Teaching open-mindedness engages students with different interests

engaged students with different interests

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

As an IB teacher, you already know the unique challenges of teaching the pillars of the International Baccalaureate Learner Profile in 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, the learning journey of students 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 students:

  • “…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 a world that is ever-evolving. You can start, though, academically: encourage students 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 Listening to Different Answers

Let’s take a trending topic like Robots and Artificial Intelligence, related to IB coursework in Biology or Physics. At first glance, this seems to be approachable only by those students who are inclined toward sciences like physics and engineering. Yet, the world’s thought leaders can guide students toward the revelation that even these topics can be approached philosophically.

Teacher Tip: Turn a physics class into an opportunity to discuss the controversial and philosophical underpinnings of artificial intelligence. This way, students 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 students from the same school asked related questions on Robotics and AI.They received two different answers from experts in this field, live in their classroom.

What happened?

These two questions, these two answers, and these two thought leaders showcase that most questions do not have a singular answer. The way the students asked the question, and the perspectives of the experts answering teaches students open-mindedness.

Talking to experts 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 feel comfortable discussing with them. (Mulhall, Smith, Hart & Gunstone: 2016). This produces exciting and engaging lessons for all.

Making topics accessible to students with different interests

Being willing to listen to experts who think from a variety of different critical perspectives is a key part of being open-minded. As a teacher, if you have made students 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 student has 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.

Engaging all your learners

As teachers, 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 students and boost their engagement is to give them the opportunity to hear answers that give topics real-world relevance to them. Make being open-minded easy and fun.

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 turning difficult concepts into an opportunity for captivating discussion, and a teachable moment for open-mindedness?

Today more than 22,000 students in 120 international & private/state schools across 17 countries use 100mentors to engage their students into designing their own learning journeys in and out of the classroom through our live, interactive platform and mobile application.

Our world is: A physics class in South Korea with a NASA engineer; an environmental assignment group in Brazil with a Harvard/MIT, Marie Curie fellow in marine biology, about the Amazon’s natural “gifts;” literature experts like Barry Cotton and Michael Dobson leading classes on “The Great Gatsby” and the “Twelfth Night,” to 11th graders in Vietnam and Moscow, respectively. Your students, asking the questions that inspire them, and getting answers from mentors across the world.

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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