Jane Larsson, CIS Executive Director, Sudha Govindswamy, CIS Associate Director of School Support and Evaluation and Kevin Simpson, Founder, AIELOC
CIS Supporting Members are long-standing educational organizations, twenty-seven in total, whose strategic objectives support and complement our own. Today, we share the story of AIELOC: The Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color, as they celebrate their 5th Anniversary.
It was mid-2020 when I first became aware of the impact of this young (founded in 2017) organization. We were in hard lockdown in our homes, work and professional networking were happening online only. We, at CIS, had just made a commitment to advance inclusion via diversity, equity and anti-racism (I-DEA), founding a committee of staff, CIS Board and community members to undertake an organizational self-assessment and to put forth a series of recommendations. The name of AIELOC came up often in committee discussions. And so, I set out to learn more about AIELOC and its work.
My first AIELOC ‘Community Visioning’ session was an invitation—to report on our I-DEA work and discuss how to move forward with AIELOC members. This session immersed me, as a minority, with international educators who are experiencing significant racism and discrimination in their international school communities. I quickly realized that I knew virtually nothing about racism.
What I found at AIELOC is a community that provides international educators of color and all those experiencing a form of exclusion with a place to call home—a refuge, where they can truly be themselves.
Since then, I’ve attended multiple visioning sessions. Mostly, I listen and learn from the perspectives of brave, resilient people eager for change. I have met incredible new colleagues who inspire me. I urge you to join a visioning session too.
Recently, I met with Sudha Govindswamy (SG), CIS Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation and Kevin Simpson (KS), Founder of the Association of Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC)
I remember vividly the early stirrings of AIELOC in 2017, that heavy and painful conversation we had on how ‘to just get a foot in the door’—international school leadership continuing to be out of access for reasons including, color, gender, accent and so on. It’s been five years since we had this conversation—what has changed?
Reflecting on conversations within the international school community—DEIJ statements, professional learning, growth in seeking expert DEIJ consultants in schools, a new taskforce, DEIJ leaders at schools, conversations in schools, scholar’s voices—so much has changed! I hear a lot more conversations and actions in these areas, from a lot of organizations and a lot of different angles.
Topics that we had always been told were taboo when we look globally around our ecosystem; we see and hear [them] more now. We notice organizations now look at data that connects to recruitment, leadership teams, organizations. Many are being more public around data; it all comes back to actions. Monitoring and accountability need to continue to shift. What actions are we going to consistently take?
In terms of the community, participants have begun to realize that it’s not about simply joining AIELOC; it's a true and life-long commitment to learn. I’ll be working on this now; considering the layers in the work that is yet to be done, we need a systematic approach in the way we think about this.
We have bystanders, and then we have the upstanders. There is a lot going on. But there is still a lot of work to do.
We always remind ourselves: students first. Youth are already doing things and observing us; did we speak up? What was our action; the messages we send through the unspoken are deep and powerful?
For us, it takes bystanders to become upstanders. When one encounters a derogatory or racist post, who speaks up? And who is saying nothing? It is the action that matters, and it's ongoing.
Despite all the efforts, racism and discrimination still happen, so now it’s about naming it and working with organizations willing to step in. [There are] lots of changes on the positive side, but it’s going to take years, and it is going to take all of US!
What are some of the measures AIELOC takes to ensure I-DEA-related discussions are not confined to like-minded people getting together to ‘sing to the choir’ (and how you involve and invite others who may not share the same views to partake in conversations)?
It’s about becoming lifelong learners and practitioners—one relationship at a time—systematically, we want to think about who are we touching, and who are we connecting/not connecting with. We are inviting everyone into this space.
We have had conversations with organizations that have been policy-related, we give feedback, and if nothing changes, that’s a key message that says, ‘we are keeping things the way they are’.
We reach out for speakers, content providers, expert consultants. We closely review the feedback pipeline, and ask ourselves, is there opportunity for people of color to progress to leadership? Teacher to coordinator to director or administrator? What’s the message? Is this an option? What is our expectation and the direction we are heading? There are a few organizations who have been on the latter part—we expect all of our leaders and schools to do this; may' is an option, 'must' is a commitment.
The Anti-Discrimination Taskforce is going to look at this closely, who is moving and who is not moving.
If you are thinking, ‘I’m scared, I’m not sure where to start’, come join us in the community visioning sessions. Come in, we are going to share. There is so much information available, many associations and accreditation organizations offering learning. So we can’t say we don’t have the opportunity; so many people want change. The taskforce is where we collectively look at shifts that need to happen. We propose to spotlight and highlight those committed to change.
It's helpful to note the connection with the Child Protection Taskforce, going back to its initial statement of commitment to the UN declaration of human rights and the convention on the rights of the child. This is a grounding basis for work to address all forms of abuse. No one will say that it is not important to expand this commitment from the child protection taskforce to our work on inclusion, diversity and anti-racism.
What makes AIELOC community visioning sessions so unique and so valuable? Thinking of the comfort and welcoming voices that make these sessions so therapeutic for so many people…the need for love in the sessions is apparent! What needs are emerging for AIELOC members and visioning session participants? Do you see a need to create more affinity groups? (There are times when breakout room participants say they wished they could be in a room only with people who understand and share their experiences.)
The Community Visioning session is open for all. Examples of the work that is done, smaller groups, Latino space, learning support affinity space, and so on.
Members can propose ideas or the need for spaces. The idea is to connect with others around the work with the goal is to bring together like-minded people and offer a safe space. When people are not comfortable in larger spaces, breakout rooms are helpful with pre-established norms. We intentionally send the message: It’s for everybody!
These conversations are very different, just listen, and that learning will be exponential. Participants reflect and say, if I only knew about this ten years ago, I’d still be in international education. It’s about retention. When you recruit, are you checking on retention? Is there that sense of belonging? In the recruitment process, is there a statement that makes it intentional that changes are being made? How do we highlight this more and make it more public? There’s no time for excuses!
In AIELOC’s mission statement relating to justice—AIELOC is committed to healing, repairing, and restoring intercultural humanity and human rights for all in international school settings worldwide. Let’s focus on the three important aspects here—healing, repairing, and restoring intercultural humanity. What are some of the patterns you notice in conversations with AIELOC members? Where are the critical deficits?
We have an amazing self-care team! They do so much behind the scenes. We check in with people and counsel so that they can share in confidence. Exit interview processes are helpful in understanding the real reasons why people depart. The sense of healing is important.
We want to move so that people’s humanity is centred. When we show up for interaction with someone and know there is harm and it has happened, what’s our role in making sure we give people the option for restorative conversations?
It’s when people say I’m gone, to reach out, and reaching back has helped them to see that they matter. That restorative interaction needs to happen.
Where there has been harm, how do we bring them together if they want it? We have looked at leadership pathways. Do our leaders fully understand people? Are they able to identify what’s missing? Wellness, well-being and self-care for leaders have to be a component.
We often reach out only after bad things have happened. How can we learn and see things earlier? CIS seeks support from other professions, lawyers, and psychologists who have the skills and knowledge for restorative and therapeutic practices. When people are thinking, ‘I don’t want to remember what happened to me’, therapeutic interventions need to happen. Many of our leaders do need to be empowered to reach out and gain this type of support.
What strategies are emerging to increase AIELOC’s impact in the future? What are your hopes and fears?
At the core of our work, there are three hopes:
- Centred around self-advocacy for both individuals and groups
- Opportunities and how they are structured
- Research and developing leaders of colour and women in leadership
- Naming things—seeing what was harmful—this is always complex
- Ensuring there is support in recruitment when there has been harm (don’t recruit me into a burning house.)
- How are we going beyond the statement on the website?
- Lack of accountability—this is a big part of the taskforce. What do we know? What is the evidence? And at what level? Where are the shifts? Where it doesn’t exist how are things moving?
How can we, at CIS, help?
We definitely appreciate the collaboration with the CIS team. AIELOC looks forward to opportunities to co-create, sharing each other’s work through research, writing, and professional learning.
We continue to look up to CIS as a leader in this work. International accreditation is not words but action—how is this embedded within the life of a school community?
It’s a labour of love, to connect individuals and organizations. People want change, we at AIELOC provide the platform!
Working together, AIELOC and CIS are taking tangible steps to raise awareness of discrimination in our communities, through stories and education. This year, we are providing scholarships for AIELOC fellows to join our Evaluator Training courses. Anyone interested can learn more here.
Join us for an I-DEA workshop
View our events schedule and join us for a foundation or deep dive workshop to support you and your school community on your journey to inclusion via diversity, equity & anti-racism (I-DEA).
The sessions will be available on-demand in the weeks following so you can catch up or view again at your own convenience.
- Our members are invited to join us for a foundational or deep dive workshop for inclusion via diversity, equity, and anti-racism (I-DEA)
- Is accreditation an effective way to advance inclusion via diversity, equity and anti-racism?
- Recognizing and addressing identity-based harm in schools
- Four ways to start the school year centering on DEI
- Students lead the way to tackle discrimination
- From process to progress: Three big ideas for inclusion via diversity, equity & anti-racism (I-DEA)
- 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
- Our members can log into the CIS Community portal KnowledgeBase > Inclusion via diversity, equity, and anti-racism to find briefings, on-demand webinars and other resources to help with this work.