Core: Personal & Professional Skills

What is PPS?

Personal and Professional Skills is a compulsory component of the CP core: a 90 hour course of personal and professional transferable skills for students to develop over the two years of the CP course. It is just one of the elements of the CP Core but at the heart of what makes this IB programme unique; schools can create a course that is bespoke for their students’ individual needs and school community not only to fulfil the requirements of the CP course but also to prepare them fully for future pathways.

Spotlight on ...

NEW: Responding to Change

The ongoing global pandemic has brought to the forefront of young people's minds that change on a mass scale can happen seemingly overnight.This series of critical and creative thinking exercises explore this context but also the implications it has for our mindsets and mental health. Practically good for reflective project research skills, reflection on processes and problem-solving as well as considering any one of PPS themes - especially Intercultural Understanding and Personal Development. Also check out Understanding Truth as students start to delve deeply into their reflective project research processes.

Responding to change

The ongoing global pandemic has brought to the forefront of young people's minds that change on a mass scale can happen seemingly overnight. What can we learn from ways 'leaders' have responded locally,...

Understanding Truth

Here, we start to chip away at the idea of truth and how finding it in today's world demands highly developed critical thinking tools. Whilst the intention is to provide sources to prompt inquiry from...

The CP Student Skill toolbox

PPS is the place for students to build up skills knowingly. Use the analogy of a toolbox full of tools that they actually know how to use and recognise their value rather than just weighing them down. A skill only takes on meaning for a student if they explicitly learn how, when and why they are using it - make it explicit first and build up their confidence in their ability to employ it in a range of situations and subjects. To start let's take a look at examples of how skills have been developed already in the resources available on this site.

Consider these activities - just some from across this site - to develop key ATL skills in the student that can be used across many subjects and prepare them for future study and work
  • Effective Communication: Use the forcefield analysis activity as a visible thinking strategy to generate new ideas and lines of inquiry - a key Thinking skill.
  • Ethical dimensions, issues and dilemmas: here students can utilise skills to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of arguments, ideas and resources - A transferable skill to all their current subjects as well as future study and careers.
  • Writing skills: activities explore the key skill of structuring information to communicate through the structuring of paragraphs to reflect critical, ethical and reflective thinking.
  • Research skills: the RAVEN system is a tool that enables students to verify the data they have collected as trustworthy - the focus here is the reflective project but this is a tool transferable to any subject
  • Planning and process management: the visualisation tool and timeline activity are explicit visible thinking strategies that enable students to create ways for them to maintain focus and respond to change and failure.

Using Discussion and Debate

Take time to discuss, even for just five minutes, the role that discussion and debate can play in developing the five learning areas of ATL. You will soon see clearly just how intrinsic a part of the PPS course, discussion and debate is; it weaves its way through every topic, ATL skill and theme explored. It is through this students can become more self-aware, confident and empathetic communicators which will have a huge impact on their futures. Explore getting started in debating through the link here.

Starting discussions and debates

A key way to develop confidence in personal and professional skills and foster curiosity is through continuous debate and discussion about the world around us. A PPS teacher's main hurdle is keeping resources...

Starting out with PPS

Creating or reviewing your PPS course

Understand your context

We all approach creating or reviewing a PPS course with different experiences.
You may be:

  • New to the CP completely and undergone PPS training
  • New to the CP completely and not able to complete training yet
  • A new CP coordinator in a school preparing for authorisation
  • Taking over the existing provision in your school and wanting to put your own stamp on it
  • The CP coordinator in a school that is approaching its 5 year evaluation
  • Carrying out a review for the first time since starting the CP in your school
Central characteristics of your PPS course
  • Your PPS course must be 90 hours: with the new Programme Standards and Practices this total must be adhered to
  • Your PPS course is created by you so make it bespoke to your school. It must be based on the aims, learning outcomes and five themes of PPS
  • You can make use of the topics, sub-topics and questions suggested by the IB but are absolutely free to include topics, sub-topics and questions of your own; many schools are going for a project-based approach
  • Your PPS outline will include your school's plan for assessment of progress of the specific PPS learning outcomes
  • PPS can be used directly to support other areas of the CP; specifically the career-related study, the DP subjects and other aspects of the core
  • PPS centres on developing attitudes, skills and strategies that can be applied by students across the personal and professional contexts they find themselves in right now as well as, crucially, in the future

Keep the PPS focused

Whether you are starting from scratch or reviewing your existing PPS course in your school, it is important to keep the key aims of PPS as the backbone of everything you do.  Irrespective of whether you have the IB guide right in front of you, your course needs to allow students to:

...develop into adaptable, reflective and lifelong learners
...become self aware and willing to face challenges in practical ways able to respond with understanding and empathy to ethical dilemmas
...commit to the importance of intercultural understanding and different perspectives
...encompass the ten attributes of the IB learner profile.

Learning Outcomes of PPS

There are five learning outcomes for PPS which can clearly be identified with each of the five themes central to the course. However, each learning outcome can be connected in some way to all five themes. This can be brought out in reflection and dependent on the topics chosen for the course content.

LO 1: identify their own strengths and develop areas for growth

LO 2: demonstrate the ability to apply thinking processes to personal and professional situations

LO 3: recognize and be able to articulate the value of cultural understanding and appreciation for diversity

LO 4: demonstrate the skills and recognize the benefits of communicating effectively and working collaboratively

LO 5: recognize and consider the ethics of choices and actions

Get a feel for how the themes work independently but also concurrently by looking at the following pages on our increasing resources for PPS. Then consider the following aspects on 'Understand your context' and 'Central Characteristics of your PPS course' when starting to shape your PPS course.

Personal Development

The personal development of the student is clearly paramount in the CP. This page introduces the theme for students to find their motivation, vision and 'buy-in' they need for their CP course and life...

Intercultural Understanding

Students explore the significance of cultural identity and diversity as the ability to understand and appreciate multiple cultural perspectives leads to highly effective and empathetic people within personal...

Effective Communication

Being an effective communicator is a key capability for the workplaces of the future. This page introduces this theme and demonstrates different directions it can be taken in. New for Autumn 2020 are...

Thinking Processes

Students need to develop and be able to utilise a wide range of thinking skills to be able to thrive. This page introduces this theme and demonstrates different directions it can be taken in. Furthermore,...

Applied Ethics

The IB learner profile characteristic of 'principled' requires students to develop responsibility not only for their actions but the consequences as well. Applied Ethics is most immediately associated...

Collaboration session: The key principles of PPS

    Establishing the foundations of your PPS course or redirecting it is an excellent opportunity for collaboration    
   with key stakeholders and interested parties. As a PPS course developer/CP coordinator, use the following activities 
   and questions to develop not only your own understanding but also to create a common understanding and intention 
   for your course with your CP Core team.

The Five Themes

The five themes of Personal Development, Intercultural Understanding, Effective Communication, Thinking Processesand Applied Ethics are central to your school’s personal and professional skills course. These five themes do not need to be taught discreetly and, indeed, ideally a course would utilise topics that promote a holistic take on the themes and students experience activities that utilise more than one theme.

What do we do already to explore these themes?
How could we build/change/expand/adapt this?
What opportunities do we have here to do something completely different?
What personal and professional skills do our students need?
What are the needs specific to this year's cohort? 
Is there a synthesis between what the students, staff and parents believe the students need in terms of PPS?

PPS and the CP

Creating a PPS course that is appropriate to each unique context takes time and involves collaboration with all CP teachers. There are multiple perspectives to consider as well to ensure the way PPS is set up meets the overall aims of the CP as well as the IB mission statement itself. Consider what is fixed and what is fluid in your course design; eg the use of debate as a fixed monthly event but the sources and topics are current and updated regularly.

What role do we want PPS to play within the core?
How will PPS explore the local/global context?
How can we utilise PPS effectively to prepare students for the reflective project?
Are there key school events such as debating we want to incorporate into our course?
Can we visualise what a successful PPS project in our school will look like?
When do we have time to collaborate?
Who are the key stakeholders here who could help shape this course?

Using Approaches to Teaching and Learning in your PPS course design

The next stage of PPS course design
The way that a school approaches its design of its Personal and Professional Skills course can be really effective in reviewing and renewing its understanding of Approaches to Teaching and Learning.

IB teachers can often be concerned if they are meeting ATL skills and how they go about achieving this. Often skills are implicit in the subjects that the students are taking but this only goes so far in helping students; skills need to be explicitly taught so students are absolutely aware that they have that skill in their toolbox to use within a range of contexts.

This is where PPS can really come into its own as there are so many opportunities to respond truly to the needs of your students and colleagues by focusing explicitly on ATL skills in the five key areas; Social, Communication, Self-management,Thinking and Research.

Closer inspection of the five key PPS themes will lead to the conclusion that there is a clear parallel beween ATL and PPS.

Using a collaborative approach to PPS course design not only makes for a contextually relevant curriculum with staff buy-in, it also completely ensures that the IB philosophy of constructivist education is the backbone of what you create. You may have a staff with a huge array of experiences and many years of IB teaching under their belt; remember the term 'lifelong learner' is for everyone and creating opportunities for staff, irrespective of experience, to review and reflect upon their understanding of the Approaches to Teaching and Learning is very important for the creation of a positive school culture. Not to mention important for your 5 year evaluation.

Examples of the Approaches to Learning skills areas
Social and Communication skills
  • be able to interpret and use modes of non-verbal communication
  • be able to paraphrase successfully
  • be able to effectively structure information in different modes such as summaries, essays and reports
  • be able to organise information and display it logically
  • be able to communicate with a range of audiences using a variety of media confidently
  • be able to work both peers and experts using a variety of digital environments and media
Self-management skills
  • be able to be mindful and create strategies to focus and concentrate
  • be able to persist and persevere
  • be able to reduce stress and anxiety
  • be able to analyse and understand reasons for failure
  • be able to be resilient and deal with change
      Thinking Skills
      • be able to use visible thinking strategies to generate new ideas and lines of inquiry
      • be able to consider a range of alternative solutions including the unlikely or impossible
      • be able to make unusual connections between ideas
      • be able to create original solutions to real-life problems
      • be able to identify underlying assumptions and bias
      • be able to communicate ideas to multiple audiences using a range of media and/or formats.
      • be able to collect, record and verify data
      • be able to make connections between a variety of sources of information
      • be able to effectively use critical-literacy skills to analyse and interpret communication
      • be able to find multiple perspectives from a range of sources
      Collaborative skills-based learning design
      Select a skill from one of the above areas that you see as particularly relevant to both your course and real world application. Take turns to develop ideas and discuss the following questions: 
      1. How is it a skill that is developed in my own specific subject and what sort of learning activities do I use to develop this skill implicitly?
      Give an example of an activity or learning engagement

      2. Without drawing on content specific criteria, how could this skill be developed explicitly in an interactive and relevant way to the students?

      Design an activity
      Collaborative discussion on meeting the needs of students through Approaches to Teaching and Learning

      Now build on this initial discussion. Make a wider selection of skills from the ATL areas to discuss how these skills are met by the individual DP subjects.

      1. Where is there commonality and what does the same skill look like when transferred to a different context and subject?
      2. What might the value be in explicitly teaching students this skill in terms of their future career?
      3. Students begin the CP with many skills in the developing stage. Where do you think strengths lie and where do you think they struggle?
      4. Are there skills where students can become the teachers? Where can you find opportunities to empower them within different courses as well as during core subjects?

      What skills do we want OUR students to leave school with?

      What personal and professional skills do we want OUR students to leave school with?
      Initial connection of ATL and the PPS themes
      As a CP core group, respond to the following questions:
      1. In what ways have you seen the ATL skills area relate to the PPS themes of Personal Development, Intercultural Understanding, Effective Communication, Thinking Processes and Applied Ethics?

      2. What initiatives/clubs/projects/trips/events already take place at school that relate to the 5 PPS themes?

      3. What projects would CP students really benefit from doing?

      4. Are there further skills we would add to our initial list of ATL skills that we prioritise our students needing throughout and after their CP course?
      PPS course developer notes for CPD/collaborative session

      Working backwards, what you want to achieve by the end of these activities is a list of skills your team recognise that are especially key to your students' development. Your next job will be to link these with the PPS themes of Personal Development, Intercultural Understanding, Effective Communication, Thinking Processes and Applied Ethics.

      The key to these learning activities is that it draws together teachers to consider first how their subjects are skill-based and then to develop this by considering what skills are truly relevant to students in their school's context. This is a crucial step  in the development of ATL articulation across your school; this could be within the CP course itself, across the DP and CP courses and/or through schools with continuum programmes, running PYP, MYP, through to DP and CP. With this development of ATL identification and real world relevancy, getting staff investment into the PPS course is a logical next step.

      The first question in the first collaborative design activity clearly asks your team to draw upon their experience and context; recognise these strengths. However the really impactful part is to collaborate to create effective skills-based learning activities that transcend subject boundaries. Start with recognising what is implicit and assumed in their everyday teaching before building out to creating an explicit teaching of a skill in isolation.
      The second activity very much builds out from the first and asks your team to consider the skills more generally. Do keep the focus on what your students particularly need in your context - your aim here throughout all your course design is to contextualise the PPS element.

      The third activity brings everything together so the renewed and contextualised ATL understanding can be applied specifically to the needs of the CP students and the creation of the PPS course. There are further exercises below that go into more detail on the PPS themes and learning outcomes which can extend the results of these collaborative activities.

      Throughout all this, do respond in way collectively that reflects a multimodal approach (eg powerpoint, whiteboard, googledoc collaboration ... one person taking the minutes). Whatever is going to work for you as a PPS course developer.

          Blog 6th July 2020: New balance school year - new balance for a new world 
        The following blog is a reflection on an article that first appeared in The Guardian on 5th July 2020; a poignant date for anyone in the IB world. It poses the opportunities that PPS has to help students cope, adapt and thrive in the context of 2020. It makes a good discussion for a starting point for a collaborative PD session.
        Creating and reviewing a PPS course: Utilise PPS to help students and teachers transition out of lockdown

        In an article for The Guardian on 5th July 2020, Peter Hyman states 'our school systems are broken. Let's grab this chance to remake them'. A laudible call to arms in itself through what has been, and continues to be, the greatest test for our global education systems in generations. However, what is really fascinating are the conclusions he has comes to as a result of British schools operating under lockdown since March; they are many of the conclusions that CP schools have come to as to why the CP works as a framework. As you read this, you may very deservedly be feeling a degree of relief and immense pride at coming through this unprecedented assessment period but teachers do not rest for long. If this article serves a reminder for anything, then it is to keep things moving. And the Personal and Professional Skills core element is not just the place to create or reinvigorate a dynamic course that balances the fixed and the flexible; it is truly a place to care for the diverse needs of students that have been put under immense pressure in 2020 and create a fresh start.

        Hyman succinctly recognises the need for a 'new normal' where students can flourish with 'a balance between what we call 'head, heart and hand' - knowledge, wellbeing, problem-solving and creativity'. He also warns against the temptation with so many children missing formal schooling for more than 4 months and experiencing very different home schooling success, to give in to the urge to 'catch up' frenetically in the new school year. I like the intention here but think the reality of the pressures school face soon takes over. Could there be a compromise? Certainly in an IB context, careful and clever utilisation of thinking processes and well timed reflection can enable the student to recognise where there is commonality across their subjects. This is something that is at the heart of the CP framework anyway; however, post lockdown, students are probably at their most receptive to appreciate truly how helpful and reassuring these commonalities are. Furthermore, use PPS not just to identify similarities but actively to utilise and transfer creative, critical and problem-solving thinking processes and inquiry. Suddenly, a mountain range of individual subjects becomes one challenging peak; still an intimidating obstacle but with the sense of being approached with a full support crew and a common purpose.

        This might sounds like a lot of work and preparation. Not necessarily if we transfer existing assessment strategies into different contexts and we also listen to what the students feel they need. I have long been a supporter of encouraging students to respond to topics using the multi-modal choices available for the reflective project. This way the student who would not even consider creating a playscript as their Option 2 reflective project outcome, exercises quite an admirable degree of risk-taking as a quick, spontaneous response to a Tuesday afternoon PPS lesson. And likewise for creating a podcast or a film - why not? In addition to this, Hyman's call for 'smarter assessment and intelligent accountability' as well as 'skilful use of technology' to inspire 'flipped learning' is a reminder to the CP teacher to keep pushing the boundaries of how students can respond to tasks. The more the PPS course asks students to respond and reflect imaginatively, autonomously and dynamically for their portfolio, the more this will encourage an imaginative and open-minded approach to their CRS and DP subjects where  summative assessments may not be as varied.

        Hyman's final point is the biggest lesson from learning under lockdown; the extent to which 'in-depth curriculum discussions and the ability to spend proper time collaborating' promotes increasing use of imagination. In 2020 I would add collaboration does not just increase the imagination but also empathy, resilience and communicaton skills. Whilst this piece is not about the dispensing of formal examinations as the writer of the Guardian article might be purporting (another blog for another day), it is about realising the true potential of a core element where formal external assessment has been intentionally dismissed and collaboration can take precedence.

        Whether you are a CP coordinator starting the course from scratch, reviewing your existing course or new to PPS teaching - the advice is the same: Take advantage of a course that exists to prepare students for the challenging unknown of future contexts, to help them meet the challenging unknown of their school context right now

        Blog: 4th September 2020:  5 minute snapshot on... Effective Communication
        ‘Life is not how high you fly, but about how well you bounce...It’s about how you encourage and propel yourself, letting the fear of failure become a barrier standing in your way’.

        These are the words of one headteacher in the UK this week as they introduced themselves to their new staff. What could be more fitting as a response to 2020 than to take this as the mantra behind the PPS course that is already designed to be the place to do just this. Where does Effective Communication play a part?

        What might be the questions to ask to shape Effective Communication?
        What are my students’ needs? What role does context play here? What does effective communication mean for the educator as well as the student? What does an effective communicator look like in 2020? What is our ultimate goal?

        What role does context play in developing effective communication?
        A hugely important role – the individual, family, school, community, national and international context play both a fixed and fluctuating role in young people’s lives and influence their identity as a communicator and ability to communicate. The teenage years is the time where young people characteristically shift away from primarily parental influences and gravitate increasingly towards peer company and interaction with other adults such as teachers. And with the disrupted schooling and isolation that 2020 has brought, this natural communicative process has been disrupted. Developing a course that can respond to the fixed and fluctuating needs of students who possibly do not fully realise the impact this year has had on them until they are back in a school environment is a sensitive mood. Build confidence in communication slowly with plenty of small group interactions where students feel safe to express ideas.

        What are my students’ needs?
        Exploring visible thinking tools that can help students become more confident communicators. For example, when a student has used a thorough decision-making tool and is comfortable with the outcome, they feel vastly more able to communicate their thoughts. Ask students to carry out a ‘forcefield analysis’ and you take a simple pros and cons list to the next level; it is an effective process that helps students employ ethical, reflective and critical thinking in their decision making. However, it is not just for them. A quick forcefield analysis to help you weigh up the forces acting for and against young people becoming an effective communicator can make your PPS course bespoke to your context.

        What does effective communication mean for the educator as well as the student?
        It should come as no surprise that as part of the attributes of the lifelong learner, what motivates you will be mirrored in your students’ response. Ask yourself what is expected of you as an IB educator in terms of communication? Can you communicate with passion for what the IB is about and place international-mindedness and the learner profile as a priority. In short, do you use communication to impact, influence and inspire?

        What does an effective communicator look like in 2020? What will an effective communicator look like in 2030? 2040? These can be the very first questions you ask of students. A short exercise for them to explore what they know and their own needs before branching out into creative thinking. Furthermore, a carefully designed reflection where students audit their strengths as a communicator can be revisited throughout the course as part of their personal development. How far do they see themselves as emotionally intelligent, clear, confident, empathetic, respectful, open-minded, inquisitive and a good listener?

        What is the ultimate goal? Ultimately we all want to help young people articulate themselves as confident, considerate, creative and critical communicators who can ‘bounce’, ‘encourage’ and ‘propel’ themselves through life.


        Quick ideas

        Topic and project based approach to PPS

        Keep your course relevant and up to date with a topic based approach. These can be changed according to what is in the news and current at the time of your lesson but all involve clear application of the PPS themes and learning outcomes. These also might serve as jumping off points for potential project-based learning as you are guided by the ideas and suggestions of the students. 

        Exercises in Empathy

        Understanding empathy can be tricky - least of all differentiating it from sympathy. Through the work of neuro psychologists and academics, we explore its definition and real world application. Students...

        Responding to change

        The ongoing global pandemic has brought to the forefront of young people's minds that change on a mass scale can happen seemingly overnight. What can we learn from ways 'leaders' have responded locally,...

        Career skill: Interviews

        The notion of an interview can be a scary prospect because it symbolises a step into the unknown and very much about risk-taking. At the heart of any interview scenario is being able to answer and ask...

        Understanding Truth

        Here, we start to chip away at the idea of truth and how finding it in today's world demands highly developed critical thinking tools. Whilst the intention is to provide sources to prompt inquiry from...

        Starting discussions and debates

        A key way to develop confidence in personal and professional skills and foster curiosity is through continuous debate and discussion about the world around us. A PPS teacher's main hurdle is keeping resources...

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