The sea belongs to me again: Steering my disabled body through an able-bodied world

Image: The Ardnish Path on the Isle of Skye, soon to be wheelchair accessible from Lower Breakish to the sea.


In this article, Matthew Savage reflects upon his experience as a disabled, wheelchair user, of a world which was neither designed nor built by or for him; and why every physical space, including our schools, is in need of liberation.


On a coaching call recently, my dog, Luna, and I were surprised by a sudden knocking at our front door. I apologised to my coachee, grabbed my crutches and went to investigate. Our house is at the remotest edge of a small crofting township on the Isle of Skye, in north west Scotland, and so doorstep visitors are extremely rare. Usually, Luna alerts us when anyone appears even on the horizon, but her guard was clearly down, and the knocking made us both jump.

We moved to Skye in the summer of 2021, post-lockdowns and having recently returned to the UK after a decade working in the international schools sector, our two children soon to fly our family nest. Like so many itinerant educators, enriching and mind-opening though the experience had definitely been, we were determined to find roots, and this was, we hoped, to be our ‘forever home’.

It offered a remoteness that appealed strongly to my inner introvert, and with nature at its absolute grandest at our finger- and toetips, I would be able to do some of the things I loved the most, every single day, hiking, trailrunning or losing myself in Luna-exhausting walks. In fact, there was a footpath from the end of our drive, snaking across the moors to a colony of harbour seals, but one jewel on a rugged coastline I longed to explore from the rocks, a kayak, or even, if I could brave the temperature, the waters themselves.

However, the weekend before our move, I began to fall ill. A complex neurological disorder would, within just a few months, confine me to a wheelchair, completely unable to walk. Swapping two legs for four wheels, my life would change unrecognisably. Two years on, try as I might and despite the ‘disability pride’ badge occupying pride of place below my computer monitor, I am struggling to be proud of my disability, even though – with each passing day, week, month – the lines between my disability and me are disappearing completely.

Many of my everyday symptoms – the allodynia that secretly burns my skin, the angry twitches that shock my muscles, the stammer that silently benights my speech, the spasticity which tugs my shrinking legs – are invisible to others. But everyone can see that I cannot walk, and learning to navigate an able-bodied world with a disabled body has taught me so much. About our bodies and all the things we take for granted; about a world designed and built by and for those who can walk; and about the power perpetuated by that design and construction, the tyranny of physical space.

I am privileged to be engaged in a project, with tp bennett architects and in association with ECIS, in which we aim directly to challenge that power and to seek what we are calling ‘liberated school spaces’. Teams of educators, architects and students will explore how the different spaces in our schools – circulation, classroom, sustenance, personal and outdoor – can too easily exclude, marginalise and oppress the very, marginalised groups they should most seek to include. A school campus, like the world beyond its gates, is, in so many ways, an instrument of power, and that has to change.

But it is beyond the school gates that I have most experienced this tyranny myself, and I share here some small windows into my story. These snippets are about planes, trains and automobiles; about bathrooms, doors, and bathroom doors; and about curb cuts, actual and metaphorical. Because all of these have, in their own way, kept me on the margins of society; because I know that my ‘protected’ characteristic is unprotected, tyrannised even; and because each of these spaces could, and should, be liberated.

Beyond the safe and known confines of our Highlands bungalow, I navigate any internal or external space in my electric wheelchair. The ‘door’ is a convenient metaphor for the portal to any community of power (we talk about getting our ‘foot in the door’, for example); but that portal, for me, is literal. If I want to enter or exit any building, or room therein, I am typically faced with a heavy, handled, hinged, outward-opening door, despite the fact that the only door that is easy and safe to open in a wheelchair is a sliding door, manual or, better still, mechanised.

This challenge is everywhere, in many an ‘accessible’ hotel bedroom, and especially so when I want to enter an ‘accessible’ bathroom. Almost every time I have wanted to use a public bathroom, I have had to ask a stranger if they would open it for me. As someone who does not believe students should have to ask for permission to use the bathroom, I certainly do not think I should have to do so myself. To add insult to injury, many an accessible bathroom does not provide sufficient turning space either; and flying out of one airport recently, I was told there was no accessible bathroom available at all.

As a consequence, I commonly try to minimise my fluid intake when out of my house, so that I do not have to suffer the indignity of a bathroom whose ‘accessibility’ is but a mirage, a performative badge that may tick boxes but does not liberate the disabled user. This is not to mention the bizarre requirement in many a public space that a wheelchair user report to a cashier in a nearby shop to collect, and return, the special bathroom key. I recognise this is to ensure able-bodied users do not occupy this targeted space – but, again, the design, much as it may seek to liberate, does anything but.

Whilst I love the success with which Zoom masks my disability, I love my face-to-face work. Norah Bateson calls this aphanipoiesis, the communing and commingling of multiple stories in a submerged, liminal space from which could eventually emerge a seedling of hope. And for me, professionally, nothing compares to this; how fortunate am I that the pandemic lifted its pall such that I can safely travel around the world again. And yet each flight, or succession thereof, treads on my agency and dignity, and my comfort and safety, at every juncture.

The system through which one requests special assistance when booking a flight varies between airlines in all but one thing: its complexity. Even airlines which build it into the booking process rarely pass this information on to the check-in staff, leaving me having to explain my medical condition and requirements again, all in earshot of an increasing, and increasingly irritated queue. And most airlines require persistent and repeated phonecalls and emails to secure a promise only that they will endeavour to provide said assistance.

I used to rely on the airport wheelchairs, but the understaffing of the privatised assistance teams, combined with the fact that most airport wheelchairs are not self-propelling, left me, too often, stranded in a corner, facing a wall, without access to food, water or a bathroom for several hours. Therefore, I invested in a foldable, electric wheelchair, which is now, to all intents and purposes, my legs. Just as I manage, despite numerous objections, to take it to the plane door, I am always promised that it will be returned to the door on landing; but, on landing, I am commonly told that it has been “lost”, panic setting in until it is discovered again, somewhere in the baggage hall.

Going through security is, at best, undignified and, at worst, invasive; on only one occasion have I been permitted to take my wheelchair onboard, and so my agency is taken away with it; boarding is a spectacle, whether or not I manage to avoid being forcibly strapped into the onboard wheelchair; the safety instructions, written or spoken, never mention someone like me; my crutches are routinely confiscated, and retrieving them, should I need the (inaccessible) bathroom, is laboursome.

And, on landing, it is not uncommon for me to remain on board for up to an hour after everyone else has disembarked, the crew for the following flight patiently caring for me until assistance has arrived. Every flight I take takes away a little part of me, and I am lesser forever thereafter. And yet, with intentionality, consultation and compassion, air travel is a space that could easily be liberated. The likes of Sophie Morgan fight this fight on my behalf; I used to give feedback myself, but nothing ever changed, and it is hard then not to give up on feedback altogether.

I love curb cuts. Designed in California by Ed Roberts and others in the 1950s and 1960s, they took one of the discriminating spikes of hostile architecture, and literally excised it to create a ramp that directly benefits people like me, but from which everyone else also benefits. Such a powerful idea is this that I use its metaphorical equivalent as one of the instruments of equity and justice through which every aspect of the school experience can be adapted for universal belonging.

However, whenever I navigate the pavements of a city, I have learned not to depend upon the existence of the actual curb cuts which would enable me to move, unencumbered, through those built environments. The only city where I have not faced this difficulty was Amsterdam, but this is because of the prevalence, far further up the food chain, of the bicycle; the wheelchair was an afterthought. I often talk to schools about the tussle, in any practice, between coincidence and consistency, and this is, fundamentally, an equity issue. The same is true for the humble curb cut.

In London recently, I selected a restaurant based on its social media and website having declared it fully accessible, only to arrive and find there was a step to enter the premises. This is not just frustrating; it is humiliating, distressing, and infuriating. The step may as well be a brick wall. Then there is the construction work which has temporarily diverted pedestrians on to the road, but without a ramp to cut that curb. And on a recent train journey, a step-free station was closed, which meant I had to ask several strangers to lift me, on my wheelchair, from the train at the next station.

Which brings me to the ramps, installed or designed with the best intentions, deliberate acts of inclusion, whose gradient is simply too steep to carry my wheelchair safely upwards. On at least three occasions this year, it is only the sharpest reflexes of a group of adults coincidentally nearby that prevented my wheelchair tipping backwards and sending me tumbling to likely serious injury below. Or the promised ramps which, for whatever reason, did not materialise, leaving me depending, again, on others, this time to lift me up the steps to the upper level.

I share none of these stories, any more than I would the myriad other stories I kept back, to elicit pity. No disabled person I know wants that. I only aim to offer a window into the tyranny, intentional or otherwise, of the able-bodied over those whose body is disabled, but one example of the power exerted by physical spaces over those for whom said power is but a pipe dream.

Too often, the burden of fighting for accessibility, equity and justice falls to those on the margins. Some schools I visit thank me for shedding a light on the inaccessibility of their campus; it is not uncommon for a school to ask a queer educator (or student) to educate the school on the harm of a cis-/hetero-normative curriculum, culture and climate; and many a school will finally seek to adapt to the needs of the minoritized only when an educator or student happens to inhabit that particular minority. And yet, as my own story epitomises, disability is a characteristic that could suddenly strike any one of us, temporarily or permanently, at any point of our life.

Consequently, I have had no choice but to adapt myself and my life to a world which has not, nor will it, adapt to me. The crutches offered to me, by default, collapsing bruisingly beneath my faceward-falling body too many times, I commissioned bespoke crutches which not only could bear my full weight but also came with attachments for mud, sand and even snow. And I invested in a disability-adapted, fully recumbent, motorised trike, on which I can now explore the lanes and byways of rural Skye, without depending upon anybody else.

Meanwhile, let us return to our unexpected visitor, knocking to the surprise of Luna and me in the midst of my coaching call. He was part of a team, funded by the charity, Paths for All, who were rendering fully wheelchair-accessible the entire footpath from the end of our drive to the rocky shore in the distance. And he wanted to inspect my trike, to make sure that the sharpest bend in the new path could accommodate its particular turning cycle.

I may cry easily these days, but I was moved to tears by this gesture. The view from my front room, until now teasing me with a landscape that I could only watch and imagine, was soon to be liberated. Both natural and built environment were bending to my needs, and the power was shifting. Very soon, I would be able to cycle to the sea, for the first time since we moved here. The seals may not have missed me, but I have certainly missed them; and, in this space, for the first time, I would finally feel free. I have yet to manage kayaking, and I cannot swim any more, but still, in a small but significant way, the sea belongs to me again.

The “Liberated School Spaces” conference, a collaboration between tp bennett, ECIS and The Mona Lisa Effect®️, will take place in London on 10 November 2023. Learn more and register here


A proud member of ECIS’ DEIJ team, Matthew Savage is an experienced, international school principal, governor, speaker, coach and consultant, helping leaders, educators and students worldwide, through The Mona Lisa Effect®, help ensure that every child, without condition or exception, can “be seen, be heard, be known and belong”. He lives on the Isle of Skye, with his wonderful wife and atypical dog.

Differentiation and Inclusion

Differentiation and Inclusion
Martha Ross

Different or Included?

What motivates us to adapt or differentiate learning to create equity in our classrooms?

The inclusive education context that we experience every day is likely to differ across the diverse contexts of international schools.  As national systems and accrediting agencies seek policy and practice that promotes diversity, equity, and justice in education, inclusion is the term that we use to describe and foster this practice.

Daniel Sobel, in his paper entitled, ´Inclusion is a verb: Belonging and schools´, highlights the characteristics of an inclusive school where students are equally important in the community, students are heard and respected, all school facilities are accessible to all students, access to quality education is available for all students, etc. (Sobel, 2022). It is therefore important to recognise who is in our student population and to ask, how we can strive for equitable school experiences and make this a priority.

Then comes the operational question; what is it that motivates everyone in an international school community to adapt their practice to include a wide range of divergent students?

Currently, the answer to this question is a requirement for teachers to differentiate learning. Essentially we ask teachers to design and create learning for the majority of students and then consider different learning experiences for individual students. The pressure of curriculum coverage however can drive us to consider deficits in learning development before we make time to look for individual strengths. If we could reframe the process of differentiation and balance student strengths and learning needs, we could create more inclusive practices.

What motivates us to adapt or differentiate learning to create equity in our classrooms, is never more important than now. Sufficient knowledge about our learners is fundamental to our understanding of effective inclusion. Ellis, Kirby, and Osborne, (2023), recently published an insightful book, ´Neurodiversity and Education´ which clearly outlines the opportunity to address cognitive differences. This work gives us the opportunity to understand how to support and promote our neurodivergent students, knowing that they all bring with them unique skills and competencies. Using the model of Universal Design for Learning, the book illustrates how to create inclusive and therefore more equitable learning contexts.

Many of the challenges that our neurodivergent students face are not distinctly different to the challenges that we all face, but tend to be more exaggerated.‘ (2023, Ellis et al).



Researchers such as Daniel Sobel open our minds to the reality of school life as a highly sensory experience. Educators themselves who share the experience as neurodivergent learners can be powerful motivators to colleagues and students for successful learning.

Inclusion, or the process of successfully including all students, provides an opportunity to consider education and schools from a new perspective. We can learn from our communities, from the individuals that we strive to include, and then reframe our perspective accordingly. This inclusion model by Thompson, (2022) provides a visual of the importance of knowing whom we are supporting in our school communities.


In addressing our motivation toward inclusion and equity in the classroom;

  • Can we reframe support for neurodivergent learners by identifying skills and learning support needs?
  • Can we address our perception of differentiated learning and work towards collaboration and not separation?
  • Can we as teachers, SEN and Inclusion coordinators draw students into the group, to share, collaborate or contribute towards learning, according to interest and ability?



Instead of focusing on learning differences, we are considering experiences so that all individuals contribute to a community of learners. The adapted inclusion model shows how we can come together and protect everyone by fostering a culture of belonging, empathy and support.

The answer to the question addressing teacher motivation is perhaps addressed with training for teachers in Universal design for learning. Ellis et al, describe this process as, The Why, (engagement) – how can we motivate students and sustain their interest? The What (representation) – providing information in different formats and The How (action and expression) – how will the student demonstrate learning and understanding to others and for themselves, (2023, Ellis et al).´ These are all vital skills for inclusion to occur in international schools.

At the recent ECIS conference, Leading Inclusion by Example, at the American International School in Athens, insightful keynote speakers led a conversation centered on the school experience of all students. This conversation became focused more specifically on our neurodivergent students and their learning contexts. This experience led the conference participants to carefully consider strategies that could help teachers connect with all learners.

Dr. Judy Willis shared strategies to reduce boredom and frustration by considering neuroscience research and ways to open the attention filter and tap into the motivation of the students. We learned to share the task of addressing attention and focus by talking to the students directly. There is an opportunity to establish a shared understanding of what distractions there are in our learning environments and how to eliminate them by asking those who experience it.

Daniel Sobel, called the whole group of conference participants, ´Inclusionists´. He modeled how we can actively try to understand student behaviours by learning more about students´ life experiences and how their neurodivergence impacts the learning environment. This focus led the conference participants to understand the importance of the learning environment from the perspective of the student.

Nicole Demos created a moment in time by sharing her life experience as a disabled member of a school community and as an adult living internationally in different societies. We learned who were the inclusionists in her life, those who championed her success and achievements. Nicole shared where she wishes she had sought greater access to the whole school experience. This led her to bravely share her story and acceptance of her disabled identity.

These messages can and should reach far into our classrooms to ensure all our students have equitable access to all aspects of school life. This is illustrated in the final model where the Inclusion umbrella protects the school for all students enjoying all school experiences. In reframing how we approach equitable learning environments, a call to school leaders will be required to redistribute time and create space to consider Inclusion and promote Belonging, Empathy, and Support for the whole community.



(Model adapted from Thompson, 2022)




Dr Martha Ross is currently an Inclusion Coordinator at International School Carinthia, Austria. She recently decided to refocus her career in the direction of Inclusion and Student Support after seven years in Senior Leadership. Martha is motivated towards the positive identification of all students in an International School Setting. During her post graduate studies, Martha focused her research on Inclusion and Intercultural Competencies.



Demos, N. (2023) Keynote presentation. ECIS Inclusion Conference, American International School, Athens. March 2023.

Ellis, P, Kirby, A, Osborne, A. (2023) Neurodiversity and Education. Sage Publications. Pages 76, 87.

Institute of Neurodiversity – Sourced March 2023.

Sobel, D. (2022) ´Inclusion is a verb: Belonging and schools´ sourced October 2022.

Sobel, D. (2023) Keynote presentation. ECIS Inclusion Conference, American International School, Athens. March 2023.

Thompson, L. (2022) Inclusion Umbrella. Who does InclUSion protect? Model.

Willis, J. (2023) Keynote presentation. ECIS Inclusion Conference, American International School, Athens. March 2023.

Freepik image sourced April 2023.


Inclusion, Language, Labelling, Needs, & Belonging


An illuminating interview with the founder of Global Inclusion Consultancy, Inclusion Expert, author and trainer, Daniel Sobel, who himself has ADHD and has turned it into his ‘superpower’.


At a time when ECIS has been reflecting deeply on inclusion from an international perspective and reflecting on its own practice, it felt opportune to discuss the topic with Inclusion Expert, Daniel Sobel to learn more about how his work connects with the work of UNESCO, ECIS and its membership community.


In this interview, Daniel openly shares his thoughts around some focused questions asked by Leo Thompson, an education consultant who designed the widely used Inclusion Umbrella and specialises in international school development and accreditation for a leading agency.



Q1: Daniel, besides your global inclusion consultancy, you have written a number of very successful books on the topic of inclusion in schools, but I wondered what this well-travelled word means for you. Is there a concise way of grasping the essence of the concept?


My team and I have been privileged to work with thousands of schools and I am fortunate to run an organization that supports inclusion in schools in approximately 130 countries. If there is one thing I can say for absolute certainty about inclusion it is that the word itself is hardly very inclusive. No two schools or two regions or two countries really agree on what inclusion actually means in reality – or even in theory for that matter.


‘Inclusion’ is a broad a spectrum that involves anything from physical issues to social, emotional and mental health issues and through all the neurological and cognitive aspects to gender, race and cultural issues – and the list goes on. Because this list is intimidatingly long, schools generally home in on the specific issues affecting them. 


For many, the term inclusion implies more work, effort, more money and resources and possibly admitting to facets of our responsibility we have failed at.


To sidestep all of the big issues above, there is one thing that inclusion as a verb brings about and that is a sense of ‘belonging’. This is something that all of us humans can relate to – it is inherent to the way we have evolved as beings who require a group. The group gives us safety and hope and all things nice. Unfortunately, the group can also be something like out of Lord of the Flies, or very subtly maligning or marginalising, something I experienced painfully as a child.


But effective inclusion brings us all to a sense of feeling like we belong just like everyone else does. This bypasses the need for any labels, expensive programmes or extreme shifts. It unites all of us humans regardless of where we may or may not be on a spectrum, disfigurement or skin colour.


Q2: You lead an organisation that has worked with thousands of schools in supporting inclusion and another organisation that supports inclusion in numerous countries. What are the biggest challenges and barriers to inclusion the world over and are there any catch-all starting points for all schools?


The biggest barriers to inclusion are the money, time and stress it presents to people as I describe above. There’s another barrier which is harder to describe because it always rubs up against an ill-defined ceiling. There’s a video I show of people with Down’s Syndrome who have university degrees, run a business, are married with children and have professions. It’s not that they were so unusual. It’s their teachers who believed in them that were. Belief-in is always fettered by assumptions and genuine limitations.


Where is that balance?


That’s the hard bit – to be aspirational and realistic.


The starting point is always to know your students as individuals. It is easy to say this and of course every school in the world will tell you they do already. But there is knowing and there is knowing, in its fullest sense, and some schools are oriented and more equipped to capture and utilise the soft data that tells the story behind the hard data that most schools use to track progress. Nearly all effective practices are through the doorway of this soft data and I wrote a whole book on this very theme. I think many schools I come across haemorrhage money on interventions and staffing which are surplus to requirement because they are led by the hard data results and sadly not what the child actually needs.


Q3: You recently launched the Global inclusive Teaching Initiative which is an online course for millions of teachers all over the world to enable all teachers to teach all children. Adapting the classroom to meet the needs covers a broad range of issues. How did you go about deciding what to include? What do you prioritise for teachers?


That was the juiciest, nerdiest and most enjoyable process for me and my co-authors, who included the renowned Professor Carol Tomlinson, and Scandinavian expert, Helena Wahlberg. We loved every moment of that series of discussions and debates. We had all written books and between us we are privileged to have worked with thousands of schools the world over. Actually, our debates were more nuanced and sometimes about what we should leave out. We all agreed on the phases of planning the lesson, delivering the lesson and understanding children. If we’d had to have completed the exercise in 10 minutes, I think we would have been able to easily, because there is broader consensus on what good inclusive teaching looks like nowadays than before.


Q4: Can you share 5 of the most effective practical inclusion strategies or approaches that educators can use in their classrooms and say when and in what situations they may be useful?


There are 5 most common fault lines where lessons can go wrong and they are often due to a lack of understanding and engaging the student effectively. These are easily preventable and just being aware of these can be really helpful. The majority of behavioural issues have something to do with these fault lines and that does make us rethink the whole topic of behaviour.


1) How a child enters a lesson has everything to do with how they settle. How do you make them feel and how do you know? Feelings of nervousness, dread or discomfort will lead to a lack of engagement. It is important to check in informally and listen to students here at an individual level.


2) Inevitably the teacher will engage with the class and this is nearly always initially done in a verbal delivery. But do all students fully understand the verbal delivery? This point is where students will get lost and simply checking and using other visual aids will help engagement.


3) Splitting into group work is an under-researched topic and it can lead to isolation and hiding within the group, avoidant and fractious behaviours. This group scenario is more easily managed through a framework of roles and checking children with variable profiles all can contribute equally and are welcomed into the group.


4) Similarly, when setting work for quiet, individual time, children may simply be too afraid to clarify or declare they do not understand and are not sure what is going on and what they need to do. Many students would prefer to appear naughty and thus avoid the work than appear ‘stupid’ in front of their peers.


5) One of the most neglected parts of the lesson is the very end. Interestingly, this can not only have a serious knock-on effect to the next teacher but actually, to how the child perceives the whole class and their anticipation of their next time with you. So, just as they enter the classroom with positivity, so they should leave it with a feeling of success.


The above focus is on understanding of the child, but it relies on the understanding and awareness of the teacher about what is going on for the child and their capacity to quickly notice and adapt. Underlying this is the relationship between teacher and child and that, I hope unsurprisingly, is the key to inclusive learning.


Some people may think that inclusive teaching is about elaborate scaffolding and differentiated work sheets. Actually, it is more about how a child feels, the relationships and the aspiration that is born out of this cocktail. Cumbersome technical additions are nowhere near as valuable as simple tweaks, checking of understanding and reinforcement based on genuine care.


Q6: What role does school culture, or atmosphere, play in inclusion, and do you have any tips for how to prevent marginalisation?


School culture is a very important issue and one which most educationalists are simply not trained in, and neither was I when I was in schools. I wrote a chapter about this issue in my second book comparing how out of touch we are compared with many other sectors and industries about the culture of our organisation down to the granular details of how it feels to step into your school.


For instance, banks and supermarkets usually think a huge amount about layout and design of their buildings, the processes customers go through as they engage with the organisation and they know this hugely effects their bottom line. This is also true of schools and yet not enough of them invest time and money into this. Banks and supermarkets also think about their staff culture – from uniform to language they use, to protocols and all manner of communications which will again, be carefully aligned to meet the needs of their bottom-line aspirations.


This is often not taken seriously by some schools and is thought of being peripheral. However, something that becomes obvious when you visit hundreds of schools is that like any other organisation, you feel the culture in the air the moment you walk through the door. Culture is ignored at a school’s peril.


Q6: Schools and their teachers differ hugely in their level of access to resources and training globally and yet everyone is expected to educate inclusively around very diverse needs. Are there any lessons from you work with UNESCO, that may be valuable to international schools?


Let me say two symbiotic things which may cause significant financial relief to some schools and cause others to scratch their heads. As a general rule, nothing does inclusion better than great teaching. You can reduce most interventions that cost time and money – aside from the ones that help the social and emotional aspects of children’s lives, keep those! Many of the withdrawal and remedial interventions are often just a distraction away from good teaching, and I say that noting their very positive intent.


So, this is a blanket approach which, when my team and I have carried out SEN audits with hundreds of schools, we find in general savings of many tens of thousands of pounds as well as an uptick in outcomes.


However, and here is the kicker, teachers need to be up to scratch on how to effectively teach all kinds of students in their classroom at the same time. Is it possible? Of course, and it is not even as hard as it sounds. But I wouldn’t want to be in charge of building a bridge if I was a chemical engineer and similarly, I don’t think it is fair to ask teachers to teach children they are not qualified or capable of teaching because they have not been supported by effective professional development.


It was because of this very skills gap that we noticed all over the world that we produced the Global Inclusive Teaching Initiative. As we are rolling this out for millions of teachers across 130 countries, also in support of UNESCO, we hope this will not only have a huge impact on children and their outcomes but also on the classroom lives of our teachers.


Q7: One of the topics picked up all in your latest book (The Inclusive Classroom) is the use of language and labels, and this goes back to stigma, glass ceilings and limitations, perhaps the unintended consequence of positive intent around inclusion. In this context, where is language useful and where is it not in inclusion for belonging work and for supporting student needs and enhancing their self-belief and independence?


I find that in general, adults who struggled at school and parents who struggle with their children are relieved to get some sort of diagnosis because they feel that one term explains so much to them and they can share it with others.


I am very quick to tell people that I am ADHD, I am proud of it and I think of it as a super power in many ways. But here is where it can go very wrong. Some people think that a label means something limiting or negative. The word ‘disorder’ and all of the problems associated with it usually accompanies such descriptors rather than the many gifts that these labels can imply.


But more than that, I think there is a risky sloppiness that comes into play when we teachers use labels. Just to state the obvious, Psychologists and medical professionals diagnose and treat and therefore they need a specific label as an identifier for a course of action. Teachers don’t diagnose or treat, they teach and create environments where purposeful learning can happen. In this circumstance, a label is actually a decoy and often hides the real issues.


For example, 3 children in a class may have Autism but each can present extremely differently – one being loud and disruptive, the other quiet and distant, the other being a model student who is extremely studious to the point of gifted. Similarly, you can have 3 completely different diagnoses, for example one child with Speech and Language issues, one with inattentive ADHD and one with Asperger’s and they all present very similarly to the classroom teacher.


So, the label doesn’t help here, it actually eclipses the real truth – which is that the only thing that helps the teacher adapt the classroom well for students is to personalise to meet the needs of individuals – and this means knowing the child; their quirks, strengths, hobbies and interests and their frustrations. I often say that we have been through one phase, which is to help all teachers understand the basics of things like Dyslexia and Trauma and the like and now we need to move on to a new epoch where we ditch the labels in the classroom and think about individual children.


I opened my latest book with a chapter on this issue going through all the research and practical issues that come up in classrooms and the publishers and advisors around me were expecting a backlash. In fact, I am very pleased to say that there have been no complaints or comments so far. I am glad to have stuck to my guns on this point and I make it a talking point wherever I go.


Daniel Sobel will be a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator at the ECIS Inclusive Education conference in Athens in March 2023. His recorded conversation with Sarah Kupke can be seen on the ECIS YouTube Archive. Daniel has written books, founded the Global Inclusion Consultancy, developed the Global Inclusive Teaching Initiative and is hosting the Global Inclusive Schools Summit, with UNESCO in September 2023.


Leo Thompson works closely with Daniel Sobel. He is an educational consultant whose “Inclusion Umbrella” graphic has become something of an icon for visualising how discriminatory catagorisation of difference can be converted into strengths if we embrace diversity and truly strive towards creating cultures of belonging for every child.


Slow Is Smooth and Smooth is Fast: A Case for Taking Time to Do the Deep Work of DEIJ

Slow Is Smooth and Smooth is Fast: A Case for Taking Time to Do the Deep Work of DEIJ

Kyra Kellawan
Futures Lead at The British School of Barcelona & CoFounder, Kokoro Careers


A little over a month ago now, on a breezy Friday and gloriously sunny and warm Saturday in mid-October, the expansive, leafy campus of the Ecole Internationale de Genève was stirred up by the particular and palpable buzz of heightened conversation in its purpose-built arts centre.

The excitement and energy was due to an historic event hosted by Ecolint, the first of its kind, gathering a group of some 130 teachers, leaders, activists and partners in solidarity to learn, heal and make deep commitments to addressing inequities in international education. The International School Anti-Discrimination Taskforce (ISADTF) had been born.

The shared mission of this taskforce is “for international schools to be truly diverse, inclusive, safe, equitable and welcoming for all students, staff and families by promoting practices that eliminate racism, implicit bias and discrimination of all kinds.”[1]  The organisations who jointly formed the task force, and are leading the charge are ECIS, Ecolint, The International Baccalaureate, and the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC).

This mission, vast in its scope, gives many international school educators hope. Hope that it is possible to leave the age of discrimination behind and co-create more equitable structures in a sector that was inherently founded by, and built to sustain privilege. Hope that many more want to be able to see and address the particular needs of every child, staff member and auxiliary staff member. Hope that we can all stop, take a pause, and re-learn about ourselves and others, in order to remake the world in a way that feels aligned with our own humanity.

Here are some deeper reflections, 45 days on, that have allowed me to digest and interpret what we heard, learned, saw and felt, as well as its practical applications moving forward (in no particular order):


Allowing Difficulty In

Allowing for connection was the first step. Allowing whatever emotions arose to bubble up was necessary, and not neglecting to listen but also really HEAR the diverse perspectives in the room.

It’s important to feel our own reactions and inner turmoil before responding. There were without a doubt difficult conversations and things that were hard for some participants to share, others that were hard for participants to hear or confront about themselves. The main way to move forward after unearthing any uncomfortable conflicts as evidenced by conflict resolution manual The Negotiator’s Fieldbook (American Bar Association, 2016)[2] suggests that we can increase our capacity for forgiveness by allowing for the possibility that a counterpart who expresses a seemingly heartfelt apology is capable of personal growth. In other words, leading with a growth mindset for yourself and others enables you to see more than one reality, connect with perceived adversaries, and allows you to move past conflict to action.

Acknowledging that many who deeply supported the mission of the taskforce, or had been instrumental in its formation or execution, were simply unable to attend due to a lack of funding, resources or time “off” from their schools or work schedules. The cost of travel to, and accommodation and even basic subsistence in a city like Geneva did not go unnoticed. This resulted in a commitment being made to share as many materials from the two days online, including commitments and slide decks from the main sessions being made available on an ECIS microsite. Over time these resources will indeed grow. Plans must now be made to involve the global majority, in the southern hemisphere, incorporating events in other time zones and cities. Watch this space.


Dreaming by Design

Slowing right down is when things become interesting. Every single lesson in which you have a reflective moment, the clearer the material is. In a recent podcast episode, Tricia Friedman shared her approach to teaching IB Language & Literature, which was to ask for a “drop everything and read, or drop everything and doodle” moment each lesson. Her insight was that time allows students to relax, slow down and learn better.

This is a concept shared by both Tricia and Kathleen Naglee on the third episode of their “Unhinged Collaboration” podcast.[3] The episode, in which Sherri Spelic also contributes her thoughts on the exceedingly high expectations that educators place on themselves, discussed “Rest is Resistance”, a book by Tricia Hersey, who even has a hotline to promote the healing power of rest. She asserts that rest and reflective practices are a tonic for an exhausted world. A quote from the book that stuck:

“I am inspired by disruption in tenderness, I am inspired by imagination. I am inspired by grief, mourning and lament, I believe deeply in vulnerable, generative spaces for healing. I am inspired by rest, daydreaming and sleep.”[4]

“Radical Dreaming” was a concept mentioned by former AIELOC fellow Rama Ndiaye[5]  many times during the ISADTF, and again, in Nunana Nyomi’s recent two-day Middle Leaders Course on Inspiring and Sustaining DEIJ Breakthroughs.[6]

In order to effect change, we must first pause and dream to design it: rarely do our breakthroughs come in the hustle of 11 hour days filled to the brim with meetings. One of the biggest takeaways for me from Nunana’s course was the visioning of a world that we as session participants actively wanted to contribute to, in which their students were safe, held in utmost care, and seen.

The biggest common denominator we all wrote down was that we would like more time with them, time to talk, discuss and connect.

We can, and must, be part of designing that change. And speaking of design, those of us familiar with Design Thinking principles and applying them in educational settings, á la Jim Ellis, would know what the first crucial step is of designing any new system or product: to empathise with the user (in this case, our students).

Fidelity to the design process of design is akin to the impactful deep work that we find so rare as we seek to methodically plot out real change. Fidelity to the DEI process is fidelity to your community’s voice, it’s committing to your principles, it’s allegiance with your colleagues and it’s the organisational consistency you create space for.


Resolving and Managing Conflicts

On some of the busiest days of the school year, many tensions will arise. Reading this, if you are currently working in a school, think about the last 11 -12 weeks. Have you received an email that made you sigh, groan, or swear under your breath? Have you snapped at, or been snapped at by a colleague? Have you lost your patience with a student? With a roomful of students?

One of our primary principles as educators, just as the hippocratic oath for medical professionals, is to do no harm (Cynthia Roberson reminded us of that in her exemplary session on the second morning of ISADTF)[7]. Can we be sure that we are not suffering ourselves first in the culture of our schools, and then, that we are not passing on that toxicity to the young people in our care, or to our colleagues working with us in the trenches?

As Sherri Spelic has said in many different ways in multiple blogs and podcasts, rest and regeneration actively reminds us that we are worthy of tenderness, worthy of taking care of ourselves, and as caregivers, educators’ own rest and reflection is critical. We have a prevalent hustle culture/grind culture and, as a reality, many of us are trying to just keep our heads above water amidst a raging storm. Add to that challenge the fact that not all of us are strong swimmers, don’t have the capacity to take on the swim, or perhaps were never taught how to swim in the first place.


Slow Down And Reflect


“Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. This adage, attributed to the Navy Seals, reminds us that the best pathway to success is to be measured, deliberate and take time to do fewer things well. This is a mindset adopted in Cal Newport’s book  Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. [8] His first chapter is written in three parts, all of which can be applied to our example of ISADTF.

The first: Deep Work is Valuable. There is no doubt that the aims and objectives of the taskforce are immensely valuable. They have the capacity to impact hundreds of thousands of lives for the better in our international school ecosystem, as well as have lasting effects on the wider world in general as our students take their adaptive, growth mindsets into their next places of study, work and into their interpersonal relationships. The meaning attached to the work for so many of us creates a sense of urgency, as well as frustrations when things don’t seem to be moving along quickly enough. But even for the most hardened activists, we know there is a tipping point when any good innovation or “radical” dream takes hold of the collective consciousness. Making time to make space for all of those on different parts of the inclusion journey to learn with us is going to help us all swim together into a brighter future.

The second: Deep Work is Rare. We know this to be true by the number of minutes we devote to it in our daily lives. Unless time is consciously created and lines redrawn around our pressing priorities, the time to reflect in a typical school day is nonexistent. This gives inherent value to the ideas and solutions created consciously, without distraction. The power of an event such as the ISADTF was that for two days, participants could close their school email for a bit and step outside of the usual concerns of their own settings to connect more deeply with each other. Events like ISADTF are powerful tools for change, and we need more, more inclusive ones, held in more inclusive settings, and in multiple time zones with sliding attendance costs and/or fully funded places. (There is no but here. This work is never binary.)

Third: Deep Work is Meaningful. In the first days after the event, as there was a steady stream of online posts, tweets, and podcasts documenting reactions, commitments and questioning or holding to account of the organisations involved, I knew we would need to hold tight and see what came out of the shakedown. Large, established organisations tend to move at more glacial speeds than individuals do, and although of course as participants and DEI activists we want to see immediate changes, commitments and statements enacted, the real work does not begin *at* the event.

The real work begins with the reflection and time that each participant at that event has to assess their own practice, and then the will and the drive to drive those practices within their own settings. There is a decided trend for PD in DEI work to take a longer view, with most schools and leaders eschewing the “one and done” or “spray and pray” approach to professional learning. An excellent example of truly integrated visioning can be found in the approach of benchmark-setting schools showing excellence in embedding DEI practices into their everyday.

Some notable examples include: the curriculum review and training offered to staff at Mulgrave School, the staff recruitment practices at UNIS Hanoi, and the excellent, multi-faceted commitments made to self-study at Atlanta International School, who have clearly made long-term commitments to this work that go far beyond self-congratulatory statements or press releases into showing the receipts of their collective learning, team-building and toil.

I come back to the Navy Seals. The ship we are all on will run more smoothly, and is less in danger of capsizing, if we can take time to ensure that first: all our crewmates in DEI work (i.e. our entire school communities) can “swim”, are proficient in resolving differences of opinion, and have made the commitment to themselves to rest, learn and connect. Coming back to the premise of deep work, instead of conceiving DEI as yet another thing to tick off, is going to be key to its sustainability and interconnectedness despite our busy school lives.

This winter break, I remain buoyed and hopeful that in our learning communities, we will commit to stop, take a pause, and re-learn about ourselves and others, in order to include everyone on the journey.

A special thanks to ODIS (@decolonise_intl) whose courage at the ISADTF showed us all the power of speaking truth (even when to the biggest organisations) is something we can all do, with fierce grace.


Some “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” upcoming learning and training opportunities for deeper work:


Doline Ndorimana’s DEIJ Circle for International School Leaders

IDEIJ Continuum Learning PD Series (various facilitators)

The Longer Read: Becoming A Totally Inclusive School: A Guide for Teachers and School Leaders

The Short-Form, Wide-Ranging Podcast: The Unhinged Collaboration



[1] ECIS Taskforce homepage

[2] Conflict Resolution

[3] Unhinged Collaboration

[4] NPR: Why rest is an act of resistance

[5] AIELOC: We just want to be teachers

[6] DEIJ Breakthroughs

[7] Cynthia Roberson presentation @ ISADTF

[8] Book: Deep Work



Kyra Kellawan is the Co-Founder of Kokoro Careers, a holistic career support service for people of all ages to find their ideal pathways that works in collaboration with industry experts.A third culture kid, she began her career in international education in 2006. She worked in international student recruitment before switching to to the “other side of the desk’ in future pathways counselling.

Her roles at the Lycée Français in New York, United World College Costa Rica, Aloha College and the British School of Barcelona have given her a unique dual perspective on international education with a DEIJ lens. She also consults for universities, schools and ed-tech organisations, and hosts a podcast on innovation in education, The PilotEd.

Escaping our confines of fear: a call to develop courageous learning communities

Escaping our confines of fear: a call to develop courageous learning communities

Nunana Nyomi

“I’ve been worryin’ that we all live our lives in the confines of fear”, the refrain of Ben Howard’s song,
The Fear, kept insistently echoing in my ear. As the song played, I had to put it on repeat as I reflected on the fears I see on display when attempting to further diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) efforts within my profession of international education. Often these fears are expressed in the form of questions. “What if the students say something controversial?”, “What if our institution goes viral on social media?”, “What if we offend an influential parent?”, “What if we fail?”, “What if…”.

These ‘what ifs’ have become like walls, fencing us in and paralysing us in the face of our responsibility to develop equitable and inclusive communities.

Psychologists say we experience fear in order to protect ourselves from threats. Does this accurately describe the fear that my colleagues and I are experiencing? If so, then we have to take a critical look at ourselves and what we view as threats. If DEIJ efforts are meant to create environments where all can thrive as their full selves, then why do we find it so hard to act? Why do we feel threatened? Perhaps we know, deep down, that taking action requires us to hold ourselves accountable for our part in perpetuating and benefiting from inequities in our communities. Perhaps we worry that standing up for justice may cost us the relatively modest trappings we have worked so hard to obtain. This zero-sum thinking blinds us from the cost of our inaction.


The cost of our fear


The opportunity cost of maintaining our status quo is a misguided generation of students within our care. According to ISC Research, our international schools now serve a much more diverse population than the Western expatriates many were originally designed to serve. However, our curricula are still largely dominated by eurocentrist perspectives, our teachers and leaders are mostly white and western, and many of our schools still serve a narrow group of wealthy elites. Yet, many of our mission statements proudly proclaim that we are developing internationally-minded global citizens. Our empty statements and shallow focus on food, flags, and festivals, are not enough to prepare our students to engage with our dynamic world.

We have a tremendous responsibility to get past our inhibitions and act now. All we have to do is watch our daily news headlines to notice the growing trend that we live in an increasingly polarized world which is facing looming existential threats. Climate change, military conflicts, and the resulting mass migration which we are already witnessing are all potential harbingers of what is to come. Furthermore, some in our care face daily abuse and discrimination due to their race, sexuality, ability, and other forms of identity. We fail our most vulnerable students and staff when we remain too afraid to explicitly address the harm they experience. Given the urgency of our challenges, we must ensure that this generation of students can feel seen and can develop the agency necessary to bridge differences in order to address our world’s problems. How might we break out of our fearful funk to create more inclusive and equitable communities to address these challenges?

My quest for strategies to address our fear-based crisis of inaction led me to borrow from the field of psychology, where strategies abound to help individuals overcome emotions of fear. While the semantics might be different, there are many DEIJ strategies that are very similar in approach to the world of psychology. Therefore, psychology provides another potential access point for DEIJ concepts. Just as there has been greater acceptance of therapy as important for wellbeing, I believe we are in need of therapeutic approaches to transform ourselves and our communities to become places of flourishing. In my own exploration, I came across two of these strategies which can be adapted to our contexts as international educators: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.


Borrowing from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)


CBT was developed to help individuals conquer unhelpful ways of thinking that can lead to psychological distress. One of the CBT strategies is to address the underlying beliefs that impact the emotional responses we have. Often, the cause of our fears can be found in irrational beliefs or expectations of ourselves. For example, in our largely white-western educational cultures, perfectionism has become an intoxicating drug. We are always striving to do more, be better, and push ourselves to never fail, because we have been socialised to falsely accept flawless performance as the standard. Whether it is perfectionism, eurocentrism, ableist thinking, heteronormativity, or something else that afflicts us, we have to be introspective about the beliefs that underpin our unwillingness to take action.

CBT can interrupt the negative spirals of ‘what if’ thinking that often halts DEIJ work. This therapy invites us to challenge our idiosyncratic beliefs by teaching us that we are worthy of self-acceptance when we struggle or make mistakes; that others are worthy of acceptance even when they behave differently to what we may expect; and that sometimes life has challenges but that does not mean that we are facing utter disaster. This shift away from perfectionism and other irrational beliefs makes room for the diverse perspectives that we find in our international communities. Thus, allowing us to build up the courage we need to truly give voice to the voiceless, even if it may mean opening ourselves up to criticism. From this courageous stance, free from irrational beliefs, we can make positive changes towards equity and inclusion.


Exposure Therapy Strategies


As the name suggests, exposure therapy aims to desensitise individuals from their fears by having them confront them in a safe environment. This can be done through a variety of methods from having individuals use their imagination, using virtual reality, or using live confrontation. Admittedly, exposure therapy is not without its critics. It could potentially induce more anxiety or trauma to expose an individual to their fears. However, when it comes to nurturing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive international education community, it is vital that we expose ourselves to individuals and perspectives which we may fear. How often do we cultivate friendships with those from different races, nationalities, abilities, religions, gender identities, or sexual orientations to ourselves? How much literature do we read from non-dominant perspectives? Do we ever make an effort to de-centre ourselves and listen to those who are traditionally unheard in our communities? We cannot do equity and inclusion work if we are not reaching out to form these relationships or hear their perspectives.

Now, before everyone rushes off to find that one BIPOC friend or attend that one cultural festival, I must clarify that we should not fall into the superficial and tokenising equity traps. Rather, I am suggesting that we must engage in deep and meaningful work to embed and centre a broader range of perspectives in our communities. As educators, beyond forming friendships across differences, this means learning to employ culturally relevant pedagogy strategies and consistently immersing ourselves in literature to enrich our understanding of student experiences such as Dr. Danau Tanu’s Growing Up in Transit. We need to truly expose ourselves to difference in order to overcome the fears that paralyse us.


The choice we have to make


While CBT and exposure therapies tend to be applied to individuals, I would argue that our learning organisations are in need of collective therapy. Just as with any other therapy, this will take more than a one-time workshop to address. Our institutions and their leaders must ensure that adequate time and resources are provided to move past our fearful inertia. We must commit to and invest in advancing DEIJ initiatives so that everyone feels a true sense of belonging at our institutions.

Strategies which root out our fears are essential for us to make progress in disrupting the status quo in the manner that DEIJ work requires. After all, we are collections of individuals with anxieties and fears, these fears creep into our decision-making. As we mould the next generation to tackle the urgent problems we see in our world, and as we aim to protect the most marginalised individuals in our community, we cannot afford to let our fears paralyse us into inaction. Are we prepared to work on ourselves and our institutions to break through our fears in order to build a more equitable world, or are we prepared to inherit a more polarised and inequitable world? Let’s be courageous and choose the former.

“…I will become what I deserve…” Ben Howard’s voice echoes repeatedly as the bridge of the song The Fear builds to a crescendo. When it comes to DEIJ, if we continue to live our lives in the confines of fear, we will only have ourselves to blame for what our institutions will become in the face of the challenges that face us.




Nunana Nyomi is the University Advisor and DEIJ Coordinator at Leysin American School, Switzerland. Nunana is passionate about developing communities where everyone can thrive as their full selves and helping students find career pathways which allow them to fulfill their potential. Nunana currently serves as University Advisor and DEIJ Coordinator at Leysin American School (LAS) in Switzerland.

Prior to joining LAS, Nunana was based in the Netherlands as Associate Director of Higher Education Services for the Council of International Schools (CIS) and provided programs to support student transitions from school to university education. Additionally, Nunana served on the CIS Global Citizenship Team and on a special CIS Board Committee on Inclusion through Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism (I-DEA). He also previously led international student admissions for Calvin University in the U.S. Nunana is a Third-Culture Kid who grew up in the U.S., Ghana, Kenya, Switzerland, and the U.K. He has a BA in International Relations and French (Calvin University) and a MA in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (Michigan State University).


Promoting a Gender-Inclusive Hiring Process

By members of the Carney, Sandoe & Associates International Schools Practice


At Carney, Sandoe & Associates, we are aware of the role that search agencies play in shaping the overall make-up of school leadership, both within individual schools and across the collective community of schools. In short, we know that who we identify and promote as strong candidates who meet a school’s particular needs matters a great deal.


Given the longstanding gender inequities in school leadership — the bias toward white menhat still holds today — we are committed to identifying and promoting diverse groups of highly qualified candidates for every school leadership position. We also see it as our job to educate all school search committees and governing boards about the qualities a range of candidates bring to the job and about the overall value of diverse leadership within and among schools. At the same time, we understand that it’s essential to focus energy on expanding the pool and pipeline of candidates for these positions in the future. This tripartite process is at the core of every search we conduct.


Recently, it has come to our attention that in the world of international schools — a vibrant, fast-growing area of K-12 education — the percentage of women heads and other top leaders has been particularly low. According to data from the Academy for International School Leadership (AISH), women heads of international schools have only improved slightly — increasing from 27% to 33% over the past ten years. While it’s good to see improvement, we submit that this percentage of growth is unacceptable, especially in a profession with so many extremely talented, highly competent women.


Our Focus on Gender Equity

For every search, the members of our International Schools Practice build a database of candidates and analyze it to ensure that we are interviewing for equitable access to leadership roles. Many times, this means we seek out and nurture talent, offering to review résumés and cover letters in advance, and holding one-on-one coaching sessions.


Separate from retained searches, we uphold our commitment to supporting women in education by hosting our annual Women’s (Re)Institute. First held in person in 2017 and now having completed its second virtual iteration, the (Re)Institute draws hundreds of women together to engage in workshops, one-on-one career advising, cohort groups, panel presentations, and keynotes related to female empowerment, skill building, and overcoming the unique challenges women face working in education. The event includes a range of sessions designed to help women educators develop their skills, make connections, and understand their leadership options and possibilities. Among the sessions this year, for example, were: “A Woman’s Worth: The Art of Negotiation;” “Living with Imposter Syndrome and Biased Workplaces;” “More than Conversations: A Feminist Approach to Equity Work in International Schools;” “Women, EQ, and Leadership;” and “Huddle (verb): To Gather Your Sister Circle.”


Given the low numbers of women leaders in international schools, this year’s (Re)Institute also included a topic we consider of utmost importance: “Ever Consider Leading an International School?” which was led by CS&A consultants Deb Welch and Karen Neitzel and included presenters Robin Appleby, Head of School at American School in London; Madeleine Hewitt, Executive Director of the Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools; and Nancy Le Nezet, Head of School at the Swiss International School in Qatar.


Additionally, Carney Sandoe offers implicit and cognitive bias training for search committees at no extra charge. Our consultants work internally with the Carney Sandoe staff as well, helping us to recognize ways our own identities, cultural perspectives, and biases that may be unconsciously serving as blind spots in our work. To further our organizational commitment to antibias work, Carney Sandoe is also covering the cost this summer for consultants to attend (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) professional development of their choice.


We are engaged in this work across the board because we know it’s the right thing to do and because we know diverse leadership teams in schools function at a higher level that monocultural groups and, thus, serve the faculty, staff, and students best. Research makes it clear, for instance, that diverse teams focus more on facts, process those facts more carefully, and are more innovative (Rock and Grant, HBR, Why Diverse Teams are Smarter). The bottom line is that, by committing to helping create diverse leadership teams, we are not just committing to equity and justice, we are also helping to create better decision-making in school leadership teams, boardrooms, and classrooms.


Toward the aim of an equitable gender balance in school leadership, we’re proud of our record of recent appointments of women to senior administrative and leadership positions. Of those recent placements, 70% of them have occurred since 2018.


Female Appointments from Recent International School Searches



President, 2022


Primary School Principal, 2021


Superintendent, 2018


Director, 2019


Director, 2020


Executive Head of School, 2022


Interim Head of School, 2016


Head of School, 2018


Head of School, 2017

Director of Institutional Equity, 2021


Head of School, 2020


High School Principal, 2018


Executive Director, 2017


Head of School, 2018


Head of School, 2019


Chief Inspection Officer, 2021

Vice Head of Primary, 2021


Head of Upper School, 2016


Director of College Counseling, 2015


Upper School Head, 2021


Head of School, 2021


Deputy Superintendent, 2014

Middle School Principal, 2014

Elementary School Principal, 2020

Deputy Head of School, 2016


Principal, 2018


Superintendent, 2007

Head of School, 2021


Founding Head, 2022


Executive Director, 2013


Middle School Principal, 2019


Director, 2020


General Director, 2017


Montessori Director, 2019


Head of School, 2019


Head of School, 2018


Middle School Principal, 2019


Middle School Principal, 2017


Director, 2019


Director, 2019


An Invitation

At Carney Sandoe, we will continue to highlight the value of diversity in school leadership and promote diversity in the hiring process. In particular, we are dedicated to finding new ways to increase the number of women and other underrepresented groups. In this light, we are constantly encouraging talented candidates to apply for positions of interest, even if they believe it may be a bit of a “stretch.” We also help such candidates establish a connection with a search consultant who can advise them on their suitability for different positions and encourage them to test the waters. Meanwhile, we advise search committees that no candidate will check all the boxes of the desired profile, but that we are adept at identifying areas in which a candidate will be an excellent match for a school. We also advise candidates to work with a variety of search firms, since no single firm does all the searches.


For educators aspiring to leadership positions in international schools, this is a particularly good time to be looking. The number of international schools continues to grow at a remarkable rate and all of these schools are searching for administrators (and teachers) who are native English speakers. For those educators who are our candidates, we encourage you to let search committees know where your strengths and interests lie — so we can better align these strengths and interests with the needs of schools. Mostly, though, we encourage educators aspiring to school leadership to step up, cast your net wide, and believe in yourself. We know from experience that the right position will come.



This article was contributed by Art Charles, John Chandler, Karen Neitzel, and Deb Welch of the International Schools Practice.


As Managing Associate for the International School Practice, Art Charles has done more than 140 senior administrative searches, both in the U.S. and abroad. Prior to coming to CS&A, Art worked in five international schools, most recently as President of International College in Beirut, Lebanon. He also worked as an administrator and teacher at the American College of Sofia, Academia Cotopaxi (Ecuador), The American School in Switzerland, and the American Embassy School (India).




John Chandler is a senior consultant. The majority of his work has been in leadership searches for international schools. He has also led searches for U.S. independent schools and has consulted on governance. He has completed more than 120 searches. After several teaching and admissions roles, John served as Head of School at Pingree School (MA) for 14 years before becoming General Director of the Koç School in Istanbul, Turkey. Following Koç, he served as Head of School of Robert College, the oldest American school outside the U.S., also in Istanbul, for seven years.




Karen Neitzel is a search consultant for the firm’s Head of School, Key Administrator, International Schools, and Catholic Schools Practices. Karen joined CS&A from ‘Iolani School (HI), first serving as Dean of Studies before becoming Associate Head of School. Prior to ‘Iolani, Karen held several leadership roles in the Hood River County School District (OR), including Vice Principal and Principal. She also worked at The Archer School for Girls (CA), where she served as Assistant Head of School, Academic Dean, and Director of Technology.




Deb Welch is a senior consultant for the International Schools Practice. For five years, Deb served as CEO of the Academy for International School Heads (AISH), a leading organization among international schools. Her experience working in independent schools is deep and varied. She was the Director of American School of Doha in Qatar, as well as Director of Curriculum, Assessment, and Professional Development; then Deputy Head of School at International School Bangkok. She also has significant consulting experience, having worked as an independent consultant for various international schools and organizations.

Moonshot Thinking from the Sidecar


Debra Lane, Ed.D., CEO, Lane Leadership Group


I participated in an adventurous Sidecar Summit in Red Lodge, Montana sponsored by Sidecar Counsel. Fourteen international women leaders gathered at The Pollard Hotel to do some Moonshot Thinking on July 7 with Lakshmi Karan, Co-Founder of Future Frontiers Institute, and Bridget McNamer, Chief Navigation Officer of Sidecar Counsel.

Photo credit: Brian Korzenowski

According to the Macmillan Dictionary, ‘moonshot’ actually means a type of thinking that aims to achieve something that is generally believed to be impossible. Moonshot or stretch goals are goals that seem impossible to achieve. They should force teams and individuals to rethink how they work and take you out of your comfort zone. In the literal sense, President John F. Kennedy invented moonshot thinking in 1962 when he challenged an entire nation to set an incredibly audacious goal of sending man to the moon in fewer than 10 years…50 years later, Astro Teller has taken this discourse and transformed it into a philosophy, a certain mindset. Teller is the Director of X (formerly Google X), Google’s disruptive innovation division where they ideate, test and launch projects that use cutting-edge technologies to build solutions that can radically improve the world. Literally a Moonshots factory.


Lakshmi shared her vision and task. She reminded us how space travel was about to take off and asked us to think of the galaxy and what this means by 2121. She said, “We are in the midst of a new space race. Driven by political and economic incentives, with a focus on settling on the moon. We want to see a learning institute first before a military base. We want an advisory composed of humans (Monks, Scientists, Teachers, Students, Nurses, Data Scientists and many more humans). Her task is to help create the ecosystem that will enable us to explore and stay in a sustainable, equitable and responsible way.


As women leaders in education, we started to brainstorm ways to embark on this journey. How will success be measured by our own values and what is the process to get there? Who sets the rules and who is accountable? How will this learning benefit us back on Earth? Bridget and Lakshmi asked us to take this moonshot thinking back to our present roles and do the following:


Identify a huge problem that affects the entire organisation.

Most of us identified the issue of a need for more gender equity and women of colour in leadership positions. According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 study, for the sixth year in a row, women continued to fall behind in moving into first-level management positions. According to the study, for every 100 men promoted into a managerial position, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for women of colour.


Identify a big, bold, seemingly impossible goal.

In the case of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), consider taking broad aim at diversity (for example, “We will achieve gender and racial parity at all levels of the organization, including our board of directors, by 2030.”). Your colleagues may jump to why this cannot be done at all levels or within the timeframe, but this is not the point. Moonshots are not designed as feasible goals; the point is to push the collective mindset beyond the gravitational pull of small incremental changes.


Craft breakthrough new approaches to tackle the challenge.

When it comes to driving increased diversity, it is imperative to start with data. Invest in a thorough collection and analysis of everything impacting representation, including recruiting sources, hiring processes, and promotion practices. Enact sweeping changes to talent acquisition, sponsorship, and performance review practices to include a much more diverse talent pool from which to draw. There are countless examples: Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos or Virgin Galactic in the space world; JUST or Impossible Foods in the gastronomy universe (trying to eliminate animal suffering) or cell-based chocolates; these are just a few examples of creating breakthrough approaches.


As we finished our morning with Lakshmi Karan and Bridget McNamer I had a number of ideas fleshed out on how I would like to push some big, bold goals and craft some breakthrough approaches to tackling those challenges. What are some of your moonshot thoughts going into the 2021-2022 school year?


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Debra Lane, Ed.D.

Dr. Debra Lane has been an educator for more than 25 years as a teacher and administrator in the U.S. and abroad. She has led several schools as principal, including most recently at Shanghai American School. She taught grades from pre-K through middle school, as well as ESOL, Literacy, and Gifted and Talented classes. Currently, she is working on federal grants focusing on transformative leadership and increasing teacher’s leadership and instructional roles across the U.S., Central and South America. She is also the founder of the educational consulting firm, Lane Leadership Group, LLC.

Living with Asperger’s – an interview with SEN professional Beverley Williams


Aimee Haddock
Marketing Executive, Real Group Ltd.



Beverley Williams is a former delegate of Real Training. She has had an expansive career, influencing the lives of many young people with SEN. Not only has Beverley completed multiple courses with Real Training and gained a vast amount of professional knowledge through SEN and safeguarding roles, but she was also diagnosed with Asperger’s at around 50 years old. We thought it would be useful to share Beverley’s story, not only for those delegates looking to have an impact but also for those with Aspergers who may be looking for some advice.

Discussing Beverley’s early life, there was a common challenge that she faced almost every day – being able to build meaningful friendships and understanding how to behave in certain social situations. During her time at primary and secondary school, Beverley found herself feeling exhausted by social politics. Something she also experienced in some of her job roles in later life. She acknowledges her personal daily struggle with this and now understands this to be part of her Asperger’s. Explaining how she felt after her diagnosis regarding those social challenges, Beverley said,

“It has been really releasing on a personal level… I don’t feel I need to explain things to other people but it explains to me why I find situations hard.”

Since her diagnosis, Beverley has felt a lot more confident in building relationships, explaining that now she knows what she is going to find tricky, she can prepare herself and put certain strategies in place to help her deal with different situations.

I wanted to understand a little more about how Beverley thinks her experiences in early life influenced her approach whilst working with SEN children. She explained that she has always resisted stereotyping young people and children by their diagnosis. She explains that not everybody with the same diagnosis has the same limitations, behaviours and challenges. Her focus remains on the individual and she is highly conscious of the social isolation of SEN children, constantly working to combat this. Through her work, Beverley has noticed her ability to acknowledge each individual, recognising those who are on the edge of the social group and understanding that they may be happy there. Highlighting that this approach is strongly influenced by her experiences.

Following her own diagnosis, I wanted to know if Beverley felt her approach was influenced or changed in any way. Beverley explained the biggest alteration was a new awareness of females, acknowledging the likelihood of masking – not just Aspergers but all kinds of challenges. She feels this made her look more deeply into triggers and behaviours and spend more time getting to know each individual.

Beverley’s learning journey with Real Training has seen her complete CCET and NASENCO. She is also currently working on the Autism Spectrum Conditions module. After gaining knowledge through her lived experiences with Autism and her varying professional pathway, Beverley continues to expand her knowledge. When asked about her time studying with us Beverley said,

”My NASENCO tutor was fantastic. I explained about my Aspergers and she was really supportive. That gave me quite a lot of confidence to go onto the next course. I acknowledge that her support helped me to keep going and gave me the encouragement I needed. I never felt that she was making allowances nor do I think she was, but I did feel my tutor had an understanding of how I work best.”

I asked Beverley to provide us with some of her top tips, not only for other delegates working with SEN children but also for young people with Autism, highlighting the kinds of things she wishes she knew in her younger years. Although Beverley had not yet been diagnosed while she herself was at school she now understands, through her diagnosis, why she found school hard.

Beverley’s Top Tips for working with SEN children

  1. Don’t stereotype people on the Autistic Spectrum, they are as individual as everyone else.
  2. Provide a range of strategies to mirror the range of people.
  3. Give students the opportunity to work in a calm area, avoiding sensory overload. Always tailor these strategies to their individual needs and preferences.
  4. Look for those on the edge of the group who don’t feel they fit into any specific group.
  5. Focus on an individual’s interests and strengths and then build these into your learning strategies for them. In my experience, people on the Autistic Spectrum are more likely to be engaged in their learning if you encourage them to go deeper with specific interests instead of broadening their general knowledge.
  6. Understand, if you can, that what is important to you may be totally irrelevant to someone on the Autism Spectrum and they, therefore, may not see the point in learning about some things, which may seem trivial and pointless to them.
  7. It is often exhausting for children on the Autism Spectrum to comply with expectations. If they comply at home, they might not have the energy to comply at school and vice versa. Provide opportunities for the individual to restore and refresh using whatever strategies work for them- don’t make assumptions about what these are.

Beverley’s Top Tips for young people in education with Autism

  1. It’s ok to be different, everyone is!
  2. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. It’s exhausting.
  3. Find a teacher or other member of staff you can talk to.
  4. Ask for a quiet area you can go to if you need to take a break from the noise or light, etc. If you feel embarrassed to ask for this perhaps you could find a ‘job’ you need to do.
  5. Don’t let people ‘pigeon-hole’ you or put you in a box to fit their expectations.
  6. It’s ok to make a mistake because it’s all part of learning. Getting something wrong isn’t a failure, it simply means you have learned something new.

Many thanks to Beverley Williams for her insightful thoughts.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.


Aimee Haddock is the Marketing Executive at Real Group Ltd.

Talkin’ ’bout my Generation: Ageism in International Education


Sidney Rose & Michael Thompson

People try to put us d-down (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we got around (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I didn’t die before I got old (talkin’ ’bout my generation)

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

(With apologies to Pete Townsend).

The Who sang something like that in 1966 – when even we were just kids. It was a snipe at the “older” generation and their lack of understanding about what’s new and cool…. We reverse the lyric to take a snipe at the “younger” generation and their disregard of the wealth of experience and expertise we gained in those 55 years.

Yet, Mark Twain is said to have once said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” 


But in international education it obviously does… we hear of many highly experienced and highly skilled senior educators being passed over by recruiters, agencies and schools because of their date of birth.


“International schools need great educators and leaders who are skilled, experienced and have the right personality and attitude” … TES


Ok Yes… really?… So?


Summary of our leadership careers from an Age perspective

As can be seen from our respective biographies at the end of this article, we are experienced heads of international schools and consultants. We have the first-hand experience of the relative ease of finding new and appropriate positions up to about the age of 55 years. From then on, securing a new position has become more difficult annually. Sid states:

I am often head-hunted based on my profile and then the prospective employer backs out when my age is revealed. It’s happened at least a dozen times, now.

Mick has been very fortunate in that his current and previous positions valued experience but this is an anomaly to the trend.

These facts are stated to set the scene in which we outline the many and varied skills and attributes that a motivated and experienced person brings to the roles of international leadership and consultancy.


There is Ageism in international education … Why is that?

There’s a lot of talk about gender bias, racial bias and culture bias in society and at the workplace and each are important for many reasons. But perhaps one of the most hidden, biggest and most problematic types of bias we face is the bias of age: Recruiters often evaluate candidates based on age rather than experience – or expertise for that matter.

Is it just the recruiters or are they doing what they are instructed by the school owner or board?

In India, we had the experience of several teachers over the age of 60 who had considerably fewer days absent during the year than their younger colleagues but there was prejudice from the board, (locals with a forced retirement age of 58). We propose that these “golden oldies” had fewer distractions than their younger colleagues, paced themselves better and probably contributed more to the school’s development.

Some recruiters will argue that many countries do not give visas to older candidates but according to a recent survey released by The International Educator (TIE), which asked about hiring restrictions at international schools, over 65% of the 176 school heads interviewed reported that their school’s host country does not have age restrictions for issuing a work visa.


So, what’s the issue then?

We argue that organizations and schools can and should, employ older educators as leaders, teachers or consultants and give them meaningful, important jobs.

The myth propagated by the retirement industry is that people over the age of 65 should retire. Despite the billions of dollars spent convincing us that our “golden years” should involve more travel, golf, sitting around the pool or pottering around the garden. Research however shows that people who stop working and retire may suffer from depression, heart attacks, and a general malaise of not having as much purpose in their lives. Many people, particularly those who have enjoyed long, and meaningful careers like to work. In the wise words of Stephen Hawkins…: “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.” It represents an opportunity to give value to others and the community, and it gives you something to do with your intellectual and physical energy.

Why would we want to retire if we love our work and can still contribute?

Many very experienced educators, school leaders and international education consultants and advisors find it more and more difficult to get work in their older years.  Virtually impossible actually. Why is that?

The average life expectancy in many developing countries is about 60 years and so it is difficult, perhaps even seen as biased and prejudiced if the country allows older internationals to work there.

If you are older, you are likely to be considered less capable, less able to adapt, or less willing to roll up your sleeves and do something new than your younger peers. They say we cannot use Technology but recent evidence during the current global pandemic has shown that the experienced leader has the ability to adapt and often lead schools when forced to work from a different time zone.


There is an assumption “oldies” are slowing down, are not flexible in their thinking and their health may deteriorate rapidly.

It can be expensive for medical insurance for older candidates and it might be assumed that there is a danger of a “lame duck” not fulfilling the contract?

Many international schools express concern over health issues for the older candidate and the associated costs of insuring them: “Health and health insurance are big issues. Disability coverage is not allowed over 60 and health insurance skyrockets,” reports one school. Another school in Africa, agrees, “I think that an older candidate must demonstrate physical fitness…I really feel that that is the main issue. A fit, active (coaching?) older candidate would have a good chance.

What could be worse than a much-loved, grandfather type leader, dying whilst working for the school?

But the facts are that we are living longer. The average longevity of human life increases each year. Life expectancy was around 50 at the beginning of the 20thCentury in the West. It is now 79 years – many of us are healthy and are in good shape and last much longer, and by the end of the century, it should reach 100!

International schools can appoint cheaper alternatives – and more often than not do.


What do we silver-haired “Golden Oldies”, have to offer?

Many of us are still fit and healthy. Many of us are fitter than our 45–50-year-old colleagues actually.

We, along with many other international education dinosaurs, have a wealth of experience, expertise and wisdom – gained from years in schools. We have the ability and expertise to train senior management and boards, based on acquired experience and expertise.

Adaptability: we have already “been there” and adapted to different circumstances, cultures and scenarios several times in our careers.  International schools vary dramatically, in location, size, student intake, staffing, curriculum, philosophy, and more. The best international teachers are willing and eager to adapt and embrace new circumstances and unexpected challenges.

In one specific area, age can benefit the school; the older educator will probably have a grown-up family that is not in need of subsidised tuition places in the school, annual home leave, larger accommodation, medical insurance etc. because they would not accompany him to the post. These savings, let alone the lack of “distractions” will allow the senior educator to focus most of his /her time and energy on the development of the school and more than offset the increased medical insurance of the educator.

With changes caused by the global pandemic, many older educators have displayed their ability to adapt and are abreast of recent changes in education. Many of us have been using technology since the 1980s and we are lifelong learners.

In order to be employable, we would suggest:

An annual review including a medical to confirm that we are still physically able to perform the tasks needed as head of school or consultant.  We always need a medical to get a visa for each country – and have always passed with flying colours.


What do we golden oldies have to offer in School Leadership/ Consultancy?

In addition to all the examples listed above, there should be no restriction on this as;

-health and fitness are not so important, the experienced educator will work within his/her capability and pace her /himself. Mick comments that “As a 26 years old newbie Head, I was constantly running around trying to fix everything myself, whereas the older, more empowering me as Head is far more efficient, effective and successful”.

– the only negative might be the perception of a: closed mind: but this would be eliminated by the consultant’s bid for the job. We are wise enough to know and understand our limitations.

-vast experience, network, knowledge of education, cultures etc.

– several “golden oldies” have shown their experience by leading schools as Interim Heads,  from afar during this pandemic; jobs that less experienced people could not do with the same level of competence.

There should really be no negatives as consultants are;

-paid by results, the short term usually. Sid’s school set-up projects have always been short-term to do the nitty-gritty work and use connections and network.

-none of the benefits that a head requires. Pension scheme, dependents etc.

It really is a win-win situation for the school and the consultant as the consultancy business is, realistically, “survival of the fittest’ as many of us have turned to consultancy as a way of giving back to the educational world that we have loved.

The “only” problem is they don’t want what we offer!!!! Ageism is rife!

The International Educator, a leading resource for teachers looking for jobs at overseas schools, has recently mandated that schools indicate if there is an age requirement when filling out their job posting form on their website.


What we have to do is point out the benefits to the schools of employing capable people who have a lifetime of experience. The most important job in the U.S. – and perhaps the world goes, often, to people who would generally be considered “too old” to be productive in most employment.  Joe Biden is 78 and deemed fit to run a country with the world’s largest economy and 328 million people. Many other national leaders are ancient; they are expected to use their wisdom, not their athleticism!


You can’t have 40 years of experience in a 30-year-old body! Or even a 50-year-old.


Besides the value and competence older employees can bring to an educational organization, there is the issue of cognitive diversity. Few things of value have ever been accomplished by individuals working alone. The vast majority of our advancements — whether in science, business, arts, or sports, or education— are the result of coordinated human activity, – people working together as a cohesive unit. The best way to maximise team output is to increase cognitive diversity which is significantly more likely to occur if you can get people of different ages, experiences and expertise working together. We, older heads have” been there and done it all” before, so don’t need credit for leading. Our aim is to develop the skills of the middle managers to be able to take over.

Career systems, pay systems, and recruitment and assessment systems are designed against hiring older people. Many companies believe older people are “overpaid” and can be “replaced with younger workers” who can do the job just as well. People like Mark Zuckerberg and others publicly say that “younger people are smarter.” We have an entire media and publishing industry that glorifies youth.

We must acknowledge that there is a limit for paying for an experience; the educational system which pays people more because they have done the job longer is not generally accepted by board members from industry. Oldies should be prepared to accept a salary similar to, for example, a 55-year-old.

Scientific evidence shows: For most people, raw mental horsepower declines after the age of 30, but knowledge and expertise — the main predictors of job performance — keep increasing even beyond the age of 80. There is also much evidence to assume that traits like drive and curiosity are catalysts for new skill acquisition, even during later life. When it comes to learning new things, there is no age limit, and the more intellectually engaged people remain as they age, the more they will contribute.


We should encourage schools and recruiters not to discriminate by age – or in any other way. This includes tackling implicit biases, which is an illegal practice. Many of us — no matter our age — do not have enough money to retire (even if we wanted to). This said people of every age are motivated to work and have a right to do so. If employers can create an inclusive, fair, and meaningful experience for older employees, as well as younger ones, the company becomes more innovative, engaging, – and profitable – and it benefits society at large.




What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.





Sidney Rose was born in Cheshire, England and studied at Manchester University.  He began teaching in 1974 in a Community College in Cambridge, followed by a Head of Department position in Hertfordshire before he was contracted by the UK Ministry of Defense to the British Services School in Hong Kong in 1980. Forty years in international education later in many countries, cultures and settings (Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Sweden, Qatar, India, China and Vietnam and well as consultancies in many other countries) as a school leader and international education consultant and advisor, he finds himself “on-the-shelf” and considered past-the-sell-by date.


Michael Thompson was born in Nottingham, U.K. and studied at Leeds University. He started teaching in Oxfordshire and was head of a co-educational secondary boarding school in Zambia at the age of 26. He then moved on to a career in international education with leadership positions in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Michael has served as an accreditation team leader and was a member of the Education Steering Committee that produced the Government of India’s 5 Years Plan, 2012-2017. After establishing his consultancy, he returned to international school headship in Belgium and now Jamaica.


Image By Jean-Luc – originally posted to Flickr as The WHO, CC BY-SA 2.0

Colouring outside the lines: Using the full palette of our diversity

Colouring outside the lines: Using the full palette of our diversity

Debra Rader, International Educator, Author and Consultant

First published in TAISI Magazine, January 2021.

This is a hugely pivotal time in our world and in education. We have come to value our humanity anew, and to look for and see the humanity in one another. There is a renewed commitment to anti-bias and anti-racist education, and to promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in our learning communities. Intentionally teaching about human relationships, and the ability to live, learn and work together with understanding, compassion and positive regard is central to this commitment. Sharing our identities, cultures, personal histories and stories is part this work. Teaching and learning for intercultural understanding enables us to colour outside the lines using the full palette of our diversity.


Equity, diversity and inclusion


The aim of education is to develop the full and unique potential in every student and enable each person to contribute in purposeful and meaningful ways to shaping a better world. Towards this aim schools strive to create equitable and inclusive learning communities where all children and adults, with the rich diversity they bring, are affirmed, valued and thrive.

With a wide range of cultures, languages, identities, life experiences, and personal and cultural histories schools must work intentionally to embrace their diversity and ensure that everyone is seen, heard and included. We aspire to provide a safe and welcoming environment where everyone is represented, engaged, feels protected and cared for, and has a sense of belonging.

Our schools are tasked with establishing and sustaining equitable, diverse and inclusive environments for all members of the learning community, and also nurturing the values of equity, diversity and inclusion so students, as engaged world citizens, will continue to work towards creating more just and sustainable societies.


What is equity, diversity and inclusion?


Equity is a state of fairness and is the continuous goal of inclusion. Equity aims to provide all members of the school community with equal access to the opportunities and resources available and ensure their full participation in the life of the school. This includes students, faculty, staff, parents, caregivers and board members, and it is reflected in the practices, programmes and policies in the school.


Equitable schools aim to identify and eliminate biases and barriers to inclusion, and respect the dignity and worth of each individual. They aim to eliminate inequality and discrimination of any kind. Equity recognises that people bring their individual strengths and needs to the school community and these are ever changing. Achieving and sustaining equity is therefore a continuous process of recognising and responding to the diversity that exists. Equitable pedagogy, practices and policies are developed to ensure fairness in teaching and learning, in the admissions process, and the hiring and retention of faculty and staff.


Diversity refers to the mix of people and the wide range of differences and identities they bring to our communities. These include race, ethnicity, cultures, languages, socioeconomic, ability, gender and gender identification, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, body shape and size, secular and faith-based beliefs, and all other forms. It includes diversity of values, ideas and perspectives. Diversity strengthens and enriches our communities, and provides resources and opportunities to enhance our learning and understanding. Diversity alone does not necessarily lead to inclusion. Inclusive school communities are developed intentionally when all members of the school community, children and adults, work together to live inclusive values and practices.

All schools should actively recruit and retain students, faculty and staff across a wide range of differences that reflect the community they serve.


Inclusion is an approach to education that embraces diversity in all of its forms, increases participation and opportunities for all, and welcomes and values the contributions of each member. Inclusion work is about how we create connection and community in our schools where all members feel a deep sense of belonging.

Inclusion requires respect and appreciation for all forms of diversity, the willingness and ability to engage with difference, openness to different ideas and perspectives, the ability to listen well, and a commitment to ensuring human rights and dignity for everyone. As schools engage in the work of inclusion they consider ways to establish and sustain an inclusive environment that is respectful and responsive to the changing complexity and needs in their community. Inclusion is a feeling of belonging, being seen, heard, valued, and represented and engaged in making a contribution. Inclusion is an ongoing process and involves all members of the school community. We are all both learning and leading. It is critical that supportive and trusting relationships are developed with and between students, faculty, staff, families and board members in our schools. In inclusive schools children and adults work together to create an environment where everyone can contribute fully and learn with and from each other. It is through working together that they can create a culture of inclusion.


Inclusive beliefs, values and attitudes


The work of inclusion is informed by our beliefs, values and attitudes that guide the way we live, learn and work together. In order to engage in the work of inclusion schools must identify and actively promote the shared beliefs, values and attitudes in their community that guide and support all they do. These are reflected in the mission, vision and philosophy statements, written curriculum, strategic plans, newsletters and other published documents in the school. Inclusion is also a disposition and when we value inclusion we help create inclusive spaces for one another. This is the responsibility of all members of the community.

Beliefs, values and attitudes that promote inclusion in schools recognise our common humanity, value relationships and include compassion, empathy, kindness, trust, appreciation and respect for diversity, curiosity and an interest in others, human rights and dignity for everyone, and social justice and equity.


Looking forward


The work of equity, diversity and inclusion requires ongoing commitment, collaboration and reflection. It is exciting work. It is challenging work. It is vital work. Given the inequities highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, inequality and ongoing racial injustice, this work is ever more timely. Teaching and learning for intercultural understanding promotes this work and provides a way forward.


Intercultural understanding is the bridge between diversity and inclusion


A diverse community is not necessarily an inclusive one. Intercultural understanding is the bridge between diversity and inclusion. Inclusive learning communities are developed intentionally when all members, students and adults, work together to ensure that everyone is valued, and feels a deep sense of belonging.


Intercultural understanding is a disposition and competence that enables us to engage with all forms of difference and diversity with appreciation and respect, establish inclusive relationships, and work to create inclusive learning communities. We continue to develop intercultural understanding throughout our lives, and as we move through our lives we come to understand it more deeply and live it more fully.


As a disposition it is a mindset or orientation and includes beliefs, values and attitudes; as a competence it includes knowledge, understanding and skills. Together they provide a way of being in the world that enables us to approach and engage with difference in mutually respectful and affirming ways.


In my book, Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding: Engaging Young Hearts and Minds, I present a Framework for Developing Intercultural Understanding (Rader, 2016), which contains these four components:


KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING of topics including culture, language, identity, beliefs and global issues


TRANSFORMATIVE BELIEFS, VALUES AND ATTITUDES including appreciation and respect for diversity, compassion, empathy, curiosity, human rights, social justice and equity


ESSENTIAL INTERCULTURAL, INTERPERSONAL AND LIFE SKILLS including intercultural awareness and sensitivity, communication, adaptability, collaboration, creative and critical thinking, resilience, and the ability to recognise, challenge and resist stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination and racism.


ENGAGEMENT IN POSTIVE ACTION that puts into practice what we are learning, aligns our beliefs and values with the ways we live our lives, and makes a positive contribution to our world


These components of the Framework need to be intentionally taught, modelled and practised, and embedded in the curriculum and life of the school. I provide detailed lesson plans based on compelling children’s literature, that integrate the Framework into pedagogical practice.


I invite you to bridge diversity and inclusion in your learning communities through teaching and learning for intercultural understanding, and to colour outside the lines using the full palette of our human diversity.


Free webinar/conversation: Dialogue with Debra: The Nature of Intercultural Understanding

Online via Zoom: 07 October
16:00-16:45 BST (London time)

“I warmly invite you to join us as we explore the nature of intercultural understanding, and meaningful and powerful ways we can encourage and nurture its growth and development.” Debra

We are partnered with Debra Rader, international educator, author, consultant and workshop facilitator to offer a monthly series focused on Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding. Developing intercultural understanding is at the heart of international-mindedness, global competence and global citizenship education, and promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, and antiracist education. It is an essential disposition and competence to develop in ourselves, each other and the children we teach.


One Day Institute in Partnership with ECIS: Teaching & Learning for Intercultural Understanding

Online via Zoom: 20 October 2021
09:00 -17:00 BST (London time)


It is a challenging yet exciting time to be an educator. Our world, communities and schools are increasingly multicultural, multilingual and multiracial, and respect and appreciation for difference and diversity are needed more than ever. Intercultural understanding is a vital disposition and competence to develop in ourselves, in each other and in the children we teach, and we all have a critical role to play in nurturing its development.

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that we are all part of a common humanity and that we have a shared responsibility to take care of ourselves, each other and our planet we call home. We have been given pause to consider what is most important in life and have rediscovered the need for connection and community, love and compassion. Human beings have an enormous capacity to counteract xenophobia and racism. Ongoing events worldwide remind us of the need to teach for compassionate, respectful, equitable and inclusive human relationships.

Intercultural understanding does not occur naturally and needs to be cultivated with intentionality. Bridging theory and practice, and applying research in the field of intercultural competence, we will explore ways to integrate teaching and learning for intercultural understanding in our learning communities. You will be introduced to a Framework for Developing Intercultural Understanding (Rader, 2016) and ways to integrate children’s literature as a catalyst for classroom discussions and inquiry. We will engage our hearts and minds, and work together towards creating a more compassionate, peaceful and inclusive world.

Participants will actively engage in personal and collaborative learning and reflection through a range of activities. We will explore new strategies, activities and resources that nurture and support the development of intercultural understanding for all members of the learning community.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Debra Rader is an international educator, author and consultant living in Lucca, Italy. She brings years of experience in national and international education as a primary, middle school and special education teacher, primary school principal and educational consultant having worked in the US, the UK, Germany and Italy. She has extensive experience working with inquiry-based and dual language approaches to learning, US Curriculum and the IB PYP.

Debra has presented at Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS), Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS), Alliance for International Education (AIE) and The Association of International Schools of India (TAISI) conferences in Europe and India, and led workshops in international schools in Europe on developing intercultural understanding and international mindedness; understanding international mobility; and implementing transition education and transition programmes that support internationally mobile children and families. She facilitates in-depth workshops for educators on Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding, and has worked with educators from around the world.

Debra is the author of Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding: Engaging Young Hearts and Minds (Routledge, 2018), a comprehensive resource for educators complete with lesson plans based on compelling children’s literature. She is also a transition specialist and co-author of New Kid in School: Using Literature to Help Children in Transition (Teachers College Press, 2003).

Debra is a licensed Qualified Administrator (QA) for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a leading cross-cultural assessment tool used worldwide to measure group and individual capacity for intercultural competence, and promote its further development. Passionate about developing intercultural understanding in children and adults, Debra is deeply committed to honouring each other’s cultures, languages, identities, personal stories and histories, and to promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice and antiracism in education.