How Do We Know?

Theory of Knowledge and the IB

Envoys is a platform for schools to achieve their global education goals, and with every TOK program we run, we craft even more intentional itineraries that engage with deeper questions. TOK teachers then harness each experience to dismantle foundational assumptions, shaking and rattling students’ worldviews leaving only the strongest pillars of knowledge. Teachers who use the ways of knowing (WoK) or the areas of knowledge (AoK) as a focus in class can design a program that brings each of them alive in a real way.

With the rise of nationalism, fake news, and divisive political propaganda, the theory of knowledge (TOK) plays a more vital role in the International Baccalaureate® Diploma Programme than ever before  TOK is a course which challenges students to think in the abstract, while keeping themselves grounded in our human experiences.  We ask students to apply knowledge questions to “real life situations”; yet, the nature of teaching in a classroom results in the students’ most meaningful shared experience being limited to what happens between those four walls.

What type of group experience outside of the classroom would be most conducive to the construction of a theory of knowledge?  What would it look like? What is the right balance of structure and agency for an experience of this sort? (For further reading about structure vs. agency, see here) How can we design a travel experience that will bring our TOK class together as we embark on a journey through the murky waters of epistemology?

These questions were brought to us by TOK teachers in schools across the world — and through a collaborative design process, we started to build frameworks for customizable international travel experiences.

Global Citizenship

Today, global citizenship is less about our actions and more about how we apply the things we learn, that is, how we consume, digest, and profess our understanding on issues of global significance.  In the IB, we are often asked to foster international-mindedness and to build an awareness of core societal and ideological assumptions while fostering an appreciation for the complexity of cultural identities in our world.  The potential for a shared travel experience to catalyze a TOK group’s learning at the start of a course or crystallize it upon its conclusion is immense!

Who We Are

Envoys is the result of a collaboration between colleagues from the Harvard Graduate School of Education who together have decades of experience with the IB community.  We are not tour guides; we are a cohort of career educators dedicated to using travel as a vehicle for transformative educational experiences. On every program, alongside students and dedicated global educators from around the world, we ask ourselves, how do I know what I know?

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Customized Travel Programs

As part of our mission, Envoys is always ready to speak with interested faculty and administrators to learn how we might assist their school to achieve global education goals. Envoys works hand-in-hand with our partner schools to design, implement, and assess travel programs around the world.

Qualified Envoys staff conduct participatory workshops for administrators, teachers, parents and/or students to discover goals and objectives for global competency and educational travel.

After accurately understanding the end outcomes and specific needs of a particular teacher, we meet with the school to discuss the possibilities. Envoys staff outline the intersections between the school’s needs and research-based, proven approaches to global education.

Based on this work, Envoys crafts a program proposal tailored to the partner school in terms of the following:

  • Educational goals and objectives
  • Destination country or region
  • Thematic content and curricular integration
  • Specific targeted skill-sets
  • Assessments and student outputs

We then work hand-in-hand with our partner schools to integrate the program into the life of the school.

Operations

Envoys operations are built on the extensive infrastructure and experience of Off-Bound Adventures, our parent organization.
We take an adaptive approach to developing each program, including the following elements:

Envoys is proud to recognize that we NEVER work alone. Upholding our belief in intercultural understanding, Envoys engages carefully-selected local academics, guides, social workers, and artisans to ensure the highest quality and most authentic educational experience.

In 2013, we established a partnership agreement with the Grassroots Business Fund, a social impact investment firm assisting low-income businesses throughout the developing world. Through this partnership, Envoys has a mandate to select, train, and support locally-owned businesses during our travel programs. On an annual basis, we review and report on the impact of our programs according to a series of impact metrics developed in partnership with GBF, ensuring that our programs contribute to the development of sustainable livelihoods abroad.

Envoys prices each program according to the specifications set out by our partner schools. We commit to providing a full and transparent depiction of the costs associated with the program, including our own program fees, to help make decisions and ensure that the opportunities are available to a wider range of students.

Envoys engages in regular scouting trips to our destinations, both during the ‘off-season’ and in the days before student arrival. During these trips, we evaluate accommodation, restaurants, transportation, and activity vendors to confirm that our standards have been met. We invite partner teachers to accompany us on these trips and learn more about both the destination and how we work!

Envoys staff follow a strict set of protocols for communications with our operational headquarters and actions in the event of an emergency. Based on our years of experience, we have developed a set of “field checklists” to guide our staff in the day-to-day conduction of field operations, including transportation management, hiking protocols, and other frequently occuring activities. Checklists are submitted through a mobile application to maintain a flow of information from the field to headquarters.

Every year, Envoys recruits, screens, and trains an array of adults to serve as field staff on our programs. Our field staff bring a wide diversity of education, experience, and talents to their work, including regional expertise, language ability, medical training, logistics prowess, and subject-matter. Most importantly, they all love working with youth, and believe deeply that our work makes a difference. We utilize a blended training model of face-to-face and online courses, including tests from the Expert Online Training system, to develop staff and prepare for work in the field.

Envoys recognizes that a degree of risk is inherent in all international travel and outdoor activities. Potential hazards include tropical diseases, exposure to unsanitary conditions, severe weather, public disorder, and transportation delays. Mental health issues may also be exacerbated through the stresses of a new experience.

No one can guarantee freedom from harm, including accident, injury, illness, or death.

Operating under these constraints, Envoys is responsible for creating and implementing risk assessment and management plans, in partnership with our collaborating schools for our programs. We maintain lines of communication with the field to handle any eventuality. Upholding our organizational ethos of continuous improvement, Envoys engages in regular and repeated updates of our procedures.

Envoys utilizes rigorous evaluations to drive performance and communicate our results to schools and families. Every lesson is field-tested and regularly assessed for its effectiveness at meeting learning goals.

Envoys internal assessments are conducted through three means:

1. Detailed staff observations produced by Envoys staff at the conclusion of each trip
2. Open-ended evaluations from students and teachers taking Envoys trips
3. Skill development assessments taken by Envoys students following each trip

At the conclusion of the trip, we produce reports for our stakeholders

Envoys Communication Principles

Education Requires Collaboration

Research has proven that there is a positive and convincing relationship between family involvement and student academic success. Similarly, the achievement of our learning outcomes requires the establishment of a collaborative and trusting relationship that includes all relevant stakeholders.

Decisions Require Information

We respect the intelligence of parents considering international travel for their children, and we refuse to make ‘guarantees’ that are untenable in a complex world. Instead, we provide information about the potential risks involved with each destination and the external sources that should be consulted prior to making a decision.

Sharing Stories is Part of the Journey

Advances in communications technology are rapidly removing barriers for the flow of information from the field. This ‘new normal’ means that we have a responsibility to provide regular updates, no matter where in the world an Envoys program is located.

Envoys Communication Methods

Presentations and Workshops

Envoys staff make presentations to parents and students about the educational objectives, potential risks, necessary preparations, and expected communications. We answer questions, take notes for any adaptations, and provide a concrete timeline to follow. Most importantly, we establish relationships with our program participants, allowing us to create a better-tailored program.

Online Portals

Envoys creates a dedicated and customized website for every program, containing all necessary information for participants. From this site, parents access online portals for uploading medical forms and processing payments, while students are able to log into online courses and check their packing lists.

Customer Service

Envoys HQ and program staff take pride in our responsiveness with parents. We understand that many important questions arise outside of normal business hours, and so we dedicate ourselves to providing multiple means of communication at all times, including 1-800 numbers, online trip-tracking sites, customized program portals, and rapid email responses.

Program Reports

Along with our ‘window-into-the-adventure’ provided by our online trip-tracking system, Envoys can work with teachers to create detailed reports on each student at the conclusion of the program. These reports detail areas of strength evidenced during the program, as well as areas where improvement is needed.

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