The Consistency Dilemma – IB in Japan

Please skip this post if you have any sort of aversion to boring academic writing. I certainly do. This idea presented at an IB-research conference last year in Japan has come up in conversation a few times over the past month so I have shared below in case it is of interest.


The Consistency Dilemma: Creative professionalism and pedagogical alignment in an IB Program, Damian Rentoule, JARIBE Conference, Okayama University, 2018

Presentation Abstract

The International Baccalaureate offers curriculum frameworks within which schools and teachers experience a degree of creative freedom in the planning and delivery of the programs. This results in a consistency dilemma where an IB school is required to foster creative professionalism through collaborative practices, yet needs to ensure consistency of pedagogical approaches across the school to fulfil its curriculum promises. A collaborative environment requires a clearly defined balance between teacher autonomy and school direction. Using literacy development and mathematics learning in schools as the context and drawing on research related to pedagogical consistency across the Primary Years Program, Middle Years Program and Diploma Program, this presentation will explore issues related to successfully navigating this consistency dilemma. The examples in the first part of the presentation will focus on student experiences in an English-medium international school setting and the second part of the presentation will explore specific challenges related to the consistency dilemma emerging in Japanese Article 1 schools as the IB curriculum framework is implemented.

Summary of Presentation

The consistency dilemma involves the desire to maximise teacher autonomy in curriculum design confronting a need to ensure consistency of practice. Understanding this consistency dilemma within the context of a specific school is the key to supporting teachers transition to an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. In the context of the adoption of the IB programs by schools, including Japanese Article 1 schools, it is possible that a degree of cultural dissonance may be experienced by teachers due to a consistency dilemma faced by any school implementing a curriculum framework with a focus on process rather than content. The shift in responsibilities of teachers to include a higher degree of curriculum creation may be a source of at least part of this cultural dissonance. Furthermore, the complexity inherent in a curriculum framework focused on process rather than content may challenge existing understandings of curriculum implementation developed through teachers’ prior experience with content-based curriculum frameworks. Understanding the nature of the consistency dilemma in a process-based curriculum framework may help schools to support teachers exercise their creative professionalism with greater levels of confidence.

The IB offers curriculum frameworks within which schools and teachers experience a degree of creative freedom in the planning and delivery of the programs. These frameworks present a process of education (inquiry) rather than a set of prescribed content (knowledge, skills, understanding, attitudes), although certain essential content guidelines are provided. Both process and content will exist in any curriculum framework, however when viewed as a  continuum of ‘process focus’ to ‘content focus’, the IB is far to the ‘process’ side of that continuum. Curriculum frameworks can include different amounts of structure or control. On the ‘content’ side of the continuum, it is possible to describe and dictate content in minute detail to ensure consistency. This is complicated because there are many parts, all inter-related with one another. On the process side of this continuum, however, it is not possible to dictate the dynamic process of inquiry in minute detail as the parts interact with each other and impact the whole. In other words, a curriculum framework focused on a process is not complicated; it is complex. This difference is at the heart of the cultural dissonance that a teacher may experience moving from one side of the continuum to the other during a school’s adoption of an IB program. It is a movement from a complicated system to a complex one.

In order to manage this new complexity, the idea of ‘creative professionalism’ has been used by the IB to construct a role for IB teachers where they have an active responsibility to create parts of the curriculum, both content and process. This is a potential source of cultural dissonance as schools and teachers are required to redefine their roles. For this reason, within the context of a curriculum framework focused on process and promoting creative professionalism, two important questions confront schools facing the consistency dilemma when adopting the IB programs in terms of supporting teachers in the transition:

  1. To what extent should the intentional design be individual and to what extent should it be collective?
  2. How do we manage the sense of discord, confusion, or conflict experienced by teachers confronted with a drastic change in their teaching role as co-creators of the curriculum?

The answers to these two questions are an essential starting point when schools shift between a content focused curriculum framework to a process focused one.


  • ‘Too tight/Too loose’ curriculum idea used in the presentation – Chapman, C. and Fullan, M. (2007), ‘Collaboration and partnership for equitable improvement: Towards a networked learning system?’, School Leadership and Management, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 207-211
  • Creative Professionalism – The term used extensively in the IB originating with David Hargreaves over 20 years ago. Creative professionalism The role of teachers in the knowledge society, 1998, Demos.
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Is the learning of reading a magical thing?

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A Contemplative Baboon moment, ‘I learnt to read better during secondary school. However, I wonder if I would have been a better reader, if someone had actually taught me?’

Is the learning of reading a magical thing in secondary school? Does it happen when we are not looking? I recently did a study (http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:305782 – abstract available here) – a discourse analysis of 100 lessons – 5000 minutes of the lives of some students. Modes of discourse (reading, writing, speaking, listening & acting) were identified. I would like to make you guess what percentage of all of that classroom discourse was reading based.

…waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting,waiting, waiting…

OK, that’s enough time. It was just 4% of all discourse – at least in my sample.  There were many things in the results that didn’t surprise me, but this did. To make matters more distressing, a high percentage of this discourse was teacher-centered. I don’t even want to add another thorn, yet I must. No explicit teaching of reading was identified. This is 100 50-minute classes. That is quite a lot. At least I thought so when I had to analyze it.

This brings me back to my question – is the learning of reading a magical thing? Students get better at reading, yet we don’t explicitly teach it.  I have kept my eyes open for the elusive explicit-teaching of reading in the secondary, but it continues to confound me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that students learning to read better is miraculous. Perhaps it is just some type of inexplicable magic. It just doesn’t seem to happen when we are looking.

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