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A new curriculum and a new way of thinking

Sarah Whitehead, a PYP grade 1 teacher at SEK International School in Qatar

Sarah Whitehead, a PYP grade 1 teacher at SEK International School in Qatar

In this article a new PYP teacher shares reflection on embracing and teaching in the PYP framework.

I am an experienced teacher who has always taught using the British National Curriculum. Last year I started working at SEK International School Qatar, an IB World School offering the PYP, as a grade 1 teacher.

Teaching the IB was like starting back at school. I was undoing some of what I know as a teacher and retraining my thinking. It was strange and daunting to follow along with the PYP terminology and concepts; to make the lessons inquiry-based and student-led; and to follow students’ lines of interest instead of the teacher leading the teaching.

My first big hurdle was the flexibility we had with the PYP framework. The PYP is less prescriptive than what I am used to. I had to adapt my way of thinking and be more prepared with my lessons to follow the inquiry that the children wanted to follow.

I spent most of my first year learning how the PYP terminologies fit together: transdisciplinary themes, the learner profile, the essential elements, and the key concepts. Some weeks the pieces fit together and others I had to re-evaluate to make them fit back together. Eventually the terminology started to become part of my lesson and, in my class, we started to embrace the IB world.

The demands of the IB is placed as much on the teacher as it is on the students. My first year was filled with questions, mistakes and misinterpretations; however, collaboration – being one of the main focuses of the IB – helped me answer these questions, correct my mistakes and gain better understanding of the IB. I found my colleagues and the PYP coordinator were always happy to talk to me, to help with my questions, share ideas, their thoughts and opening my mind to this new way of thinking.

I remember well the first lesson where the children showed that they are inquirers and were able to relate what they were doing to the key concepts and attitudes. They were inquiring in books about their new unit of inquiry and producing a lot of questions they wanted answering. Each question they made they were able to relate to the key concepts. This was my ‘eureka’ moment!

My daughter who attends the school is also becoming familiar with the PYP. I really enjoy observing her playing with her toys telling them what each of the learner profile attributes were and how they can be principled, caring, etc. This demonstrated to me that young children can also become IB learners and fully involve themselves into the IB world.

I now fully embrace teaching using the IB and am starting to immerse myself into the PYP philosophy. I use the terminology of the key concepts and attitudes freely and with ease in my teaching. I look forward to teaching and seeing where the students’ inquiry leads to.

Sarah Whitehead is a PYP grade 1 teacher at SEK International School in Qatar. She has taught PYP for a year. She enjoys being a risk-taker and trying new things in her classroom. Sarah is originally from England and has found working around the world and now in an IB environments a challenge but rewarding.

4 Responses to A new curriculum and a new way of thinking

  1. Daniela 23 February 2016 at 9:00 am #

    Dear Sarah, I love the honesty with which you shared this reflection. I think it is a common experience for new pyp teachers, at least I know it is exactly what I felt when I began with the PYP. Almost nine years down the road, it is still important to remember the amazing change I went through when becoming a PYP teacher. Will definitely share this reflection with the teachers at SEK El Castillo (Madrid), where I worked until last school year, as I know many of them will be able to relate.

  2. Henry Jayakaran 26 February 2016 at 4:41 pm #

    Dear Sarah
    It is simply mind blowing that you can be so true to tell the truth about unlearning a lot from your previous teaching experience.
    Made interesting reading. Want to ask my PYP teachers to certainly take note and move in the right direction and become better teachers of this nice program. Going great dear. wow..

  3. Gia Shirley 26 March 2016 at 10:48 pm #

    Dear Sarah,
    I appreciated reading about your experience because it validated many of my personal feelings, especially how at one point I would feel like everything was making sense and the next day it was foggy again. PYP is amazing for students and teachers. It’s just remembering it is a process to develop and grow. We must be inquirers and risk-takers ourselves through this journey

  4. Nicola Doig 13 May 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    Dear Sarah,
    An insightful post although by ‘British National Curriculum’ I assume you mean the English national curriculum’. As a Scot teaching the Curriculum for Excellence, I keep seeing ‘British National Curriculum’ being used as a term when there is actually no such thing… 🙂

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