Senior Associates Ray Sparks and Bill Turner along with Alison Turner enjoyed this year’s FOBISIA Leadership Conference, held in Bangkok, Thailand, November 3rd and 4th. The Federation of British International Schools in Asia (FOBISIA) in existence—in one form or another since 1988—now has 61 member schools. Its aim is excellence, high achievement, and good practice through British-style education in schools throughout the region. The 2018 Leadership Conference, themed “Leading Inclusively,” featured four keynote speakers.
Natasha Devon travels to schools and colleges throughout the U.K. delivering classes and conducting research with teenagers, teachers, and parents on mental health, body image, and social equality. Her inspiring presentation highlighted three main skills needed for good mental health: critical thinking, healthy coping mechanisms, and emotional vocabulary. She said, “We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. We tend to only think about it when things are going wrong.” Since our five main psychological needs are love, belonging, achievement, purpose and to be understood, teachers can support students by being good listeners. The simple act of listening makes the speaker feel validated and a sense of belonging; it’s a healing thing. Natasha emphasizes, however, the importance of not joining the speaker in a dark hole. We need to reduce our own stress load by spending an hour each day doing physical, mindful, or creative activities.
The second speaker, Jane Larsson, Executive Director of Council of International Schools, presented “Leading Inter-culturally.” She challenged school leaders with the question: “If international schools have diverse communities; shouldn’t our teachers reflect the same diversity? [And] if the success of our schools depends on hiring and retaining the best teachers who understand diversity, why is it so hard to talk about diversity?”
Jane referred to an essential read, Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map, as a way for international teachers to better understand how our own cultures lead us to misunderstand the language and behaviors of colleagues from other cultures. Bill commented,
“It is probably fair to say that she left school leaders feeling a little uncomfortable that they still have much to do in this field.”
Jane also recommended Educational Leadership: Culture and Diversity by authors Clive Dinnock and the third keynote speaker Allan Walker. Allan’s talk was about the difference between integration and inclusion. He explored the traits of inclusive leadership: cognizance, curiosity, cultural intelligence, collaboration, commitment, courage. He also listed the actions of inclusive teachers: valuing learner diversity as talent; supporting all learners while maintaining high expectations; working with others; and taking care of themselves. Allan warned the audience of challenges to inclusion: communities that don’t want it, anxiety about negative impact on exam grades, entrenched social biases, and high-profile leaders getting too much press. He ended his speech with encouraging words: “Inclusive leaders build sustainable cultures.”
The fourth speaker Dr. Ian Jamison is Head of Education for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. Dr. Jamison’s presentation “Building a resilient generation through dialogue” praised the value of students dialoguing with other students from around the world by way of video conferencing. Dialoguing involves respectful speaking, listening, asking, disagreeing, thinking, and reflecting—all skills used in normal classroom situations in most countries. Yet, many students have a pre-conceived idea of what others are like without knowing the facts. Some schools are very structured and do not allow students to think for themselves. As a result, students lack confidence that their ideas will be accepted.
While enabling students to encounter others in a safe environment, dialoguing allows students to understand that feelings, ideas, and fears they have are no different than students from other parts of the world. Dr. Jamison emphasized that dialoguing is different than debating, with no winner or loser, only understanding and acceptance.
Understanding others is the key. Dialoguing allows students to experience compassion as they discover many similarities they share with others around the world. They become more open- minded toward differences; they gain insight from personal experience rather than from outside sources.
Great conferences facilitate great networking. Twelve hours after the close of FOBISIA, Alison and Bill enjoyed a tour of the amazing Bangkok Patana campus with Head of School Matt Mills.