How structural change can inspire pedagogical change.

IB Asia Pacific Conference, Macau 2015

These are notes to accompany a talk I gave to this conference. Many of these ideas are, or will be, ellborated elsewhere in this site.

New curriculum demands, and new approaches to teaching and learning require teachers to change their mindset about how to teach and what it means to learn. This presentation draw on experience in IB schools in Hong Kong, Geneva and Singapore where structural changes have allowed teachers to reassess their pedagogy. Examples will show how teachers who want to change the way they do things are enabled to do so, and those who are reluctant are inspired to join in. We will see how creation of new environments has led to unprecedented discussions over pedagogy between practitioners, and led schools to be more reflective with the school becoming a centre for research by its own staff. Along the way, some common dichotomies such as assessment and evidence, control and trust, backwards and forwards by design will be looked at in the context of more complex models.

The Prezi for the session at the Macau IB conference in 2015 is here. Actually is pretty slow, so here is the link to a downloadable version that you can run without Prezi. Just unzip and click!

The links to some of the documents mentioned are as follows

The Island Time Manifesto

The Island Futures Manifesto

Elements courses The list of courses and some information is in the links on the right hand sidebar. There are different courses on each day, and they are listed in that way for students to choose options.


A vision of learning for Island School

Common Ground Collaborative and their Common Principles for Learning

Enough links.

In brief the key ideas behind the presentation are these.


Change cannot happen if we do not change the structure within which we are acting. Those who want to change cannot do so, or at least it is very hard, if they have the same constraints. Whether the structural constraints are exam boards, syllabi, the length of lessons, the department boundaries, the assessment system, the speed of the internet connection, the size of the classroom, the furniture in the room or any other element then you must change that to allow change to happen.

Those who do not want to change are forced to if the structure is changed. They simply cannot do the same thing if you put them in a different place.


Teachers are wonderful people who can be trusted to find positive exciting educational solutions when put in new situations. This is particularly the case if they are collaboratively finding those solutions. There is no more creative synergy than a group of teachers finding out together what they are going to do if they are teaching a mixed age group, or in a large room shared with other classes, or for a lesson lasting 4 hours, or designing a course with no pre-defined end point, or having the whole class using mobile devices or anything else. Sorry, I correct myself, there is one thing more creative, and that is a group of students responding to these changes. Be prepared for the unexpected and try to lose a little control!

Backwards and Forwards

Schools or courses that are based solely on a backwards by design approach are limiting the opportunities for creativity and for student responsibility for their learning. If you decide the outcomes first, then those are the outcomes you will get, or you have failed. If you start from the beginning and let the teachers take the course where they want, giving opportunities for the students to take the course where they want, then the endpoints are unknown and exciting.

I am not suggesting that there is no place for backwards by design, merely that there must be opportunities for other things as well.


Assessment is generally a reductive process. We take the work and reduce to a comment, a mark or a grade. Students must be given opportunities to show evidence rather than the assessment of that evidence. If somebody asks how good is your extended essay, the answer should be here it is, read it, rather than don’t read it, it was a B.



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