This year’s Leadership Conference for the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS) was hosted in St. Albans, UK, a beautiful Roman city just north of London, April 6-8. Everyone, including Search Associates Senior Consultant Julie Ryan and Director of School Relations Sheena Nabholz, was excited to be back in person, and the conference was both stimulating and interactive. The theme Refocus, Rethink was “very apt,” says Julie, as this was the first in-person educational conference in over two years for many international school leaders!
The event was held at the beautiful Sopwell House Hotel in St Albans. About 250 international school educators attended the in-person conference, and 300 more joined the virtual conference that followed, which included videos of the in-person sessions. Conference participants were very enthusiastic about getting together for learning, fellowship, and sharing. Sheena and Julie agreed it was the most diverse conference they had ever attended, with many women and participants representing a broad range of schools and countries.
ECIS hosted a pre-conference workshop on Inclusive Recruiting—from Advert to Appointment, which featured Sheena representing Search Associates and spokespersons from International School Services and Council of International Schools, among others. Recommendations from the speakers included conducting bias training in their organizations and auditing their recruiting practices and results. Participants at the workshop reflected on the roadblocks that limit applications from diverse candidates. Does the school website represent the diversity at the school, with appropriate images and a thoughtful statement of diversity, workplace culture stories, and/or clearly stated school values? Other questions to consider: Does the recruiting process focus on the candidate’s alignment with values? Has the school carefully thought through a comprehensive onboarding process that supports diverse candidates, in particular?
Julie says the Ignite keynote addresses “did just that!” Andrew Lee of Arts International (AI) was accompanied by several musical theater artists currently appearing in the West End of London. The aim of Arts International is to integrate creativity, care, collaboration, and self-confidence in the young people in both British and international schools with whom they work, currently in the UK and Dubai. Arts International brings performers from the arts into schools to focus on mental health and well-being while helping students become more resilient, confident, and creative. AI’s significant research into the components of a high performing environment has revealed that people who feel valued and able to find their voices in a safe and trusting culture have the ability to think critically and seize opportunities. Julie says,
The performers who accompanied Mr. Lee were starring in London shows, and we were fortunate enough to start the conference listening to their stunning singing.
Julie attended Suzanne Murray’s presentation, Creating a Culture of Care in Our Schools: Child Protection and Safeguarding. As Suzanne noted, a school’s policy on safeguarding should be the first message on its website, and one should be able to enter a school and feel a culture of care. To develop this culture in our international schools, leaders must take a holistic view: include it in the mission, ensure schoolwide understanding of what is appropriate, and widen the lens of safeguarding by including support staff as well as teachers. When explaining a culture of care to students, she uses a large silver handprint to show them that each finger represents one adult in the school that each child trusts, for a total of five. Safeguarding is included in accreditation now, and Suzanne added that vigilance and a “Believe it could happen here” attitude is what will keep students safe.
On the last day of the conference, Julie and Sheena gave their own presentation, Building and Sustaining a Diverse and Inclusive Learning Community. Intercultural competence is the ability to communicate, work, and relate across cultural boundaries. Schools and organizations who have intercultural competence are places where all community members feel valued and involved. How do we get there? Sheena and Julie’s slide show displayed the continuum of intercultural development from denial of differences to bridges across differences—and all the stages in between, polarization, minimization, and acceptance. When institutions and companies manage on the low end of the spectrum, employees and students from non-dominant cultures feel invisible, powerless and unheard, alienated and uncomfortable. We should all aim for all members of our organization to feel valued and involved. Using Erin Meyers’ book, The Culture Map, Julie and Sheena discussed how our challenge is to understand and bridge the styles that different cultures use to communicate, evaluate, lead, decide, trust, disagree, schedule, and persuade. Several international school leaders in the session shared how they were already starting to use at their schools the ideas that Sheena and Julie were presenting.
Sheena and Julie were both enthusiastic about the design of the conference and the opportunity for those who couldn’t attend in person to do so remotely just a couple of weeks later. Next year’s ECIS Leadership Conference will be hosted by the International School of Dusseldorf from April 27-29, 2023.