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Actualizing IB Education with the Compass Tools

As International Baccalaureate educators, we often look for ways to include a variety of perspectives in our inquiry-based, concept-driven learning and teaching. We have found an answer in the Compass Education tools. In this post, we will share an example of how the Sustainability Compass is an effective tool in helping us to accomplish our goals. Using these tools, we can actively support the IB mission to make the world a better place by equipping students with the knowledge and skills to foster an understanding of systems thinking and sustainability while also achieving our curricular goals. This approach particularly supports the students’ development of the attributes of the International Baccalaureate (IB) learner profile.

Perspective taking

The Sustainability Compass uses the four systems conditions for sustainability as the direction points (N)nature, (E)economy, (S)ociety and (W)ell-being toward a more flourishing future. Therefore, it provides a holistic framework for understanding the different lenses through which we can deconstruct an issue.  For example, during a “How the World Works” unit of inquiry in our second-grade classes, the students inquired into how products go through a process of change before they are used or consumed. From a documentary, the students learned about a group of cacao bean farmers who had never tasted chocolate before and, in fact, did not know what the cacao bean was used to make. When compassing chocolate, the students could look deeper into the production processes’ impact on (W)ell-being, (S)ociety, (N)ature and (E)conomy, enabling them to look at it in terms of a system and not just a linear process. By using the tools, students were able to seek out, examine, and connect diverse perspectives that are important to the system of chocolate production & consumption; gaining unique insights along the way by shifting perspectives and asking deeper questions.


The Sustainability Compass model can help students see social, economic, and environmental interconnections. Using Compass Education‘s tools, teachers can access a wealth of resources and activities to support their instruction and engage students in hands-on learning experiences. In the image above, you can see the black lines representing connections between the four systems’ conditions for sustainability. Feedback loops start to become apparent. Connection is a key concept in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP). In the Year 2 class, the students saw the interconnectedness of economy and well-being when looking at the farmers and what they get paid versus what the produced chocolate costs to buy. This insight led to discussions about the related concepts of fair wage and fair trade.

Inquiry-based learning

The Sustainability Compass lends itself to be a provocation and inquiry into what four conditions are present in any concept, issue or challenge. As IB teachers, we seek to incorporate local and global issues; these tools can offer a way to introduce the Sustainability Habits of Mind. Education can create a more sustainable future by empowering students to understand the interconnections between social, economic, and environmental factors and take action to make the world a better place. The connection to local context in Cambodia, where this lesson was taught, is a global hub for production across many industries, and some of the students’ families are connected to this industry through factories and distribution companies. It led them to make further connections across industries, and spark further inquiry through conversations at home about the concept of ‘Fair Trade’ in diverse contexts. Without the Compass, the inquiry could have stayed at a very superficial level, focusing instead of on the actual stages of production. Using the Compass tools,  students were able to make connections to their own ability to impact the wider world positively through the choices they make as individuals and families.  

The Approaches to Learning (ATL)

By incorporating the Sustainability Compass and systems thinking into our practices, we were able to help students develop their ATL – thinking, communication, social, self-management and research. These skills, along with a deeper understanding of sustainability, will enable students to take action in their communities and contribute to a more sustainable future. In our example, students used their thinking skills to deconstruct the areas of chocolate production and then connect the separate areas. Finally, social skills helped the students to manage the discussions and complete the compass and systems connections together as a small group.

The IB PYP Concepts of this unit included:

  • ConnectionHow is it changing?
  • ChangeHow is it changing?
  • Function -How does it work?
  • Responsibility – What is our responsibility?

We noticed that as students engaged with concepts of this unit, they had the opportunity to display the attributes of the IB Learner profile. The Learner profile seeks to develop knowledgeable, inquirers, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective students. The Sustainability Compass and systems thinking provide opportunities for students to demonstrate these characteristics and develop a more holistic understanding of sustainability in the context of an IB Classroom.

Making the world a better place

In conclusion, the Sustainability Compass, along with other Compass Education tools, can be valuable resources for IB teachers seeking to incorporate sustainability education into their practices and support our endeavors to create a sustainable future. Education can create a more sustainable future by empowering students to understand the interconnections between social, economic, and environmental factors and take action to make the world a better place.

How might the Sustainability Compass help your students inquire deeply into an issue you are teaching about or one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Let us know how you are using the Sustainability Compass by using these hashtags #CompassEducation #SustainabilityCompass and tagging us @Compass_Ed (Twitter) and @compass_education_org (Instagram). And, as always, let us know what other examples of practice you are interested in seeing more of!

Visit Compass Education’s website to learn more about how they empower IB educators to achieve and actualize the IB mission.

This article is written by Kate O’Connell, Kath Lane, Elaine Reimann and Kate Doré, Compass Education’s Global Team Members who volunteered to engage in deep thought, collaboration and creation about how Compass Education supports IB schools and educators to accomplish the IB mission.

Lucy Thompson

Lucy Thompson

Lucy has been an elementary classroom teacher for over 10 years, working in Cambodia, Lebanon, Malaysia and Scotland. She is currently teaching Grade 5 and is the Professional Learning Coordinator at International School Aberdeen. Outside of work, she enjoys playing squash and being on the coast, most recently sea kayaking.

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