By Chantell Wyten
The future is here it is just not very evenly distributed – William Gibson, American-Canadian Writer
What drew me to the IB Career-related Programme (CP), as a pedagogical and curriculum leader, was the flexible framework it proposed. Here, I explain how the flexibility of the CP could translate into credible but creative course designs. Designs that could be tailored and most importantly be accessible and understood by the learner.
Every teacher appreciates the often unfounded feeling of being dated, behind the times and dare I say expendable in an era where an expanding universe of educational-bodies appear to be controlling reform. Students are moving at equal pace on their unpredictable paths, attempting to meet or creatively avoid imposed standards! Invariably teachers and school leaders are charged with being the ‘glue’ and occasionally the moral compass responsible for navigating challenges set by multiple stakeholders. From where I started my teaching career, the pace of current change left me feeling that tailored curriculum design might not be obtainable.
However, I have always been firmly committed to systematically promoting and assessing skills for lifelong learning. Aiming to bridge the gap between the needs of young people and a system that doesn’t know how to assess, or sometimes even value, the formation of ideas or failure and wanting to offer courses with flexibility for adaptation and the ‘freewheeling’ culture that today’s learners are comfortable with.
A balancing act
All components of the CP reflect this by balancing academic and career-related objectives creating a programme that is bespoke to student needs without disrupting school infrastructure, timetabling or budgets. I have never been an advocate of disruptive change but the last set of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) data affirmed that increasing school autonomy was directly linked to the increase of student achievement. Therefore, this became a convincing piece of evidence in encouraging school governors to allow us to develop our own CP offering.
Developing the CP began in 2010 with three concepts at the forefront of our minds: transdisciplinary, coherence and global realities/possibilities. We hoped that we could blend the CP core, career-related study and Diploma Programme (DP) courses in a way that would drive learning through real world projects where students could apply and develop their real skills; ultimately aiming for a collaborative but personalized, sustainable model. We soon realized that technology would be the best leverage point where students and teachers could embrace the complexity to map out a desirable CP curriculum and how we could all better manage the changes that arose from the reoccurring question: what next?
It is a challenge to harness the skills young people have in the digital age and one that not all teachers in a school will be comfortable with. I will always remember the first tentative all staff conversation regarding student use of mobile phones in the classroom, which was met with a healthy amount of skepticism! Students really led the way in showing their desire to utilize multiple technologies as tools to support their learning and help manage their work loads. This opened the door to conversations which built the foundations of our personal and professional studies (PPS) course. The benefits of having technology to hand are easily justified for the DP courses. Teachers are eager to have support and quick reference points when new to the IB, however in the PPS course students were innovating daily and becoming more pro-active in a way that organically transferred to other contexts and communities, pushing teachers to match their pace. For example, the topic of online child protection was researched and taught by two Year 12 students in PPS, which raised unknown concepts and concerns for their classroom teacher, who in turn took the information to senior leaders who commissioned the initial ‘thought leaders’ to present this new information to the entire school. An authentic, high stakes experience for two students that could not be simulated.
The CP framework helped me to accept that I couldn’t predict the future of educational change or employment implications for the young people I felt very responsible for. However, in order to prioritize their wellbeing, it was open-mindedness and not foresight that was the key attribute I needed to develop for myself and staff so that we could change our focus from ‘teaching’ to nurturing individual potential.
The IB mission and values are clearly still at the heart of the CP and no doubt the end product remains the desire to develop internationally-minded, well-rounded young adults ready to contribute to society. In my experience CP students have an added edge: they are fiercely proud of their social skills yet hold the responsibility of their life choices carefully; seamlessly applying their ‘classroom’ lessons to what they seek or hope for in the wider world. Undeniably the CP expanded my definition of ‘common purpose’ and affirmed my role as a teacher: to be open to new learning, with the courage to model continual personal development whilst honoring my own desire to ‘play’ in the hope of being better equipped to defend the voice and insights of my students as they navigate their journey in learning.
Chantell Wyten is the IB Career-related Programme Curriculum Manager and former Head of Sixth Form at King Ethelbert School, Kent, UK.
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