Our well-being agenda for international education

By Jane Larsson, CIS Executive Director

   

Those who know me well realize I’m definitely not a pessimist. My optimism is fuelled in large part by what we do at CIS, I’m very happy to report. Recently, at a meeting of the International Commission Advancing Independent School Accreditation (the newly-founded agency that “accredits the accreditors”) each one of us was asked to begin the meeting by describing the work of our association over the past year, in six words. No small task! My response: Shaping the future of international education. And we are.

Who else has a better chance to make a positive impact in our world than those of us who have devoted our careers to the education of children and young adults as they grow, develop and find their places in the world, no matter where their paths may take them. Our ideal of global citizenship inspires and sustains us in our daily work.

Yet, we face real challenges that deserve our focus:

1. In recent news, the breach of ethics and corrupt behaviour by professionals guiding students as they choose their paths to a number of US higher education institutions is disappointing and harmful to our work. We have a collective responsibility to build trust with the young people in our care. Our students have a multitude of opportunities to consider which in itself can be overwhelming, not to mention the intense pressure they face as they complete their exams under the scrutiny and expectations of their parents. Their transition from secondary school to university life, inevitably in a new country and culture, is fraught with vulnerability. We must support them with integrity.

As members, CIS universities commit to our Code of Ethics and Guiding Principles for Higher Education. They are held to the highest standards of behaviour, which we will reinforce at each and every one of our activities and events.

2. Mobility itself brings a host of significant challenges. At CIS we deploy over 600 staff and volunteers on school membership and accreditation visits annually, and we facilitate the travel of many, many more, as our members travel to meet prospective students, recruit staff or join one of our professional development events. Our schools and universities primarily serve the globally-mobile. I just finished reading the 2019 Drum Cussac Report: The Future of Risk. Twenty-five percent of this report focuses on “the unforeseen, long-term risks of a globally mobile workforce”. What are they?

Frequent travellers face long-term health challenges.

“If traveller wellbeing is not addressed properly then the impact and repercussions include excessive short-term (e.g. weakened immune system, headaches, musculoskeletal problems, digestive issues, sleep disruption) and long-term (e.g. lifestyle diseases increasing likelihood of hypertension, obesity, heart disease, stroke) physical health consequences, mental health challenges such as stress, burnout, difficulties remaining resilient, optimistic and positive, retaining a good decision-making ability, personal relationships and/or motivation—all of which negatively impact the performance of the traveller and organisation.”

www.drum-cussac.com

Image source: https://drum-cussac.com/

 

3. Working in diverse cultural communities means that decision-making can be harder due to varying cultural norms that impact all aspects of life, including how we raise, nurture and discipline children. People who are “different”, and this can be presented in many ways, have long faced significant challenges when moving to cultures where difference is hidden, brings discrimination, or worse, is forcibly removed or punished.

March's mass killings at two mosques in New Zealand are a tragic example of misguided fear coupled with wrongful use of the internet. Guiding students to understand and safely navigate the content they discover online is one of our most pressing responsibilities and we will continue to identify and share resources to help you help them.

4. Abuse, neglect and other adverse childhood experiences have a direct impact on educational outcomes and adult life. Research studies confirm higher rates of depression, illness, substance abuse and suicide among those who have experienced childhood abuse or other traumatic experiences. Our international communities face an even higher level of risk. A 2015 survey of over 700 international educators identified differing cultural norms as the number one barrier to identifying and responding to possible child sexual abuse and exploitation in international schools.

The Truth Project, an initiative of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in the UK, just released its initial findings.

The Truth Project Stats

Image source: IICSA Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse, www.iicsa.org.uk

 

So how are we addressing these challenges?

Well-being deserves our full attention. We each strive to attain it. And, it is a complex mix of identity, belonging and safety.

Given the risks and realities an international education or career can bring, the well-being agenda is a top priority. It is a fundamental driver for our work in school evaluation as a foundational necessity. It is a crucial developmental factor that will enable us to better engage with each other and in our education. And so, this year, we continue our work to elevate the well-being agenda in ways that will make an impact in the communities we serve.

 

1. We’ve revised the CIS International Accreditation protocol to strengthen well-being standards and indicators—for students and for staff.

 

2. We’ve added new experts and content to our Child Protection Workshops including the latest research on peer-on-peer abuse that will be presented together with leading practices to address it. And through a new partnership with Childnet and other experts, digital safety will be added as a workshop strand.

 

 

3. We’ve signed a three-year agreement with the International Association for College Admission Counseling to deliver diversity training workshops and webinars. We’ll share expertise to raise understanding of the importance of identity, how to identify implicit bias and develop cultural competence overall.

 

4. We’re devoting a two-day pre-conference workshop at our Global Forum on International Admission & Guidance in November in Bilbao, Spain, focused on student well-being. 

 

5. We provide personal guidance and support for educators as they look for positions at schools that match their values and skills. We help schools find the right people for their communities and support the development of skills necessary to work in diverse educational communities. Our new online course, Leading Schools Interculturally will be further developed this year with relevant content for new and experienced leaders in both schools and universities. Member schools can register via the CIS Community Portal.

 

 

My colleagues at CIS and I are interested in your perspective. Let us know how we can most effectively support you to raise the well-being agenda in your community – post your comments below or email us.