Thursday, July 8, 2010

The IB Learner Profile - Caring

I've just read an excellent blog post today on Caring in Education which I found following a tweet from @vickyloras.  I was so excited, as I finally managed to meet Vicky in person yesterday afternoon after following her on Twitter for a while.  We are both teachers, we both arrived in Switzerland at the same time last year and by a strange coincidence both ended up living in the same place, and while we have had different experiences we have a lot of common ground too.

Caring is one of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.  The IB programmes "promote the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all domains of knowledge ..... educating the whole person for a life of active, responsible citizenship."  The IB Learner Profile applies to everyone at the school:  students, teachers, administrators and parents, who are expected to support the learning.  Caring, therefore is something that teachers have to do explicitly.

The IB describes a caring person in the following way:
They show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others.  They have a personal commitment to service and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.
Nel Noddings' article discusses the reciprocal nature of caring.  Most teachers are hard-working and care about their students, they have goals and try to encourage the students to reach these goals.  Sometimes these goals may be set by the school or an outside examining body.  From the outside, Nel argues that these teachers appear caring, but this is not the whole picture as it does not take into account the students' feelings of being cared for (or not) and the students' views of whether they think the teacher is a caring person.  In fact Nel mentions that some students confuse class control and hard work with caring.  Although in these classes the students may be working hard and doing what they are told, they may have little interest in what they are doing - the teacher has not really engaged them or explored topics of mutual interest and therefore they do not really feel cared for.

Caring does not happen in isolation - it is a two-way process that involves the teacher paying attention to the feelings and expressions of the students and getting feedback.  It is empathetic, rather than sympathetic and it involves responding to the actual feelings of the students in a positive way whether or not the teacher shares those feelings.  It also involves a response from the students so that the teacher can see the caring has been received.  Nel says:
Without an affirmative response from the cared-for, we cannot call an encounter or relation caring.
When a teacher is caring, he or she is automatically differentiating as s/he knows the needs of each individual student and helps each one to achieve their goals.  It's important to engage in dialogue to discover their needs, interests, strengths, weaknesses and how they best learn.  Once the students feel listened to, that their feelings are accepted, they will begin to trust and accept what the teacher is trying to teach.  The teacher also benefits as he or she has a greater understanding of how to plan lessons to reach all the students - thus by caring the teacher becomes a better teacher too!

Earlier this morning I also read a guest post on Ken Wilson's blog by Sue Lyon Jones.  I urge you to read her whole post, as it is fascinating.  In a nutshell, without any teacher training at all, Sue took on a group of "unteachable" kids who had either dropped out or been excluded from school because of disruptive behaviour.  The most important thing Sue did at the outset was to talk to them and show a genuine interest in them.  The students realised she cared, and they started to shape up, behave and care about themselves too.  Sue describes this job as the most rewarding job she'd done - so she got a lot out of it as well!  Sue lists what she learned from this experience:

  • There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” lesson. Students are individuals and need to be treated as such.
  • Find out what your students’ interests are and what motivates them, and work those things into your lessons.
  • Listen to your students and be sensitive to their needs.
  • Create a positive classroom atmosphere and make opportunities for fun – students who are having fun rarely (if ever) misbehave.
  • Praise your students sincerely and often for good work done.
  • Don’t spoon-feed your students – they need to be challenged and encouraged to think for themselves.
  • Be a mentor to your students; nurture their hopes and dreams and encourage them to aim high – if you have low expectations of your students, then they will live down to them.
And finally (and perhaps most importantly)
  • There is no such thing as an unteachable student. All students have potential – the key to unlocking it is making a connection with them and finding out what makes them tick.

My final thoughts on this can be summed up in another tweet I read earlier this week:
If we truly are caring teachers, if we are engaging in dialogue with our students, listening to them and planning our lessons accordingly, and we are already getting feedback from them in order to inform our planning, then we are making a positive difference in their lives.  So what on earth would we have to be afraid of with students evaluating us in return?

Photo Credit:  The Joy of Teaching by J.C. Rojas


  1. IF people were truly caring they would ban IB from their country. It is a major UN indoctrination program

  2. Hi Maggie!
    Thank you so much for the great tweet-up the other day,it was so amazing that we both lived in the same city and did not know. And above all, how many things we have in common! Thank you as well for mentioning me in your post, it is very nice of you.
    The article on caring got me thinking a lot. Basically it reminded me of a university professor I had, who once told us: "Do not show students that you care, because they might take advantage of that." I remember how shocked I was and I was only 18-19 then. I promised myself that day, that I would never follow her take on caring in the classrooom and I am happy I did not. As you mention in the post, it is about being empathetic - your list is wonderful: praising students, being sensitive to their needs...
    Educators should always remember that they are human and so are their students. The latter do not come in class just to be passed on dry knowledge and then walk out the door.We have to instil values in them and above all, listen to them and always help them.
    Thank you for this beautiful post, Maggie and I look forward to seeing you again soon!
    Kindest regards,

  3. I have thought for the whole day about the comment from "webmaster" and I published it because I feel I would like to reply to it. I have no idea who the "webmaster" is, but I visited the link submitted and read what was published on the site. I believe in multiple perspectives and that the "webmaster" has the right to publish his or her opinions. Unfortunately the comment is not really long enough to make much of a point and I would be interested to know more about why s/he feels the UN has set up an indoctrination programme and what the s/he feels the goals of such a programme might be.

    I have been teaching in international schools for the past 22 years and I base all my comments on this experience. I have taught all 3 IB programmes (PYP, MYP and DP) to thousands of students over these years. These students have come from over 70 countries and represented many different religions, values and viewpoints. None of these students or their parents has ever mentioned the word indoctrination to me and I am not aware of any parent ever withdrawing a child from any of the IB schools where I have worked because they were worried about the philosophy of the IB or how it was affecting their children. As a teacher I have attended many IB workshops and conferences over the 22 years and have never been subject to any indoctrination whatsoever. In fact, as a teacher I have worked on committees that have written documents for the IB and have been involved in curriculum review and I have never been instructed what do think or write by the IB.

    In addition to being a teacher I am also a parent of 2 young adults who have gone through the IB programmes. My children are wonderful young people and I am very proud of them. They are caring and compassionate individuals who show respect to everyone regardless of race, nationality or religion.

    I would like to examine the Truth About International Baccalaureate website in the same way that I encourage all my students to examine anything they read online. I ask them to verify the information by asking the following questions:

    1. Is it clear who has written the information? Answer: not at all clear from this website, except that it is "built and maintained by concerned citizens of the United States of America". Generally if my students could not verify the author of the website they would reject it as a valid source of information.

    Continued in next comment ....

  4. Continued ....
    2. Are the aims of the site clear? A good site will tell you who it is for, what it is about and what it is trying to do. The Overview page does give the aims of the site which are:
    a) To inform parents, educators and taxpayers of facts about IB
    b) To advocate for a return to the "traditional" American system of high schools with Standard, Honors and AP levels and to invest in American (AP) courses and examinations which have a longer record of acceptance, quality and greater national and global recognition.
    c) To advocate for the retention of local educational control and U.S. sovereignty
    Clearly this site is only aimed at students in the USA, not in international schools. The information is also inaccurate. The webmaster claims APs have greater global recognition: in fact the IB is accepted for university admission in over 100 countries, whereas the AP is recognised in less than 30, therefore it would be counterproductive for most international schools to offer AP instead of the IB since most of the students are not going to go to American universities.

    In addition the academic rigor of APs is not as high as the IB. In my current school if students are unable to do the IBDP or Certificate, they drop out and do APs instead (and many are quite successful at passing the APs they do). One major difference is that the AP is graded on a bell curve - each year a certain percentage of students get 5s, another percentage get 4s and so on regardless of the quality. The IB is more individual - meaning that if there were 10 Einsteins in a class, for example, they would all get 7s in the IB.

    3. Does the site achieve its aims? The site gives some facts and some opinions. It doesn't come close to "truth". I would like to question what the webmaster thinks truth is? This is something that is hotly debated in the IB TOK course! TOK is composed almost entirely of questions. The most central of these is "How do we know?"

    4. Is the site relevant to me? No, although I have worked in the USA, I am not teaching in an American school and I don't teach American students. The site is not aimed at students or teachers in international schools.

    5. Can the information be checked? There are some links to outside sources and to what is called "local opinion". I am unsure of what local opinion is - perhaps it is also written by the webmaster?

  5. Continued ....
    6. When was the site produced? I cannot find a date when individual pages were updated, but the site does appear to have some information dating from July 4th 2010.

    7. Is the information biased in any way? We teach our students to be aware that saying something in a certain way to make you think or believe a particular thing is called bias. I imagine every one of our Grade 5 students would be able to pick up the bias in this website. They would say the site does not give a balanced opinion. It is also a stated aim of IB TOK that students should become aware of the interpretative nature of knowledge, including personal ideological biases.

    8. Does the site tell you about choices open to you? No, the only choice the site wants you to make is to reject the IB and return to a "traditional" American education - which is not an option that would be relevant for most international students.

    All the above questions were taken from QUICK (Quality Information Checklist) - here is a link:

    One final point: As mentioned before I used to live and work in the USA. I also used to live and work in the UK. In these schools I taught a very small number of children who were from other races or religions - perhaps one or two per class. However there were many times when I witnessed racist abuse being hurled at those students by their white classmates - a Pakistani boy was called a "black bastard" a Jewish boy was called a "filthy pig" and so on. In my 22 years of working in international schools following the IB curriculum I have never experienced the level of hatred and abuse for those who were seen as different in some way, as I experienced in the schools in the USA and the UK. The students who I believe are best able to work for the betterment of humanity and the planet as a whole are those who have experienced those differences and grown to respect and value the others and to "understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right."

  6. Wow. "Webmaster" is bold enough to make a statement like this, but not bold enough to leave his/her name?

    Thanks for the shoutout, Maggie. I do think caring is at the core of any kind of good teaching. It saddens me to think that your post, which really is highlighting the importance of this attribute -- IB or not -- was targeted by someone as thoughtless as "webmaster."

    What kind of person does not want caring teachers and students?

    I'm not even going to address "webmaster"'s claim that the IB is "UN indoctrination" because it's clear that anyone who states this has not actually read anything from any IB documents. It's simply and ignorant remark and doesn't warrant energy from me to respond in any lengthy manner.

    Thanks for posting on another aspect of the Learner Profile. We need more teachers (and parents and students!) blogging about IB.

  7. Hi Maggie,

    I encountered this character ("webmaster")and even commented on the website but he deleted my comments. That tells a lot about the nature of the website, the ethics and the personality of its creator as well.
    I don;t think you need to argue on this any more - he needs not validate a system that works (IB). We know it does. It should suffice ;)

  8. Great post as always,Maggie. And you have certainly done a thorough job of critiquing the 'truthaboutib' website. One thing that's blatantly apparent is the lack of truth on that site. The truth for me is this... I have only been privileged enough to learn about the IB in the past few years.My school has taken the process of PYP slowly so that every member of the school community can develop their understanding and learn and grow together.We have our authorization visit coming up in a couple of weeks. It's not an international school, by the way, but we chose this program after careful research. In Australia, there are many schools like ours, which aren't international schools, but have chosen the program because they value the beliefs behind it and know how important it is to foster the development of global citizens who care about the world they live in. I can say without a doubt that my school is the best it's ever been. Teaching and learning are at their best and we have become a community of learners. Our students are developing the attributes of the learner profile. They are becoming globally aware and developing a social conscience required to make a difference in our world. I recently attended an IB Asia Pacific Conference entitled Unlocking the Treasure Within, which focused on the development of tolerant, caring human beings and the important message quoted by Maggie, that others with their differences can also be right. I'm proud to be associated with such a program.

  9. I'll begin by responding to the post. Beautifully stated, when we aren't differentiating education for students what we are telling them (usually inadvertently) is that we don't really care. I would be hard pressed to find a teacher who truly didn't care and yet we still may be sending that message to our students. It is important to take the time to meet our students where they are at, understand their interests and backgrounds so that when it comes to the learning, they know that it is a safe place to explore from. A caring environment where they grow.

    Maggie, you have utmost patience. "webmaster's" comment was rude, poorly stated, and poorly supported. Anyone who has spent any amount of time reading your blog knows that the IB program isn't indoctrination. You did a wonderful job of responding in a factual manner, just the way we would ask our students to approach the conflict. Some people need something to be angry about, it is sad that this is where "webmaster" chose to put his/her energy.

  10. I discovered the truthaboutib website just this week from an article in the NY Times. I'm not surprised to see such a comment here on your thoughtful post about one of the many positive aspects of the IB. Unfortunately, it seems that for some Americans, anything that is not pro-American is somehow considered anti-American. As an American who has lived and taught overseas for the last 10 years, I strongly believe that our public schools would greatly benefit from a more international perspective on their learning. Intercultural understanding is not anti-American, it's pro-human.

  11. I live and work in Corning NY, where all of our grade 6-10 students go through the MYP and then make a choice whether or not to continue into the DP. We've got only a handful of DP students due to the sheer amount of work that these students need to do. Many choose to join marching band, sports teams, or other after-school clubs rather than spending every evening reading and writing for IB.

    Implementing IB in our district was not in any way "indoctrinating" us to a UN point of view. It was a change from "outcome" to "process" - a change from "B+" to a "31" - a change from every teacher doing his/her own thing to all teams working collaboratively on planning and scheduling of lessons. The process of implementing IB has completely transformed our school district into something better - and we're still weak with the International aspect of it. We're certainly not teaching our students to love the UN. I think xenophobic people might think of IB as a "UN School" because of the international-mindedness part. People who want to close the borders permanently and move back to an isolationist government will see IB as a threat. The rest of us - who see that the world is becoming more interconnected every day - praise the IB program for forcing us to recognise people "unlike us".

    Very odd response by anonymous. If you're going to make accusations at least cite valid references.

  12. Maggie, after going to I have to agree with your comments about this web site. The Catholic school my grandchildren attend in Virginia is and IB accredited school. I feel their education is well rounded and the curriculum is challenging. I am a technology teacher in a Pennsylvania Catholic school that has Middle States accreditation which diocesan schools are encouraged to attain. The person who represents him/herself as Webmaster is very narrow minded and the lady Lisa McLoughlin seems to focus on the cost of the IB program. There is cost to schools wanting to get Middle States or IB accreditation and curriculum in both is only as good as the administration and teaching staff of the school or district.

  13. Bravo Maggie for your initial blog post and for your response to 'Webmaster'. Facts and global experience and knowledge will always overide nationalistic bias in my opinion. As an IB educator I too have seen the 'power' of this approach and fully support implementation of approaches such as the Learner Profile where students are taught and encouraged to THINK, REFLECT and develop global citizenship skills in a holistic learning environment that focuses on good communication skills in all areas.......
    Thank you for the conversation opportunity

  14. Nice post Maggie.

    It's unfortunate that it takes a troll like 'webmaster' to get comments rolling. Let's not let people like this frame our conversation!

    [Webmaster, I would love to have you to visit our school and meet students from all over the world and to see how we are working to help them understand and care for each other. Our planet is much bigger and more beautiful than you imagine. If you ever have the chance to travel and interact with people from other cultures, please do. It will broaden your perspective and make you a happier more perceptive person - someone educators should listen to.]

  15. I have often suspected that a great deal of the anti-IB rhetoric comes from vested interests in the US which want to maintain an outmoded system of measurement. The 'imperial' system is still used in US mathematics and science tests, which makes them useless - unless you happen to live in the US, Liberia or Burma. Personally, I like the rounded and integrated education which the IB seems to provide. The longer people like webmaster continue to cling on to their beliefs, the longer the US will stay stuck in the 19th century.