News, Info and IB Student and Staff Blogs

June 10, 2016
by Ann Lautrette
1 Comment

Only the tip of the iceberg

I have been asked more than once over the past few days how the school supports students who are feeling stress in the IB programme.

We do support them of course.

Especially in the run up to the end of year exams we focused on stress-management techniques and affective self-management. (Managing moods, emotions and state of mind).

One piece of work we’ve been doing with students over the course of the year is based around the Iceberg Model:

The model has been used in various ways from Sigmund Freud to uses in describing behaviour, culture and systemic thinking for change.

For our purposes, we used it as a personal reflection tool to try to understand why we behave in certain ways. What are our mental models? What do we believe about ourselves as people? Does this influence the systems we put in place? Do we like systems which help us challenge or reaffirm our beliefs? Can confirmation bias be at play here? We do like to prove ourselves right! It was interesting to explore the beliefs students have about themselves as students, about their study habits and about their beliefs towards things like deadlines and being on time.




What we learned was that mental models, both positive and negative are at the root of our actions, and that we tend to be self-reaffirming. So, take the student who believes in the importance of meeting deadlines, who doesn’t want to be seen as unreliable. He puts systems in place to ensure that he doesn’t miss deadlines – he uses a calendar or a scheduling app, he sets himself earlier deadlines and creates the ‘buffer zone’ I described last week. Because of these systems, he doesn’t miss deadlines, reinforcing the belief in himself that he is the kind of student who meets deadlines. He feels good – he is right.

On the other hand, the student who believes she is easily distracted puts systems in place to reinforce that belief. She studies with music on, or her phone next to her, or social media open and on. Throughout her study she checks her phone, she procrastinates and ultimately reinforces her belief that she is easily distracted, and so, in fact, she feels good to be right.

Where things become difficult is when we want to challenge those beliefs – that is a lot harder than reinforcing them because it means recognising that we may not be right. Change theory using the iceberg model says that you have increased leverage when you change things at the lowest levels of the iceberg. So, how do you change mental models? Well, you can start by changing the systems. If the student who studies with distraction puts away those distractions and uses the Pomodoro technique or an extension like StayFocusd, and then is able to be less distracted, does she, over time change the mental model that she is easily distracted? And in turn does she begin to reinforce a positive mental model?

Of course, you may be wondering what this has to do with stress management – don’t you do work on mindfulness (a hot topic in education)? Or on the importance of balance?

And yes we do.

Before the end of year exams Sian our school counsellor ran a session with Year 12 on mindfulness and in Core we explored a number of stress-management techniques. Here are our slides:

But despite doing this important work with students, the thing I’ve been reflecting on over the past week is the sense of inevitability behind the question: ‘What do you do to support students with stress-management?’

The assumption is that students will be stressed and we will need to teach them techniques to cope with it. And this does seem to be the case. But, given that generally prevention is better than cure, the bigger question for me is, ‘how can we reduce the amount of stress students are under so that they don’t need to manage it as much?’

When IB students are stressed, it’s usually blamed on IB workload. And, it’s very true that there is a lot of work. However, IB workload is out of our sphere of influence or control. There are assessments, there are IAs, there is an EE, there is CAS and TOK, there are exams, and to attain an IB diploma you have to do those things. I manage the calendar as best as I can and try to keep things manageable but that’s about the best I can do about workload.

So what is under our control? As teachers, parents and students?

Firstly, good study habits and organisation. Work piling up, lack of organisation, in trouble for missing deadlines, spending hours studying with inefficient, ineffective study habits all add to student stress. So, as Core teachers, we teach them to be organised. We teach them strategies, techniques and tools. Here are our slides:

An important note however. We can only teach and provide these strategies – we cannot make students use them. If the mental model is ‘I don’t believe that will work – I have my own methods’ as it so often is, then it is hard for us to change student habits. But we do try.

Another source of stress for our students is expectation. This is usually connected to grades and is a huge weight on the shoulders of many of our students who feel they have to attain a certain level all of the time. In fact, the happiest students are usually those who aim for balance and enjoyment and decent grades, not those who have to get 38 points to go to (insert prestigious university) and become (insert prestigious career). As teachers, and parents, I think we are often guilty of adding this burden of expectation to students, perhaps based on an erroneous mental model that high grades are the only route to success.

So, while we can, and do, teach stress-management techniques, maybe as students, teachers and parents we can all ask ourselves, what are our mental models? How do they affect our behaviours? Do we reaffirm negative, unhelpful mental models just as much as positive, healthy ones? And can we change the systems to change beliefs? Even the belief that stress in an IB programme is inevitable?

Parents – many of you work in highly stressful careers. I’d be interested to know what strategies you use to reduce and manage stress. What strategies do you encourage your children to use? Please do comment.


June 4, 2016
by Ann Lautrette
1 Comment

Deadlines are a fact of life

From school, to university, to work,to everyday life, there’s no getting away from it – deadlines exist. Some are more critical than others of course – forget to pay your bills on time and you might find yourself in financial trouble. Forget to hand in an essay at university and lose 40% of the grade for the work. Miss a project deadline at work and you might lose your job. But why? Students of often wonder, and sometimes ask, ‘what does it matter if I don’t get that done on time?’ Isn’t the deadline arbitrary anyway?

Usually, that kind of question comes from a failure to see that you are not alone. The deadline you’ve been given is usually part of a chain. And, the person hassling you to meet a deadline is usually being hassled by someone else, and that someone else might well be being hassled by someone else and so on…

Take a school essay – an Internal Assessment draft, for example. A date is set for hand in, so what if you miss it? Well, usually the teacher has set a date for hand in, because the coordinator has set a date for hand in, because the IB has a date for hand in that can’t be missed. And this is the critical bit. Somewhere down this deadline chain, there’s a deadline that can’t, under any circumstances, be missed. And, everyone is working backwards from there.

Take a workplace example. Your direct manager has asked for a report to be written and handed to her by 12pm on Wednesday. The report is part of a much larger report which has to be submitted by your manager to her manager by 12pm on Friday. So you think, ‘ah, she doesn’t really need it till Friday, so it’s ok if I get it to her on Thursday, or maybe Friday morning. Except, and here’s the crucial, deadline meeting bit, your manager has built in a ‘buffer zone’. She needs the report from you earlier to check that you’ve done it right, to check there aren’t any mistakes and, just in case there are, she’s built in enough time to get you to revise the report before her deadline on Friday.
So if you’re going to meet deadlines, so that others can meet their deadlines, you have to take a lesson from your manager and build in a buffer zone. Whatever you do, don’t aim to complete a piece of work right on the final day. Always, and I mean, always, aim to be done before. Set yourself your own ‘internal deadline’, put it on your calendar and stick to it. That way, if you mess up, get something wrong, or something comes up, you have a little bit of time to get it right and still meet the deadline.

You might have noticed that the IB deadlines calendar is looking a little full right now. That’s because I’ve been working with heads of faculties to set the most appropriate deadlines for IA work. And all of these deadlines are part of a chain. If you miss one, you break the chain, weaken the links and cause problems for yourself (like the fact that you’ll then have to face more work the following week when there’s another deadline too). You also cause problems for your teachers, who have fixed the deadlines to ensure completion of all the requirements of their courses, including paperwork, in time for the deadlines I set, which are informed by the deadlines IB sets – and those are the unmissable ones! It’s important that you look carefully at the calendar, work out which deadlines pertain to your courses and then plan for how you’re going to meet them. Leave a buffer zone, break the work into smaller tasks, set deadlines for the smaller tasks, and check off on your schedule when you’ve done them.

Remember that missing deadlines makes you appear unprofessional and disorganized and impacts someone else in the chain. But, if, for some very good reason, you cannot meet a deadline it is imperative that you talk to the people concerned as early as possible (never after you’ve already missed the deadline), explain clearly the problem, and provide a solution. Your teacher, or boss, is still not going to be happy but at least you’ve been polite and professional, which might influence the response you get!

Follow the advice you’ve been given, ask for help before crunch time and believe you are the sort of person who is reliable and meets deadlines and you’ll be just fine!


February 6, 2016
by Ann Lautrette

What do love and study have in common? Communication!

It was a short week with Year 12 this week for those of us not attending the residential. It sounds like they had a great time though and they’ll all be writing blog posts about their experience next week.

Before they left for residential, in Core classes, we had been focusing on communication as our vital Approach to Learning. We looked not only at how communication is necessary for success at school and work, but also the need for communication skill in any relationship: we were all interested to learn our love language, for example. We discovered that actions really can speak louder than words, as can body language and facial expression.

In focusing on language as a Way of Knowing through TOK we considered the benefits of language to the Areas of Knowledge and in my class this led to a really interesting discussion about the way that language in the Natural Sciences needs to be as precise as possible and so some of the ways of doing that are through jargon, specific definitions and the use of latin or the generation of new words to act as a sort of universal language of science. The Arts on the other hand gain their power from the weaknesses of language in other Areas of Knowledge – metaphor which may be interpreted in many ways, ambiguity and symbolism which may be differently interpreted according to different context are all strengths in the Arts which allow people to make their own personal meaning.

After these discussions we wanted to introduce students to the TOK presentation and to do so I produced a sample presentation to deconstruct with the criteria. Although the TOK presentation is given live, as I was out on training during the lesson, I pre-recorded it:


Our students are now working on planning their own presentation which we are looking forward to seeing after half term.

The other task we asked students to do this week was an assessment to see how well they are able to apply their learning. We asked them to write a blog post exemplifying two occasions of their improved communication skill.

I can only speak for my class but I was so impressed by, not only the quality of the blog posts, but also by the variety of methods by which they were applying their learning. Wilson showed us how to use Skype and What’s app effectively for study. (And, most impressively, posed a TOK question about what he had learned in Physics). Rania showed us how to use screencasting to analyse poetry and share those ideas. Yujin discovered that the glass writeboards we’ve put everywhere can be effective learning tools. Rayhan gave us some excellent examples of study methods through good communication. What was particularly pleasing was the reflections of a number of students on the shared, communicative studying they had been doing. Some discovered for the first time how beneficial it can be to share knowledge and understanding. In our BSJ IB community working together to achieve is a fundamental value!

Next week we’ll be back to awarding blogger of the week, and post of the week for the best (read: most entertaining yet reflective) residential post.

November 27, 2015
by Ann Lautrette

We didn’t ask…but look what we got!

We talk a lot about independent learning.

With good reason. In just a year and a bit our Year 12 students will be gone. Gone from school, into the world of Real Life. And in that place, people don’t usually set deadlines for you, help you develop action plans, monitor that you do your work… In Real Life people expect you to just get on with what you have to do, meet the deadline and move on. So this requires independence. And, it isn’t necessarily easy: You have to be self-motivated, self-managed and self-reflective. You have to be able, without motivational speeches, without encouragement, without extrinsic rewards, to give your absolute best. And sometimes, you have to do this when its a task you don’t want to do.

It sounds tough, and it can be, so how do you develop the kind of independence needed to be resilient in Real Life?

Well first you have to take responsibility for yourself, your actions and outcomes. It isn’t the teacher’s fault you didn’t get the grades you wanted, it isn’t your parents’ fault you couldn’t get your work done last night, it isn’t your helper’s fault you forgot your homework and it isn’t the traffic’s fault that you didn’t get to school on time. In Real Life, no one much cares about whose fault it is anyway – basically, you didn’t do it, it’s your problem. So it helps to get on board with that now – you are responsible for what happens to you.

Secondly, you have to be proactive. Don’t wait around for someone to ask you to do something – do it yourself – without being asked. I say this with an example in mind: We asked for feedback on core from our students and a lot of it was great, but some was interesting: ‘tell us exactly how many blog posts we have to write’, ‘tell us when to read the textbook’, ‘Ed Toks would be better if students could do them’.

The answers are simple: Write as many blog posts as you want. Read the textbook when you want. Tell us what you want to do an Ed Tok on. (As yet, no student has come and asked us if they can do an Ed Tok.)

We have said from the beginning that you have to own your own learning – because, we can’t do it for you! We work as hard as we can to provide opportunities for you. But, this won’t happen in Real Life…

The title of this blog post though is related to the fact that there is much independent learning happening in Year 12 despite the comments above. This week, we didn’t ask students to write a blog post: ‘Are they growing in independence and proactivity?’ we asked ourselves. ‘What will happen if we don’t ask them to write a post this week?’

And this is what happened:

Alyssa, Lukas, Nandya, David, Philippe, Arjun, Patrick, Marie-Mathilde, Megan, AnesuNicole and Jasmine all reflected on our Approaches To Learning Conference. (Which I was going to tell you about in this blog, but they did a better job than me.)

We had CAS reflections from Michelle, Mahesh, Jasmine, Disha, Tara, Marie-Mathilde, Daniel, Arjun, Patrick, Isobel, Puspa, Divya, Matilda, Sarah, Nandya and Yu.

We had ethical debates from Marcello, TOK from Phil  and this powerful presentation of what it really means to be an Internationally-minded IB student from Claire.

Without being told these students wrote. And showed us that we don’t need to worry about their ability to be independent. (Because we do worry deeply about this…it is our primary goal in the Sixth Form.)


It really doesn’t get better than Claire’s post this week and so she has our Post of the Week award.Blog post of the week

BadgeCommentComment of the week goes to Mr Damian Walsh in the primary school who has commented on staff and student blogs. It is great to see someone not directly involved with our IB students feel prompted to engage in discussion on the issues which matter to them. Mr Walsh is also interested in giving an Ed Tok, so watch this space!


Blogger of the Week this week is Marie-Mathilde. With three great posts on CAS, the ATL workshops and making a bird in one of the workshops! Her posts use photos and written style to bring the events of the week to life. Well done M&M!

bloggerofthe weekbadge




November 13, 2015
by Ann Lautrette

Some Thoughts on Thinking

‘Thinker’ = 1/10 of the IB Learner Profile.

Thinking Skills = 1/5 of the IB Approaches to Learning

But why this obsession with thinking? Why this suggestion that we can develop thinking? That we can work to improve thinking like we can become better at any other skill?

In his book Outliers , author Malcolm Gladwell said that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. This has been much touted, particularly in education. Of course, it has also been refuted and like the good TOK students we all are, we wouldn’t take this claim at face value. Personally, I think it is rather simplistic to try to put a number of hours on ‘mastery’ and I would question the definition of ‘mastery’ as being context-bound rather than absolute, but I suppose what the claim does is highlight that skills need practice.

But how do we practice thinking? Surely it just happens?

I suppose thinking does ‘just happen’ in the same way that breathing just happens – unconsciously until we make it conscious. If I ask you to stop reading, right now, and breathe slowly. Inhale for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts. Could you do it?

I’m sure you could. You just made breathing conscious and deliberate. And, if you think about it, this could make you better at breathing – sometimes an important skill. Swimmers, runners, you know what I mean!

So by this reasoning making thinking conscious and deliberate, should make us better thinkers – when we need to be – like in our IB classrooms.

How do we do that then?

The first step is probably knowing what we mean by thinking skills. Not so easy as it turns out. A quick Google reveals as many different varieties of thinking skills as we might have thoughts. So I turned to the IB Approaches to Learning site for their definition and found this:

“The term thinking skills refers to a cluster of a large number of related skills, and in the DP particular focus is placed on skills such as metacognition, reflection and critical thinking.” (IBO, 2014)

So, metacognition, reflection and critical thinking then. How do we consciously improve those?

Metacognition basically means being aware of how you think which helps you to become more aware of the ways in which you process information, find patterns, build conceptual understandings, and remember key facts and ideas. Once you know this, you can work to improve it.

So, how do you process information? Well Visible Thinking Tools can help you understand that.

How do you remember facts and ideas? You can enhance memory with a wide variety of techniques. Try Memrise.

What about reflection?

This is such a big part of the IB Core – your blog is mostly about reflection: CAS reflection, reflection on your subjects and your learning through a TOK lense, reflection on your ATL skills and how to improve them. For me, reflection is about clearly knowing where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going. Next Wednesday morning, Year 12, you are going to work with your tutors on some of this.

And critical thinking?

The core of IB – being able to think critically is really the whole point of the IB Diploma. Very few exams are going to test memory recall – ultimately they test application of knowledge – can you take what you’ve learned, reflect on it and critically apply it? Vital because, although you could go through school passively listening, what happens when you are thrust into the driver’s seat of life?

And so to assess thinking this week in core we set students a task:

-‘Collect’ three knowledge claims from three of your IB subjects this week. Ideally something you have learned during IB.

– Assess the validity of those claims using the Ways of Knowing and the Areas of Knowledge.

– Write this discussion as a blog post.

For some this has proved very difficult, for others there’s a burgeoning understanding of how to use the concepts in TOK to critically assess knowledge. I urge students to read each other’s blogs, reflect on how conscious thinking is, and review their own use of TOK concepts to visibly think about learning.

Some students whose thinking is evident are reflected in our Comment, Post and Blogger of the Week. We’ve been particularly impressed this week by students who have taken their blogging to new levels by going beyond the requirements of posting and so our awards this week reflect that.


Comment of the Week goes to Glenn, who took the time to write a long comment on Marie-Mathilde’s blog after she asked for help with time-management. The support Glenn showed to a fellow student, as well as the really useful nature of his advice make this comment stand out this week.

Blog post of the weekPost of the Week belongs to Rahmani, who’s introduction to her ‘quote of the day’ feature is a poignant and personal reminder of our mortality, fallibility and the need to accept ourselves just as we are.

Blogger of The Week this Week is Michelle. Her post on the Indonesian haze caused by forest fires is informative, reflective and chabloggerofthe weekbadgellenging. She uses her blog to powerfully discuss an issue which we should all be talking about. Well done Michelle.

Next week, a round up of excellent posts assessing claims in classrooms. Have a great weekend!




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