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Future of Learning

A Global Support Network: Reflection on the AAIE Conference

By Stacy Stephens
A Global Support Network: Reflection on the AAIE Conference

(From left to right) Nikki Gundry, Bambi Betts, and Stacy Stephens attending the AAIE conference. (Photo source: Nikki Gundry)

As international educators, many of us have traveled around the world, taught in schools across different continents, and lived and experienced a multitude of cultures. But once we settle into our appointments in new countries, it’s rare to step out of our local environments where the focus is on our schools. Even more rare is stepping out of our regional environments, where the focus is on a slightly wider surrounding. 

Bringing together thought leaders and sessions led by practitioners around the world, the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) conference offered an opportunity for a comprehensive international take on education. Educators from all over the globe stepped out of their day-to-day focus and came together to discuss the progress of international education as a whole.  

After more than 20 years in schools, I have been to a lot of conferences. But this year, in my new role as the Director of TIE, it was my first opportunity to participate in the AAIE conversations. This conference gave me a deep appreciation for the importance of a global support network. Leadership can be an isolating role. In every school, there are rarely more than a handful of leadership positions such as Head of School, Principal, Director of Learning, and building level leaders. The AAIE conference gave these leaders a chance to come together to discuss their unique roles, challenges, and opportunities with others who have shared their experiences. It expanded their exposure to leadership outside of their front doors and broadened the conversations beyond just their regions. 

The challenge that many schools are facing was clear both in the theme of the conference, “Collective Care and Action,” and in the conversations that were taking place in the various sessions and keynotes. The Head of the National Association of Independent Schools in the United States shared research that highlights some of the institutional challenges our schools face: declining trust in institutions, continued disruptions, and polarization in our communities. 

The rest of the conference followed with clear thinking about how we manage these challenges.  At the 30th year of the Women’s Leadership Breakfast, Ellie Drago-Severensen said it’s all about “relationships, relationships, relationships.” Margaret Wheatley, in her keynote, further shared inspiring thoughts reminding us, “Humans can do anything as long as we are together.” 

The message from all the speakers was explicit that how we relate to, talk to, care for, and support each other in our relationships is critical to how well we thrive, and have a strong impact on our school communities.  

One of the standout messages that solidified the themes about the challenges that schools face and the need to center around care and relationships was from Emily Meadows, a former international counselor and LGBTQA+ consultant and advocate. She said, “The problem is the system that ‘others’ people.” If we can move from a scarcity mindset and acknowledge that “amount of belonging is limitless, not scarce,” we can center on community. We can recognize that creating belonging for others does not remove belonging for us; and we can focus on making space and caring for all people. Through this, we can become less polarized and more trusting of our institutions because, as Margret Wheatly so powerfully ended with, “whatever the problem is, community is the answer.”

While the journeys of international educators take us to diverse corners of the globe, the tendency to settle into local and regional environments often limits our broader perspectives. My first time experience at the AAIE conference was a powerful reminder of the importance of connection, support, and care within our global community. It is through these shared experiences and enriching conversations that we can return to our schools truly focused on being impactful educators on the international stage.


Stacy Stephens is the Director of The International Educator. 

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