“The importance of knowledge transfer cannot be underestimated,” says IBEN member Matthew Thomas. “Within the IB community, it is the educators who truly understand the efforts needed to teach and implement the programmes.”
Thomas, who is Vice-Dean of International Education at Ritsumeikan Uji Junior and Senior High School in Uji, in Japan’s Kyoto prefecture, stresses how vital the IB Educator Network (IBEN) is to the IB community as a whole.
This group of IB practitioners from around the world have the job of mentoring schools on their IB journey and offering support and professional development to fellow teachers. In addition to professional development, they carry out school visits, observing and reporting back on candidate and IB World Schools’ implementation of the IB programmes, standards and practices. They also advise and consult with new schools seeking authorization.
Here, Thomas explains to IB World editor Sophie-Marie Odum how IBEN offers rich learning opportunities for both members and the educators they work with.
Sophie-Marie Odum (SMO): What is your role within IBEN?
Matthew Thomas (MT): I am on both the school visits team and I host professional development workshops. But I’ve done more visits over the past five years because, when I joined IBEN, I was initially asked to take that role. Then I became a consultant.
I later started to host workshops and provide training. I’ve also done report reading. When a site visitor writes a report for the IB, the IB uses IBEN as quality control, to make sure the report reads well, conforms to IB standards and assesses the correct things within a school.
The IB uses an IBEN consultant as the first point of contact and as one-to-one contact when a school is going through the authorization process or the candidate phase of becoming an IB World School. Consultants go into schools as ambassadors for the IB.
In my view, IBEN is what makes the IB unique. It also helps account for much of the loyalty teachers have for the IB.
SMO: How do you become involved in IBEN?
MT: It’s a fairly competitive process. You apply by sending a video and CV. There are a couple of screening rounds – the training is pretty rigorous. The IB is always looking for new talent, especially from different areas, or people who have specialisms, such as language skills.
Several years ago I was asked by someone in the IB office if I would consider applying. In Asia, the needs are always evolving. There’s a focus on finding people who can speak a second Asian language.
SMO: How do you ensure your professional workshops are engaging?
MT: I get delegates up and on their feet, and I encourage them to contribute without pushing them too much. As a workshop facilitator, I am the authority on the topic and have all of the relevant information at hand, but I do not drone on. I aim to empower educators to feel confident enough to bring their experiences to the table and share them.
If I’m doing a three-day workshop, I will schedule the first two days, and only lightly schedule the third day, as I want to be responsive to what the group needs. As a facilitator, I try to elicit from them what they really need to take away from the workshop. This is in addition to the topics that I am supposed to cover during training.
SMO: How do you balance both your roles as an IB educator and an IBEN consultant?
MT: My school’s great. They allow me a lot of flexibility, but I’ve definitely had to pick and choose the roles I’m interested in. Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to train incoming IBEN members. I’ve had to do fewer school visits as a result.
Schools are fascinating. Even though they are working toward the same set of criteria or standards, schools are still so varied and different. I enjoy going into schools and I always learn something.
SMO: What have you gained since becoming involved with IBEN?
MT: The understanding that there are so many different right ways to do something, and so many interesting ways to do it. That’s always something I enjoy. I have great colleagues at school who I see every day, but I also enjoy being part of a wider professional network. It helps me stay current and understand what people are up to, and what the different trends are.
I really enjoy learning about the challenges in different countries. Education often intersects with politics. Here, in Asia, the political frameworks in which schools have to operate can be very challenging. There are different attitudes towards international education at different levels of society.
I learn a lot from seeing how educators are part of the wider social and political world, and how schools navigate those situations. I think it makes me better at my job, too. Being able to evaluate the trade-offs when there is a difficult decision to make—and not necessarily a single right answer—is really interesting.
SMO: Why is professional development so important?
MT: In the IB we advocate lifelong learning for our students. That’s a buzzword that’s thrown around a lot, but I don’t think there’s any substitute for personal development, in terms of pushing yourself to be a lifelong learner, and not standing still.
A lot of professions are changing quickly, but as a teacher it is still possible to do the same thing year in year out, if that’s what you want to do. But science, technology and the media we interface with is all changing, as is the way students think about things, process them and synthesize information.
Professional development is crucial to keep up with the times, sharpen our practice and to reflect on it. I think everybody should be doing it on an annual basis.
Interested in joining the exceptional group of people who form the IB Educator Network (IBEN)? Find out more.
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