Posted by: sherrattsam | April 19, 2010

Bringing back the Learner Profile

Salihah profile by bingregory.

The Learner Profile is one of the most complex aspects of teaching and learning in the PYP. You want it to become a part of everyday talk and ingrained in behaviour and attitudes to learning, but you also don’t want to repeat it parrot-fashion until it loses its essence. Many a workshop leader has used the quote “live it, don’t laminate it!” and we’ve all laughed nervously and said “ha ha… hmm” to make it look firmly as though we hadn’t laminated the Profile, stuck it on a wall and forgotten about it.

I’ve been struggling with something recently. I’ve been wondering how aware students need to be of the exact terminology we’re all using to underpin the framework of the PYP in our schools. When they act out of kindness, generosity and warmth do we all have to ceremoniously cry out that they are “Caring”? I’ve always believed that it is the unwritten codes of conduct in societies that are the strongest, do we weaken the Learner Profile by labeling it so distinctly for our students?

Actually, I often wonder if the IB created the Learner Profile primarily with teachers in mind… in the hope that if it can become ingrained in the way we behave, cooperate and collaborate it would become a natural part of student attitudes in good time. I don’t think I’ve been in many schools in which the Learner Profile is used as guidance for us in our meetings, in the way we communicate or even, dare I say it, in the ways that we teach. Bill and Ochan Powell blew us all away with this amazing video about “Mirror Neurons”, I dare anyone to argue that it doesn’t tell us it starts with us.

Back to my dilemma. I’m at a critical stage in the exhibition process with my Year 6 students. The exhibition is the culminating academic “event” of their elementary education. PYP terminology, attitudes, conceptual understandings, transdisciplinary skills and the desire to take action should be bursting from them… BANG! PYP exhibition.

But what if I can see all of those attributes in them every day that I work with them even though they may not be able to tell someone how they are acting. For example, a student who decides to do a presentation in the style of a TED talk on a theatre stage with a massive screen, professional lighting and a packed audience… does he need to be told he’s a “Risk-Taker”? Probably not. Does the subtle use of language over a number of years in a PYP school, the modeling of “risk-taking” behaviour by teachers and older students and the laying down of a series of incremental challenges by a series of good teachers put him up on that stage? Yes, I believe it does.

I am left with two choices for my planning over the next two weeks, do I “remind” the students of the exact wording of the PYP Learner Profile just in case someone comes along to check out they know exactly what they’re doing. Or do I take the risk that they will display the attributes of the Learner Profile to such a full extent that nobody even questions them about it?

Photograph by bingregory on flickr


  1. Hi Sam,

    I had the same question a few years ago at an IB workshop (when I first dived into PYP)…as it reminded me of the communist displays of “great qualities” everyone should have.
    I wondered back then whether this triggers changes in student behavior and challenged the workshop leader to bring arguments – either from personal experience in class or from other teachers’ feedback.
    You know what it would be interesting? To ask STUDENTS about this issue. Do they find it useful? Did they reflect and learn more about themselves and others by continually being reminded of these attitudes? Did all these profile-related activities enable them to change?

    • Yes, I think it would be very difficult for students to answer those questions. Just as difficult as it is for us, as teachers, to answer them!

      It might be an interesting study for the IB to conduct.The comparison in general behaviour, attitudes, atmosphere, purposeful learning etc… between two or more schools that have taken different approaches.

      There’sso many variables, it’s difficult to say. As with all things to do with human behaviour, it’s not an exact science.

  2. Great post. as always, you have got me thinking. It always seems a bit ‘fake’ to me, when teachers point out that kids are displaying the attributes of the learner profile. ‘Thanks, I saw you being caring’. Although I’m sure this is required for younger kids. It seems to me that in some cases the focus on the language of it takes over, so that kids use the words, but don’t really walk the talk. But I agree that the having the profiles make teachers more aware of modeling these behaviours themselves and of fostering them in their students. Where the focus is more on modeling and encouraging these behaviours in a meaningful way, than on ‘getting a star on the chart’ for being a risk taker today, the change is going to be more real. ( Cristina, I’m going to ask the students what they think!)

  3. Hi Sam. Our school doesn’t run the PYP but our 3 upper primary classes work with the MYP. I understand exactly what you’re saying regarding the Learner Profiles. We do have them displayed on the walls, and our fortnightly assembly awards need to be based on the profiles. I must admit that, whilst I see some students showing these attributes on a regular basis, I sometimes find it difficult to use the terminology of the profiles in their awards without it sounding stilted and contrived.

  4. Hi Sam,
    You are so right. That old dilemma of talking rather than walking the walk. I often look at the Learner Profiles as a reminder to me on what I value in human beings. I think I can only model these behaviours and hope that our students might get the message. We need to give them the language (the terms) to put to the behaviours, but in the end it’s seeing it in action on a daily basis that will ensure that this particular meme is adopted. I’m not going to walk around with a checklist ticking off behaviours. I will remain ever hopeful that we are a part of ensuring that good human beings come out the other end of our education system.

    • I brought this issue up in the Promoting International-Mindedness workshop I did this weekend. In general, people felt that the behaviours are much more important than knowing the words. However, Julian Weekes remembered a quote that goes something like this:

      “It is not by doing things that we learn, but rather by reflecting on the things we do.”

      Neither Julian or I could recall who made the quote originally. However, I think Julian was spot on to remember it during our conversations because students really do need to be able to know and understand the terminology of the Learner Profile and PYP Attitudes in order to reflect on their behaviour. So, I guess my thinking has shifted a little bit…

  5. Hi Sam,

    Learner Profile – always been an area of interest.. we speak of it at most staff meetings and how we can find an evidence of them in daily planning, teaching and learning. But must share an Aha ! moment we recently had.

    Grade 4 was inquiring into their unit on role models and what surprised us was when students went beyond the words … and could relate and make meaning of them through actions of their role models. It wasnt suggested , provoked…it just happened. What then seemed a display till recent times in those classrooms with a few reflections, came alive and we could soon see students making better and authentic connections through their own actions….

  6. […] Bringing back the Learner Profile « Sam's Workshops […]

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