In an effort to further challenge students and allow them to take more responsibility for their own learning, Dr Cheryle Osborne embarked on a journey to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.
‘Our students were very capable and I thought they were not being challenged so I commenced our journey to become an IB school which is inquiry based and student centred,' she tells Teacher.
The principal of Aspendale Gardens Primary School in Victoria says she was aware that instruction across the school was generally more teacher-centred than student-centred, but when she walked around the rooms and saw that lessons were almost identical to each other, she realised she had to embed more diversity and choice into the classrooms.
From there, she sought the advice of experts she respected in education. One person in particular recommended she look closely at the IB approach, so she set out to visit IB schools and watch them in action. Her staff were also involved in this process – they visited schools over the next year and reported back about their experiences.
‘Then we had a vote at the end of the year and it was unanimous that we wanted to go down that track,' Osborne shares.
Developing transdisciplinary skills
The staff were to teach the IB Primary Years Programme, which is a curriculum framework designed for students aged three to 12.
Initially, the process involved quite a lot of research and reading through policies, Osborne says.
‘You need to be following the transdisciplinary skills approach which is where the social skills, self-management, communication, thinking and research skills – they all combine around a transdisciplinary theme,' Osborne explains.
‘And then there's the themes, there are six themes throughout the year which are –who we are; how the world works; how we express ourselves; here we are in place and time; and how we organise ourselves – and then of course the last one will be sharing the planet.'
This approach encourages students to be inquirers, principled, open to challenges and internationally minded, Osborne says.
Reflecting on your own practice
To further support her on her school's IB journey, Osborne signed up to become a Certified Practising Principal (CPP), an award that recognises school principals who have demonstrated high standards of leadership by lifting school outcomes.
‘I thought the whole process would be very interesting and was an opportunity to document the journey of a project in my school that I could share with my colleagues if the opportunity arose. I started in 2016 and finished in 2017,' she says.
Having worked in education for 38 years, 18 of those in the role of principal, Osborne thought that being part of the CPP program would enable her to reflect on her capacity as a school leader.
She also learned a lot through the CPP process of documenting the success of the implementation of the IB program.
‘[I learned] the importance of data collection and documenting processes and evaluating the effectiveness of the process involved, and discovering how you may change it in the future. This came about due to the reflective nature of the project,' she says.
She says CPP also reinforced the importance of staff professional learning and highlighted that teachers learn at different rates so ongoing support is needed.
‘It made me really focus on staff professional learning as it was a huge learning curve for us all,' Osborne says. ‘We were all on the journey together so it was vital that time was spent ensuring everyone was keeping up and adequate support was provided.
‘We are constantly measuring the success of the program by focusing on learner agency which is where the students are encouraged to be actively engaged in their learning including thinking, planning, modifying and creating along with becoming self-directed independent learners with an active voice.'
Osborne says CPP is something she'd recommend to experienced principals looking to extend their learning and reflect on their own practice.
‘The CPP is designed for experienced principals so I would not recommend it to beginning principals as it was an additional workload added to an already massive principal workload,' she says. ‘The sense of achievement when completed was very rewarding.'
Other articles in this series:
In what ways do you allow students to make individual choices about what they’re learning? What impact does this have on their engagement?
To find out more about becoming a Certified Practising Principal visit the website.