Teaching open-mindedness engages learners with different interests

engaged students with different interests

Last Updated on January 13, 2023

This post is part of a 4-part series highlighting how teachers can put the IB Learner Profile into practice and expand their learners’ consciousness.

As an IB teacher, you already know the unique challenges of teaching the pillars of the International Baccalaureate Learner Profile to your students. Educating a new generation of citizens of the world means rethinking the process of value, attitude, and behavioral acquisition (Wells, 2011), and this is no small feat. With this in mind, how can you “develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world?” In other words, how can you, as a teacher, cultivate more conscious students?

In the second installment of our series, we will discuss how becoming open-minded supports consciousness.

If you are open-minded, there is always more than one answer.

As we covered in the last installment of this series, “inquirers” top the list of IB learner profile qualities. However, learners’ learning journey continues when they become receptive to a variety of answers.

Being “open-minded” is another key pillar of the IB learner profile. Intellectual humility and a willingness to hear a broad range of opinions are teachable behaviors that are increasingly important in our interconnected, global world. Of course, being open-minded is not an end in itself; but the means of consciously finding what you stand for in a vast range of standpoints.

Open-minded learners:

  • “…understand and appreciate their own cultures and personal histories, and are open to the perspectives, values, and traditions or other individuals and communities.”
  • “…are accustomed to seeking and evaluating a range of points of view, and are willing to grow from the experience.” (IB Learner Profile)

Open-Mindedness Starts in Your Classroom

Teaching open-mindedness means teaching rich subjects and themes such as diversity and cross-cultural awareness: this is an ongoing process in an ever-evolving world. You can start, though, academically: encourage learners to think critically and actively pose questions about controversial topics that are thoughtful and spur discussion. Take a moment to think: which topics in your lesson plan could be fruitful for discussion?

Practicing Openness to Different Answers

Let’s take a trending topic like Robots and Artificial Intelligence, related to IB coursework in various subjects. At first glance, this seems approachable only by learners inclined toward sciences like computer science and engineering. Yet, the world’s thought leaders can guide learners toward the revelation that even these topics can be approached philosophically.

💡 Educator Tip: Turn a physics class into an opportunity to discuss the controversial and philosophical underpinnings of artificial intelligence. This way, learners realize why every coursework milestone contributes to their big-picture understanding, and they are motivated to accomplish the curriculum plan.

Let’s see this practice.

Two learners from the same school asked related questions on the Topic: Robotics and AI. They received two different bite-sized answers from expert mentors that can share their knowledge and experiences in this field. 

What happened?

These two questions, these two answers, and these two thought leaders showcase that most questions do not have a singular answer. Open-mindedness is a key element for learners to (a) form unique questions and (b) consider the mentors’ diverse perspectives

Interacting with mentors breaks down barriers

Research shows us that one barrier to open-mindedness is misperception. Seeing scientists, who can seem so clever, as everyday people, makes it possible for students to feel comfortable discussing with them (Mulhall, Smith, Hart & Gunstone, 2016). This produces exciting and engaging lessons for all.

Exposure to new perspectives contributes to open-mindedness, especially if learners take the new pieces of knowledge one step further and put their cross-contextual soft skills in action. An open-minded learner should be able to think critically to filter and assess the answers they receive. Moreover, it’s important that they are ready to tackle the challenges that newly-found perspectives can bring to their world, and practice their problem solving ability to make sense of the new information. Finally, open-mindedness flourishes when learners not only recognize the different perspectives but are creative enough to make comparisons, establish connections, and even bring something entirely novel to the table.

Making topics accessible to learners with different interests

Being willing to actively listen to mentors who think from a variety of different critical perspectives is a key part of being open-minded. As an educator, if you have made learners willing to receive insight on topics they might not otherwise be interested in, you are well on your way to instilling open-mindedness. If your least interested physics learners have learned that science can be interesting from an ethical perspective, or a future writer in your class has thought of a science fiction novel idea, you have found how to make the topic you teach more accessible. All it takes is a few bite-sized chunks of expertise to get a new perspective flowing.

Engaging all your learners

As an educator, you are staring into a sea of faces every morning: some of them will follow the subject you teach all the way into their career, and some will leave it at the door of your classroom at the end of the year. Our tip to make the subject you teach accessible to all your learners and boost their engagement is to give them the opportunity to hear answers that give topics real-world relevance to them in clips of content that is easily digestible. Make being open-minded easy and fun for a generation of digital natives who are used to having the world at their fingertips.

Most questions have many answers

In a now classic research project on school intervention, James Comer expresses that education is “learning to understand that everything is always in flux and that most questions have many answers” (Comer, 1980). Students who experience this in practice are fulfilling the requirements of a rigorous IB curriculum that asks them not only to complete their assignments but shift the way they think about the world

What steps are you, as a teacher, currently taking to make sure you turn difficult concepts into an opportunity for captivating discussion and a teachable moment for open-mindedness?


Comer, J. P. (1980). School power. New York: Free Press.
Mulhall, P. J., Smith, D. V., Hart, C. E., & Gunstone, R. F. (2017). Contemporary Scientists Discuss the Need for Openness and Open-Mindedness in Science and Society. Research in Science Education, 47(5), 1151–1168. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-016-9554-6
Wells, J. (2011). International education, values and attitudes: A critical analysis of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Learner Profile. Journal of Research in International Education, 10(2), 174–188. https://doi.org/10.1177/1475240911407808

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