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Building stronger learners – Burgess-Peterson Academy—Part 3

Continuing our series of blog posts following four schools at different stages of their IB journey, as they share their experiences and approach to understanding and implementing PYP: From principles into practice, in their own context. 

This article from a newly authorized school talks about their transformative journey with the enhanced PYP as they explore various aspects of the learning community, from collaborative planning to the PYP Exhibition. 

Tracy King-Holmes, IB Coordinator, Burgess-Peterson Academy, USA

One focus of the enhanced PYP is the exploration of the shared relationship between the learner, learning and teaching and the learning community.  These relationships create a PYP educational experience which is better for students, easier for teachers to implement and is more flexible for schools. 

We were recently visited by an authorization team and have been working towards authorization since 2015.  We were authorized using the current standards and practices, however we have found that with the gradual release of the enhanced PYP, the transition has not been an overwhelming experience for our school. 

We have become more intentional about incorporating student agency within our planners.  This year, during the revision of our planners, we discussed increasing opportunities for student agency in order to provide the voice, choice and ownership they need to take action.  Because we are fairly new in the implementation of our planners, we felt it necessary to begin by building in opportunities for our students and working towards action happening more organically within each of the planners.  

First grade team transforming their learning community into the book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs for implementation of the “Global Weather Watchers” unit of study.

More and more of our grade levels are beginning to transform our learning community into amazing learning spaces through the implementation of planners.  The kids are so excited about their unit of inquiry when they walk into a classroom that has been transformed into a children’s book or an animal habitat.  Not only are the kids excited about it, the parents are too.  Teachers often communicate with members of the community about supporting and driving inquiry-based instruction.  We seek out experts from the local community to teach lessons or give special presentations for the students in order to make real world connections.  The explicit agency component of the PYP speaks to the learning community playing a vital role in supporting and nurturing student agency, and supporting agency by personalizing learning, creating learning environments to support social, physical and emotional well-being, creating a culture of respect and collaborating and co-constructing learning and learning goals.   

I have used some of the teacher support materials illustrations of agency in action and supporting learner agency to guide our time together in our professional learning.  I also have it on the wall in our model IB classroom where we have our sessions as a constant reminder to make sure that learner agency is at the forefront of our work.  Grade level team members collaborate with each other weekly during professional learning, whereas the subject specialist team (Art, Music, Spanish, PE and Gifted) collaborate monthly during our faculty meeting.   

Within the enhanced PYP, social and emotional development takes shape in the early years as children are naturally inclined to explore, discover, play and to make connections between self, others and their learning environment.  I found that this is flexible for us because our school district focused on social emotional learning (SEL) a few years ago.  Our school was one of the pilot schools before the district decided to implement SEL district wide.  There is a direct correlation with our SEL curriculum and the approaches to learning skills as well as the learner profile.  PYP: From principles into practice suggests that reinforcing the central importance of the learner profile attributes across the school community will bring the attributes to life for students, supporting their development of international mindedness and in taking action for positive change.   

The learner profile attributes are the first thing students are reminded of when they walk into our school because the profile attributes are stenciled on the walls of the rotunda.  They are reminded of the attributes when they transition to specialist classes. We use the learner profile attributes to choose our learners of the month and our Student IB Ambassadors.  The students are reminded daily how important the attributes are and the next layer in displaying the attributes will be life size, kid-friendly pictures with the profile attributes in the hallways.   

We are also using the enhancements to strengthen our PYP exhibition this upcoming Spring.  This project is a culminating activity designed to engage students in an inquiry process that involves intensive research and investigation into a real life issue or problem.  Students identify a problem and figure out how to take action through student agency where their voice, choice and ownership takes center stage. We did not want to go into the exhibition haphazardly, so the summer before our first attempt, we went to formal IB training at the Center for the Advancement of International Education (CASIE) to learn all that we could before exposing our students and staff to the exhibition.  The training helped us tremendously because other IB educators shared how they implemented the exhibition at their various schools.  As a team we decided to take the best ideas they had to share and marry those with our own ideas to expose our students to the best learning situation possible. 

In the beginning, we honestly didn’t have a clue as to what to do but we knew the type of experience we wanted our students to have.  We wanted members of our Administrative team to play a huge part in our first attempt at a guided exhibition.  Every member of the administrative team agreed to be an exhibition mentor (coach) to guide the students through the process.  We had a mentor meeting to explain all the guidelines and expectations about what type of experience we wanted to create for our students.  We created timelines for the students and documents to support and lay out explicitly what we wanted to accomplish.  We set the stage with a provocation to get the students excited about exhibition, the different ways they could make a difference and of course learning who their mentors would be.  Our students’ final body of work was absolutely amazing.  Our students and staff both grew in leaps and bounds from beginning to end.  Our students inquired into and presented about everything from supporting students who were blind with braille materials to providing clothing to homeless veterans who were going on job interviews.  The experiences that the students gained were life changing to their individual perspectives and was an enriching learning experience for students and adults alike.   

I can truly say that the new enhanced PYP is definitely making a difference in our school community and is impacting the implementation of our planners in a major way.  We are experiencing the shared relationship between the learner, learning and teaching and the learning community.  I have found that the more intentional we are about learning about enhanced elements of the PYP – and then implementing in stages – we don’t feel overwhelmed or if this is one more thing added to what we have to do.  Our transition at this point has been smooth.  I am excited about where we are at the moment and definitely about what is to come in the near future.  

Tracy King has a total of 24 years’ experience working with elementary students and teachers. She has been the IB Coordinator at Burgess-Peterson Academy since 2014. The school is focused on becoming an IB World School. Tracy supports teachers in improving the quality of  inquiry-based lessons. She is a proponent for promoting student agency by leading a group of IB Student Ambassadors who are a representative group of students serving as the student voice of Burgess-Peterson Academy. She is passionate about the overall well-being of all students and providing them with an equitable, high-quality education on a daily basis by supporting, assisting, inspiring, motivating and preparing teachers to be catalysts for change. You can follow her on Twitter @IBatBPA.

Read more from Burgess-Peterson Academy

Part 1 of our journey into the enhanced PYP

Part 2 of our journey into the enhanced PYP 


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One Response to Building stronger learners – Burgess-Peterson Academy—Part 3

  1. Shantea Cowan 20 July 2021 at 10:03 am #

    Thanks for sharing your journey. I am a first grade teacher and reading your article gave me some great ideas of how to give my students more choice and voice this upcoming year!

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