Saturday, 26 November 2016

PYP Authorisation

This past year has been a great learning experience for me. One of the highlights of the year came on Saturday the 10th of June when our principal sent out a message saying that we had become an authorised IB PYP school. This was something that our primary team had been working towards for years and something I became very much invested in when I became PYP coordinator. In this blog post I would like to share some of the learning in this journey, in order to hopefully help other schools work towards their verification visit.

The Standards

As you prepare for authorisation it is important to be very clear about which standards the visiting team members will be measuring your school on. There are about 111 standards and practices in the PYP. Each of these standards must be addressed in your self-study report but not in a school's initial authorisation. There are about 30 standards to be met for authorisation. It is of the utmost importance that the pedagogical leadership team and at least the PYP coordinator (PYPC) clearly understands what these 30 or so standards are. This information may be clearly found in the document, "Guide to school authorization: Primary Years Programme (2010)". Knowing exactly what these standards are make the process much clearer and much more easily attainable.

The PYP Guide to school authorisation shows standards that must be in place.
The Consultant

A PYP candidate school is provided a consultant from the IB. The experience of this person is a big factor in the success of the authorisation process. Fortunately for us an extremely knowledgeable, caring and experienced lady by the name of Di Fisk became our consultant. She was one of the main reasons behind the success of our program. Other important factors are: the commitment of teachers to the program, support of the pedagogical leadership team and the organisational and communication skills for the PYPC. The consultant communicates with the school via an online portal called Basecamp and through Skype. I would strongly advise the PYPC to communicate with the consultant as much as possible. This is your most valuable source of guidance.

The Consultancy Visit

As part of your consultancy process there is a visit. This serves as a chance for the consultant to see first hand what stage the school is at and to provide the school with a detailed report. It is also a chance for the school to have a practice visit in order to prepare for the real one. Your consultant would also be a visiting team member (though of course not for your school) so this is a good chance to plan as this were the real thing. Some useful tips are to personally pick up the consultant at the airport, provide a car and driver for him/her to and from a nice hotel, as near to the school as possible. A nice meal at the end of the visit and parting gift is always a nice touch. This would not be appropriate for the official visit but it is important for a young school to spend as much time as possible with the consultant as they should be a font of PYP knowledge for you. Remember this person has a good relationship with the IB and it is a small community! At the end of the visit the consultant will provide the school with a "traffic light report". This will show you the standards you are meeting, are not meeting and the ones that are in progress. The standards you are not meeting must be addressed immediately, and well before the verification visit.

The traffic light report shows standards that were not in place.

School Leadership

It is of the utmost importance that the school leadership is on board. Some standards that will show this are standards B1, B2 and C1. One immediate way to know if the leadership is on board is whether Standard C1.2 is a priority. Collaboration meetings should be timetabled throughout the week. An agenda for these meetings should be kept and be saved for the visit team. It is obvious from the class timetables as to whether the school leadership prioritises collaboration or not. In 2014 I wrote my thesis on PLCs and found that meetings after school are not nearly as effective as meetings timetabled during the day.
Sample agenda for the visit.
The Verification Visit

The visit is a two day event, when two IB educators come out to see if you are meeting the standards. There are a lot of documents that need to be uploaded to a site called IB DOCS prior to the visit. Ensure these documents are filled in accurately and thoroughly. Have a room prepared with hard copies of any requested documents prepared. I would also advise appropriate snacks and drinks to be prepared in the room. Ensure that the interviews with key stake holders such as the Head of School, parents, students and teachers have been carefully planned. Expectations should be clearly explained. A very important part of preparing for the visit is to have regular information sessions for parents like the ones I blogged about here.

Best of luck on your journey. It is a great learning experience!


IBO, 2010, Guide to school authorization: Primary Years Programme, Cardiff.

Lalor & Abawi (2014) Professional learning communities enhancing teacher experiences in international schools, International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, 9:1, 76-86, DOI: 10.1080/18334105.2014.11082021 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Parents Learning the PYP

One of this things I love about the PYP is the emphasis on community learning. Personally I am continually developing in my understanding of the program and am fortunate enough to be in a place now where I can pass on what I know to others. The teachers in my school are learning all the time and sometimes when I see the lessons they do I am blown away. In the past two weeks I have seen lessons varying from students dissecting organs to a music provocation where classes visited an organ being installed in a concert hall. It should go without saying that the students are learning, but this blog post is to share the success of the learning journey our parents have been on.

I remember when I took my first PYP coordinator job a couple of years back. We were in the process of authorization and our incredible consultant Di Fisk advised us to create a newsletter and to schedule regular parent information sessions. We got to work and I did what I knew to do, created lovely presentations and presented to parents about the history of the program and used the resources available from the Digital Toolkit. These were a wonderful resource!

Later after I had been to my second workshop the penny finally dropped that the work shop leaders were modelling how to teach in the classroom. And, I can tell you I have studied under some of the best of them. A shout out to Kathy & Kathy! It was during their PYPC workshop that they explicitly told us we could use their strategies in our classes and staff meetings. I immediately started to change my staff meetings to be more collaborative but it was not until later that it carried over to my parent information sessions. 

Over the past couple of years I have led parent coffee mornings on the five essential elements, concept based curriculum, ATLs and assessment to name a few. My own learning and development can be clearly seen in the way these meetings played out, from that first presentation in the auditorium to the most recent workshop on the five essential elements. During this session I started with the provocation, "What do you want your child to learn?" I had the parents share this in groups and provided large sheets of paper and pens for them to draw with. I told them that afterwards they would need to present in any language or in any form. I did not get any singers yet!
Their combined responses, some of which are below blew my mind. From those early days when parents were asking me for more homework and if there was a textbook they could photocopy:) to this, the development is incredible. Themes like: "learning how to learn", "appreciation of art" & "care for the environment", really showed me that we are starting to get it. Not that they are starting to get it, that we are starting to get it. I am so proud of my students:)

So here is a suggested way to plan a parents coffee morning. Send out the invitation to all parents and ask for RSVPs. Also ask them that if they have any questions about the programme to include them. I have had turnouts of 2/3 parents so DO NOT LET THAT DETER YOU! The numbers will grow over the years you invest in your community. Have the tables set in groups as a class would be and have large sheets of paper and markers on each table. I start the meeting at 9:00 am but tell parent they are welcome for coffee anytime after 8:30. During this time you can chat and it is very interesting what comes up. Any principal will know how valuable this is;)
For the first few minutes I sound like a salesman for the PYP and I joke about that, as I introduce the 5 essential elements or whatever the theme is. After that I have a provocation. During this meeting I asked parents the question, "What do you want your child to learn?" Then give as much time as is necessary for parents in groups to share their thoughts and write them down. If you are in a school with a large number of parents who do not speak the language of instruction then have a translator at their table to help out. This last time, this part of the workshop was incredible and is what I mention above. Next I ask each group to present and reinforce their awesome points, like "We want our children to learn how to learn." I kid around too by going over to someone if they are talking and say sorry but which of our ATLs do you need to practice? The communication skill of listening. After this I do my teaching but always coming back to their ideas and connecting them to the theme of the workshop.

I cannot stress the fact that where we are at now did not happen over night. It has been two years. If I can be of any help getting your community going with the PYP don't hesitate to ask and.....keep learning!

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

IBPYP Category 2 Workshop – Teaching & Learning

This past week I participated in an in-school workshop called, Teaching and Learning. My school chose this workshop because we were told it is a good one to do after the Category 1 workshop, Making the PYP Happen. We invited an extremely knowledgeable workshop leader by then name of Sally Wen. The workshop was delivered bilingually, which was highly beneficial in our context.

Sally modelled for us what a PYP classroom looks like. She shared a number of strategies for delivering dynamic lessons. Here I would like to share some of them with you:
Shapes for Grouping
1. The constant themes of the workshop were ‘grouping and regrouping’ & ‘learners socially constructing meaning’. As each participant came in the door on the first day they were asked to take one of the 25 coloured shapes on the first table. We were asked to get in groups according to our colour. (This also served as a covert way to take attendance.)
KWL Chart
2. A wonderwall was posted. This contained three columns: 'Know', 'Want to know' and 'I have learned'. Sally was able to see what we wanted to know after this activity and changed her plans accordingly. This was a good example of constructivism.

3. In order to bring the group back together we learned that holding up your hand was very effective. You then wait for everybody in the group to raise their hands. This reaches learners who are kinesthetic, audio and visual. You should not make eye contact when doing this.

4. We were asked to line up in different ways. An example of this was to line up silently according to your birth date. It is then easy to number off learners for the newt group activity. Other variations could be: height, years teaching or length of your hair.
Concentric Circles
5. We learned concentric circles. This is a good group activity that allows you to get a group to focus on four aspects. In out case the first circle was your name, then a learner profile attribute that best describes you, then what would make this workshop worthwhile and finally something about you that not many people know.

6. Another grouping strategy we learned was called, ‘Gourmet partners’. This is similar to clock partners but food is used instead of numbers. We would be asked to pair off with our ‘pizza partner’ for a pair activity. Sally always had us say thank you to our partners.

7. A differentiation strategy we learned was to change the colour and font or our slides. Key words are underlined. All of these strategies make it easier for non-mother tongue students to easily find the main message.
8. Sally also modelled questioning for us. This is a very important part of the PYP. Sally used an image of turtles in a fridge then asked us for our thoughts. She would skillfully ask questions to deepen and question our assumptions. Questions like: “Why do you think that?”, “Can you share what you are thinking right now?” and “Can you tell me some more?”. Paraphrase and then move on.
Tool Kit

There were a number of other topics covered during this training but in this post I am just sharing some of the inquiry strategies. The complet list is aboveI learned a lot!