IB educator Mariel Reid shares insight on student agency and her classroom experience trialing a well-being hub with the IB. After working with her students to develop and implement their personal and social education (PSE), Mariel let her students take the reins with the trial, leading to an uptick in interest and engagement at all levels.
By Mariel Reid
“Propose, don’t impose.”
This simple phrase was said to me by a student, Luca, during a discussion on why many of his classmates did not want to participate in what appeared to be a very fun activity. He explained that they were not opposed to the activity but to the way it had been presented to them. Luca asked me why, if this activity was supposed to be fun for them, had no one asked them what they thought. “It’s all about how it’s presented, Miss. I mean, propose don’t impose.”
This phrase really hit home. In my years of teaching, I have seen what a huge difference in engagement, both academically and on a social-emotional level, simply asking a student, “what do you think?” makes. So, when I was approached by the IB to try out a new online hub about well-being to get student input, I was very intrigued.
Shortly thereafter, however, something no one could have predicted occurred: a national lockdown due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) began, and school was closed. When faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to continue with the trial, I turned to the experts for guidance: my students. I asked my students if they felt they could continue on and they assured me that they could. So we did.
While it may seem strange that I would let students make this decision, this particular group of students and I have a long history of working together on projects of this kind, and it is because of their work that the IB asked us to be involved in the first place. These students over the course of the 2018-2019 academic year developed and wrote their own personal and social education (PSE) curriculum, complete with learning outcomes and material suggestions for each topic. This experience, combined with my recent studies focussing on student agency in PSE, has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt just how powerful student agency is and how very, very inspiring young people can be. As my student Elvira recently noted:
“Student agency is one of the most important tools for improving students’ learning, especially in terms of PSE … students are able to contribute things that teachers might not know about or have thought about. In general, it’s important for teachers to listen to students in the way they want to be listened to”.
“PSE has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt just how powerful student agency is”
So, as is often the case, I followed their lead. I couldn’t help but smile during our first meeting. After only having accessed the hub once, they were full of ideas and feedback, everything from first-time access facilitation, to design changes―“it’s a little fiddly”, said Sofia, with a page of notes to fix that―to excitement over the topics and materials provided. From that initial group, the trial has expanded, and we currently have 36 students involved from upper Primary Years Programme (PYP) through the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP). So far, it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Watching students posting their own polls, adding additional materials connected to the topics and transferring their learning to other areas has been energising to say the least. This new well-being hub can be used both for, “traditional”―albeit online―teaching or in a flipped classroom model, which helps students and teachers stay engaged. Both approaches have worked well with all ages.
As for the students have developed their own well-being curriculum, they have been happy to see that many of the topics covered on the hub are the same as those they chose to include in their curriculum. Also, the hub allows them to create their own material, so they are thrilled to see that this new well-being hub poses no limits to them continuing to take initiative and be engaged and in control of their learning.
While there are many great aspects to this new well-being hub, my favorite part is still letting the students take the reins and sitting back to enjoy the ride. Our PYP students have just chosen their next topic, and it is exactly the same as the one I would have chosen for them.
Our MYP students have chosen a range of topics that I would never have known would interest them. Despite the challenges of remote learning, discussing this project with my students always provides me with enthusiasm, inspiration and lots of laughs. We have learned a lot together and from one another, and as we move to expand participation and use this new well-being hub on a wider level next year, I know this is just the beginning.
Mariel Reid is a language support teacher for the upper PYP, MYP and DP programmes at the International School of Bologna. Through her work in the classroom, in service learning, and with the Global Issues Network club of which she is the supervisor, Mariel has become very passionate about student agency and social emotional learning and is currently beginning her master’s thesis on these aspects of education with the University of Aberdeen. Collaborating on this well-being project has allowed Mariel to continue to connect with her students and discuss topics which are important to their emotional growth even during pandemic induced remote learning, for which she is very grateful.
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