I had the opportunity this week to sit down with two girls enrolling in the IB Diploma Programme, a chance to talk about how they view their strengths and challenges as students, about where they see themselves in relation to the IB learner profile, and about why they’ve chosen to pursue the IB diploma. We took as our starting point the written reflections each diploma candidate submitted as part of her enrollment process.
As their current English teacher, I know both girls well as readers and writers, but this was an exciting chance to talk about learning free of content. Indeed, this is one way to describe the Theory of Knowledge seminar that is at the heart of the Diploma Programme: an investigation not of what we know, but what it means to know and learn. Our individual conversations underscored the exciting differences in perspective that Stoneleigh-Burnham students bring to our moments together.
Tillula sees the IB Diploma as an opportunity; one, in fact, in life’s string of opportunities that can either be met as productive challenges or wasted. In light of her high standards for herself, she has “the determination to challenge [her]self” in this and “other things in life along the way.” I was most impressed, though not at all surprised, by her self-awareness in assessing her weaknesses. Tillula spoke and wrote about how hard it has been for her to speak up, and how hard she has worked to find her voice. We talked about how far she has come just this year, both in joining the classroom conversation and in advocating for herself as a learner, seeking out help and clarification. In one moment, she and I each saw the same light bulb go on above the other’s head: this was all the same conversation. She was rising to meet this challenge every day, taking the opportunity to speak and be heard.
Anna surprised me when she identified the IB learner’s characteristic that posed the greatest challenge to her: risk-taker. Here is a thinker who delights in making surprising connections and unearthing subtle meanings for all to share. She is a powerful presence in every setting, and I struggled to imagine her reticent. Anna, of course, knew herself better than I: she explained her “tendency to hang back and assess” rather than “leap in and try.” She spoke of the importance to her, both socially and in the classroom, of using opportunities to understand and synthesize before venturing forth. And suddenly here we were again, seeing the lines between strength and weakness blur before our eyes. She was describing her remarkable aptitude for comprehensive critical thinking!
It is indeed special to be in a position every day to teach and learn with these outstanding young women. This particular shift in context afforded us the opportunity to join in brain work, thinking about thinking, talking about learning, and experiencing the academic synthesis that defines the IB program and in truth all that we do in this powerful learning community. It was heady stuff. Not bad for a Wednesday.
– Alex Bogel, Stoneleigh-Burnham School English Department