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Turning “Either/Or” into “Yes”

Maya Grodman is the IB’s University Relations Administrator at the IB Global Centre in Bethesda, MD, USA.  She also an IB graduate of Collège du Léman International School in Geneva, Switzerland.

It seems that humans like dichotomies – black or white, beauty or brains, science or faith, cake or ice cream (though of course when dessert is involved, the answer is always both). But when we’re really honest with ourselves, we know that most of life doesn’t fit into either/or boxes like that. Education is no exception.

Whether students have a specific passion that they plan on pursing as a career, or have no idea which classes they’d like to take next semester, let alone what career they’d like to pursue, balance in education and perspective is important. It’s easy to see education as a series of boxes that students can check: science, language, math, art, sports, music, history, etc. It can be seen as a “check all that apply” kind of situation, with students getting more and more specialized as they get older. Whether a student is checking all the boxes, or only one, a truly well-rounded, global citizen will see the merit in both the logical and emotional, the pragmatic and idealistic.

The IB is about combining all aspects of life, to prepare students to be life-long learners in the world beyond their school. It’s about not only encouraging students to check multiple boxes, but to connect the boxes, and go beyond them. Students choose their subjects, covering a lot of academic ground, but the IB is so much more than the courses a student takes – just as students are so much more than the work that they do.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) can be a life-changing aspect of a student’s educational experience. Students who do nothing but study their academics may be successful on tests and exams, but what about the other aspects of life? The five core competencies of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These competencies can be seen throughout the IB, from TOK to CAS to the subject matter of each course that is offered.


Sometimes, the IB’s emphasis on a balanced, holistic approach, and the inherent SEL in the program, can have a huge impact on a student’s life. When I started the IB, all I ever wanted to do was theater. Making connections between my HL Theatre Arts course and my HL Psychology course helped me to see the power that theater can have, and the positive psychological and social change that theater can inspire. Because of my IB studies, I went on to major in both Drama and Peace & Justice Studies at my university, and plan on pursuing both theater and social justice throughout my career.

The IB and SEL encouraged me to step out of the one box I thought I’d stay in forever, and find deeper meaning in my studies and passions – and I know that many other IB graduates can say the same. Life may be a series of choices, but sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves and the world is to embrace the many options, and simply say “yes.”

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