An Ode to IB

Educators are, generally speaking, idealists. Our supermajority share a commitment to the idea that children are key to our future, that a learned mind is a powerful force for change, and that comprehensive education, artfully delivered, elevates the world. Master teachers embrace three certainties: they can always be better at their craft, they are ethically obligated to be their best for their students, and even the most established practices need updating now and again to keep pace in a changing world. 

Like all human endeavors, education is full of traditions: some good, some bad, some benign, some inertial, many impervious to critical and necessary shifts in thought and technology, practice and priority. These traditions, given traction, can become truths in and of themselves, even when they fail to deliver intended outcomes. Traditional education, that known at a personal level to most of us, has its place in history. While it retains some number of useful practices, traditional education struggles to prepare students for the world that is--a dynamic one, wherein ambiguity supplants certainty in all aspects of human thought and behavior.  The International Baccalaureate is a pedagogical framework designed precisely for this world, the one that awaits our children.  It looks different because it is different, constructed from the ground up to develop habits of mind that far exceed preparation for university. 

My initial flirtations with the International Baccalaureate date to the Spring of 2002.  Back then, having spent the previous five years teaching at university, I was decidedly more traditional in my pedagogy and assessment practices--a counterintuitive achievement given I had trained and worked in Montessori in the years before graduate school.  I was not averse to progressive thought or practice; I just defaulted to a mean that supported my self-interest as teacher as much as the needs and interests of my students.  In 2006, I was tasked with assessing the value and fit of IB for my previous school. 

I began my IB journey as I imagine most veteran educators do, with curiosity and suspicion.  As an administrator, I am fiercely protective of the intellectual and programmatic independence of schools. I was skeptical from the outset, of the viability of a comprehensive system, of the claims of IB educators, of tying the school to an externally-moderated program. The more I dug in though, and did my best to counter the key claims of the program, the more I was swayed in its favor. 

The International Baccalaureate Organization, I soon discovered, had done its homework, developing key assertions, structures, and approaches to learning in partnership with renowned universities and elite preparatory schools.  IB borrowed heavily from longitudinal research on cognitive development and scientifically-vetted best practice. The IB put kids at the center of their learning process, right where they belong. IB developed critical thinking intentionally and everywhere in the curricular framework.  The program works to give greater shape and precision to assessment. IB values prior knowledge. The real world, all of it, more school stuff without application.  Yes, the IB has its peculiarities, but the strength of IB programs far outweigh a few structural difficulties, and hundreds of thousands of well-prepared and highly successful graduates are proof of the enduring value of this approach.

Baldwin's IB journey began in the Fall of 2012. We spent that school year preparing for substantive change. We readied our administrative team for a refinement of our philosophical commitments, and to lead an overhaul of pedagogy, assessment practices, and curriculum. Over the next few years, we trained at all levels, implemented new practices and programs, devised a school-wide skills map, questioned the value of every text and tradition, backwards planned every learning unit, and achieved authorization in all three programs. Along the way we've had countless conversations, always with a mind to be better, to improve learner outcomes, to hone our craft. 

Implementation was the easy part. Optimization, our current efforts to make headway along all fronts, in all disciplines, at all levels, is the hard part, and it takes time. We are more than up to the task. Our teachers have grown tremendously; so too our students.  Our curriculum is rich and demanding. We continue to take on big new ideas, refine preexisting ones, and improve our execution.  We continue our commitment to professional development. We are now seeing the fruits of our labors at all levels, and especially in our full Diploma Candidates (Class of 2019). 

We are proud to be the first International Baccalaureate Full Continuum School in the history of Puerto Rico. We are prouder still of the growth of our students and professionals. We are just beginning to be the school we intend to be, a truly world class institution. I look forward to the coming year, our fiftieth as an institution, and the success of our first IB Diploma cohort.

See you around campus!