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Antiracist Responsive Leadership in International Education

The Courageous Conversations Series
By Joel Jr. Llaban
Antiracist Responsive Leadership in International Education

Six months ago, educators from different parts of the world as well as friends and partners of international education signed and made their voices heard through this petition on The petition strongly recommended that all accreditation agencies and organizations involved in accrediting and evaluating international school quality worldwide ensure the explicit inclusion of antiracism and antidiscrimination principles in their accreditation standards.

The petition further recommended the development of policies on antiracism based on inclusive community input in the same manner that the Council of International School (CIS) accreditation framework, which has emphasized accountability on child protection and student wellbeing, was developed a few years ago.

Jane Larsson, Executive Director of CIS, wasted no time engaging us in dialogue, seeking to listen, understand, reflect, and learn. These dialogues and various forms of personal and institutional learning evolved into a range of actions, including the creation of the CIS Board Committee on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism and involved some changes to accreditation protocols and standards.

Along with friends and colleagues Nunana Nyomi and Angeline Aow, and representative CIS board members and CIS team members, we make up the committee that developed the charter that will define our committee’s work on antiracism.

The committee is at its initial stage of learning and development. It will continue to evolve and take actions with the support, activism, and partnership of our friends and colleagues in international education.

“We now intend to address ongoing inequities and racism in international education using the accreditation process as a vehicle for change.”
— Jane Larrson

Most recently, many of us read with deep appreciation and optimism the email and the blog post by Chris Durbin, CIS Director of International Accreditation, which outlined the recommended changes to the CIS International Accreditation standards. In a manner similar to the changes developed on child protection, he stated that CIS ‘’intends to make a similar impact to address ongoing inequities and racism in international education using the accreditation process as a vehicle for change.’’ In his email, Durbin emphasized “the need to acknowledge diversity in a deeper way and encourage learning in more uncomfortable areas.”

Durban added, “We want to clearly signal the importance and the advantages of inclusion and diversity. The Black Lives Matter movement was a further alert to the fact that the world is deeply unequal and troubled in this area. Working across the world, much of our work is in privileged communities – equity issues are evident and we hear from many students, alumni, teachers, and staff that they are or have experienced racism in international schools and our standards have lacked direct references to equity and antiracism in particular.”

Shared Accountability and Impact

As a lever for school improvement, with its four drivers, we know that accreditation plays a strong role in ensuring systemic changes and accountability that will have profound implications on student learning and wellbeing with regard to diversity, equity, inclusion, justice (DEIJ) and antiracism. Accreditation helps shape schools’ strategic priorities and action taking through the process of shared institutional reflection.

Accreditation requires a community to engage in a “deep dive” of its school’s purpose, areas of challenges and growth, as well as its next steps and future aspirations. The accreditation process, particularly the aforementioned changes recommended by CIS, will support schools as we all courageously “examine systemic roots of discrimination, inequity, and racism.”

By intentional design, schools that are deeply grounded on their guiding statements and held accountable for their strategic priorities through accreditation will be better able to support the intersectional identities, lives, learning, and futures of students, adults, and families in their care.

Courageous Communities

We also know that the shared sense of purpose, changes, and actions were not developed “single-handedly.” The antiracism and DEIJ movement requires the commitment, camaraderie, “calling in and calling out,” as well as the courage of individuals and the collective in our international school community—be it within the CIS team or from various “communities of courage.” These include the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC), Diversity Collaborative, Identity-Centered Learning, WomenEd, Women of Color in ELT, and the alumni group Organisation to Decolonise International Schools, to mention a few.

Institutional changes are fueled by the activism of many of these courageous communities, whose members believe that schooling is a political act and antiracist work is a responsibility we bear in educating all children. It is our call to action to cultivate more collaboration among the many groups and schools, as well as to include communities and colleagues who may be working in isolation.

Next Steps

We must actively remind ourselves, however, that while important, the changes in accreditation standards are only one step along this journey. We have to be cautious not to become complacent, thinking we have accomplished “DEIJ work” in laying these foundations. Our climb in these structural reforms has just begun.

A few of the “next steps” include obtaining the commitment of individuals and school communities to develop tangible actions as we mark our schools against the accreditation standards. As we center DEIJ and antiracism in schools, this step requires a deep engagement on the part of school leaders to open dialogues amongst stakeholders and establish shared ownership in the development of purpose and action plans. To courageously confront detours as well as denials, along with minimization and exceptionalism, which are some of the obstacles to racial equity and justice.

In the spirit of partnership, shared accountability, and reciprocity on the part of the accreditation agencies, we hope to structure and require DEIJ training for all accreditation evaluators. From a shared vantage point, evaluating our schools according to the same metrics and mindsets, we will be firmly grounded in shared definitions of quality learning and will benefit when a deep understanding of DEIJ and antiracism are intentionally imbedded in these definitions.

Joel Jr Llaban is a Learning Specialist and Instructional Coach at The International School of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. He is also a member of the CIS board committee on inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism. Find him on Twitter @JoelJrLLABAN.

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02/10/2021 - Jorge
Jane - you ROCK!!!
The W in WE ACT RIGHT = World view
Jacque Yves-Cousteau was asked if he could solve for world peace. Yes, he said, and it will only cost 1% of the US military budget. Send every child at the age of 14 to another country for one year and in one generation there will be peace. International schools and students are the closest thing to his vision.