Three programmes or one continuum?

Our learning story is about our journey and our shift in thinking from being an IB school with three programmes to being a continuum school. In Stratford Hall’s early years, it was evident from conversations with various IB staff members that the three programmes were intended to be stand-alone experiences; and there was no thought of connecting them.

We were committed to offering all three programmes and felt that this thinking was limiting. We also felt that we could not be the only school that was going down this path, and that the IB would eventually shift this thinking.

The first evidence of a shift from the IB was the new mission statement in the early 2000s. The influence of the PYP was evident in its message, using terms like “inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people” and seeking that they become “active, compassionate” learners.

The second was the implementation of the learner profile, adapted from the PYP’s student profile for all programmes in 2006.

George Walker, then Director General, wrote afterwards: “Each of the three IB programmes had a different provenance. None had been designed with the others in mind, so there was a job to be done in making them internally consistent and logically contiguous. The result was a crucial publication entitled The IB learner profile...” (Walker 2011: 8). 

The third was the new emphasis in the MYP on inquiry and constructivist approaches. Thankfully, our thinking was correct, and in 2008 the IB created the Continuum Development Team, and continuum workshops and resources were introduced.

Over the past decade, there has been a real transformation in the IB, with full acknowledgement that the IB anticipates more schools offering all three programmes (and perhaps even four, with the IBCC). There are currently over 200 such schools worldwide and four schools offer all four programmes.

Our own development has allowed us to construct three separate facilities, a building for each programme. The PYP building, housing 232 students, is an open plan that encourages collaboration amongst teachers and students.

The MYP building, with 220 students, is designed around learning places and social places. Both of these buildings are purpose-built and have been designed so that learning is visible everywhere. The DP building houses 88 students (and the fine arts for all of the school) and has a variety of open learning places.

The recognition by IB of the K-12 continuum as a particular programme path has inspired us to make the continuum work for our entire school. We look at the IB in all of its aspects as a foundation for a strong learning culture in the school. Our first project was to review the terminology we used in assessments. Our curriculum is logged on Rubicon Atlas, and the search functions depend on common terms. This was a positive exercise that connected teachers from all three programmes. Subsequently we have taken two full staff development days per year and made their focus any topics that are common to the entire teaching staff.

In 2012 we took the step to create new curricular positions at the school, based on our needs for implementing ideas and concepts through the continuum. The first three positions intend to focus on specific early needs. The core element of CAS in the DP needed to find a place in the other programmes, so we created the position of Continuum Coordinator for Action. The service component was particularly important: we wanted to expose students to service learning at a much earlier age. This also connects to the PYP action cycle and student engagement in a broad sense.

The second was to look at the specific elements of IB, like the learner profile or approaches to learning, across all grades. We had already created our own K-12 command terms and assessment types, and we have used variations of approaches to learning as part of our regular student reporting process. Our new Continuum Coordinator for IB Elements is particularly interested in self-management or self-regulation skills and wants to develop a sequence that relates self-management issues to student growth and maturity.

Continuum schools face a difficulty in coordinating IB teacher training since it is managed by the three IB programme coordinators. Although each of these coordinators allocates professional development resources according to the needs of the specific programme, there are often K-12 gaps or redundancies. The role of the Continuum Coordinator for Professional Growth is to coordinate with the three programme coordinators and to look at school-wide initiatives. This role is increasingly important as the IB introduces more continuum workshops; these must be approached with an understanding that by definition more than one IB programme is addressed in these sessions. The three new coordinators are very excited about their new roles. We have started slowly, with no additional release time for them, but soon they will have some time set aside for their work with the continuum. The three programme coordinators are grateful for the assistance and the ability to link the PYP, MYP and DP. For the whole staff, the school’s commitment to thinking “continuum” is evident and supported.

Driving the continuum across the student body are our Prefects. These are our Grade 12 leaders, the top student positions in the school. In addition to five more traditional Prefect positions (creativity, action, service, spirit, external relations), we have shaped the final four positions at the request of the students. We have a Prefect of the Continuum who will pay attention to school-wide events and community, as well as a Prefect for the PYP Community; Prefect for the MYP Community; Prefect for the DP Community. As a team of four, they will work at tying us together. When the students understand and care about the IB continuum, you know that it has taken hold.