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The IB’s Sean Rankin: Adapting to put schools first

Continuing our series connecting with IB staff members to share insight into their work, we connect with the IB’s Head of Authorization, Sean Rankin. He shares how his team has adapted the authorization process to support schools in successfully implementing IB programmes.

Authorization is a service that the IB offers to support schools in order to provide an IB education for their community. IB’s Head of Authorization, Sean Rankin, has seen the impact of an IB education as a teacher, a programme coordinator and head of school from the school’s side as well as through the different roles he’s had within the IB.

What key part of your work has changed since COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?

The biggest change for authorization as a result of COVID-19 has been the visitation process, as far as our verification visits. So, we really needed to make a shift to have a look at what could we do to still support our schools and really make sure we were being agile in the way that we went about that. Process-wise, we had a look at virtual visits to support our schools. It certainly wasn’t a small task in creating a process that would enable schools to move forward and allow the IB to still make sure we’re having schools meet the standards that we needed to.

“We’ve seen that we can really make sure the community is in it together during this very difficult time.”

I am extremely proud of my team as well as my schools division colleagues in making this happen so quickly, so that schools are still able to progress towards authorization. We had a look at the trends that were coming back from schools and from our educators to put forward proactive things that we can do based on what we’ve seen so far. We’ve now got a series of webcasts that are there for the programme specific pieces as well as some best practice documents that both schools and educators have shared with us.

We’ve seen that we can really make sure the community is in it together during this very difficult time. The authorization process is a joint process. We are here to support schools; that’s our primary role, and that’s what we love doing. We love working with schools to implement a really authentic IB education for the community, and I think if it’s being approached in that way as a partnership, you feel a little less resistant to reach out for help sometimes. You know, when we have schools that contact us to say: “We’re really struggling, we don’t know what inclusion looks like in the PYP, can you help us look at this?” We don’t see that as a weakness. We see that as a strength.

Can you share an example from a recent authorization visit?

One of our first schools that was scheduled for a visit, and it was a face-to face-visit, was shut down by the ministry just before the visit was due to occur. So, for the school this created quite a difficult situation. It was a school that it was their Diploma Programme (DP) visit. It was a school in which they had Middle Years Programme (MYP) students that were coming to the end of their programme, who were about to graduate and were looking forward to hopefully being able to take their diploma next year. If the visit couldn’t move forward, the school was in jeopardy of potentially not being able to offer their students a pathway through to senior education. What we did is, we partnered with them and then looked the virtual process we do have and their specific context. We asked: “Will it be anyone in the school? Will students be there, will leaders? And as we worked with them in these very early stages, we found that they were going to have a small administrative team that was going to be in the school. I think it was four of them in the school, and everyone else was going to be remote. So, we setup the visit so the administrative team were sort of all together in one room for the in-school bits. They were able to still take a thorough tour of the school, they were able to show us the labs, they were going to show us all, sort of bits and pieces that we want to see from a school on the facility side. And then, we were able to hold community meetings using virtual tools.

What advice do you have for schools beginning the authorization process?

“I would say that one of the best ways is to go out there and see it and speak to teachers and speak to leaders, and if you get the opportunity, speak to students”

When you’re implementing the IB, it can be a transformational experience for schools. But, for some schools, really it’s a way to enhance and strengthen some of those really good practices that are already occurring as well. And I think that it’s really important that as schools are considering IB programmes to think about their context and what this education will look like in their school community. I think the real way to understand what it could look like is to start speaking to staff that support schools. So, we’ve got a development team that is phenomenal in really helping schools understand what an IB education could look like for their community. And we partner with them really closely around sort of any specific contextual pieces that come up. I would say that one of the best ways is to go out there and see it and speak to teachers and speak to leaders, and if you get the opportunity, speak to students, because that’s where you really see the impact of an IB education.

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