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Spreading the global message

How should IB educators best embody the diverse values of international-mindedness?


Four practitioners offer their views.

Marcel de Lannoy, IB French teacher, The American School in England, UK

Importance of language

Social unrest. War. Famine. Poverty. Corruption. Today’s world problems frighten even the most isolated, affluent and protected, and rightfully so. In light of the distressing circumstances precipitated by colossal misunderstanding, ignorance and greed, the facets of international- mindedness – understanding other cultures and knowing other languages – are more critical than ever. I approach my teaching as a mission. Enabling my students to develop a respectable linguistic competence is just one component of that crusade. Encouraging my students to develop a love for learning, a curiosity for French culture and other cultures, as well as social awareness, plays an integral role in my approach.

Early in my career, I had the good fortune and latitude, for the most part, to develop a dynamic direct method programme at the middle school level. The direct method requires that all four language skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) are emphasized equally and developed simultaneously. All instruction is always in the target language. It may be a labour-intensive approach, but it works. Even youngsters who are not particularly adept at language-learning develop a respectable linguistic competence. Effectively, they are communicating in the target language, and that should be the basic aim of any respectable language programme.

I hope that my lessons stimulate youngsters intellectually and creatively. Each day, the learning should come alive and students should walk away having added another element of communication to their repertoire. Learning a foreign language should not be just a means of fulfilling a school’s graduation or university entrance requirement. A foreign language should not become that bibelot to be stored away on some shelf, only to gather dust later. A language is for life.

Language-learning is crucial. In a period of so much world strife and misunderstanding, a foreign language and all its sundry elements (learning about other cultures and traditions, political systems and social problems) can enlighten each of us. Striving to communicate in a foreign language opens doors on many levels: making new friends, understanding different people, pursuing opportunities in the international job market. Most importantly, learning another language also helps to learn one’s own language, to develop mental strategies for tackling other disciplines, and to foster understanding of oneself.

Julie Flemister, school counselor, McGraw IB World School, Fort Collins, USA

International awareness

Along with many of my students, I used to think being international meant ‘travelling globally’. Then I was fortunate enough to visit Houston, Texas, for my first Primary Years Programme (PYP) training on international-mindedness. There I learned that being internationally minded means the ability to apply the Learner Profile and PYP Attitudes wherever life takes you. For example, I would be able to be a respectful and caring person whether I went to the store down the street, or travelled to Japan. IB teachers need to be teaching how to apply the Learner Profile in every situation, and model these types of behaviours. Rather than teaching that being international means to travel or learn about another country, the lesson should focus on how an internationally minded person would handle a conflict in another country. As a counsellor, I am fortunate to apply the Learner Profile during my lessons on getting along, managing anger, bully-proofing and other related topics.

The word ‘international’ should be taught using the same vocabulary as the Learner Profile. As teachers become more fully aware of what international-mindedness means, their students’ actions and behaviours will reflect the Learner Profile. When we teach students to be respectful, empathetic, balanced and knowledgeable citizens, they are able to grow and become successful anywhere. When we as teachers model this type of behaviour and teach what an internationally minded citizen looks like, we help produce internationally aware students. The IB mission statement reflects what we teach: “The organization aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” Relationships are the basis of our success. Relationships are built on respect, empathy and caring. Being internationally aware develops students for positive relationships and global citizenship.

Nicholas Alchin, director of IB, Sevenoaks School, Kent, UK

Celebrating tradition

When I first visited Sevenoaks School, it felt very British to me. Despite the cosmopolitan mix of nationalities, wide range of cultural activities and an IB curriculum, having come from a very liberal and non-uniformed school, I didn’t expect to find Sevenoaks’ smart blazers, prefects and relative formality in an international school. Of course, the fault was with my expectations, rather than the school. I had assumed that you couldn’t be a British school if you wanted to be an internationally minded school, but international-mindedness can be manifested in different ways and in all sorts of schools.

I used to think celebrating diversity was the key, but have come to think differently. The trouble with only celebrating diversity is that you are only celebrating difference. To my mind, underpinning any sense of international-mindedness must be a strong conception of self, as we cannot understand and value other selves unless we understand ourselves.

The important thing, I think, is that schools allow students to see what they all have in common, what it is that we all share, and that we share it with those far beyond the school walls. There’s no reason this cannot be done within a rich national tradition as well as an international one. If part of being internationally minded is to be reflective and self-aware, as the Learner Profile suggests, then a strong sense of self and one’s own value – as provided by a school with a strong connection to its national tradition – can be one of the ways of getting there. As long as these traditions are examined, open to question (theory of knowledge can play a very useful role here) and used as a starting point for thoughtful discussions, they can be a very good springboard for international-mindedness. Importantly, this approach is open to all students, no matter what their cultural or national background.

Next year we’ll have been teaching the IB Diploma Programme for 30 years, but as well as doing the things we have always done, we are looking to find ways to further develop the spirit, so we’ve just introduced a compulsory international studies course for our 14- to 15-year-olds. I now think, in contrast to my initial impressions, that if you’re trying to be internationally minded then being a British private school can be as good a place to start as any. So though we still have a lot of work to do, we’re confident that we can be British, international and internationally minded.

Matt White, DP coordinator, Geelong Grammar School, Geelong, Australia

The teacher’s role

How do I know when I am teaching in an internationally minded way? Can teaching the IB Diploma Programme help me foster positive attitudes towards the value of cultural pluralism? These questions highlight the significant challenges facing educators who are teaching the Diploma Programme, and I think this search for international-mindedness is one of its defining characteristics. However, these questions can be lost in the cut and thrust as we prepare students for examinations, especially towards the end of the IB experience.

I think international-mindedness is essentially a call to dialogue – a call for new relationships between cultures, to experience the exciting exchange of our hopes, fears and optimism for the future. I believe it is important to build these relationships, because variety in ethnic identity is critical to shaping human relationships.

But as a residential academic member of staff in a culturally diverse co-educational boarding school in multicultural Australia, it is one thing to say I am being internationally minded and another to actually achieve this in the classroom beyond the traditional ‘food, flags and festivals’ response.

I sometimes think this approach is too limiting. It reduces the richness of cultural diversity to marketable pieces, becoming a method which seems to characterize so many international programmes of education. I think sometimes we can fall into the trap of being glib in our understanding of international-mindedness if we simply believe we are all shards of a shattered mirror reflecting common humanity.

I have found that I need to create circumstances for dialogue to move from the theoretical to the practical. In order to understand and show empathy to others from diverse cultural backgrounds, I have to engage with my own culture, language and literature first. I can’t find the way around someone else’s cultural map without an idea of my own. At its worst, it can be nothing short of exotic tourism for me to attempt to navigate another culture.

In our next issues

IB World always welcomes ideas, suggestions, thoughts and pictures from contributors around the world. In every issue we invite contributions on set themes. For the next two issues, these themes are:

September 2008

The IB and diversity

How does the IB embrace diversity and what more should it be doing? Is your school particularly diverse or do you have an interesting story of educational inclusivity? What are the barriers to truly diverse education? 

Copy deadline: 20 May

As well as our themed features, IB World also carries regular features in each issue that rely on reader contributions:  these include Diary, Resources, Lifeswap and CAS Report.

If you are interested in writing for IB World, we would love to hear from you. Please email the editor at to discuss ideas.