Founded in 2014, District of Columbia International School is a Public Charter School which delivers the IB Middle Years Programme, Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme to students aged 11–19, alongside a language immersion programme.
District of Columbia International School began using ManageBac in 2014, following the recommendation of Dean Harris, MYP Coordinator and Dean of Learning. “I’ve always been impressed by the fact that it’s a one-stop shop”, explains Dean. “Your tasks are linked to your Unit Plans directly, the Gradebook is linked to the task – it’s just very neat and addresses all of the needs that we have as an MYP, DP and CP school”.
The implementation process was intensive – “we dived straight in”, Dean recalls – and this is an approach that he would recommend to other first-time users of the platform too. “It’s really hard to break ManageBac and the support is excellent”, he explains. “Jump in, experiment, enquire, really try to find out what it can do… It’s a really handy tool.”
Planning & Projects – “a very IB tool”
The school’s use of the platform is extensive, spanning curriculum management, lesson planning, assessment and reporting: “We try to use it for absolutely everything”, says Dean. “Pretty much everything ManageBac can do, we use it for”.
“All of our unit planning is in ManageBac,” he explains. “It makes it easy for us to plan, because there’s so much that’s in place already. I really like the stuff that ManageBac has preempted, a lot of the things that have been pre-filled for us – the drop-down menus save us a ton of time.” This is particularly crucial given the school’s treatment of each Unit Planner as “a living, breathing thing” – something to be continually revisited and improved. In his role as Dean of Learning, Dean has encouraged the school’s faculty to engage in “before, during and after reflections”, and he recalls initially receiving push-back from a colleague who felt short on time: “I said to them, most of the questions are answered for you, it’s a drop-down menu; the teacher went off, did her reflections on that unit planner, and was so impressed by it that she went back to the team, telling them how easy it was to do this, and that we should all do it, do it more, and do it better”.
ManageBac’s alignment to the IB curriculum also comes in handy when managing core activities such as the MYP Community and Personal Projects. “We love it, because again it’s done a lot of the thinking for us, a lot of things are in place in the worksheets”, says Dean. “The worksheet itself is just a great, step-by-step way to approach a project, starting at the very beginning and working through the process journal, keeping the academic honesty meetings in one place, and then having it all be there. It’s really handy. Like the Unit Planner, it basically talks you through the process of doing the project.”
Transparency for All
ManageBac is well-regarded by students and parents, with the latter particularly appreciating the transparency and personalisation that it facilitates when it comes to assessment and reporting.
“Reporting is one of the reasons we really decided on ManageBac,” explains Dean. “We only use IB grading, and one of the things that we loved from the get-go is how teachers only have to enter in a grade number and then ManageBac generates the descriptor from the rubric that describes in detail what the kid knows, understands and can do, so it makes it really easy for parents to understand – what they see is an entire page which is completely tailored to their kid”.
In fact, the school has dedicated time to engaging with parents in their use of ManageBac – resulting in concise, bilingual Report Cards, where “the main message is really punched home”. There is also a good awareness in the wider school community of the rationale behind the school’s reporting processes, and the possibilities for tracking student progress beyond the regular summative reports: “You can access the Gradebook at any time, you can see what your students are doing at any time, you can look at the upcoming tasks they’ve got, you can see their calendar, you can literally look at the summative assessments which are upcoming and make sure they’re on track”, explains Dean.
To further increase this transparency, the school currently delivers “bi-weekly term grade updates” to continuously inform students on their progress, rather than leaving all formal feedback to the final week of term, when they have no time left to adjust their approach. In this way, students are able “to own the assessment progress, to own their own grades” – with no unpleasant surprises lurking around the corner. “Grades can be disappointing, but they should never be a surprise!”, he adds.
This familiarity for both students and parents helped to keep things on track when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. As a 1:1 technology school, DC International found the move to remote teaching and learning a relatively smooth process: “We already use a ton of online tools. The kids access their own ManageBac accounts through their own computers. So we kind of had a seamless transition”, says Dean.
“We continued using ManageBac as we had been using it throughout the year. Like the other tools we use, we carried on using it and tried to be as normal as we could in how we used it,” says Dean. “It gave the kids that feeling of stability – they still knew where to access their grades, they still knew where to look for their Unit Plans, they still knew how to access their process journals.”
ManageBac – “a part of who we are”
For Dean, ManageBac has become firmly embedded in the culture of the school, representing “a part of who we are”. And the platform has also become part of students’ daily routine – “it’s such a part of everyday life to them, it’s like water and air”, he says.
As such, he would happily recommend ManageBac to other schools. “It’s the only tool I know of that’s entirely IB-orientated and facing,” he explains. “I like the fact that the IB is central to ManageBac.”