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A Conversation with the Global Director of IB Professional Development

Anthony Tait has directed the IB’s professional development (PD) department since 2010. His long and varied career in education began many years earlier in Australia. Tait credits IB professional development with amplifying his professional passion and providing him with the means to magnify his impact. While an IB educator, he also was a university lecturer (in education), the chief assessor of Studies of Societies for the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia, an IB examiner and paper setter, an IB DP and MYP teacher, and an IB coordinator. In the following interview, Anthony explains why he believes IB PD is a critical support to life-long learners—both students and teachers.


QWhat fuels your passion for PD?

AT:  When I think about my own professional experience, PD traces my career and how I got here. Straight out of university, I started off as a very optimistic new teacher. When you’re that young and that enthusiastic, you believe that teaching is something you’re doing to really change the world. The rude awakening for most people when they first start is that teaching is very much an apprenticeship. You learn as much as you want in theory, but putting it into practice can be a very different story. Teachers get a lot of professional learning after they start their careers.

When I look back, far and away the most superior learning I got was on the job—and what enabled me to learn were the professional development opportunities I attended as a teacher. In my early days, I taught for the state education system in South Australia, so all my professional development was based around the local curriculum.  Later on, when I moved into an IB school, I got the IB professional development experience. That’s where a big transformation occurred— a big change in my perception, because for the first time I was with teachers from all over the world, rather than just staff teaching the South Australian curriculum. That was what got me interested! I said to myself, “Wow-–look at these amazing teachers and resources and ideas coming from all over the world.”

I’m a geographer and I remember delivering one of my first IB workshops: there were people from Fiji, Germany, China, India, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, and they were all teaching the same curriculum but in very different contexts. It made me appreciate the IB curriculum for what it does: it enables flexibility and joins together local context to a global curriculum. Plus, the fact that it enabled me to share best practice with teachers coming from a huge variety of experiences and cultures was really invigorating.

QHow has IB PD evolved since then?

AT:  When I first started teaching IB, there was very little professional development available. Teachers came from all over because there might have been only one geography workshop held every few years or so.

When I was a coordinator, it was very difficult to get your staff trained. Now an IB PD activity occurs every day of the week in some part of the world. Types of workshops and delivery modes have expanded, too. Back then, there was only the face-to-face workshop model. Now, we offer regional and outsourced PD-provider models; in-school, district, cluster, online and blended workshops. That means a lot more opportunity for teachers. We encourage IB teachers to continue their professional growth —because the IB is all about lifelong learning.

Q.  How did you choose the IB?

AT: I ended up teaching IB by chance.  I was in South Australia’s state system at a time when you got moved every five years because that’s how the system staffed remote, rural schools.  I ended up at the only state government school that taught IB. When I got the position, I didn’t even know what the curriculum was. There was no teacher training available for me.  In fact, I taught for many years before I went to my first workshop. Half the staff I had teaching IB curriculum rarely had the opportunity to receive IB training.

Q:  Did you have an ‘aha’ moment, when you realized that the IB offered something different and worthwhile for you to pursue professionally?

AT:  My ‘aha’ moment involved discovering greater motivation and interest. I had taught the South Australian curriculum most of my working life. Then comes the IB geography curriculum and it is much more focused on global issues such as poverty, sustainability and climate change. It encouraged much more critical study of human experiences, using economic and social environments, and looking through a global lens. It was a lot more exciting than looking at issues solely through an Australian curriculum lens. Being able to use my national context, but then extend it into more international areas was really stimulating. Then, to watch your students progress into careers in areas that the IB exposed them to-–things that got them interested in careers related to resource management, sustainable urban planning, conservation and the geopolitical arena-–was even more rewarding! Lots of students chose paths they would not have known about if not for the IB.

Q:   How critical is IB PD to the IB educator network (IBEN)?

AT:  Probably because I was an IB workshop leader, I strongly encourage IB teachers to consider becoming workshop leaders. The IB has developed a high-quality, research-based, workshop leader training package—one of the best professional development opportunities anyone will experience. What’s more, when you lead a workshop, you’re sharing best practice and getting all these new ideas from participants. I still get emails from teachers all over the world who keep in contact from the early 2000s, randomly asking me a question or sending me an example of a good teaching resource. Thankfully, social media enables us to be even more connected, and that’s what the IB portal [coming in June] will support: more connection through online communities and practice discussion around every single PD workshop. Through the new portal, the IB will take a big step forward in strengthening IBEN connections, while keeping PD fresh and relevant and supporting IB educators as the key links in sharing best practice.

QWhat would you say to heads or coordinators who find it difficult to find time or resources to send teachers to PD?

AT:  A big part of the IB philosophy is development of an ongoing professional learning community (PLC) within the school.  We are focusing on new ways to support heads and coordinators in developing and sustaining PLCs in their schools. Even if only a few teachers per year can attend IB PD, the expectation is that they return home and cascade that information to the rest of the faculty.  One teacher going out [to PD] is a good investment, because they come back and can contribute to the whole professional learning community within the school. You net greater value from your PD investment  this way.

PD options are greater now because we have more variety in delivery modes and price points. Five years ago there were only a handful of online workshops, but now we’ve developed an array of new ones that cover all four programmes. With online PD there’s no travel, there’s no lodging, there’s no out-of-school time, there’s no replacement teachers required—it’s the most economical PD option. We also offer in-school, district and cluster workshops, where we bring the workshop leader into or near your school to conduct professional development for many teachers at once. Also economical.

QDo you think expansion of IB PD has made it easier for teachers to excel at being IB teachers?

AT:  The ultimate aim of our professional development is to improve teaching and learning and to enhance the learning outcomes of our students. The IB has invested in a rigorous quality-assurance framework, which provides us with valuable data and enables us to continually improve our PD products and create new ones based on what IB schools ask for. For instance, we ask every teacher who undertakes professional development activity to provide their feedback in an evaluation survey. Then we go back to a percentage of those teachers within three to six months and ask them more questions to see how that particular workshop translated into their classroom practice. We gather numerous data points from a variety of sources, so we are able to triangulate the data to make informed decisions. We worked with some of the best research institutes in the world while developing our framework and the results are very encouraging.  The IB Research department also conducts detailed data analysis to provide us with key satisfaction drivers. To date, this analysis has confirmed that the key drivers relate back to the aims and objectives of the various categories of workshops—it’s very exciting.

QYour eye is mainly trained on the teacher and the coordinator. From that perspective, what more would you like to accomplish?

AT:  My first few years in this position were about developing professional development that enabled schools to be successful during authorization and evaluation. Getting out all the category 1 and 2 workshops was paramount to that goal. In the last couple of years, however, the emphasis has shifted to category 3 workshops, which we really want teachers to consider.  In their journey through IB PD, teachers need to understand that their starting points are category 1 and 2 workshops. Then it’s all about category 3, 3, 3, 3—where you find all the exciting topics on assessment, subject content, pedagogy, differentiation, inquiry and a lot more. To me, category 3 workshops are the most exciting because it’s where you can really dive deep into your own areas of interest. We also are focusing on PD for aspiring and experienced leaders. We have just completed two years of work with a number of world-class educators and universities to develop a new suite of PD leadership offerings. Later this year [2015] we will launch a series of workshops for aspiring IB leaders. In 2016, a series of master classes for experienced IB leaders will be ready for PD participants.

Q: What else is on the horizon for global PD?

AT:   We’re going to get more into informal [online] PD, which you may have noticed has increased significantly in the last few years—along with the popularity of our webinar series. Maybe you have heard about DP Advantage, which we began offering this year: it features self-paced e-learning modules, webinars and videos. As an informal PD subscription, DP Advantage enables teachers and coordinators to lead their own professional leaning communities by having access to a PD toolkit. When they meet with their own PLCs at school, they’ve got engaging resources from the toolkit to make it richer. That’s why DP Advantage is so useful for coordinators: they can use just a single element of it-–one video-–at a staff meeting with their IB teachers. Then they can deconstruct it, talk about what can be done better; use it to generate healthy discussion.  If I were still a coordinator, I would give a new teacher one of the self-paced e-learning modules and say, “Here’s a great resource for you on the programme; it’s basic and something you can do on your own time”.  The webinars can be used as group events or by individuals. You could do a whole jigsaw where teachers attend single webinars and then report back and share best practice that way. These rich IB resources really make professional learning communities come alive.

Providing PD that is less formal, of shorter duration, less expensively for all programmes is certainly on my radar.  We’re also doing market research into what our constituents want from blended models. That will inform how we develop more blended learning in the future. Soon, we will launch our first PD module for parents of Diploma students! It discusses TOK in language parents will appreciate; the e-learning module will be freely available on the IB website. DP coordinators also will find this module valuable to use at informational evenings with parents.

QYou paint a picture of the IB coordinator as the head mentor in a school.

AT:  They are important pedagogical leaders who play a very important role in making IB programmes successful.

QDo you still venture into IB PD workshops?

AT:  Every year, absolutely.  Not only because I want to keep in touch with our teachers, but because I love it. To go in and see a workshop being delivered by a passionate workshop leader and see how participants respond is extremely motivating.

Q:  Which workshops are on your ‘greatest hits’ list? 

AT:  There are many, but to name a few: for the PYP it’s play-based learning; concept-based learning; digital citizenship; encouraging creative instincts and literacy; math and symbolic learning in the early years. For the MYP, I’m a big fan of creating inclusive classrooms, global contexts for teaching and learning, managing assessment, MYP projects and affective skills. For the DP, I recommend approaches to teaching and learning, concepts and inquiry in the DP, TOK for subject teachers, extended essay and all the subject-based internal assessment workshops. We also offer some great continuum choices suitable for teachers in all programmes, such as flipping classrooms, education for international mindedness and inquiry in the learner profile. This year we will be developing additional workshops for the Career-related Programme, too. What really makes me proud of IB PD, however, is our peer-to-peer development model, where IB educators really become innovative. The entire IB community benefits from this model and the collective creative professionalism of our educators. To me, this is what makes IB PD really dynamic and exciting!