Wayfinder Learning Lab

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.


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“Culture does not make people. People make Culture.” Chimamanda Adichie

Another great TEDx Talk from Chimamanda Adichie, on “We should all be feminists.” She describes her journey as a feminist and her interactions around feminism with others.

“A feminist is a man or a woman who says ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it and we must do better’.” 

I loved this quote about Culture, but the whole talk is worth watching and sharing:

Chimimanda Adichie: "We should all be feminists."

Chimimanda Adichie: “We should all be feminists.”

Since reading about culture and curriculum (Denis Lawton’s ideas), I can’t help but see the connection between what we value and what we teach. As educators we should consider the ‘story’ we promote about gender issues and although I have some way to go, I do try to promote positive gender roles in class and made some significant changes to sexuality education last year.


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Global Contexts & Avoiding the ‘Single Story’

This last couple of weeks we’ve been busy preparing faculty PD on the Global Contexts and their role in developing International Mindedness & Global Engagement (IMaGE) in our students. It has been a lot of work, but as we kicked off the sequence (3 x 1hr PD sessions) this week, the discussions began on some real areas of interest.

Key to the discussion was an excerpt from Chimamanda Adichie‘s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” (thanks @LizDK for suggesting it!). We played the first 6 minutes, with the follow-up question “could her college room-mate have been a CA graduate?

So far, so interesting. I’ll follow up this post later once the sequence is completed. Next steps: taking action in the curriculum, teaching & learning.


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Educate for hope, not despair, for a fair and sustainable world.

I wrote this post in 2014, but come back to it often. See edits and additions below the main body. We tread a delicate line between hope and despair; between student action for change and not overwhelming our young learners with the pressure of a future that was shaped by others.  

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We’ve wrecked the world.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 10.29.23 AM

Californian Blue Whales are almost back to historical levels after whaling bans in their range [Image: Getty, free for education].

Inequality, environmental destruction, outbreaks of disease, terrorism and economic collapse. We are (we think) aware of the problems we face – and the message can be one of hopelessness. Do we risk passing on global ignorance to our students – a connected, compassionate generation who are plugged into a media-rich stream of (mis)information?

As we try to bring global issues into the classroom, there is a danger that we promote a message that all is lost; a message reinforced by media reporting on the same issues and clouded by prejudices and emotion? This is something I worry about in international curriculum design and often think about how a globally-informed curriculum can also be a hopeful one.

We can fix it.

We can choose to educate for hope. The solutions to many of problems are out there, or on the cusp of being realised – the technological age is well established and we are reaping the rewards. Now it’s time to recognise the importance of the psychological age. George Monbiot writes that if we terrify people, they will focus on saving themselves, not others; a feeling of hopelessness that accompanies awareness of global issues is unhelpful. Yet if the focus is on the concrete and the hopeful – the actions that we can take to make a difference – then we might affect a more positive outcome.

I would love to see an international school curriculum that produces graduates who are globally literate (as in Hans Rosling’s Ignorance Project) and who are hopeful, compassionate and active ‘fixers of the future‘. With the IB Programmes we have the framework – the ‘heavy lifting’ of the elements of an excellent education has been done for us. As schools we can choose to use that framework to build an inspirational experience.

Edit 2018: Rosling’s posthumously-published book (Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think) is out. Here is an excerpt in the Guardian.

We can start with simple actions

Blue whales are recovering and we can re-grow rainforests – so we can reclaim hope in the curriculum with simple actions:

  1. Design units that connect to Global Contexts in authentic ways.
  2. Evaluate our own understandings of the global issues we’re addressing before we teach them.
  3. Use student research and examples to highlight both the reality of of the situation and the actions that can (and are) being taken to make a positive difference.
    • MYP Sciences, Criterion D – I’m looking at you. And you too while we’re at it, and Design Cycle.
  4. Discuss how these actions and our knowledge can be connected to meaningful action.

We want to create a realistic hope – not ignorance, boredom or hopelessness.

We can do it.

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Update Dec 2017: Blue Planet’s Back! 

“We want children to love nature so that they protect it in the future.”

(Patagonia “Family Business” Raising the Next Generation)

Read this post from June 2017 on the Patagonia blog, about the Great Pacific Child Development Center and their studies and efforts to connect kids to nature. Similarly, we can reflect on the kinds of experiences and media that promote positive feelings towards environmental stewardship in our kids. Shows like Blue Planet II and Planet Earth stimulate fantastic conversations in our house and inspire our kids whilst also informing them of the human impacts. They’re not afraid, but they care.

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Update April 2018: International Contexts

“We do not see ecological grief as submitting to despair, and neither does it justify ‘switching off’ from the many environmental problems that confront humanity. Instead, we find great hope in the responses ecological grief is likely to invoke.”

Read this excellent post from the TheConversation/TerraMar Project,Ecological Grief: Understanding Hope & Despair in the Anthropocene.” As you read the piece, think about the psychological impacts of environmental change. What can we do about them? How might you use “Why Them? Why There? Why Then?” in connection with the article to develop IMaGE?

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Update January 2019: #Factfulness & Global Ignorance

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 8.05.01 AMAnyone who follows me on Twitter will know how much I love Factfulness by Hans Rosling & family. I have a growing LibGuide full of connected resources for the global ignorance project and data-informed inquiry here. I presented it recently at ACAMIS Tech 2018, and will run an extended session at Learning 2.019 in Nanjing in November.

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Update March 2019: Global Thinking Toolkit

PZ Global Competence Model A3 Portrait Graphics (@sjtylr)The Global Thinking Routines from Veronica Boix-Mansilla’s (@VBoixMansillaGlobal Thinking Bundle, are a set of project zero resources that can help focus classroom action and inquiry. Click here to read the full Global Thinking guide, and here for her piece in Educational Leadership Magazine on How To Be A Global Thinker. I also love her IB blog post on “bringing international mindedness to life” with portraiture.

See this post for more graphics and links.

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Update April 2019: #OurPlanet!

Attenborough & team are back… on Netflix. The new series, Our Planet, does a great job of teaching for hope, not despair, without white-washing the issues. After George Monbiot’s scathing criticism of the more recent series, Our Planet shares the beauty, highlights the issues and show real and inspiring examples of how human actions are already making a positive impact. They have a great website of resources & clips here.

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Links: 


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Where do you come from? Where to next?

Being an international school teacher is an extreme privilege; a series of opportunities that present a unique kind of dilemma, seemingly earlier each year. It becomes more complex with school-age children of our own, and is further complicated by having cross-culture kids, with parents from two countries, growing up in a third.

What do we do next?

Where do we go?

What’s right for our careers? Our kids?

What about the grandparents?

What are the pushes and pulls?

What are the opportunities?

What are the opportunity costs?

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This year is particularly interesting, as we think to the years ahead with an insightful TCK seven year-old and a three year-old who came to Japan as a baby. They each have very different senses of their identity: one rooted in Indonesia but loving Japan (and summers in the UK), the other identifying Japan as home, but loving the grandparents in the UK and Indonesia. I wonder how the decisions we make, increasingly with their input, will shape how they answer “where do you come from?”

This TED Talk, by Pico Ayer, spins a nice story of cross-culture, third-culture life. How many places will my grandkids call “home”?


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How NOT to be ignorant about the world.

Hans Rosling, TED.com

“Fame is easy to acquire. Impact is much more difficult.” 

Update, 2018: As a Rosling fanboy, using their work on i-Biology since about 2008, I was saddened to hear of his death in 2017. However, his recent book #Factfulness, is fantastic and well worth reading. More below. 

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Another great Hans Rosling TED Talk, this time with his son, Ola.

Here Dealing with misconceptions, bias, ignorance of global issues and a little formative assessment*, they discuss how we can be better informed about the world, with a fact-based world view… and how we could (eventually) perform better than chimps on a global issues quiz. I have blogged about how this might be used in IBTOK or science classes on i-Biology.

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Should a fact-based world view be the core curriculum of an international school?

Early in the talk, Ola recognises the influence of early bias of students and outdated curricula on the world view held by students – and how these are compounded by an ill-informed media. Through their project, they are trying to measure these misconceptions and propose a ‘global knowledge certificate’ that candidates (or organisations) might use to stay informed, to be competitive and to think about the future.

It seems to me that the fact-based world view would make for an excellent set of content-knowledge standards for an international school, and might pair nicely with the IB programmes as we seek to create knowledgable young inquirers who seek to make a positive difference to the world around them. How can they achieve this if they are learning outdated concepts of development or using stereotypes to paint the world in an ugly shade of ill-informed?

Hattie’s meta-analyses note that the power of prior learning (including prior mis-learning or misconception) has a very high impact on students’ future learning (d=0.67). As we generate scopes and sequences for courses or set up units of inquiry, should we be looking to the research not only on misconceptions in our own content domain but in global literacy in order to give students the tools they need to inquire in a changing and often-misunderstood world?

Is globally-literate the same as internationally-minded?

It is hard to define international-mindedness, though we can recognize it in our own settings. We might observe the behaviours of a globally-engaged student (or teacher), and might use assessments of students’ fact-based world-views as a measure of their international-mindedness. To this end, a globally-focused national school might be a more effective ‘international school’ than a more narrow-focused overseas expatriate school.**

You read about the ignorance project here on CNN, or find more classroom resources (including a world-view card game) on Gapminder’s education page. The Guardian also has a selection of global development quizzes, which you can take for fun or in class.

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*making great use of the audience-response clicker system pioneered by Eric Mazur.

**this is part of the idea of my web-chart of the IMaGE (IM and Global Engagement) of a school in my MA work.

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“Please return your brain for a free upgrade.”

Edit 2018: Rosling’s posthumously-published book (Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think)is out. Here is an excerpt in the Guardian.


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A Web Chart of the International Dimension of a School [MA Assignment]

Could we use this web as an evolving, visual representation of the international dimension of our schools?

Could we use this web chart as an evolving, visual representation of the international dimension of our schools?

Over the summer I was working on an assignment for the Bath MA in International Education. Here is the result, a piece of work I’m proud of and which I’ve uploaded with permission from my tutor.

The whole field of internationalism and global-mindedness in education is exciting, expansive and still-expanding. Through my reading about the challenges of defining an ‘international education’ and the many qualities that it encompasses I realised a single operable and visual tool might be of benefit to schools, researchers and the generally interested.

As a result, I have started to develop this web-chart of the IMaGE of a school (international mindedness and global engagement), and plan to strengthen and test it over the coming assignments and dissertation.

The simple idea behind it is that if we can identify the various elements of a school that can affect (or be affected by) internationalism, and the ways in which they exert tension on each other, then we can develop an evaluation rubric or other measurement tool. The resulting web-chart for the school at that moment in time gives a visual identity or definition of its degree of promotion of the values of international education. This could be used as a comparative tool (within the school over time, between schools, between stakeholder group perceptions), and may be used to help schools develop action plans for further development of their international domains.

Here is the full assignment. Apologies for some of the missing spaces – that is a bonus feature of SlideShare. 

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Some related posts: 

I love talking about this topic, so if you like what you read, please leave a comment or find me on twitter: @IBiologyStephen.


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Pocahontas & International-Mindedness

This animated gif is part of a recent Buzzfeed post doing the rounds on Facebook: “31 Signs You’re a Third Culture Kid*.”

Pocahontas and John Smith

Pocahontas and John Smith. Click for the full Buzzfeed post “31 Signs You’re A Third Culture Kid.”

It’s a nice stimulus for thought about what makes our schools different, as well as a neat connection to the IB’s mission statement in that we

“…encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” 

As I think more about what makes an international school ‘international’, I come back to the visible outcomes in terms of student learning, action and attitudes. Are our students becoming more world-minded (or internationally-aware – of other countries and cultures). Does our school promote a deeper set of values of international-mindedness through global citizenship: cultural appreciation and consideration of global issues and an understanding of our interconnectedness and ability to influence change? Do we go beyond the surface of flags, food and festivals and look at what is really going in the world and how our disciplines are connected as part of a global whole?

Over the next year or so – in my MA work and out of interest – I’ll further develop my web chart of the international dimension of a school. The field of international education research is one of real interest: developing, debatable and relevant to our international school contexts (and to my own third/cross-culture kids).

Web Chart of the International Dimension of a School

Web Chart of the International Dimension of a School

More Reading: 

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*The Buzzfeed post would be a good homeroom activity for students, or a discussion point in a pastoral care session. How do the students in your class classify themselves? Can they think of any further signs of being Third Culture? Could they represent the signs using different images, music, movie clips or personal anecdotes?

The gif above is a line from the Colours of the Wind song. Again, this could make a great lesson provocation in a citizenship-focused class, or as part of a Ways of Knowing TOK sequence.

“If you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”


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How “international” is your school?

As I have been reading more about international education and how difficult it can be to define, it has become clear from the readings and resources from the University of Bath that there are certain elements that make up the international dimension of a school. In thinking about my own assignment, I realised it would be useful to have a visual metric or estimate of the level of realisation of these elements, so that I could use this to discuss how my school has changed in recent years and how it may be affected by potential short and long-term change.

This post and presentation are to be more fully fleshed-out over time; for now this is a store for the idea: a proposal for how we might create a quick snapshot of the level of international education promoted by a school. To turn this into a valid and reliable product is a deeper academic job. 

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A Radar Chart of the International Dimension

Radar Diagram of elements of the international dimension. Click to open the presentation.

Radar Diagram of elements of the international dimension. Click to open the presentation.

I like this form of data visualisation, where the elements can be identified and arranged, then evaluated and connected.

What are the elements in this radar chart?

The categories (elements) attempt to identify aspects that can promote international education in a school. None exist in isolation: they are all closely related to some or all of the others. I have tried to place the most closely interacting elements next to each other, though this is debatable.

  • The elements of students, curriculum, culture, values & ideology and global citizenship education have come directly from the Bath Uni readings.
  • I have put faculty & leadership together. I wasn’t sure to what extent leadership and policy needed their own category: the effects of leadership should be evident throughout the school.
  • I have added the element of Action, as a way to differentiate between the culture and written curriculum of a school and its visible impact in terms of student learning and action. The written or intended curriculum could be a shining example of unit plans and mapping, but if this is not put into practice, it is not promoting the values of international education. Action plays an important role in the centre of the IB programme models, encompassing not just service learning, but any actions that lead to change in the students and those affected by their learning.

How should the radar chart be interpreted?

  • As the axes radiate from the centre, the resulting plot shows a greater shaded area with a higher degree of realisation. I have chosen an arbitrary IB-style 1-7 scale here, as it allows for sufficient variation between levels. However, this is not to suggest that the IB’s approach to international education is the only way to deliver an effective international education.
    • A school that reaches the ‘ideals’ of international education would show a high degree of coverage, and this would be balanced around the chart.
    • A huge caveat here is that for each of the seven elements, the seven levels of realisation need to be given a carefully-considered set of descriptors for the evaluation to have validity and reliability. This in itself is a big task (and perhaps another MA assignment), which could be achieved through an in-depth literature review of each element.
      • Each element needs to be reviewed in-depth based on the literature, to produce a rubric.
      • Otherwise the scales are based on perception, rather than critical evaluation.
  • My initial idea was to invert the axes and have the greater degree of realisation – the ‘7’ – at the centre, suggesting a bullseye or target. This turned out to be too difficult to create, but also the natural interpretation of a radar chart is that ‘bigger is better’, so I didn’t want to cause confusion.
  • Radar charts are good for identifying skew and change. A school may be strong in some elements, but weak in others, pulling the data to one side of the chart. An intervention, programme change or other factor might cause change in some elements over time. As the elements do not exist in isolation, these changes could impact other elements, and therefore the overall international dimension of the school.

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Some questions to consider:

  • How might the radar chart change over time for a school that is just starting out? For example, a ‘national-plus’ type school that opens with a generally homogeneous population of students and teachers, gradually introduces IB programmes, grows, hires more expat teachers, attracts a greater diversity of students, strengthens curriculum and action?
  • Does an international school need to be a good international school in order to be a good school?
  • How might market forces change the international dimension of a school? Would this tool help visualise the difference between a school that runs the IB Diploma as a product versus one that runs it as part of its core philosophy?

My Own Assignment

My plan from here is to consider the impact of the introduction of the MYP to CA on its level of realisation of the ideals of international education and to predict what might happen as a result of the upcoming summative evaluation of the programme. To do this, I’ll draw on the literature about the elements and ideals of international education, before focusing on the role that curriculum plays in this, and then use this to evaluate our current state and possible future.

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Further Reading

IB Publications (access through the OCC with login)

Academic publications (library access or purchase might be needed)


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What is an international education?

I’m taking this week to be locked away at the University of Bath, working on my current unit ‘Education in an International Context‘ as part of the MA in International Education. I’ll probably write a couple of blog posts as I filter my thinking and structure this piece of work.* 

My half-Indonesian, half-British, Japan-living son with a Canadian-born flower girl of English parentage. How will their educational experiences compare?

Sitting with some relatives after a fantastic family wedding last week, I realised that over the years I have started to take for granted the differences between my own formative experiences of education and my family’s current reality of something more powerful, something special. Over what basically amounted to an extended, well-fed reunion in France, there were many opportunities to tackle the predictable comments about being a teacher at the start of a long summer. There were also many conversations about why we’d want to go overseas and to stay overseas; about how our children are benefitting from our choices and how their education goes hand-in-hand with these choices and my work.

I was able to hone in on the issues that they might recognise immediately: better behaviour, more freedom to learn, less testing, a broader world view, international friends and travel, multilingualism, rich professional development. It was much more difficult to communicate the nature of international schools: the mission of the IB, the inquiry-based nature of their programmes, the rigour and academic head-start of the IB Diploma, the Next Chapter of the MYP, the educational and professional freedom and opportunities that go with the programmes, the general sense of decency and global-mindedness that one experiences.

When you start to really think about international education and what it means, it gets really complex. Of course, if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be enough material for a Masters-level unit!

My own school education was as far from international as you can find. A small-ish town on the edge of the English Lakes, I had one half-Indian friend at school and one Muslim friend who worked with me in the pub. It was English National Curriculum all the way in the years just before the internet burst into education. The Encarta CD-Roms in the library were our view on the world. Even the Geography GCSE exam featured a farm along the road from us. It was a good education, in a good school, in a good place.

My daughter’s education is shaping up to be something spectacularly different. She has many friends from many countries, has already – at six years-old – experienced schooling in Indonesia and Japan. She is in the PYP and loving it, a ready learner and inquirer with a developing set of positive global values. Her peer group, teachers, travels and the internet are a window to the world. Hers is a great education, in great schools in great places.

But this is a simplistic comparison between two extremes of internationalism. I was reminded of the many shades of internationalism over the last couple of weeks in my conversations and as I thought about my own journey. In a multicultural society, every school is, to some extent, and international school. The inner-city London school with multiple different languages and significant and diverse immigrant and ESL population is arguably more international than the homogeneous, nominally ‘international’ school I started out at in Jakarta, almost exclusively catering to Chinese-Indonesians. Where one is infused with international students and their values, the others aims to teach them. What about the embassy schools, oases of their nation culturally and curricularly isolated from their host nations; the private schools that use the IB programmes as a product versus those that buy into the philosophy; the cross-community schools in Northern Ireland that aim to foster peace and understanding (clear values of internationalism) across a divide that is essentially invisible to the outsider?

Already I can see the rich 100-year history and changing curricular and cultural face of my current school forming the background for what should shape up to be an interesting exploration of internationalism and education.

Better get reading.

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*As with the last unit, Curriculum Studies, the course leaders have provided an excellent set of stimulus resources on the course wiki for Education in an International Context, as well as a good range of prompts for the assessment. For those not familiar with the model here, we are basically given some resources, a choice of questions and then six months to prepare a  5,000-word critical analysis. Summer schools are possible, and I attended a great one on Assessment two years ago, though I do like the autonomy of getting on with things.


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As long as there are children there will be schools

Me & Liz, looking clever

Me & Liz, looking clever

I’m just in from the final Headmaster’s Symposium of the academic year. These have been a series of panel discussions with the community, and the focus of this month’s was “The Future of CA.” DJ, the Headmaster, invited me to on the panel as a teacher and coordinator, along with a couple of of teachers (see Liz’s intro here) and some parents. It was an engaging experience.

The symposium started with opening remarks to set up our ideas. Here’s my wee bit (it was longer in the drafting stages, but it was truncated to try to fit three minutes). Here’s the video.

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We are right to be concerned about the future of CA, though I don’t believe we need to be concerned with being a ‘school of the future’* in order to thrive.

As we become more connected and on-demand, there is more abundant and faster access to knowledge. But there will still be a need –  and a market – for education: the processes of learning and of learning how to learn. As long as there are children there will be schools.

Schooling has become about much more than transmission of content and its subsequent measurement by test, though it is still where students go when their parents are working. It plays a crucial role in socialisation, values education and developing skills. Schools are a step in the journey of a student’s lifelong learning and a central part of our society. However, society – and universities – judge us by what we know (our curriculum) and what we can do (measured through assessment).

In 1975 Denis Lawton wrote that curriculum is essentially a ‘selection from a culture’ and that:

“Certain aspects of our way of life, certain kinds of knowledge, certain attitudes and values are regarded so important that their transmission to the next generation is not left to chance in society but is entrusted to specially-trained professionals (teachers) in elaborate and expensive institutions (schools).“

What is (and has been for many years) changing is the globalisation of international education. Our schools represent diverse cultures, with their own knowledge and values, yet we are building another culture of internationalism. The selection from this culture is the collection of skills, knowledge, attitudes and values we are passing on to the next generation.

With broad and balanced programmes such as the PYP, MYP and IBDP we allow our students to develop as learners ready for a changing world, while also preparing them for the competitive nature of university entry and university success. We emphasise higher-order thinking skills that serve students well. Universities recognise that IB graduates are well-prepared, and ready to learn and the IB works hard on our behalf to further grow recognition of its programmes.

At the same time, they are reviewing and updating those frameworks based on strong educational research. Through this process, the backwash-effect of university demands on schools should over time be felt less dramatically, as we eventually strike a balance between educational innovation in schools and the prescriptive demands of university entry.

Furthermore, with the boom in learning technology and educational research we are in a position to enhance the schooling experience. We can open students up to the global classroom and we can evaluate our impacts on student learning with more effectiveness and efficiency.

We now know more about what works well in education than we ever have. Reflective and evidence-based practice should be the educational trend that we adopt ahead of others.

We are better informed about education and better equipped to meet students’ diverse needs. Taking appropriate action on this is how CA can ensure its future success.

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The point of this, were it not clear enough, was to show that we are a strong school in a strong position, despite the current economic challenges. As we see the written curriculum and professional development of the school develop, we can only get stronger. We have a strengthening integration of technology and the beginnings of a more data- and evidence-driven approach to teaching and learning. As well as engaging with content and concepts, students are creating, analysing and solving problems. They are becoming good young leaders and global citizens who do well at university.

As the discussion ran through the panel and the audience, conversations steered through learning, technology and, largely, financial issues. There were many interesting points made by parents, teachers and the panel members. Of particular interest to me were some points about getting us ‘out there’ and making the good work that goes on much more visible. We need to really showcase our efforts, engage more as a school with the communities – local, global and virtual – that can help us generate a positive footprint and attract (and retain) families and teachers.

*of course we need to be forward-thinking: this statement means we shouldn’t feel compelled to ride a wave of educational trends to become ‘futuristic’ and instead focus on becoming stronger.