We’re hearing about the significant efforts of many schools across the CIS community as they attempt to strengthen their practices around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’re sharing this great example from the International School of Dakar (ISD) as one way for our community to visualize possibilities that they might like to adapt to their own context.
By Dr Alan Knobloch, Director, International School of Dakar
*Update 2023: Alan is now Director, International School of Hamburg
Our school is a diverse community of students, parents, and staff. We have students from six continents and more than 60 different countries, making us one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse international schools in the world. Over 40% of our students are children of color.
In 2019, our School Board and Administration took some initial steps to address student, parent, and staff concerns about racist behavior within our community, as well as increasing the diversity of the faculty to respond to the students’ requests that they have more teachers who have similar backgrounds.
CIS asked me to outline the steps we’ve taken and the progress we’ve made. Here’s an idea of how it all unfolded.
Two key people have been essential to our work: Dr Nneka Johnson and Darnell Fine. Darnell has worked with us as a diversity and inclusion consultant and has been an invaluable part of our process, helping us in several ways. Darnell currently is an instructional coach at Singapore American School and is the chairperson for the school’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team. He has led workshops for our Administration, Board, and staff. He provided coaching to our Diversity and Inclusion Team as they prepared to offer workshops for our staff as well as help the team prepare to facilitate the student listening sessions. Dr Nneka Johnson, ISD’s Director of Innovation, has taken a leadership role in the school’s diversity and inclusion efforts. She is a key member of the Board Diversity and Inclusion Committee, serves as the main liaison to Darnell Fine, created our Diversity and Inclusion Team of educators, provides support to our students and teachers with issues of equity, and partnered with me to lead the school’s efforts.
The school has two groups overseeing the school’s diversity and inclusion efforts this year. The first group is the ISD Diversity and Inclusion Team, composed of ISD educators, led by Dr Nneka Johnson. The Diversity and Inclusion Team has been responsible for professional development activities, listening sessions, and will be developing a tool for reporting and responding to bias.
The second group is the Board Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is composed of Trustees, administrators, teachers, students, and a parent. The Committee is responsible for monitoring the school’s progress on the school’s action plan on a monthly basis, provides advice, and will review the data collected from the listening sessions and surveys this year to start planning for next year.
May and June 2020
Large global demonstrations began in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. Inspired by these demonstrations, many students, faculty, and staff at ISD called attention to acts of racism within our school community through social media. On 15 June, Black at ISD was created on Instagram. The organizers of this page stated, “this is a space *independent of the administration* dedicated to centering the stories of Black students/parents/teachers/staff at ISD (current and former). We hope that sharing these stories will lead to institution change & ensure accountability.”
Acknowledgement, and gaining trust—Together with our Chairperson of the ISD Board of Trustees, Thiaba Camara Sy, I issued the following statement along with our initial plan for moving forward:
“As a school, we had started to grapple with racism last year , and although we cannot solve systemic racism around the world, we are committed to being part of the solution. We will continue to strengthen our work for diversity, inclusion, and active anti-racism, and foster systemic and real change at ISD.”
As the school year started, we rolled out an ambitious plan focusing on learning, listening, and recruiting a diverse staff, all the while involving students in the process. However, it became clear that before we could move on, it was important that I acknowledge racism and discrimination at ISD.
Learning—Darnell Fine, a diversity and inclusion consultant, presented a workshop to the Administration and Board “Roadmap to Becoming an Anti-Racist School Leader”.
Open communication—I held an acknowledgment and reconciliation town hall for all members of our community. During the meeting, I shared what the Administration learned from the Instagram stories via ‘Black at ISD’ and conversations with members of the community.
Learning—Darnell led a workshop "Is It Over?’ A Conversation about Racial Microaggressions, White Privilege, and White Supremacy” workshop for all staff.
Learning—The Diversity and Inclusion Team gave a series of workshops for all faculty members in November.
Listening—Members of the Diversity and Inclusion Team led listening sessions for Grades 11 and 12, where students were invited to share their stories of discrimination and bias at ISD. The sessions for the other secondary school grades were planned but had to be paused due to COVID restrictions around the mixing of student cohorts. D & I Team members will conduct listening sessions with our support staff. Darnell will run listening sessions for all other interested staff. A parent listening session will be planned for later in 2021
Commitment—Nneka was named the school’s first Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, a role to demonstrate that our commitment to this work is here to stay.
Policy review—Darnell kickstarted the year by reviewing the ISD Board of Trustee Policy Manual and provided a detailed list of policies that could lead to discrimination and bias towards members of our community.
It was important that the school take a critical and objective look at the policies and practices that are in place. We asked Darnell to identify possible areas that can lead to discrimination and bias. He completed his review in January and the Board’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Policy Committee will review his recommendations and begin the work of changing identified policies.
Listening—Students and staff were invited to take the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion survey conducted by an independent organization, Tripod Education. Parents, too, were recently invited to take a diversity and inclusion survey.
The data gathered from last year’s listening sessions and the surveys will be reviewed by the D & I Committee and Administration in a session led by Darnell. The results of the data review will be presented at the school’s Annual General Meeting in May.
Progress and plans
Recruiting—The most significant change made by the Board and the Administration during the 2019-2020 school year was the reprioritization of criteria used in teacher recruiting. While a track record of excellent teaching remains our top priority, having a diverse faculty has been elevated above having IB teaching experience. As ISD transitioned to becoming a three-program IB World School, hiring experienced IB teachers was our top priority. An unintended consequence of this was excluding excellent teachers of color who did not have the opportunity to work in an IB school. To address this issue, The Board and Administration elevated diversity over IB experience. This change, along with the proactive recruiting of teachers of colors resulted in 43% of the new teachers for the 2020-2021 school year being teachers of color. With recruiting well underway for 2021-2022 we are seeing similar results.
Reporting Discrimination and Bias—The D & I Team will create a process to allow for incidents of bias and discrimination to be reported, investigated, and addressed. They will review best practices from other organizations and then make recommendations to the Administration and, potentially, the Board.
Student Advocacy—The school will create a Social Justice Council composed of high school students and led by faculty advisors. The Social Justice Council will raise diversity and equity issues to the Administration and the Board. The students in the council will receive training on how to provide professional development to teachers on diversity and inclusion issues. Also, the council will assist the guidance counselors in providing advisory lessons for their fellow students.
We are proud of the steps we have taken to address racism, discrimination, and bias in our community. However, there is still much work to be done. Every facet of our community, Board, Administration, staff, students, and parents are committed to taking concrete action so that every member of our community is heard, valued, safe, and respected.
Read ISD’s Action Plan in full.
Read more perspectives about racism in international education, intercultural understanding, and more on the blog from across the CIS community.
- Diversity (I-DEA)
- Member stories