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The transformative nature of an IB education

By Charmagne Braden

What came out of taking this risk was truly amazing. A fully student-led theatrical production.

I am often asked, when speaking with prospective parents and students, to explain what makes an IB education so incredibly special. When I hear this question, I usually turn to my colleague in the counseling department (and co-presenter), and with smiles on our faces we try to make the intangible aspects of an IB education tangible.

We begin by talking about what an IB education feels like. We share how the IB framework for teaching and learning prepares students for the world around them and ahead of them. We explain how the IB provides students with the opportunity to develop approaches to learning skills, such as critical and creative thinking, time management, and organization – to only name a few. We paint a picture of what inquiry-based learning looks like and how structuring our classes in this way will help students learn more deeply and retain their learning. We share examples of the amazing work students produce, their commitment to service and action, and teaching to the whole child.

Most importantly, though, we talk about the transformative nature of an IB education.

The IB framework for teaching and learning leads us, as educators, to change the classroom experience so that student learning is, first and foremost, meaningful and authentic. What we see, though, when an IB education becomes transformative is that student learning goes beyond the classroom in ways we might not even imagine, at times including our whole school community in the process.

Let’s flashback eighteen months when a group of four, then Middle Years Programme (MYP) 3 and 4 students, approached two of our teachers about creating an entirely student-led production to serve as the school’s only major theatrical production of 2018-19. To some this might have sounded like a daunting task, especially allowing students to be in charge of the process. However, as IB educators, we tend to model the same characteristics we’d wish to see in our students, so these two teachers took a risk (right out of the IB learner profile) and agreed to support these four students in their endeavor.

What came out of taking this risk was truly amazing. A fully student-led theatrical production.

This core group of students wrote (see our four writers in the first photo above) and directed the play, which explored the themes of social justice, environmental conservation, and intercultural understanding – themes directly related to the concepts they have explored through our MYP curriculum. They held auditions and cast the play to include over fifty HIS (Harare International School, Zimbabwe) student performers ranging in age from 5-17. Student dancers choreographed the dance numbers and one student composed all of the musical pieces. Under the supervision of an additional two teachers, students designed and built the sets, as well as the costuming. Two students managed the entire backstage crew of twenty, including make-up, sound, lights, the curtain, and set changes.

And while I know these students could not have done what they did without the guidance, dedication, and support of the teachers and parents supervising them, this was their show, in their voice, with their effort, their vision and their time.

As I watched the play unfold in front of me, with all of the pieces coming together beautifully, I realized that very evening that our entirely student-led production epitomizes the transformative nature of an IB education. Our students took a risk to do something that no one else had ever done at HIS. They were determined to try something new. They pulled from their knowledge and understanding of the world to present themes to their audience that were grounded in promoting
a “better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect” (IB mission statement). And, whether writer or stage manager, sound booth operator or actor, the approaches to learning skills all of these students used, practiced, and gained from putting on a production of this size will most certainly transfer far beyond the world of theatre. Their sense of accomplishment and camaraderie, as well as their ability to persevere and work together, has already shown them how much they can, when working together, achieve. And if that is not the result of a transformative education, then I don’t know what else it could be.

Every student involved in this production has so much to be proud of. And as for me, the next time someone asks me what makes an IB education so amazing, I’ll share this story with them.

Charmagne Braden is the Head of Teaching and Learning at Harare International School in Zimbabwe, where she also coordinates the IB Middle Years (MYP) and Diploma Programmes (DP). Charmagne has worked as an administrator and school leader in IB World Schools for the past five years, before which she taught in both the MYP and DP. As part of her work as a member of the IB Educator Network (IBEN), Charmagne leads MYP workshops and is trained as a site visit team member.  

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