Anti racist, responsive leadership in international education
Anti racist, responsive leadership in international education
headshot of Joel Llaban


By Joel Llaban


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 all accreditation agencies and organizations that accredit and evaluate international school quality worldwide to ensure the explicit inclusion of anti-racism and anti-discrimination principles against all forms discrimination in their accreditation standards.

The petition further recommended the development of policies on anti-racism based on inclusive community input in the same manner that the CIS accreditation framework, which has emphasized accountability on child protection and student well being, was developed a few years ago.

Jane Larsson, Executive Director at CIS, wasted no time engaging us in dialogue to listen, understand, reflect, and learn. 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 (I-DEA) and some of the changes in the 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 anti-racism. 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 Larsson

Most recently, many of us read with deep appreciation and optimism an email and accompanying blog post by Chris Durbin, Director of International Accreditation at CIS, that outlined the recommended changes to the CIS International Accreditation standards. In a manner similar to the changes developed on child protection, he echoed Jane's words, 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 the email, Durbin emphasised “the need to acknowledge diversity in a deeper way and encourage learning in more uncomfortable areas”.

“We want to clearly signal the importance and the advantages of inclusion and diversity. The Black Lives Matter movement was a further alert [sic.] 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 anti-racism in particular.”—Chris Durbin


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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 well-being with regards to diversity, equity, inclusion, justice (DEIJ) and anti-racism. 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 was not developed 'single-handedly'. The anti-racism and DEIJ movement requires the commitment, camaraderie, the ‘calling in and calling out’, and the courage of individuals and the collective in our international school community—be it within the CIS team or from various 'communities of courage'. The Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color, 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 who believe that schooling is a political act and anti-racist work is a responsibility we have for all our children. It is our call to action to have more collaboration between and amongst the many groups and schools, and to include communities and colleagues who may be working in isolation.


Next steps

However, we have to actively remind ourselves that the changes in accreditation standards are only the beginning. We have to be cautious not to be complacent on being able to have accomplished 'DEIJ work' in laying these foundations. Our climb in these structural reforms has just begun.

A few of the 'next steps' include the commitment and convictions of individuals and school communities to develop tangible actions as we mark our schools against the accreditation standards. As we center DEIJ and anti-racism in schools, this step requires a deep engagement and leadership from 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, minimization, and exceptionalism, which are some of the obstacles to racial equity and justice.

And in the spirit of partnership, shared accountability and reciprocity on the part of the accreditation agencies is to structure and require DEIJ training for all accreditation evaluators so we all stand at a shared vantage point and use the same metric and mindsets on which we evaluate our schools, grounded on shared definitions of quality learning and a deep understanding of DEIJ and anti-racism intentionally imbedded in these definitions.


This post was first published by Joel on Medium on 24 January 2021.

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


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Anti racist, responsive leadership in international education