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The history of the IB global conference

Today’s IB Voices guest probably needs no introduction. For those of you who have been in the IB community for the better part of our past 50 years, you’ll know this man just by the sound of his laughter, or his commanding, gravelly voice. Of course, I am talking about Paul Campbell, Head of Development & Outreach for IB Americas.

With the IB Global Conference coming later this year to Toronto, Canada, it felt like the perfect time to sit down with Paul and talk about the history of the IB conference, how it fits into the greater IB mission, and reflect on some of Paul’s fondest memories of previous conferences.


Paul, before we get into talking about the IB Global Conference in Toronto, could you introduce yourself?

So, my name is Paul Campbell and I’ve been with the IB for 31 years…I think I’m the longest serving employee amongst the current IB staff worldwide. And I found my way to the IB almost by accident. I was trained as journalist in college and worked as one in the New York city area. During that time, I also began to work at non-profits, and found it to be much more satisfying work. So, when I was deciding whether to go back to school or stick with, a former colleague alerted me to a job opportunity at an organization I had never heard of before called…International Baccalaureate. And I joke that I got the job because I was able to spell “Baccalaureate” correctly.

When I started, it was only four of us in a small office near the Empire State Building in Manhattan. And I watched the IB grow from 250 schools to more than 5,000, and from one programme to four.

What I always say is that, at the time, I needed a job, which became a career, which became a mission, which is becoming a legacy.

Listen to the full interview on the IB Voices podcast

Was education always something that was important to you?

Well, if you look at my own educational record, the evidence says “no.” But, if you look at my family history, my respect for teachers, educators, and my incipient understanding of the importance of education as a leveler of all playing fields, the answer is definitely “yes.”

So, during your tenure at the IB is when the inception of a global conference came about, correct?

Yes. At the beginning, there were very informal gatherings not run by the IB in North America, affectionately called “clam bakes.” They were wherever people wanted to host, from Chicago to Winnipeg to Covington, Kentucky to just outside Cincinnati. Some of the early IB schools decided they would gather people just for discussion on teaching and best practices. Back then there were so few schools that were scattered, too, they felt a strong need to come together and to be with people who understood the IB.

The very first IB conference was in 1992 in Breckenridge, Colorado – and I’ve been to all of the Americas conference since then. The global conferences took off from there.


Why do you think that people who teach IB programmes or work with the IB have a passion to connect?

I mean, I think you just answered your own question. The passion that is attached to being involved in the IB is remarkable compared to other educational programs. Other educational programs have their conferences, some are bigger, but the sense of identity that people feel when they’re at an IB school, whether a teacher, administrator, student, parent or community leader, is unique. Unusual. It certainly is powerful.

There’s great comfort in being together with people who already understand the importance of the IB, I want these people for three and half days at our conference to understand how important they are. My philosophy is that these are teachers are principals, assistant principals, coordinators, school board members who work incredibly hard. They deserve to be treated like world-class guests. So that’s what we aspire to provide. So, they leave with a sense of connection and energy to take on the next challenge at school.

Who are some of the early guest speakers you remember?

I keep a running list of our speakers, and I think there’s about 200 names on it. But, there are people that I remember as kind of “breakthrough” speakers. We had Ken Robinson, Dan Pink. We had Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner, who knew a little bit about the IB, but a lot about international affairs. Sometimes our speakers are well known, sometimes their well enough known.

Actually, the last time we were in Toronto, our final speaker was an author named Margaret Atwood. And this was right before The Handmaid’s Tale became a phenomenon and she just delighted us. I asked her to write a defense of the liberal arts, and she did so in such a classic fashion, with that twinkle in her eye, no showmanship, but, you know, this kind of penetrating analysis of the important of being well-rounded or being able to look at problems from a variety of perspectives.

Most often there are people who have something very powerful to say, but . When I look for a speaker, I’m not looking for a name that people recognize. I’m looking for people whose story will resonate with the IB community.

What can we look forward to at the 2020 conference in Toronto?

One thing that is really important to remember when you’re involved in the IB is that it’s an international organization. We have schools in more than 150 countries. Our second largest country is Canada. It has been for a long time. Many of our best schools are in Canada – and the Canadians are way too modest about this! And we like to make sure the Canadian perspective is represented, particularly the bilingual perspective. So, we have French language sessions and French language speakers.

And Toronto is incredible. It’s the most diverse city in the world and it has this vibrancy of multiculturalism. So, come to Toronto to enjoy the city, the food, and everything this unique city has to offer. And then come to the conference to get together with your peers, learn new strategies, teach each other, and connect with people from all over the world.

If you want to catch up with Paul and the amazing IB community, register now for the IB Global Conference in Toronto. You can still sign up at the early-bird price until March, so grab your IB friends, and register today.

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This interview was conducted by Zachary Fernebok, Product Marketing Manager for the Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme at the International Baccalaureate, and one of the hosts of IB Voices. Listen to more stories from students, schools, educators and more on the IB Voices podcast.

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