ideas at a glance!
So well done, you! Congratulations on walking into your school as a newly minted PYP coordinator.
It’s possible you have been teaching the IB PYP for years now or only a few. Maybe the whole PYP thing is completely new to you. You may or may not have spent the entire summer vacation madly prepping for your new role.
But walking in on the first day, planning and organising for the year ahead can seem like an insurmountable mountain. Added to that, the likelihood that you have moved to another country, uprooted your family, and have all the other challenges that make up – life!
Here is a friendly and heartfelt look at how to survive the first month.
We’re all on the same boat and there are many resources to support us as we sail through this journey together. I’ve captured some of the ones that were most valuable to me:
- YOU are not alone. There is an amazing network of PYP Coordinators at your disposal. Love or hate social media, the PYP Coordinators Facebook Group is a source of constant inspiration and support. Coordinators share resources, ask questions, and unpack the workings of the PYP. There is also a mentoring program on offer that you can ask to be a part of.
- Regional networks can be a great resource and support. Many regions have a cluster of schools that have an administrator and networking system. Within these networks, PYPC Job-A-Likes bring coordinators together to share best practices or sometimes just allow you to email out a question. If you are lucky enough to be in a city that has more than one IB school, being part of a local network is another way to collaborate and gain support.
- Participate in official IB Workshops. There are a number of workshops offered by the IB to help you understand the scope of your role and connect you with other new PYPCs. Years on, I am still in touch with my group and we often share resources or reach out to each other for help and guidance. This is definitely worth doing early on!
Reach out and get connected. You will be amazed at what a wonderful community of support PYPCs have.
The first few weeks of any school are hustling and bustling. Make that a new school, and you have yourself an adventure of a lifetime!
Be sure to focus on what’s most important – relationships. Here are ways you can do that:
- Start the year with intention and purpose. If your school has an orientation week for teachers, make sure you are allocated a spot. Yes, teachers just want to be in their classroom, covering boards, and prepping for the year. But this is a great time to introduce yourself and share your passion and vision. For me, this is not a time to conduct lengthy workshops on all the elements of the PYP. Instead, one of my favourite engagements to do with teachers is asking them to write a letter to their incoming students with their hopes and dreams for the year ahead. This activity began to build our shared beliefs about learners and helped teachers understand that I put students first, setting the tone for our future talks about agency.
- Build positive and trusting relationships with teachers. Start by listening and gathering data. In theory, the curriculum should be documented in black and white. This is rarely the case. Great teaching and learning is often taking place but it is not always well documented. Don’t make assumptions based on what you read on paper, rather, gather your own evidence. Pop into classrooms, talk to teachers, parents, and children, and understand your school. Remember:
“The children are the curriculum”-Lisa Murphy
- Organize initial meetings with teachers through the cycle of appreciative inquiry. This will help focus the discussion on what works well and help your teams move towards a shared vision of what could be, as opposed to finding weaknesses and thinking of ways to fix them. I like to start all staff briefings with a celebration of best practices and choose different teams to contribute each time. We like to call it ‘The Beauty That Abounds.’ You can think of your own celebratory title for your context.
- Think of ways you can promote teacher agency and empower others. As a coordinator, your job is to coordinate and not do everything yourself! Develop focus groups or PLCs (Professional Learning Communities), use collaborative agendas and generally seek the buy-in of teachers to work with you. I have instituted curriculum focus groups for Language and Math to improve the quality of learning and teaching, address school initiatives, and work towards consistency of experience for all students. These groups consist of a teacher from each grade and our EAL Department. Teachers work on developing curriculum including assessment. They also undertake book studies and share best practice which is then filtered back to their teams. We take turns to facilitate the meetings and have an open agenda that anyone can add to.
- Connect with parents. Most parental difficulties come from anxiety brought on by a lack of understanding about the program. I run an interactive parent workshop early in the year and again mid-way through, to catch the newbies. In this workshop, I share the philosophy and elements of the programme. I also give them the opportunity to engage in questioning, inquiry and visible thinking routines to give them the experience of what learning and teaching looks like in our school.
YOU are a leader. Your guidance, support and passion are key components of successful student life, learning and wellbeing. Some of the things that have really helped me are listed here. Of course, they are not to be achieved in the first 30 days! However, factor in some time to develop yourself as a leader. The PTC offers great courses but there is also a multitude of others. Read, read, read and develop yourself.
- Work in tandem with your senior admin. It helps if you are all on the same page.
- Learn about managing change. I find anything by Michael Fullan useful. Be strategic, considerate, and see the big picture.
- Have a vision and passion that keeps students at the heart of everything you do. Communicate this clearly and with intentionality.
- Be reflective, and honest about your own emotional intelligence.
- Before you ask teachers to do anything, have a good reason as to why they should. Your why should be student centered and backed by the effective use of data or pedagogical research.
- Identify the early adopters, work with them, and empower them. They will be your cheer squad.
And never, ever forget, teaching is an emotionally and physically demanding job, teachers give their hearts and souls every single day. Be mindful of your asks of their time.
You don’t need to know everything, but be willing to find out.
- Read, follow and contribute. My favourite part of the holidays is being able to read something other than work-related texts! I read a lot in my work life. Some of the useful resources worth following are inspirational blogs like Sonya Terborg, Edutopia, What Ed Said, SharingPYP Blog, Making Good Humans, and of course, Toddle Learn. Though not an exhaustive list, these are some of my favourite sources of reading.
- The resources on the PRC (Programme Resource Centre) are, of course, a must-go-to for a PYPC! Make sure all your staff know how to access them too and are connected to MyIB (through a non-work email). This may be logistically demanding, so sometimes it’s good to use a meeting time, where everyone gets connected. From Principles to Practice is your go-to document for all things PYP. Another valuable and user-friendly resource for all teachers to develop a shared language is the PYP Playlist.
- Model the capabilities of a life-long learner and be the lead learner at your school. You will want to share all this wonderful and inspirational information so consider how you will share links with staff, deciding on communicating to all staff or sometimes just a select few who you know will be motivated and keen to learn.
- If your school does not have a weekly “staff newsletter”, start one! I call mine ‘PYP Bites’ and it’s generally full of silly GIFs and memes. But it also contains professional reading links and a sum-up of best practices at our school, where great teaching and learning has happened throughout the week. Just a few sentences and photos go a long way. Firstly, it makes teachers feel recognised and valued. Secondly, it sets expectations for other teachers in a positive and collaborative way.
- And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, teach. If it is not an existing part of your role, make it one. My role is purely administrative but I try my very best to read stories to children, take a swimming block, unpack an inquiry, make life-cycles, launch exhibitions, create design competitions, and more. Why is this so important? Firstly, it’s the best part of the day! Secondly, it gives me a snapshot into classrooms. Finally, it shows teachers I am also a competent teacher with street cred! How many of us as teachers have secretly (or not so secretly) felt that our admins couldn’t do the job they are asking us to do? Well, as the saying goes, don’t ask anyone to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself.
Self-care is very important and something many of us are not very good at. Self-care will look very different for each of us, but do not stop doing the (non-PYP related) things that make you happy. There is always more we can do, but stay balanced and schedule time in your week for YOU. For me, getting exercise at the gym, trying my hand at water colours, spending time with my dogs, or just binging the latest BBC thriller, keeps my energy up. They keep me positive so that I can give my best to my work.
All the very best to you on this incredible journey. It’s a wonderfully creative job, so make sure to look for happy spaces!
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