“One of the most brilliant discussions I’ve attended this year”… “Insightful” … “Thought-provoking”
These were just some of the comments posted at ISKL’s recent workshop and panel discussion The Art of Courageous Conversations. The session was the second in the VOX ISKL series, a platform specially created by ISKL to inspire, inform, and ignite conversations both within the school itself and the wider community about topics that matter such as Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ).
VOX ISKL host and DEIJ Lead Joel Llaban Jr. Joel provided the online audience with the context for the session, “ISKL has embarked on a journey of DEIJ. We have committed to reflecting, learning, and courageously challenging ourselves to take action against systemic racism, marginalization and oppression, and against biases and stereotypes that are harmful to marginalized entities.”
“Today’s conversation is one of many we are having with internal and external communities. We hope it will be a starting point for conversations with colleagues, family, and friends. We want to spark learning, reflection, and conversations around DEIJ. This may include conversations that create discomfort and that’s OK – it is in the space beyond our comfort zones that we stretch our thinking and our learning”.
ISKL recognizes the DEIJ journey may mean acknowledging some uncomfortable truths and involve conversations about topics that may be difficult to discuss openly. To find out how to best frame these conversations, Joel was joined from the U.S. by Joellen Killion, a leading educational coach, and author. Joellen shared her insights on the mindsets, dispositions, and techniques that can be used to develop confidence and competence when engaging in courageous conversations and walked attendees through the process step by step.
Joellen explained the benefits of taking the time to prepare mentally and listening to the perspective of others. She stressed the importance of “stating one’s perspective neutrally without interpretation, assumptions, or judgment”. She continued, “Creating a space where people share what they’re thinking with one another, where their ideas are flowing freely, where we can create an understanding and an appreciation of one another, even when we perceive that we may have deep differences. It’s through these conversations that we can resolve conflict, inquire and address complex issues.”
She added, “Each conversation we have, whether we consider it courageous or not, holds an opportunity to experience the essence of another person, to elevate the voices of those who are quiet or unnoticed, and to take individual and collective responsibility for honest, open, and constructive engagement that will
allow us to honor each other with diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.” She encouraged attendees to “open the door to those conversations with someone who is different from you. Each one has the potential to open our eyes, hearts, and minds to learning, inquiry, and talk about issues that may be sensitive and sometimes challenging.”
Respectful, honest, and authentic conversations about matters that may be sensitive are a fundamental component of the DEIJ journey for any school or organization. The panel discussion that followed Joellen’s workshop highlighted the importance of open dialogue and engagement in creating a safe and courageous school culture.
In the wide-ranging discussion, ISKL panelists Abena Baiden, ISKL Humanities Teacher and DEIJ team member, and Huy Jye Khor, ISKL Talent Development Specialist joined Joel and Joellen to explore what an equitable, inclusive, and diverse school looks, sounds, and feels like, to share some of the courageous conversations taking place at ISKL and the challenges faced.
Abena, who in addition to teaching and her work on DEIJ committees is currently studying for her doctorate in education, shared the need for reflection and the importance of ongoing learning. “The DEIJ journey is messy and complex. We can’t point to any one organization, individual or group that has managed to work this out and smoothly and without making mistakes. We stumble. We learn from those mistakes. We regroup and we continue” she said.
She also described the inherent challenge in making theoretical concepts practical and visible in a school environment especially when it involves a diverse community with different ideological beliefs and backgrounds. To overcome this challenge and help put theory into practice, ISKL has established five school-wide working committees to focus on its DEIJ goals with success indicators to measure progress.
Joel, Abena, and Jye are all active members of ISKL’s DEIJ committees which involve a range of students, teachers, staff, and administrators school-wide. The concept of identity is a critical focus, and ISKL is working to explore what it means in the classroom and curriculum as well as at an individual and community level. “Diverse identities bring diverse perspectives into the community,” said Joel. “This is essential for innovative schools such as ISKL. It enables us to unpack blindspots, narratives, and experiences that we do not usually see and understand. Diverse identities bring diverse skills, knowledge, and expertise. At ISKL we want everyone to know they matter.”
Picking up on this theme Abena said, “The fact is, if somebody is not their full, authentic self and they don’t feel like they matter, then they’re not going to be able to contribute to the wider community. That impacts everybody. It is not just about one individual feeling like they belong, although that is absolutely essential for a healthy community. It’s also about understanding that we all benefit. We all gain from diverse perspectives, diverse identities, and from the idea of everybody mattering.”
Also joining the discussion was former lawyer, Jye Khor whose role on ISKL’s Talent and Culture team includes organizational performance transformation and staff talent development. Jye talked about the importance of curiosity and reflecting on our own biases and assumptions noting that “identity is complex, nuanced and rooted in disparity. On our DEIJ journey it is important for us to accept there may be non-closure, and to continue to communicate openly and proactively while recognizing the power, positionality, and privilege we may have. Conversations such as the one we are having today plant seeds for broader discussions and action. It is a gradual process and an integral part of the DEIJ journey.”
Central to ISKL’s vision and DEIJ journey is the premise that it is a fundamental human right for every student, faculty, staff, and parent to feel included and able to access and participate fully in the learning and life of its school community. The school is committed to creating a safe and courageous school culture through reflecting and learning about the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and by taking action against any form of discrimination based on race, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, physical characteristics, differences in abilities, socioeconomic status, culture or language. VOX ISKL is one of many initiatives created to initiate conversations and ignite thinking about DEIJ and help effect change. Watch the full session on ISKL’s YouTube channel here or listen on Spotify here.
Both ISKL and non-ISKL community members are invited to share the DEIJ journey with ISKL and join Joel for the next VOX ISKL event on February 23, 2022. Click here to receive notifications about VOX ISKL and future ISKL events.
Missed the first VOX ISKL? Living by Our Values: A Compass For Success and Wholeness with award-winning educator, activist, and scholar Dr. Simran Singh: watch the video here or listen on ISKL’s Spotify channel here.
About VOX ISKL Panelists
Joel Llaban Jnr is passionate about inclusion, innovation, and inquiry. He leads reflection, learning, and actions on DEIJ in international schools. His previous experience includes roles in international schools in Belgium, China, and the Philippines. Joel holds a Master’s degree in International Education Administration and a Certificate of International School Leadership. He believes it’s the kind, committed, and caring people at ISKL that make our school truly special.
Joellen Killion is a champion for educator learning as the primary pathway to student success. Joellen leads, facilitates, and contributes to a number of initiatives related to examining the link between professional development and student learning. In her role as consultant and learning facilitator, she serves school systems, schools, regional, state, and national agencies within the U.S. and overseas. Joellen is a senior advisor to Learning Forward and was formerly its deputy executive director. She is also a frequent contributor to education publications and the author of multiple books and papers on the design, implementation, and evaluation of professional learning, coaching, and teacher leadership.
Abena Baiden promotes discussions around diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice both inside and outside of her role as a humanities teacher and DEIJ team member. She shares her knowledge, experiences, and skills as a conference speaker, trainer, and guest speaker at international educational events. Abena is committed to seeking and developing ways to share understanding on social justice issues with practical resources and approaches. Abena is currently studying for her doctorate in education through Bath University, UK, and believes that the best role a teacher can have is that of a reflective lifelong learner.
Huy Jye Khor (Jye) is a staff member of the DEIJ data team. As a former lawyer, she specialized in transactional law, focusing on capital markets and insurance. Driven by her passion for behavioral, cognitive, career learning, and development, she joined ISKL as a talent and culture strategist and assists with its organizational performance transformation and talent development.