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Building transferable skills through the personal and professional skills course

The personal and professional skills course (PPS) is a core component of the Career-related Programme (CP). Each school designs and develops it around five themes: personal development, intercultural understanding, effective communication, thinking processes and applied ethics. In the fourth episode of a series focused entirely on the CP, IB Voices sat down with Chris Baker-Raivo, CP coordinator and Lori Brumbaugh, personal and professional skills teacher at Champlin Park High School in Minnesota, U.S. They both share how the programme is bridging students to career pathways, how it’s building transferable skills and ways to foster student agency through the PPS course.

You can listen to this episode by subscribing to IB Voices on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or Stitcher.

Listen to the full interview on the IB Voices podcast

Tell us more about the personal and professional skills (PPS) class and how you designed it?

Lori: The main goal I wanted to achieve with this course, after attending the wonderful IB training sessions, was personalization. I really wanted to hone in on the skills and curriculum to ensure that I would meet the needs of my students. I spent a lot of time with each one to understand their strengths and capabilities and explore why they were so driven in a specific area. The biggest thing to remember is relating the class to their potential careers so their main areas of emphasis foster that career path.

Now, I understand that their ideas might change over time but I really enjoy giving them an opportunity to express their feelings for their chosen career considering that they have a very clear path. I also spend a lot of time with intercultural understanding and this has opened a whole new world. I get to bring in wonderful speakers and we have a fabulous programme that provides artifacts from all over the globe and brings ideas together for students. I also have students work on a project where they look at various countries and explore what a career might look like in that part of the world.

The students present that experience to their peers and it opens a whole new dimension for them. The other thing I’ve done is developed our community. We have a variety of speakers that join our class, from the medical field to human services and education. These professionals share their realistic advantages, challenges, issues, things they face daily in their field and students debate these topics. This all leads to their reflective project and since we have a great connection with our community, students have had the opportunity to develop eMentorships, allowing them to connect with local businesses. That has been one of our greatest accomplishments—to have community members guide our students.

How does the PPS enhance your programme and students’ experience?

Chris: That’s a great question. I think the personal and professional skills (PPS) course sets the Career-related Programme (CP) apart from other experiences. When I ask students why they do the CP, they often say that it gives them a sense of agency and knowledge of self and that sets them apart from other people. We are not just interested in certifying you, we want to create future leaders in a specific field. The course allows students to look inward to see what they’re bringing to the table and also look outward to see what is going on in their future career path and articulate how they can make an impact in it.

“I can’t imagine a more qualified generation as we look to solve problems of the future”.

I’m so excited for students in the short term, but also in the long-term when they are in a job interview and capable of eloquently discussing not only what they bring to the table but their depth of knowledge about a specific career path they are interested in. I will check in with students periodically and ask them ‘‘What’s going on in your PPS class?’’ and one of them wrote back to me not too long ago to say “this will benefit me in the future. I want to be a nurse and this is not just giving me specific job training, but now I am conversant in ethical issues related to the job”. That blows my mind that a student can gain hands-on skills but is also able to examine this field from a meta level and analyze the knowledge and in the future, can become a change agent who actually changes the way the field is operating. That’s why I think the PPS class is transformative because it focuses both on the inner and outer qualities of a student.

Lori: I think it has a lot to do with the journey and when I think about the programme and PPS course I teach, that journey is accelerated. The students are looking at their career in a completely unique way and the connections that Chris mentioned, learning from within and looking outward, is incredible. As a teacher, I have learned so much about different career practices from cultures that I hadn’t even looked at before. It’s been a great journey for both me and my students and I see it unfold in our daily lessons.

How do you personalize a class of students with diverse aspirations?

Lori: I do it by keeping notes on each one of them and I refer to them during our virtual meetings. Sometimes I might highlight them in my lessons because I have three students that are going into nursing, one into vet tech and the other into fourth grade teaching. I constantly challenge my students by asking them ‘If you were in a classroom or medical facility, how would you handle this situation?’

I personalize the class by drawing it out because I know what my students are seeking. I’m able to expand the thought process for them to make that connection and understand the possibilities when they get into those career paths. I really try to bring it to life as much as I can because that’s what we want for our kids, right? We want them to enjoy their career so much because it matches their passions.

Building transferable skills through the personal and professional skills course

What challenges have you encountered due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic?

Lori: All our classes take place in an online classroom platform and it’s been fun seeing my students’ faces every day. One of the things I really enjoy is the immediate feedback I get from the chat feature. Students are more comfortable with it and answer my questions quicker compared to a classroom setting which would take a little while.

The second greatest thing that has happened because of the pandemic is the increased communication between teachers and students. We talk all the time through Google Classroom and that’s been amazing. We usually have an in-person field experience but we pivoted and did it virtually.  The students have been able to experience different teaching styles and classroom settings from all over the country. That has bridged the gap because in the past, there would only be one classroom with one set of students but the virtual environment allows us to see different types of educational settings.

The other thing I’ve noticed is the coordinated approach with family members to complete tasks. Families are doing so much more together and are supporting each other during this difficult time. All our tests and quizzes are online, and we have programmes that restrict internet access to ensure that students can’t search for answers. Furthermore, the platform we use puts students in various chat rooms and as a teacher, I can jump in, listen to the conversation and foster the lesson of the day. At first, I was hesitant about it but it has worked out really well and I have become more comfortable with it over time.

Chris: In addition to making sure your programmes are fit for the community and your students’ interests, having the right people is so important. As a teacher, this period has simultaneously been one of the most frustrating and exhilarating experiences of my professional life. It’s frustrating because I love to be in the mix of the classroom and enjoy getting to know students on a personal level. I can easily respond to the spontaneity and art of teaching as it were, but it’s also exhilarating because we are able to reinvent our practice through a different platform. The biggest thing I am continuously thinking about is how to minimize disconnect. What COVID-19 has done, more than anything else is made us isolated as people.

When we’re thinking about the educational context, which is inherently social, figuring out ways to mitigate isolation is so important. We need to give students lots of opportunities to connect with each other from a mental health standpoint. To be a teacher, during this time, is to really push yourself to the outer limits of what this profession is. However, it’s also exciting to know that it will never be the same again because we are lucky to have been part of this process—of watching education shift so much in nine months compared to the last two or three decades. Personally, this is an inspiring place to be in and this time will cultivate an incredibly resilient generation of people, especially those looking to go down the path of education.

“If we could give students any gift, it’s being able to end up in a career where they will love going to work and have a sense of personal agency”.

When you think about what students have had to face in such a short amount of time and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome, I can’t imagine a more qualified generation as we look to solve problems of the future. If they can handle this with such grace and dignity, then the world is in good hands.

How does the PPS course influence your students?

Lori: When I see the work our students produce, I am confident in the future of our world. Through their CP experience, I see them becoming strong leaders, developers, inventors etc. One of the things I love to see is our students throwing themselves into their careers and solving world problems through their knowledge, resources and creativity. It’s awesome to be part of that and know that the future is bright.

Chris: Since I’m the coordinator, I don’t get to teach the PPS class but I get to talk to the students who take the course. I think it’s clear that it’s a transactional course and teachers get to be a part of it. As Lori pointed out, you are on this journey with them where they get to discover things about themselves and this broad intercultural exploration of what it means to be in a career that is fueled by your passion. If we could give students any gift, it’s being able to end up in a career where they will love going to work and have a sense of personal agency—a career where they know that they are making a difference. And from the coordinator’s perspective, watching our wonderful PPS teachers impart that experience on our students is really amazing. I am just so excited for anybody who gets to teach this beautiful class.

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This interview was conducted by Zachary Fernebok, Product Marketing Manager for the Diploma Programme (DP) and Career-related Programme (CP) at the International Baccalaureate (IB), and one of the hosts of IB Voices. Listen to more stories from students, schools, educators and more on the IB Voices podcast.

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