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### Enhancing ‘Caring’ Throughout the International Baccalaureate Journey – Notre Dame Prep in Oakland County, MI

Exploring Caring at the Core of Education in IB World Schools like Notre Dame Prep

Notre Dame Preparatory School has been granted authorization by the International Baccalaureate (IB) to deliver the IB-Primary Years Program, IB-Middle Years Program, and IB-Diploma Program to its students.

Several years back, Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m., the founder and current corporate president of Notre Dame Prep, was questioned about the school’s investment in a comprehensive academic curriculum, including the International Baccalaureate programs spanning from pre-K to 12th grade.

Fr. Olszamowski expressed, “We offer top-tier education — blending Catholic and global perspectives — at Notre Dame Prep. This led us to adopt the IB curriculum to complement our already outstanding academic framework. I often emphasize that our goal is not just to prepare students for our current world but to equip them for their future, 20 or 30 years down the line, as thriving and compassionate individuals.

“When they ascend to roles like CEOs and leaders, our aim is for them to be empathetic and socially conscious, navigating the world without losing themselves in it. Ultimately, our mission is to furnish our students with the necessary education to succeed in both this world and the next.”

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., endorsed by the International Baccalaureate organization, aimed to gain deeper insights into the significance of “caring” across the spectrum of IB programs (IB-PYP, IB-MYP, and IB-DP).

Please note: Although Notre Dame Preparatory School is authorized to offer IB-PYP, IB-MYP, and IB-DP, it was not part of this particular study.

The subsequent research summary was originally released by the International Baccalaureate.

Caring stands as one of the essential attributes within the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) learner profile. The IB defines the learner profile as “the translation of the IB mission statement into a set of 21st-century learning outcomes” (IBO, 2014). The caring attribute in the learner profile emphasizes:

“We exhibit empathy, compassion, and respect. We are dedicated to serving others and strive to make a positive impact in the lives of individuals and the world at large” (IBO, 2013).

This IB-sponsored study had dual primary objectives. Firstly, it aimed to gauge the prevalence of caring attitudes among students in IB World Schools, and secondly, it sought to understand the strategies employed by these schools to instill a culture of caring among their students.

The educational principles underpinning IB programs acknowledge and stress that learning is inherently a social endeavor. This learning process necessitates an ethos of care where all participants, including teachers and students, are invested in supporting each other’s educational journey. The study underscores the critical nature of fostering caring-centered cultures within educational institutions.

Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m., the school’s founder and current corporate president, underscores the school’s mission to prepare students for their future, not just the present.

However, care should not be viewed as a unidirectional flow from teacher to student but rather as an integral aspect of the organizational ethos permeating in all directions. Genuine caring thrives when every member of a community acknowledges their duty to care for one another. The authors advocate for a reframing of “caring” within the context of social solidarity, where individual self-interest is rooted in a commitment to reciprocity and the common good.

The schools involved in the study valued the emphasis placed by the IB on comprehensive education and pro-social learning through the learner profile. They appreciated the autonomy granted to them to embody this philosophy within their unique school environment and recognized the pivotal role of school leadership in adapting flexibly to cultural diversities at both national and institutional levels.

Key Findings

Survey data revealed that students exhibited high levels of perspective-taking, empathic concern, and various caring-related attitudes and behaviors. While direct comparisons with non-IB students were not made, the findings suggest that students in the surveyed schools demonstrate a strong ethic of care. Additionally, the majority of students concurred that their school effectively nurtures a culture of caring.

Inter-program Disparities

Overall, scores remained consistent across different IB programs, indicating a uniform inclination towards caring behaviors. Notably, students in the Diploma Program (DP) displayed comparatively lower scores in perspective-taking and in perceiving their school’s role in fostering caring attitudes. This trend might be attributed to age-related factors, with DP students possibly focusing more on academic achievements at that stage of their education.

Inter-school Variances

While distinctions between IB programs were minimal, variations among individual schools were more pronounced. Two schools (Alpha and Beta) exhibited higher self-assessments in terms of caring dispositions and contributing factors to enhanced caring tendencies. These schools were further scrutinized in subsequent case studies to delve deeper into their distinctive practices that could account for these differences, alongside exploring the interpretations and implementations of caring practices at the remaining four case study schools.

Effective School Practices for Cultivating Caring Behaviors

Drawing from the quantitative survey, qualitative case studies shed light on specific initiatives and methodologies employed by schools and the IB that could foster caring conduct.

Fostering a Culture of Caring

A prevalent theme across all schools in the study was the integration of caring values into the institutional fabric. Caring was perceived as foundational to the learning process, a prerequisite without which meaningful learning experiences were deemed less likely to occur.

As articulated by a teacher, “I believe that young children need to feel ‘cared for’ and to learn to ‘care’ for others before they can comfortably engage in academic learning… Establishing this level of ‘caring’ is crucial to academic progress.”

Furthermore, interviewees stressed the significance of leadership in nurturing a caring environment. Effective leadership, encompassing both exemplary behavior and practical initiatives, was identified as pivotal in setting the tone for a culture of caring within the school. Leadership was identified as a critical element in fostering conditions conducive to the flourishing of caring cultures.

While school principals play a vital role in cultivating a caring ethos, leadership, in this context, extends to all individuals occupying leadership roles, whether formal or informal.

Role Modeling

Across all case study schools, role modeling emerged as a fundamental strategy for promoting caring behaviors. Teachers universally acknowledged the importance of exemplifying caring actions to students, with the belief that students would naturally absorb these values through observation.

For instance, one principal suggested that actions speak louder than words, asserting that caring attitudes are assimilated through observation rather than explicit instruction. The researchers advocate for more structured approaches to conscious modeling, which could be facilitated by the IB to enhance effectiveness.

Language of Care

Educators in certain schools expressed the need for culturally appropriate synonyms for caring in specific contexts. They sought nuanced language that accommodates diverse cultural interpretations more effectively than the current IB definition. While educators were clear in their reluctance for prescriptive measures from the IB regarding caring practices, the report suggests an opportunity for the IB to introduce a more nuanced vocabulary for discussing caring attributes and offer guidance on effective frameworks for such discussions.

Utilizing the Curriculum to Cultivate Caring Students

Many participants in the study believed that the IB curriculum presents ample opportunities to prioritize caring within the educational framework. The prominence of caring within the learner profile motivates teachers to integrate caring principles into their teaching methodologies. Survey data indicates that IB programs potentially encourage formal caring initiatives within the curriculum. While caring integration in the curriculum is beneficial, it alone is not adequate for fostering a culture of caring within the school; however, it can serve as a catalyst.

Both educators and older students emphasized the essential link between thought and action in caring behaviors, highlighting the IB curriculum’s emphasis on caring and community service. The study underscored the imperative for educators to leverage the resources provided by IB programs to ensure that a commitment to caring remains central to the learning process, particularly during the later stages of education when academic pressures intensify.

Concluding Remarks

Caring at the Core of Education The foundational principles of IB programs underscore the social nature of learning, emphasizing the importance of care in facilitating a supportive learning environment for both teachers and students. This study underscores the critical role of fostering cultures of caring within schools, where caring is not merely a unidirectional flow but an organizational ethos that permeates all interactions.

The authors advocate for a reframing of “caring” within the context of social solidarity, where individual interests are rooted in reciprocal relationships and a shared commitment to the greater good. The schools involved in the study value the holistic education and pro-social learning promoted by the IB through the learner profile. They appreciate the autonomy granted to tailor these principles to their unique school environments and recognize the pivotal role of leadership in accommodating cultural diversities at various levels. While schools prefer autonomy in incorporating caring into their curriculum, additional guidance from the IB on effective practices could prove beneficial. Moreover, schools could benefit from enhanced support in modeling caring behaviors, fostering meaningful dialogue, and developing a more nuanced language for discussing caring attributes across different programs.

All schools included in this study were continuum schools, akin to Notre Dame Prep, offering the Primary Years Program (PYP), Middle Years Program (MYP), and Diploma Program (DP).

This summary was compiled by the IB Research department.

Stevenson, H, Joseph, S, Bailey, L, Cooker, L, Fox, S, and Bowman, A. “Caring” across the International Baccalaureate continuum.” Bethesda, MD, USA. International Baccalaureate Organization.

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