By Jane Larsson, CIS Executive Director and Dr Sudha Govindswamy, Associate Director of CIS School Support & Evaluation
Community expectations for our role as an international accrediting body
As a membership organization offering school accreditation internationally, we have a significant role to play as we guide and support schools to foster inclusion across diverse communities. We carry out this work with a great sense of responsibility as we consider each school’s public accountability, how the school secures and fulfils the trust of families choosing where their children will study, and educators choosing where they will work.
The purpose of international accreditation is to support school improvement in alignment with international benchmarks, fostered through professional dialogue and reflection with peers from around the world. Schools choose to join CIS and pursue international accreditation as a voluntary process to gain access to perspectives, policies and protocols that form effective international practice.
As we address complex areas of challenge facing school communities globally, inclusion via diversity, equity and anti-racism (I-DEA) is an area of focus. What is complex? I-DEA is an integrated set of concepts which only become functionally meaningful through their connection. How these are understood across cultures is even more complex in a diverse community.
What does it look like when communities engage in schoolwide dialogue on inclusion via diversity, equity and anti-racism (I-DEA)?
Globally, we see that school communities are in various stages of readiness to engage in this work:
- unaware or silent
- aware and not ready to move forward due to fear or division
- aware and ready to commit to dialogue.
Aspects of I-DEA are woven throughout the accreditation framework, just as they are visible across all aspects of school life. At CIS, we have highlighted specific standards and indicators related to the theme of inclusion to help schools identify related areas for improvement.
What does it look like when schools undertake this work within the vital process of self-study, the period when the school rates itself against the standards for international accreditation? Practices we can learn from are emerging as schools share their process and progress.
We asked three schools that intentionally chose to use the CIS International Accreditation process as a means to advance inclusion to share their experiences. Each took a different approach based on their local context and readiness of their communities to move forward collectively.
The International School of Dakar, Senegal took a differentiated approach within the school community. Nneka Johnson is the Director of Innovation and Strategic Development who also served the community as the DEIJ Coordinator. When taking on the role of Accreditation Coordinator at the school, Nneka first did her research. She found the 2017 accreditation report and began reading the recommendations: Where did the school need to improve related to diversity, equity and inclusion? One recommendation in 2017 identified a tangible step: to consider how to diversify library resources.
Working in partnership with the former school director, Alan Knobloch, Nneka described how they approached the school board of trustees in 2020 when she started working on the preparatory visit documentation. They took time to educate them first on the role of international accreditation, and how the resulting recognition of the quality and rigour of education would benefit their students and facilitate their university applications. Highlighting the emphasis CIS places on I-DEA helped them secure board commitment for a plan of action to advance their DEI work. It included the Board DEI Committee’s full engagement and support for Nneka to share the school’s journey via presentations to other international schools. Their stated goal: 'Everyone feels respected, valued and heard.'
In August 2022, Sandy MacKenzie arrived as the new school director. As Sandy and Nneka worked closely together to launch a new strategic plan, they recognized this needed to include a review of the school’s guiding statements. They also decided to embed their strategic review within the self-study process for re-accreditation.
As Nneka considered the diversity of the school community, she knew that putting forward the work as a compliance approach ‘to secure accreditation’ would not work. She focused on building trust, framing the need in a way similar to how the school approached the development of its child protection practices—to address harm and abuse.
How is the school measuring its progress towards inclusion? They are in the process of conducting listening sessions again this year, to gauge the impact of their work. As part of the combined self-study/strategic planning process and led by their DEI work, they identified qualitative metrics … guiding questions to be answered:
- Are we more equitable?
- Do feelings of ‘other’ still exist?
Above all, Nneka said, DEI work is nuanced, ’it’s all about maintaining momentum by keeping the community fully engaged and committed to the journey, continually building trust. The challenges include managing the whole community, as people are at different stages of awareness and development. There is frustration about the speed (lack of) progress, as many are eager for justice. We continue to give space for people to share their perspective with no judgment.’
ISD is now recruiting a Head of Equity and Inclusion who will be a part of the Senior Leadership Team. ‘We want DEI to be an integral part of our identity and culture as a school,’ Sandy emphasized. ’It is not an add-on, not a project, and not a nice-to-have. It is long-term work that infuses all that we do here at ISD and informs all our decisions.’
At the Western Academy of Beijing in China, Marta Medved Krajnovic, Head of School, reflected on her community’s approach to re-accreditation. 'As an established, innovative, and accredited school, WAB felt that the compliance type of accreditation and ticking off of standards-based rubrics would no longer meet our needs and bring us forward. We especially felt this for one of our strategic areas of focus—IDEAS: Inclusion via diversity, equity, anti-racism and social justice.'
’A compliance approach to accreditation, while effective for some areas of school operations and at certain stages of school development, could be tricky in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space. In advancing DEI work and in developing community understanding and action, nothing is simple, straightforward forward or binary. It's the road less travelled with so many possible twists and turns that it needs an accreditation partner that can give a framework, give a nudge, ask the right questions, and support with resources and connections to other schools on the same path. DEI work needs an accreditation partner that will hold the school accountable but will not dictate what needs to be done and when. It needs a critical friend that will help the school community develop a creative and contextually appropriate approach to honest conversations and resulting actions. WAB has found that critical friend in the CIS re-accreditation process.’
Rami Madani, the head of International School of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, reflected on how to engage a school community in dialogue on matters of difference. ‘Leaders set the tone and approach. We focus on the importance of a learning mindset to earn trust and to learn together.’ And even as awareness of the need for greater dialogue develops across the school, he would like to see more involvement in these discussions from ‘those who are silent’.
’But, talking isn’t enough,’ he said. ’We all need to learn, to read the perspectives of others. It is easy to change policies, but it is not easy to change mindsets and habits.’
Asked whether the accreditation process influenced the motivation for this work, Rami said, ‘We never use accreditation as a risk (not achieving it). Accreditation supports our ambition to be a great school. The Director of Learning coordinates discussion and self-reflection. We use the CIS standards to inform what we are doing as small groups of stakeholders review them.’
These schools’ stories show the complexity of this work. As another head of school commented, 'This continues to be a talking point within our school for colleagues as well as parents, students, and our wider community. As one might expect in a truly international milieu, the perspectives and mental models are as diverse within our school as they are across the globe. Both a celebration and a barrier.'
While the process of accreditation is developmental, there are non-negotiables. As schools join our membership community, they commit to ‘rigorously apply the CIS Code of Ethics’, including:
Respect the dignity and equality of all individuals, groups and cultures.
Last year, CIS membership and accreditation were withdrawn from a school due to its failure to address the marginalization of local teachers and students of colour. With a heavy heart, we took this decision when we realized the school leadership did not recognize the concerns that were presented to them. However, in doing so, we lost the opportunity to engage with the school and bring about change.
We will continue to write about our experiences working with international school communities worldwide as they engage with our framework of standards and indicators of leading practice related to I-DEA. And while these are useful in identifying policies and procedures to be addressed, racism and discrimination are not problems to be managed. We do not see accreditation as the sole answer to all issues, just as education itself is not the sole answer to all issues. We view accreditation as a lever for change alongside many others.
Our vision is to intentionally enable schools to use the accreditation process as an additional lens to ensure that all voices within a school and its community are heard.
We will continue to educate and encourage our membership community to self-reflect and evaluate their own commitment to inclusion through diversity, equity, and anti-racism as truly participatory processes.
Join us for an I-DEA workshop
We recognise that identifying where to start on your school's journey to inclusion via diversity, equity & anti-racism (I-DEA) and how to take action can be challenging. The foundation workshop is designed to support and guide you.
Cultivating belonging for LGBTQ+ individuals is a cornerstone of safeguarding, human rights, global citizenship, and inclusion through diversity, equity, & anti-racism. Join this workshop to map out actions for your school
The sessions for both workshops will be available on-demand in the weeks following so you can catch up or view them again at your own convenience.
- Workshops: Our school members are invited to join us for the following workshops:
- 14–16 February 2023 | Inclusion Via Diversity, Equity & Anti-racism Foundation Workshop (virtual)
- 27–28 March | Inclusion Via Diversity, Equity & Anti-Racism (I-DEA) Deep Dive Workshop: Cultivating Inclusion For Diverse Genders And Sexualities (Save the date!)
- Resources: Our members can also find more resources and on-demand webinars related to I-DEA work in the CIS Community portal
- Read more I-DEA perspectives, insights, and guidance from across the CIS community such as:
- Socially responsible leadership: Taking a closer look
- Four ways to start the school year centering on DEI
- Students lead the way to tackle discrimination
- Breaking up with imposter syndrome: It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s the system
- What the data tells us about diversity in international school teaching staff and leadership
- Decolonising the curriculum
- International education perpetuates structural racism and anti-racism is the solution
- Read perspectives related to international accreditation
- Learn more about CIS school membership