Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t unusual for professional development conferences to cancel a particular session due to low registration. However, thanks to the intimacy and immediacy of Zoom, and the opportunity for convenient, global participation, the power of virtual, small-group collaboration emerged at the first-ever International Baccalaureate (IB) Summer Virtual Workshops, hosted by Branksome Hall from July 27-29, 2021.
“I was the Workshop Leader for [a session called] ‘Young Children: Powerful Learners,’” says Christine Lederer, an IB Curriculum Consultant, Workshop Leader and Site Visitor, based in Calgary. “We were a mighty group of four people and it was so nice to have a smaller group so we could chat and everyone was really engaged. It was my first time leading this workshop and I learned so much as we inquired together into brain and child development, the importance of relationships and playful inquiry.”
Overall, more than 200 participants, including 27 Branksome faculty members, took advantage of this annual opportunity to learn from world-class, certified IB instructors, improve one’s knowledge of the IB curriculum and network with like-minded peers. This enrolment level was on par with past IB Workshops hosted by the school, despite the virtual format. Sessions included IB-related topics such as the Personal Project, interdisciplinary teaching and learning, planning for program evaluation, and leading well-being in the school community.
“It was definitely an unusual context this year,” says Heather Friesen, Head, Curriculum Innovation & Professional Learning, who has been coordinating the IB Summer Workshops for the past decade with Administrative Assistant Lorraine Ashtiani. After cancelling the event completely in 2020 due to the pandemic, much research ensued and an excellent team of 17 workshop leaders from all over the world—and across the full spectrum of IB Programs—was gathered. More than 30 countries were represented among the participants, including Zimbabwe, Norway, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan, and 22 of the United States.
Sessions on well-being and planning for program evaluation proved to be event highlights, says Friesen. “It was good to hear about learning that could be readily applied to key priorities such as social-emotional learning.”
As well, with so many key Branksome faculty in attendance who are involved in plans for the school’s program evaluation in 2023, “it was extremely beneficial for these leadership teams to have a window into the necessary action plan and documentation to produce for this continual cycle of improvement,” she says.
New Branksome faculty members, such as Senior and Middle School Health and Physical Education Teacher Catherine Abuja, enjoyed the opportunity to ground themselves in the principles of the IB.
“As a new faculty member who is new to IB, I found the facilitators incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. The workshop overall was incredibly interactive for an online setting and the facilitators were responsive to the needs and desires of the group.”
In a year of much change, the value of the experience remained constant. As one workshop leader for Language Acquisition (French), Marie-France Bastien, noted, "As a workshop leader, these workshops allow me to connect with people from all around the world and with whom I can exchange as well as learn from."