The gift of international mindedness

Posted on 18th Jan 2017 in University Study, International Mindedness, United States

In today’s seemingly chaotic world of changing political influences and increasing racial tensions, the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) aim to bring peace and understanding to the world is now more important than ever (Fitzmaurice, 2016). Children in American schools and international schools worldwide need role models, examples, and opportunities to act on issues of social justice, global competence, and cultural awareness to increase the probabilities of a more peaceful and safe world for generations to come.

The International Baccalaureate Global Teacher Studies and Preparation Program at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) acknowledges the critical role that international mindedness (IM) plays in all aspects of teaching and learning for our students. Research at CSUSM has also focused on IM, with a recent presentation of data and findings on the role of the school principal in promoting and insuring international mindedness by CSUSM program coordinator Dr. Carol Van Vooren (pictured).

In a recent keynote presentation to the IB Networking Conference teachers and school leader participants in Vista, California (Van Vooren, 2016) the research was shared to deepen the understanding and application of IM in the curriculum and culture of the schools. Drs. Van Vooren and Michael Bell (Flinders University, Australia) interviewed IB principals worldwide to gather qualitative data. The analysis of this data indicates that IB school principals are open-minded, live in families where positive interaction and community with other cultures is common, and have a desire to influence equal opportunities for all students (Van Vooren & Bell, 2016). Research shows that to embed international mindedness in the curriculum, school leaders need to first understand themselves, their own values and beliefs, and then understand and know others with the appreciation for the ways that others live and act (Van Vooren & Lindsey, D., 2014). This may be prompted by understanding multiple languages; having exposure to other cultures and ways of doing things; and gaining the knowledge of what is occurring in the world outside of one’s local realm.

The IB’s (2009) definition of international mindedness was described as developing an “intercultural understanding” that is embedded in the curriculum framework and the Learner Profile dispositions. The Asia Society (2013) defines IM as, students, teachers, and school leaders who can “investigate the world beyond their direct environment, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences, and take action to improve conditions.” Other IB research incorporates “global engagement” and “multilingualism” as critical pathways to the core elements of intercultural understanding.

Besides developing skills and knowledge, the IB considers students’ local/global realities critical in accepting responsibility to take appropriate actions (Castro et al, 2013). Select interview quotes from the collected research data by Van Vooren and Bell (2016) on school leaders indicate the sensitivity and awareness principals have of the presence of IM in their schools. One principal interviewed from a school in India said, “We have to look at the curriculum to see where preconceived notions hinder us from IM”. A PYP coordinator in Indonesia commented, “We need to teach for all students to take pride in what they bring to the classroom”. A principal from Western Australia observes, “Unless you totally embody international mindedness, it can become tokenistic”. From an assistant principal in the USA, “Nobody has a light bulb moment that I am an IM thinker now. It is something engrained in you and stays with you all the time”. The principal must lead the effort to establish a school culture of international mindedness and model the dispositions and actions of international mindedness in everyday life. Okri states that “you can’t remake the world without making yourself” (1999).

The research collected and analyzed by Van Vooren and Bell (2016) through qualitative coding methods indicates that IB leaders around the world demonstrate international mindedness by:

– knowing and prioritizing what he or she values for the students, teachers, and community

– developing personal relationships and perspective; being an example for others

– inspiring intrinsic motivation in students and teachers

– being a curriculum leader and knowing the skill set and the pedagogy needed

– supporting opportunities for students and staff to take action

– bringing in community, participating in real life contexts

– managing school culture, including preconceived notions

– fighting for social justice and against discrimination, racism, sexism, etc.

– leading systemic change

– answering to a higher calling, making a difference, influencing the world

How does this research translate from the broader school culture to the classroom? As teachers are supported, trained, and have time to develop and embed international mindedness into the readings, discussions, writing, and assessments, lessons take on a new look. Students gain perspective of how other children their age live and interact around the world. For example, there may be opportunities to see how our planet can be small when analyzing polluted water in a local stream with students worldwide, or in studying a culture far away that celebrates the cycles of the moon. The IB mission statement ends with, “…these programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right” (IB, 2016).Students may begin to see a world without borders, in part fuelled by the digital advances that connect them not only to their own community, but also to people and events in other countries.

At California State University San Marcos, our mission includes the notion that we create community through partnerships; promote and foster social justice and educational equity; advance innovative, student-centered practices; and inspire reflective teaching and learning (CSUSM, 2016). We invite you to join our online Global Teacher Studies and Preparation course of study and learn how you can make the world a better place through advancing your IB teacher practice.


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Okri, Ben. (1999). Turn on your light: Mental fight. Phoenix House: London.

Van Vooren, C. (2016, Feb 20). The gift of international mindedness. The IB Summit Conference. Vista, CA: Rancho Buena Vista High School. Keynote Presentation.

Van Vooren, C. & Bell, M. (2016, May). International mindedness and educational leadership. Paper session presented at the 2016 IBEC University Conference, Kent State University, Ohio.

Van Vooren, C. and Lindsey, D. (2012). A conceptual framework for international-mindedness to address disparities. JTLPs: The Journal of Transformative Leadership and Policy Studies, 2(1), pp 25-33. Retrieved from: