The groundwork for anti-racism: Deep individual and institutional reflection
The groundwork for anti-racism: Deep individual and institutional reflection
The groundwork for anti-racism: Deep individual and institutional reflection
Chris Green CIS School Support & Evaluation Officer

By Chris Green, School Support & Evaluation Officer

The refocusing of attention on racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd in the US has resulted in deep individual and institutional reflection. Across international education, there has been an outpouring of commitment to address anti-racism with subsequent uncertainty about how and where to start making a difference.


Our progress will depend on strong foundational concepts grounded in being self-reflective, deliberate, and evaluative. Taking time to develop and strengthen our foundations—individually and institutionally—is essential, no matter how progressive or rudimentary we may be in our thinking and actions.

Jane Larsson, Executive Director, CIS

As a community of schools and universities with a mission of ‘working collaboratively to shape international education’, our members urgently reached out for our support and guidance as their communities—often led by students or alumni—shared stories of racism, marginalization, and discrimination.

At CIS we began by educating ourselves as individuals, and our Board formed a committee on inclusion through diversity, equity and anti-racism (I-DEA) at the institution level. The I-DEA Committee is made up of a diverse and committed group of staff, Board members, plus members of our school and university community. They are grouped into several sub-committees that focus on specific areas of work, including the review of guiding statements and structures, and our mission and definition of global citizenship through an anti-racist lens. Additionally, a review of our accreditation standards and criteria is underway within our School Support and Evaluation Team. And ongoing resources and professional development opportunities are being created and curated to help our members tackle this challenge. 


The importance of meeting each person where they are in their own journey of understanding of how to tackle racism

We’re here to help our community do the groundwork. We garnered the expertise of our member community and beyond, inviting experts in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racist practice to be part of a series of foundational virtual workshops Tackling Racism: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our Schools and Universities

Our speakers expertly shape the workshop around actionable guidance and personal stories and contexts with plenty of opportunity for Q&A. (You can check out some of the speakers in an earlier blog post where they outlined some common missteps to avoid plus resources to help)

Recent events have reminded me that the cost of remaining silent is too high when working in an industry that shapes the education of so many young minds.

Nunana Nyomi, Associate Director of Higher Education Services


First, understand self. Second, understand others. Third, understand our systems and structures.

The learning experience is designed to follow a path of first understanding self then understanding others, and then applying the learning at the institutional level of systems and structures. The first workshop in the series Addressing Implicit Bias focuses on both explicit and implicit bias. Participants of this workshop in 2020 explored how to recognise and address one’s own and others’ biases, the impact of bias on individuals and institutions, and strategies to tackle bias. We asked ourselves: 

  • How do you create a framework for schools to meaningfully address bias through the hiring process to further invite applications from a more diverse pool of candidates? 
  • How can we help students address bias at home with their parents?


Addressing implicit biases: common themes and concerns

The chat thread, discussions and questions raised during this workshop in 2020 were full of common concerns: how to correctly identify and counteract one’s own biases, how to support students in understanding and tackling bias, and how to have courageous conversations to tackle bias.

At the institutional level, common concerns focused on how universities can eliminate bias in the student selection process, and how can bias be tackled in recruitment practices, particularly in international schools. 

Participants told us:

  • I’ll talk about bias and equip students with better understanding for themselves and others. Why? Because educators are in a good position to do so, and so they should.
  • I liked the concept of courageous conversations and to address issues as I see or hear them without entering in debate but sharing our perceptions, feelings and views.


Intercultural competence and achieving equity in our schools and universities

The second workshop in the series, Intercultural competence and achieving equity in our schools and universities, focuses on understanding intercultural competence as the ability to adapt our mindset and behaviours when navigating diversity and difference, including the challenges faced by non-dominant racial and cultural groups which can result in bias and discrimination. We explored:

  • How do you build Intercultural Competence when you are in a homogenous environment?
  • In international schools, people tend to think that if they've made the decision to work overseas they're naturally interculturally competent. How do you get colleagues to examine their level of competence in an honest and reflective way?

The themes of learning and discussion that participants focused on in chat, activities and discussion in 2020 centred on monocultural vs intercultural mindsets; challenge particularly in schools of having a diverse staff that mirrors the student demographic; ensuring an interculturally competent staff; understanding that we see things from our own perspective; importance of language, culture and identity; racism being part of child protection; and how to bring all stakeholders into the conversations.

Regarding social power, how can students of a country who attend western centric international schools develop respect and value for their own language and culture when their wider communities think otherwise? Discussions covered these participant comments and questions:

  • Diverse schools don’t always have intercultural competence. We must work on developing this.
  • One major challenge that I face recruiting for a very expensive university is how to find strategies for my institution to consider economic diversity as a critically important piece of DEIJ? 
  • What are some effective ways to engage parents and other stakeholders without them rejecting ideas that are different to their own cultural experiences.


Establishing Systems and Structures to Tackle Racism and Promote Equity in our Schools and Universities

This third workshop is the culmination of the learning journey for this foundational series. It focuses on the complex issues of power and privilege, and establishing systems, policies and structures to promote equity in institutions. The question of how to identify who holds power and privilege began the discussion in the 2020 workshop, was followed by practical examples of how to bring about anti-racist action and systemic change. The next dates for this workshop are 21 and 22 April.

CIS Tackling Racism Workshop Systems screenshot

The themes in the chat, activities, questions, and discussions covered mission and vision change, policy change, building allies, storytelling, staff recruitment in international schools, and bringing the community on board. Discussions covered these comments and questions:

  • We need to be deliberate in creating safe spaces around storytelling.
  • Consider who is making the hiring decisions. If everyone is of the same cultural and identity background then how can you get more diverse perspective on candidates?
  • Development of capabilities in DEI should be at least a little uncomfortable if we are aiming for transformation—if it’s not, it’s simply practice (rather than learning)
  • It’s essential to intentionally look for diversity
  • We have had students trained on anti-harassment and positive bystander behaviour. Those peer to peer learning opportunities are vital here
  • Excited about tomorrow’s DEI meeting with Students generating THEIR questions
  • I feel a lot more reassured knowing that this is a journey and that there are other organisations who are also at the beginning.
  • Can equity ever be truly achieved, given the complex nature of power dynamics between individuals and groups within an institution?

Reflecting the eagerness of our community to learn more about this topic, we reached capacity in all these workshops the first time we ran them in 2020. The great news is that the same expert speakers and learning experiences will be repeated from February to April. Register now using the links below.


Related content to help us tackle racism together:


The groundwork for anti-racism: Deep individual and institutional reflection
  • Diversity (I-DEA)
  • Global citizenship
  • Intercultural learning & leadership
  • Networking & learning
The groundwork for anti-racism: Deep individual and institutional reflection