Cecilia Villavicencio

Cecilia Villavicencio: “I’ve Been There”

GUEST WRITER: In this article, I invite Cecilia Villavicencio to share her story of what it was like doing the IB Diploma program in the 1990s, compared to her experiences of working for the IBO, and as an IB Diploma Coordinator, in recent years. Cecilia Villavicencio did the DP Programe in the  mid-1990s. She’s since worked in various roles for the IBO, before working as an IB Coordinator in a school in Spain. Cecilia now works in for St Ignatius’ College, which is an IB World School in Argentina. Here’s what she’s experienced, along the way.


Cecilia Villavicencio

Hello. My name is Cecilia, and I am a Diploma Programme (DP) graduate.


I was one of the (only) three full diploma candidates of the 1995 cohort at St Brigid’s school, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I got a 37. It was natural that I would become a full diploma candidate, so I did not even think about it before accepting, and never regretted. The IB is the most relevant education experience I’ve had so far, despite the fact I’ve never stopped studying since then. That is how big the IB is for me.


I do not recall experiencing burn out or stress (just one crying explosion) while undertaking the IB Diploma Programme. I danced “aerobics” back then, and I was preparing for a competition at the same time that I was getting ready for my finals.


I’ve worked since I was 18, in different things: writing, editing, communications, public relations (while studying Literature at university). It was not until 2006, when I was 29, that I got involved in the education world: I applied for a job at the IB Latin America’s office. Mentored by Marta Rodger (the regional director then), I became responsible for the DP evaluation process, working hand-in-hand with all the DP authorized schools in the region.


When the region became the Americas, I continued doing the same job for all the 1,200 DP authorized schools from Canada to Chile. I was in charge of the DP self-study process [I read and edited all reports from all DP authorized American schools from 2007 to 2013]: I learnt about the DP implementation from the way schools were rethinking themselves, through this process. I was also in charge of the CAS sampling administration and the training of the exam inspectors. I was also an inspector for those seven years as an IB staff.


The IBO gave me so many opportunities: leaving the country for the first time, flying by plane for the first time, going to Europe for the first time, leading workshops, leading school visits, leading regional conference sessions, attending the final award committee (amazing!), training other experienced educators…


Then… real life happened; I left the IB to become a DP coordinator myself! I had this role (together with some other responsibilities) for 5 years at the IB continuum SEK International School – Ciudalcampo in Madrid, Spain.


The first 4 years were the hardest… I had never been at a school (like every day!) before. I knew what to do but had never done it. I was a foreigner in a team of mostly Spanish experienced teachers. I am highly self-demanding. I wanted to do my job well. I didn’t want to disappoint those that had hired me because of my IB experience! I devoted my entire life to the school – most of my free time. I loved my students so much that I became a kind of mother to them. These relationships are the most rewarding, now. More or less in January every year, I exploded. It was not the school: it was me who was accepting all tasks coming to me. I worked from 60 to 70 hours a week. On the other hand, I’ve learnt so many things about school management, instructional leadership, academic change… and many other things I was exposed to by being in one of the best schools in Spain: everything at your hand.



All these things I’ve mentioned are the background for what I do now. I am the K-12 Head of Studies (Academic Director) at the IB World Schools, St Ignatius’ College in Río Cuarto, Argentina, which offers the IB Diploma Program.


I started this new life a year and a half ago with a personal and a professional mission: find balance between my personal and work life and promote a school culture that contributes to this balance in students and teachers. At first, I struggled with the guilt of having free time. I am still in recovery mode.



As a DP coordinator, I had the chance to see the “real IB life”: the struggles of my team of teachers and the impact of the IB workload on my students.


In addition to my daily tasks, I looked for ways to accompany our teachers and to provide resources to our students to find balance, study methods depending on their personal characteristics, and map the curriculum to avoid repetition and find cross-subject content and skills to save time and energy to all.


I am presently working on transferring this experience to my new school, since my role is now K-12. Here are only a few strategies to address your main stakeholders and duties:


a) Accompany your teachers: How to do this?

The DP coordinator is the heart that pumps the programme but, first, you must get your teachers to follow you! The coordinator may have been a partner of the teachers he or she has now to lead. Or, it can be a new addition to the school. Anyway, the bonds are built based on respect for the knowledge and professionalism of the other, from the humility of admitting that I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, from practical democracy in making decisions that affect everyone. And, a sophisticated understanding of the programme expectations; this understanding is based on experience and study.


b) Provide resources to your students: Which ones?

One method that can be used to ensure that cultural differences and the specific needs of your students are addressed is to design a questionnaire that could include some of the following problems:


– sleep patterns

– feeding patterns

– spaces where they work effectively

– sources of distraction

– exercise routines

– ability to work with others

– panic levels

– organizational skills.

Then, you can suggest strategies that are relevant and customized. Students are much more open to receiving advice when the information is specially designed for them.


c) Map the curriculum: How to start?



Cecilia Villavicencio

During one of your collaborative planning meetings, invite the DP teachers to bring their subject guides with them. They will use the guides to identify common elements among the six academic areas of the programme.


Here are 9 ways in which I asked IB Diploma teachers to compare and contrast their subject curricula, using a diagram (see diagram, below): 

1. Group aims

2. Subject aims

3. Assessment objectives

4. Command terms

5. External assessment criteria (when applicable)

6. External assessment mark bands (when applicable)

7. Internal assessment criteria

8. Prescribed literature (when applicable)

9. Key concepts

Dare To Lead

Dare to Lead is the name of a book by Brené Brown. For me, her most inspiring talk is “The Power of Vulnerability”, which is available online. In this talk, Brené Brown implies: “be there with your whole-heart”, and this is how I think of myself being, as an instructional leader: working collaboratively with (and training) other pedagogical leaders to accompany teachers in their teaching process for the best of our students.

Fully embrace vulnerability to always place yourself as a learner, that also learns from students and all teaching and non-teaching partners at school. Become aware of their needs, be a giver, and lead by taking good care of yourself first.

As a DP graduate and former IB staff, I live the IB mission and strive to live by the attributes of the IB learner profile in my every day life as a school leader.

Do you?