What happens when university and school leaders come together to discuss common challenges?
What happens when university and school leaders come together to discuss common challenges?
What happens when university and school leaders come together to discuss common challenges?
Jane Larsson, CIS Executive Director
By Jane Larsson, CIS Executive Director

Debriefing the CIS Membership Summit of University + School Leaders

We belong to a community of problem-solvers, people who are keen to improve the quality of international education. We’re continually looking out… beyond our borders and over the horizon to see what’s ahead, just like the young people we guide. Last week, I met the head of a school that just became a CIS member. Excited about the future, he asked me, “When will I be introduced to the heads of other CIS schools? I can’t wait to learn from them.”

We couldn’t wait, either.

This year, we created the opportunity and space for leaders of our university and school communities to come together and consider some of the biggest challenges facing students, parents and educators internationally. Our discussion began in London and continued last week in Boston as leaders from both sectors put their heads together to gain broad perspective on aspects of education we are all eager to improve. Those who were with us saw clearly the broader benefits of collaboration—with peers they don’t usually talk to. We cannot do this work in schools or universities alone.

Our “Summiters”, as I like to think of them (see photo below) identified three educational challenges that we want to do something about.

CIS 2nd Summit University School Leaders
Boston Summiters: “Our vision. What do we see when we stand at the top of the mountain, look out and imagine our future?  What would it look like?”


Assessing educational achievement (admissions reform)

Admissions reform is a hot-but-not-new topic across the higher education community, and university leaders are feeling the pressure to evolve their admissions processes. We heard from Ben Rein of “The Mastery Transcript” and considered the efforts of schools that have launched a “Global Citizenship Diploma”. Pre-reading included a newly published opinion piece from Zhenguo Yuan, East China Normal University, and Yong Zhao, University of Kansas: Respect the Power of Large-Scale Assessments: What they cannot measure.


Working towards global citizenship and global work-readiness

A key finding of cross-sector discussion was that while international schools are beginning to dig more deeply into intentional curricula to develop a foundation for global citizenship (such as intercultural learning), universities are largely lagging in this work. And, what about global work-readiness? Shanton Chang from the University of Melbourne identified seven new job clusters for the future, sharing a useful framework and compassionate strategies for working with students and their parents to help them choose areas of study and work where they can apply their strengths.

Fernando Reimers of the Harvard Graduate School of Education provided a comprehensive overview of research and methods for effective global citizenship education, introducing his practical book to help educators get started: Empowering Students to Improve the World in 60 Lessons.


Supporting well-being across (and beyond) education

Katie Rigg, Head of Safeguarding at CIS, updated the group on the latest research on student mental health and well-being. She shared feedback from round-table discussions on the major sources of worry for young people in international education: economic prospects, debt, loneliness; relationship issues; culture shock, pressure and perfectionism. As leaders considered the range of challenges we need to address, several of them decided to turn their efforts to the development of well-being across education.

Summit Outcomes

  • Mapped the key questions that most matter to us
  • Established our starting point—the key challenges we want to address
  • Spotted some trends we can count on for the immediate years ahead
  • Identified initial ideas for collaborative action—and considered how CIS might support actions that participants want to try

At both Summits, people came together in rich, structured conversations and provocative activities. Each ended with the portrayal of a range of “How might we…” presentations, ideas for the future, some emerging from blue-sky thinking.

Where are we heading?

A working group within CIS will continue to advance the Summiters’ ideas via virtual meetings. We’re also creating a plan to encourage innovation and broaden access from across our community. Soon, we’ll share how you can take part as we move forward to expand the discussion and advance emerging ideas.

Thanks go to the leaders who gathered in London and Boston this year. As they shared their visions of the future, they discovered that they had more in common than they thought. As one university leader said, “Don’t do this without us.” In dialogue together, leaders from both sectors found a renewed energy to believe that we can make a difference in addressing these challenges, and our systems, but only if we work on them together. Let’s not forget that there are industry partners ready to join us.

Here are a couple of photos of our London Summiters, back in April.

London University and School Summit 2019

Browse through some of the provocations given to Boston Summiters for advanced reading:


What happens when university and school leaders come together to discuss common challenges?
  • Networking & learning
  • School & university collaboration
  • University admission & guidance
What happens when university and school leaders come together to discuss common challenges?