what authentic action looks like.

With the success of this experience, we decided to invite another guest speaker for the first day of the exhibition. A parent shared her journey of being politically active from high school through her current role in founding organizations that empowered women to become active in politics. She discussed her experiences and the challenges faced along the way. An exceptionally passionate speaker, she encouraged the students to follow their beliefs as these may lead to positive action.

While these experiences have been an engaging way to kick off the exhibition and talk about peripheral ideas of leadership, presentation skills and action, they have also presented challenges, particularly around trying to find a single time to organize multiple people (with busy schedules). Also, interacting with three speakers over an hour proved to be somewhat overwhelming. In reflection, (teacher and student) we felt this would be better spread over several weeks. It would give the students a chance to revisit ideas, build positive culture and spark enthusiasm during the moments of the exhibition when the creative energy wains. I would recommend using the assets of the school community (we are all leaders!) through promoting their stories and action. We found this activity to be engaging and inspiring for the students and provided great links to the community. This will definitely be revisited in future exhibitions.

Tim Stroh is the PYP Coordinator for the ELC and Primary at Berlin Metropolitan School. He is also an IB PYP Consultant for the AEM region. Prior to working at BMS, Tim has taught and held positions of leadership in England, Italy and Cyprus. He is passionate about concept-based curriculum and instruction as well as developing inquiries that expand beyond the classroom walls. He welcomes collaboration and dialogue. You can follow him on Twitter @BMS_PYPC.