Why Does Student Voice Matter in the Curriculum?

Isabelle Wolfe
Language Teacher, International School Aberdeen


As parents, we can all relate to our children coming home from school and we ask when what they learnt today. Very often the answer is “nothing” and indeed, the child probably did not have much to say about what was going on in the classroom.

Formal student voice activities need to be actively promoted and ‘kept alive’ in the culture of the school. There is a clear psychological benefit from engaging in student voice even if the impact is not overtly evident. Being engaged in student voice activities is seen as important regardless of any impact from the delivered curriculum.


Why should we develop student voice in a pedagogical context?

Very often when a high school student is resistant to the curriculum he is exposed to, teachers can be quick to say that  he does not have a growth mindset, is unmotivated or worse disrespectful. The continuum goes from giving no say to the students to giving them complete power as Hart’s ladder demonstrates.


The first obvious reason for developing student voice is the students wellbeing. Research shows that people do better when they have more autonomy. Academic achievement increases when we give more say to the students.


Secondly If we want students to take more responsibility with their education, we have to give them more responsibility. There is a moral compass that we ought to have as educators and values that we should instil. Human beings should have a say whatever their age. We are training kids to live in a democracy


Thirdly, giving a more important role of the students voice in the curriculum also has a positive effect on teachers, It is more energising for both students and teachers when students are helping to plan the curriculum.


How can we foster student voice in a pedagogical context?


Before looking into this and as a preamble, it is important to stress that research shows that a process driven curriculum would foster student voice more than a heavy content one. A constructivist approach is more conducive. Student centred teaching, project-based learning rely heavily on autonomy.


Fostering student voice does not mean giving individual choice although that can be an option. What is more powerful is the idea of a choice, albeit a meaningful choice. Telling students for example that they can choose to read Book A or Book B is not as meaningful as having the students plan the learning  activities or even the curriculum.Real Autonomy comes from construction more than selection. The choice cannot be trivial. Students should have a role in the criteria, the standards, the goals the outcomes, the why we’re doing this.

One strategy to achieve this goal is for example to ask the students what questions they would come up with and ask them for an order of priority. Teachers can then use their questions to construct the curriculum as well as the assessment at the end.


How do we authentically promote autonomy?


Autonomy doesn’t mean that everything in a classroom has to be decided by the students but it means that everything could be. It is essential to tell the students that you have the last word. As the American psychologist Thomas Gordon said, the question is not whether rules and control are necessary but rather who sets them

When a unit is finished, the question is not just how well did the students learnt it but also how effectively how did I teach it and ask the students how can you show me you learnt it effectively?


In summary, how do we authentically promote autonomy?

Ask the students what they want to learn

Negotiate together

Advise and make suggestions

Ask them but tell them that you have the last word


In conclusion if we teach the same curriculum year in year out, we, as teachers, need to reflect on the place of the student in our classroom and if our curriculum is student centred.




Isabelle Wolfe is the Language Subject Leader at the International School Aberdeen.  She teaches French in Middle and High school as well as the French Mother Tongue programme to our French native students. Prior to teaching at ISA, Isabelle taught in England, Australia, and Egypt.




Richter, Max. “The autonomy-enhancing effects of choice on cognitive load, motivation and learning with digital media.” SelfDeterminationTheory.org, https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/2018_Schneideretal_choiceeffects.pdf. Accessed 17 November 2023.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09650792.2018.1436079.%E2%80%9D. Accessed 17 November 2023.

Kohn, Alfie. “Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide (*).” Alfie Kohn, https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/choices-children/?print=print. Accessed 17 November 2023.

“Multiple Intelligences – Howard Gardner.” Structural Learning, 14 February 2023, https://www.structural-learning.com/post/multiple-intelligences-howard-gardner. Accessed 17 November 2023.

“Thomas Gordon.” Gordon Training International, https://www.gordontraining.com/thomas-gordon/. Accessed 17 November 2023.

Untitled, https://www.myd.govt.nz/documents/engagement/harts-ladder.pdf.

Sweller, John. “The importance of cognitive load theory (CLT).” Society for Education and Training, https://set.et-foundation.co.uk/resources/the-importance-of-cognitive-load-theory.


Reflections on an Unusual Admissions Season: Are We Seeing More Girls on the Autism Spectrum? What are You Seeing?

Judith Wides, M.A., M.Ed., LMFT
Director of Counseling and Family Support
National Child Research Center Preschool
Washington, DC

As we dive into the 2023–24 school year, many of our fellow school-based practitioners are finally feeling rested, recharged, and ready for a good year. Last year, after the preliminary post-Covid return to school offered some semblance of normalcy, we were still tired. This year feels different. Families seem less stressed, teachers appear more openhearted, and the children are playing in a more carefree fashion—and all without masks! Moving forward, we know that Covid variants will ebb and flow, but for the most part, our faculty, students, and their families are safely vaccinated and generating immunity.

This article is intended as an open question to the broader community of professionals who work with young children around the world. It is an invitation to start a conversation about trends we are seeing in the young children we serve here in Washington DC. During our last two admissions cycles we saw an increase of little girls who presented with features of autism. As I share the details of our admissions process and schoolwide practices, I hope you will reflect on your own experiences, and consider sharing them with me.

In 2028, the National Child Research Center Preschool (NCRC) will celebrate 100 years of establishing the first inclusion-model, early-childhood program in the United States. We serve children from ages 2-5, and from year to year, on average 12-18 percent of our students benefit from additional special educational support and adaptations. We are the only early childhood program in Washington, DC with a full time Child Development Team. Our team includes myself as the school counselor, an Occupational Therapist, Speech and Language Pathologist, and our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Community. We also have a part-time Behavior Support Specialist with extensive training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) who works closely with our teachers to create targeted interventions and ongoing support plans. We all collaborate during admissions events to try to find children who will thrive at NCRC.

In our admissions process we intentionally seek out children with special educational needs, and their families, as an essential part of building our diverse and inclusive community. The children may be wheelchair users, use assistive technology to communicate, or have Down’s Syndrome, but nearly 100 years of practice informs our drive to create inclusive classrooms that are play-based with an emphasis on social emotional learning. We hold dearly to the sentiment that preschool is about learning to be part of a group, and that by creating a diverse and inclusive learning environment for young children, we are contributing to building a more diverse and inclusive society.

The majority of the children that we meet during our admissions season are applying for places in our early learning tier, those children who will be age 2 by the following September 1st. That means that we are meeting these young toddlers and their families 6-8 months before they will join our school community. Last year when we began the admissions process for this current school year, we decided to limit ourselves to only taking in three new classes of the youngest age peer group of children ages 2 to 2.5 because we were seeing such high levels of need in the applicants as well as across all the age peer groups that we serve at our school. Like many schools that offer inclusion programs, there are always more children in need than we can serve.

From the group of 105 children who applied for admission last year into our early learning classes, we offered 47 places with a combination of full day and half day programming. Of the 47 we accepted, 5 were invited specifically to participate in our internal multidisciplinary early intervention/developmental support program. This program, called Early Beginnings, has an extra small group pull out experience as well as a weekly parent support/education group, and a monthly therapeutic home visit.  Another 10-12 children of the 47 that we accepted would need some support in specific areas of development, perhaps just some speech therapy, or just some support with fine and gross motor development etc. In general, we finished off the admissions season with a concern that a very high number of the children we accepted were going to need coaching in social play skills.

As a school that embraces a play based, emergent curriculum approach, our teachers love to play and discover with their students. Faculty input factors heavily during our admissions process. Our teachers and specialists are experts in understanding the impact of challenges and delays on skills and behaviors in a classroom setting—and they love to problem solve. We are very fortunate that the majority of our teaching faculty have masters degrees in Early Childhood Education or Early Childhood Special Education. We have a master teacher who serves as our Pedogogista and deepens our work in supporting play and emergent curriculum.

Every year we begin the admissions process by looking for students who have one thing in common, regardless of their abilities: they are interested in play.  NCRC’s emergent curriculum follows a Reggio-informed practice with a strong emphasis on play-based, social-emotional learning. In addition, our classroom practices are heavily informed by the relationship-based intervention model developed by Hand in Hand Parenting and we have adapted many elements from the Social Thinking Curriculum  into our program with great success.

Like our curriculum, our admissions events are play-based. As part of the application process, a child and a parent visit NCRC for a brief playgroup experience, designed intentionally to be low stress, with small groups of four to five families. These opportunities allow young children to engage in playful activities with experienced educators who get to know the applicants by exploring open-ended play materials, reading a story as a group, singing a song, and eating a snack together.  We do our best to keep the session as light-hearted and fun as possible.

When parents ask us what we are looking for during our admissions play sessions, we emphasize that we’re not interested in whether a child can count to 10, identify letters, or name complicated shapes. Our play-based program is best suited for children who understand social reciprocity: those who express shared enjoyment through interactive communication with other children and teachers within a classroom setting. Social reciprocity can be observed in both verbal and non-verbal behavior in young children. Examples of social reciprocity include, responding to one’s name, pretending to make coffee for a parent and handing it to them while smiling and “stirring in the sugar”, or turning a pine cone into a cell phone to call daddy, who is across the room, calling back with another pine cone. We are interested to see if the children find their parents, the other children around them, and the teachers interesting, socially.

In addition to looking for evidence of social reciprocity, we are curious to see if a child can discern what the group plan is. We borrowed this language from the Social Thinking Curriculum, and now use it to organize the day in each of our classrooms. In an established classroom community the group plan may look like the universal daily picture schedule used in all early learning classrooms. However, when children attend play sessions we are eager to see if they understand the more subtle idea of shared experience. So instead of just exclusively following their own ideas and interests with the materials offered, can our tiny visitors see that (even if they choose not to participate) the other children, parents, and teachers in the classroom are listening to a story, or singing a song together, or that everyone is having a snack together?

We don’t force children to participate in any way during the admissions play sessions, but we do look to see if they can accommodate their behavior to the social context, or the group plan. If they opt to play with a car instead of listening to a story, can they play quietly, intuiting that there is a larger plan unfolding? Or does the child march around the room loudly with the car, making machine noises as if she or he were the only person in the room, immune to the parents’ attempt to engage the child in the group activity? Our concern for the appropriate placement of the child arises when we observe children who demonstrate more interest in the inanimate objects around them, rather than in the other children and adults in the play session.

In the past two admissions cycles we began to see more and more children in the latter category. In particular, girls who were not social, and they were more interested in blocks, trains and cars than in the people around them. Many of the parents of these children referred to their toddlers as Covid babies. They were using the meme ‘Covid baby’ as a catch all phrase to explain all things developmental, and in particular observed delays in social communication.

The social isolation during the pandemic certainly had an impact on all children. However, an increasing number of the girls we were meeting were not responding to their names, not making even fleeting eye contact, and they played in very repetitive fashion with blocks and vehicles, showing no interest in the other children or teachers in the room. As quickly as a parent could explain away their daughter’s lack of interest in other children as a result of the pandemic, I could easily think of ten other children that we had met who were born in 2019 or 2020 who were eager to make eye contact, or participate in a sing along, and play in parallel with other children, but with a clear social awareness of others in the room.

In fact we met plenty of “‘Covid babies”’ who were very social and eager to play and engage, even if they had no siblings, and had spent the first two years of their life in relative social isolation, just with their parents as play partners. These typically developing children, born just before or during the pandemic, may have been a bit more shy, or slightly more delayed in their language development, but they were meeting developmental milestones on a generally typical trajectory.

At NCRC we have for many years successfully supported children who present with mild to moderate characteristics that are associated with the autism spectrum. Right from the outset during our admissions events we are pretty good at identifying children who, despite their social challenges, will be happy in our programs. If we do a good job of matching students to our programs, many of these children will move on to attend kindergarten with their typically developing age peers. We are also quick to identify those children who would benefit from a more therapeutically intensive school setting, and often we are the first professionals to guide their parents toward early intervention services. These conversations are never easy.

Historically, as early childhood educators we have seen more boys who struggle with social engagement than girls.  According to the public website hosted by the U.S. National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) and the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),and the  Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, statistically there are currently more males than females on the autism spectrum globally. So it was surprising for us to see such a dramatic increase in girls who lacked interest in their peers, and could not be engaged by teachers or skilled therapists, during our admissions play sessions. Our Speech and Language Pathologist and our Occupational Therapist  — with more than 30 years of collective experience working with children with autism and other development delays, could not engage these girls in play.

Returning again to the information provided on the  public website from NIMH, the  CDC, and the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, there has been a steady rise in children being diagnosed with autism in the last twenty years. Based on data released in March of 2023, for data collected through 2020, the US was averaging 1 in every 36 children by age 8, being diagnosed with ASD. In 2012, the number was 1/69.  At the time of the release of the data for 2020, ASD was noted to be nearly 4 times (3.8) more prevalent in boys.

We began to wonder if this phenomenon of meeting more little girl applicants, with a very restricted range of social communication skills than ever before, was limited to our community in Washington DC, or if our colleagues around the country were seeing similar presentations. So, we reached out to our professional networks in the field of speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling to try to gather more information. After reaching out to our colleagues, the response was clear: they were also seeing a significant increase in the number of girls who meet the criteria for an autism diagnosis.

I am not a scientist, and although I took enough statistics courses during my postgraduate training to know that our casual polling data means nothing statistically, I am curious to know what others are finding in their classrooms and communities. Last spring I reached out to colleagues at ECIS, and they graciously offered me this opportunity to tell you our story, and to ask you to share yours. In Washington we feel particularly committed to creating opportunities for increased dialogue on this topic and would love to talk to other early childhood educators as we begin to think about what early intervention will look like in order to provide maximum support for these girls and their families. Please let me know if you are noticing more girls who are struggling with social communication and play.  As we work toward a future of providing all children with what they need in order to thrive and grow at school, we need to get this conversation started sooner rather than later.

Please feel free to reach out to me at jwides@ncrcpreschool.org if you would like to share your observations with me. Thank you for your time.


Judith Wides is the Director of Counseling and Family Support at the National Child Research Center Preschool in Washington DC.  She has been supporting children and families for over thirty years with a special focus on early childhood mental health.  Judith loves working collaboratively with parents and teachers to provide children with opportunities to become their most authentic and joyful selves.

International Athletic Directors “State of the Industry” Survey 2023

International Athletic Directors “State of the Industry” Survey 2023
Nick DeForest, American International School Vienna


The job of an Athletic Director (AD) or Head of Sport can be extremely demanding with long hours, extensive list of duties and a constant flow of events to organize or people to supervise. In the United States there is a massive turnover rate each year of people who just do not want the headaches any more. Internationally it seems that there is more stability in the position and more competition when jobs do open up. That security could be because compared to our U.S. colleagues there are: less legal issues, no sold out stadiums to deal with and very few parents pushing to get their children to the next level. However, if the results of the International AD “State of the Industry” survey are any indication, it may be that international ADs are starting to look for greener pastures. This year, the third version of the survey and it keeps true to form with a continued “top concern” of ADs around the world being “increased workload.’” How many years will the people, doing the job, keep having more work to do before they say enough? When asked what they would purchase if costs were not a factor, a top response this year was “more staff members.”

The 2023 survey asked some specific questions about how things have been coming out of the pandemic. As you might assume, the majority of responses said last year was more challenging than ever. I want to start out this survey report by highlighting the feeling that for years ADs workload has been increasing. They have not been getting more help and that is now coming on the backs of the most challenging years in their careers. One anonymous AD in Asia could not wait for summer to come, expectations in this new job that I took have been absolutely outrageous and beyond anything that’s adequate. Very burned out after the first year and not sure where to find motivation for the second year.” While another anonymous AD in Europe has already had enough, The workload is incredible. ADs put in an extra month of hours compared to our teaching, and sometimes, admin colleagues and I have come to the end of my candle. I have been burning it at both ends for over a decade and need some time to re-evaluate and re-energize. I may or may not be back in the future. I’m curious how many of us are at the same or a similar point?”


State of the Industry



If you have not heard about this survey before, I started it in 2019 as a way to bring our community together and to see what was on the minds of International School Athletic Directors from various school sizes and geographical locations. I analyzed the results of the “State of the Industry” survey which was completed by ADs all around the world. Two years later I asked the same questions again and got some very similar answers but with some COVID-slanted responses. In the spring and summer of 2023 it was time again to go back and see what if anything had changed. This year 93 people filled in the survey, which was almost the same as in 2021. The majority of the responses are from ADs in Europe (40), Latin America (24) and Asia (23). African and Middle Eastern ADs also took part but with less than 10 responses each. For the previous survey articles please click here for 2021 and here for 2019.


Same Story, Different Year


“Increased workload” is not the only thing that has remained the same in the three surveys, as some of the other questions have yielded the same results each time. When contacted by parents, ADs say that the number one reason why is again complaints about “communication they say they didn’t receive or couldn’t find.” When asked about what types of things ADs are “not concerned about’ the top two answers remain “job security” and “pressure to win.” Eighty percent of ADs are not concerned at all about their job. That percentage is of course high but still lower than the pre COVID results. One thing to note about the survey in general is that the answers are almost always similar regardless of which region in the world the participants are in. However, there are one or two questions that stand out as being geographically different.

This year “pressure to win” was one of those questions with 50% of Latin American responses indicating they were concerned about that in relation to the response of European ADs where only 19% were concerned. The other standout this year was the question about vendors and getting supplies to your location with 70% of ADs in the Middle East and Africa being concerned where only 30% of other areas were concerned. One would assume that getting supplies to the Middle East and Africa is not as easy as Europe and Asia but why is there such a big difference about winning in Latin America? The survey responses do not tell us but it could be their proximity to the United States or more probable is the fact that many international schools in Latin America have a higher percentage of local students compared to other regions.



Money and Time


Two of my favorite questions of the survey ask ADs to look to the future with unlimited money and then unlimited time and tell me what they see. I love them because it really can show you what ADs believe their programs are lacking to be able to really make a difference. Athletics are so often an afterthought in the international world but hopefully with initiatives like this survey other people in our schools start to take notice and listen. Topping the list, as always, for what ADs would purchase if they could, would be better, bigger or improved facilities. Unfortunately, for many that is just a pipe dream so as in the past I will put that answer aside and move on. Next second highest responses in the past two surveys were that ADs wanted more money in order to pay coaches more and also offer them some professional development.


Those two reasons were topped this year, as ADs wanted more money, so they could hire more staff to help with the increasing demands of the program. Some ADs mentioned going from a part time to a full time AD position while others mentioned an Assistant AD or even just part time office staff. One AD in Asia, who wants to remain unknown, would love some more help and writes, I am at a school of over 700 and I am running everything myself. No assistant, no assistant AD, and no stipends for coaches. All coaches are volunteers so I am trying to do whatever I can to help, so I do not lose them. I plan all trips, logistics, teach a class, and even have to referee at times”. With a top concern of the job being “increased workload” is this a cry for help before more of us need to “re-evaluate and re-energize”?


Full time or assistant AD positions could absolutely help schools realize what their ADs would do if they had “more time,” which is my second favorite question. Again topping the list for three years in a row is “more time spent with coaches and athletes.” Many ADs want to develop leadership training programs or athletic councils while others want to just be able to sit and talk with their coaches. Some new answers that popped up this time around by a number of people are wishes to improve or create apps, social media accounts or websites that will help get information to parents “that they say they didn’t receive or couldn’t find.”


Top Concerns



The “increased workload and expectations” that I have talked about already was actually the second rated response this year followed by finding qualified coaches in third. Both of those responses have been top concerns since this survey has started; however, the number one concern this year is brand new. The “rising costs of trips” rocketed to the top of the list with 47 “very concerned” and 41 “concerned” responses out of the 91 total responses. Coming out of COVID the cost of travel has risen tremendously however, travel costs are not the only reason trip costs are going up. The switch from home stays to hotel stays for many conferences has already caused many schools to scale back their trips or look for more local options.


Home stays versus hotel stays has been a constant debate for schools and conferences for years with passionate discussions and arguments supporting both sides. People on each side of the discussion often think their way is both safer and easier but COVID has seemed to tip the scales for anyone close to the midline. The first episode of Global Take was even dedicated to this topic which you can watch by clicking here. Most do say that hotel stays bring more security for our students but with a higher cost to parents; however, there have been conferences around the world that have used hotels for years. David Johnson from the American International School Riyadh biggest concern is trip costs; The prices of these trips concern me and I am not sure how long we will be able to sustain sending kids to play in different countries.  Although, not many yet, we have had a bit of parent concern and pushback about the cost of international trips.  It is a difficult balancing act of attending things and passing on things due to increased costs.”


Those new to hotels have often been sending extra chaperones to help with supervision issues and to also give coaches a bit of a break who have been working all day. Daan van Bunge from The International School of The Hague says that, the safeguarding of our students is high on the agenda for our senior leadership and they have decided against home stays. The financial pressure on the parents has increased and it is more likely that they will start to say no to participating in trips.”



In 2021 COVID took over the survey with top concerns and ADs wondering if they were going to have normal athletic seasons or if they were going to have seasons at all. One of the questions last time was “what is something new that you have done and that you will continue to do in non-COVID years?” so of course this year I had to check back in and see if those things have actually continued. It has only been two years since then and with schools in Asia only coming back to competition mid year so I was not sure what kind of responses I would receive. However, my assumptions were confirmed that online meetings for many have remained. Pre-season parent meetings came out on top of all the different types with conference meetings, coach meetings and individual trip meetings also being mentioned. Personally, the pre-season parent meetings have been a fantastic addition to our program for the types of parents we have. We have had parents join from hotel rooms on business trips, in their cars on the way home and families join while they are finishing up their dinner. Wherever they are in the world they are using the opportunity to get some information and ask questions when physically coming into schools would not have been as convenient or even possible.


The second question about COVID and the last question of the survey asked ADs to compare last school year (as a post COVID year) to normal years. The resounding response was that last year was more challenging or even as one AD writes “crazy and way more challenging.” The reasons for those responses were split into two distinct reasons. Will Vreugdenhil of the Korea International School articulates the first reason very well.   “We are having to train or retrain students, parents, coaches, hosts, employees what the exact expectations are. We can’t say ‘Remember last year’… it was too long ago.”

It is the rebuilding of cultures that is so time consuming especially for people who were at their schools before COVID. What does it mean to represent your school on an athletic team and how does one do that? There are also schools that have seen more new requests than ever before, as people are trying to make up for missed opportunities. Adding new trips, events or even teams is the second main reason last year was so challenging to our responders. However, not just because they are new but because it seems that more faculty members want to spend their time doing more things for themselves. Erlend Badham from the International School of Belgrade reflected that the year was “challenging as we are putting on more activities and events than ever and parents still expect more, but we have less willingness from faculty to commit.” A similar response came from Anthony Hennelly from the International School of Prague who feels like they “had to further encourage adults to support the programme more so than previous years.” However, challenging and busy are not always bad things for an AD as Will Moncrief from the Frankfurt International School writes that the year wasVery busy, lots of participation…but a GOOD busy. Feels great to be back and then some!”


My Hope


When I was first thinking about organizing this survey back in 2018, I asked  some colleagues what they thought about the idea. One of them asked me right away why I thought it was important and what I thought would come out of it. My answer was simple at first: to bring the international athletic director community together. I also wanted to show each other how similar we are regardless of how big our schools are and where they are in the world. Looking back I think that goal has been accomplished, of course also in part by the pandemic, the Globetrottin’ ADs podcast, the online conferences, and my book ‘International Education Leadership: A Global Playbook”. Now after the third round, I want something more to come from this “State of the Industry” survey and all of the time the ADs put into their responses.

For years now ADs have been concerned about the increasing amount of work that their school demands of them and in many cases the AD, that is doing more and more work is also doing it alone or even after a long day of teaching classes. This year has been the first year that ADs have written about quitting the profession or wondered how much longer they can do it. It was also the first time that many ADs wrote about hiring more staff to help with the increased demands. Sure there are hundreds of applicants for every AD job that opens up but when the position becomes a revolving door it is only the students that suffer. My hope now is that with the results of this survey there will be more understanding of the position and that it will also help ADs around the world speak to their administration about their increased workload, their lack of staffing and show them that it is not just them.

Dave Horner who has been an AD in four international schools believes that many human resource and administration team members are not aware of the amount of time and effort that goes into our jobs. It is often overlooked”. ADs, share this survey with your administrators, share it with your colleagues and continue to talk and compare your jobs to your colleagues. If not world wide, then at least schools in individual conferences can band together for the betterment of all of your student athletes and entire school communities. I also hope that with this survey analysis, teachers and administrators will get a better understanding of what the job could be, if it is adequately staffed and supported. A full time athletic director with a staff behind them can do many amazing things at a school that it is a shame to not use an athletic program to the best of our abilities. Athletic Director or Head of Sport is a vocation and filled with servant leaders like Dave Johnson who I would like to give the last word too. “I find myself just running around trying to complete the next task on the list and not enjoying the students and watching their growth during the seasons..  so that is the biggest thing I would love to do.  Simply have the time to work with our student-athletes more in practice and enjoy watching them play.”  


Nick DeForest is the Assistant Director of the Events Office at AIS Vienna, Austria. He is the founder of the Globetrottin’ ADs and author of ‘A Global Playbook’ which can be found on Amazon. Originally from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, Nick has been in Austria since 2000 and is passionate about connecting international school Athletic Directors, Coaches, Teachers and Students from around the world.

To connect with Nick and learn more please visit www.globetrottinads.com and follow him on Twitter @Nick_GTADs

Hidden in Plain Sight: School Culture’s Unspoken Truths & Bold Fixes

Dr. Yael Cass
Director of School Operations Services at International Schools Services


In the vibrant ecosystem of our international schools, every individual plays a pivotal role. As leaders, we often endeavor to understand the heartbeat of our school’s culture. We seek feedback, we organize workshops, and we initiate dialogues. Yet, despite these proactive measures, there remain unspoken sentiments and silent gaps between lived experiences and our understanding.


Drawing from years of diverse engagement in the international educational sector, I’ve come to recognize a recurring disconnect between leadership perceptions and ground-level realities. This isn’t just an academic observation; it’s a lived experience that spans the entire educational ecosystem. My roles as a customer (full-paying parent), board member, and school administrator with a research background on the efficiency of governance in international schools have provided me with a comprehensive understanding of these complexities. My consultancy work has further deepened this understanding, revealing the often-underestimated value of the role of operations and support-staff in achieving a good organizational culture and assisting schools to achieve their educational excellence goals.

It’s important to note that the isolation of leadership is often a circumstance, not a choice. School heads may find themselves in positions where they are not fully exposed to the lived experiences of their staff. This is not to blame them, but rather to highlight the systemic issues that can prevent open dialogue. Employees, whether due to fear, respect, or a combination of both, may hesitate to voice critical feedback, perpetuating a culture of inequity and inefficiency.

Further complicating this landscape is the perspective of our support staff, especially those from diverse industries and corporate backgrounds. While they bring a wealth of experience, they often grapple with aligning the proclaimed ethos of education with observable practices. This disconnect can be glaring, as they sometimes find themselves questioning the correspondence between our stated objectives and our actions. On the flip side, educators, deeply immersed in their specialized environment, might inadvertently overlook these disparities. Their profound dedication to the educational realm can sometimes create blind spots, making it challenging to recognize what might be evident to those from different professional landscapes.

Therefore, it’s imperative to bridge these multiple gaps between perception and lived reality. We must acknowledge the vital role that each cog in the educational wheel plays in shaping our students’ future, and creating channels for open, fearless communication across all levels of our educational institutions.

As we strive to align perception with lived experience and foster a more equitable school culture, let’s explore some actionable strategies that can serve as catalysts for meaningful change.


Tailored Onboarding: Immersing Support Staff in the Educational Mission and Vision

Support staff in educational institutions often come from a variety of industries, bringing with them a wealth of experience but potentially lacking familiarity with the unique landscape of education. To bridge this gap, a well-crafted onboarding process is indispensable. This should go beyond mere orientations and delve into the intricacies of the educational system, including accreditation standards, curriculum frameworks, and even a day in the life of a teacher. A glossary of educational jargon can also be invaluable for those new to the sector.

Drawing from my extensive experience leading global communities of HR and operations professionals in international schools, I’ve observed that these professionals often express initial reservations about transitioning into an educational setting. The pace, practices, procedures, and structure may be quite different from the corporate world to which they may be accustomed; however, the demand for high service standards, especially from premium educational institutions, remains constant.

However, onboarding is merely the initial step in a continuous journey of alignment and immersion. The objective is not just to inform but to integrate support staff into the educational ethos of the institution. This often-neglected aspect can lead to a disconnect between educational goals and operational objectives. Research in organizational behavior underscores the importance of alignment: when an employee’s values and skills are in sync with their work environment, it enhances their commitment, motivation, and overall job satisfaction.

To sustain this alignment, schools should consider implementing ongoing educational sessions, regular check-ins, and cross-departmental meetings that feature case studies relevant to both educational and operational roles. These initiatives serve a dual purpose: they not only keep support staff updated but also ensure that they are culturally and philosophically aligned with the school’s mission and vision.


Anonymous Feedback Channels: Culturally Sensitive Mechanisms for Genuine Insights

In many countries, cultural norms and historical experiences can inhibit open and candid feedback. Direct criticism might be perceived as disrespectful or unkind, and voicing concerns about institutional practices or leadership could be misconstrued as ingratitude. This presents a unique challenge for educational institutions aiming to gain authentic insights into their organizational culture. To circumvent these hurdles, the implementation of anonymous feedback channels, such as carefully designed surveys, becomes essential.

The cornerstone of an effective anonymous feedback mechanism is cultural sensitivity. Survey questions should be meticulously crafted to honor the cultural norms and historical nuances of the host country. This ensures that the survey is not only respectful but also effective in eliciting genuine responses. To achieve this, assembling a diverse design team is imperative. The team should mirror the heterogeneity of your staff, encompassing various departments, roles, and cultural backgrounds.

Creating a survey that garners honest feedback is a complex task. The questions must align with the school’s overarching goals while also being sensitive to cultural norms. For instance, rather than asking a direct question like, “Do you think leadership is effective?”, a more nuanced and culturally sensitive question could be, “How comfortable do you feel with the current leadership style?” This approach ensures that the survey yields information directly pertinent to the school’s objectives and the enhancement of its culture.

Before deploying the survey to the entire staff, it’s advisable to conduct a pilot test with a smaller, diverse subset of employees. This allows for an assessment of the survey’s effectiveness and cultural appropriateness, providing an opportunity for necessary adjustments.

By adopting these comprehensive measures, educational institutions can establish anonymous feedback channels that are both respectful of cultural and emotional sensitivities and effective in providing invaluable insights. The insights from the surveys can serve as a tool to foster conversations within diverse focus groups, or through confidential interviews facilitated by external consultants. These opportunities increase the opportunities for open discussion and honest feedback. The results can serve as a roadmap for meaningful organizational changes, contributing to a more cohesive and effective educational environment.


Empathy Workshops

Empathy Workshops can serve as a cornerstone for fostering a more cohesive and understanding work environment. This is particularly relevant in educational settings, where staff roles and responsibilities can vary significantly. The workshops aim to cultivate empathy among all staff members, from educators and support staff to leadership. The overarching objective is to nurture a culture in which each individual can comprehend and appreciate the unique challenges and contributions of their colleagues, thereby enhancing teamwork and minimizing friction.

Various techniques are employed in Empathy Workshops to achieve this goal. Storytelling is an effective approach. Staff members share personal experiences related to their work, effectively breaking down stereotypes and assumptions. For example, a support staff member might discuss the logistical hurdles of organizing a school event, while a teacher could delve into the emotional challenges of managing a difficult classroom. Hearing these stories firsthand fosters a deeper level of understanding and respect among staff members.

Role-playing exercises are another way to enable participants to step into their colleagues’ shoes and experience the challenges they encounter daily. For instance, a teacher might role-play as a janitorial staff member, or an administrator could assume the role of a classroom teacher. These exercises are eye-opening, revealing the complexities and demands associated with different roles within the organization.

Interactive discussions and group activities can further explore the concept of empathy, discussing its significance in effective communication, conflict resolution, and even its impact on students’ educational outcomes.


Anonymous Internal 360-Degree Climate Surveys

Anonymous internal 360-degree climate surveys can serve as transformative tools by offering a comprehensive view of internal dynamics that might otherwise remain hidden. In environments where support staff and educators often operate in separate silos, these surveys facilitate cross-functional feedback, allowing both groups to offer insights into each other’s performance as well as that of their supervisors. This is particularly vital in educational settings where internal politics can obscure objective assessments and decision-making.

Leaders, often removed from the day-to-day interactions of their teams, may find it challenging to accurately gauge the organizational climate. A meticulously designed 360-degree survey can act as a potent mechanism to navigate these internal complexities. By incorporating leading questions that elicit specific viewpoints, such surveys can convert hallway politics into constructive dialogues. For instance, instead of a vague question like, “Are you satisfied with your team?”, a more targeted question could be, “How effectively do you think your team collaborates on project-based tasks?” This approach not only yields a nuanced understanding but also generates actionable insights.

I’ve observed that a well-executed 360-degree survey can unveil hidden tensions between departments or even within teams, affecting project outcomes. For example, educators in one case felt that the support staff were not adequately responsive to their needs, while the support staff believed that the educators failed to appreciate the logistical challenges they encountered. The survey’s findings led to a series of cross-departmental meetings that significantly improved communication and collaboration, benefiting the entire organization.

By utilizing anonymous 360-degree surveys, educational institutions can transcend the constraints of internal politics and isolated leadership perspectives. They can cultivate an environment where feedback is not merely encouraged but is also constructive and actionable, thereby facilitating meaningful organizational improvements.


Engaging External Consultants: A Unique Advantage

The engagement of external consultants offers a unique advantage: an unbiased, external perspective capable of cutting through internal politics and preconceived notions. This neutrality fosters a more open dialogue among staff members, who may feel more at ease sharing their genuine feelings and observations without the fear of retribution.

In my capacity as Director for School Operations Services, I conducted many organizational development consulting and operational audits to international schools across the globe. My external viewpoint has proven invaluable for eliciting candid, constructive feedback. For example, during one consulting engagement with a small school, the external evaluation unearthed a deeply troubling issue of which the school’s leadership was entirely unaware. The staff perceived that the leadership was either indifferent to the situation or, worse, supportive of the unethical behavior in question. The confidentiality and security of the external evaluation process encouraged staff to openly discuss these sensitive issues. This revelation was a watershed moment for the school’s leadership, who had been oblivious to the problem. Armed with this newfound knowledge, they took immediate action to rectify the unethical behavior and instituted policies to prevent similar incidents in the future. This significantly improved the school’s culture as well as its operational effectiveness.

The safety and well-being of employees are paramount throughout this process. Confidentiality is rigorously upheld, and feedback is presented in a manner that safeguards individual identities, ensuring that employees feel secure throughout the process.

By leveraging the impartial expertise of external consultants and prioritizing employee safety, school leaders can acquire a comprehensive understanding of their institution’s culture. This approach not only identifies areas for improvement but also yields actionable insights for creating a more cohesive and effective educational environment. Importantly, it does so while safeguarding the well-being of the school’s most valuable asset—its staff.

In the intricate tapestry of international school ecosystems, every thread—be it an educator, a support staff member, or a leader—holds unique importance. While we strive to weave a harmonious pattern, it’s essential to remember that the fabric is ever-changing, influenced by the individual experiences and perspectives of its constituents. It’s not enough to merely understand or appreciate these threads. We must actively engage with them, continually reassess, and realign our strategies to ensure a cohesive, effective, and nurturing educational environment. The journey towards this ideal may be complex, but it is one that holds the promise of profound impact, not just for those within the school walls, but for the broader community and, most importantly, for the generations we are shaping.


About the author

With over 20 years of experience in leadership, management, and operations, Dr. Yael Cass is a seasoned professional in organizational development, management, and operations. She offers consultancy services in a variety of areas, including organizational development, culture, HR strategies, innovation, and business and capital development.

Her unique lived experiences as a full-paying parent at an international school, a board member, and chair of various board committees, along with her leadership role as a school administrator, provide her with a comprehensive understanding of schools, their communities, and their operational aspects.

At ISS (International School Services), Dr. Cass is responsible for developing and delivering services that aim to enhance the capacity of school leaders and support staff to create more harmonious and effective organizations.

Dr. Cass holds a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Architecture, an MSc in International Business Management from Liverpool University, and a Ph.D. in Organizational Development and Gender Diversity at the Workplace from RMIT University.


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.

Taking the long view: Sustainability for global citizenship transformation

LeeAnne Lavender, Inspire Citizens Storyteller


Many educators and leaders in international schools around the globe recognize the value and urgency of global citizenship education (GCE) and the need to empower PreK-12 students to engage in authentic community engagement and active local and global citizenship.


To this end, many educators use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help students understand the most pressing issues of our time and to pursue individual and collective pathways to sustainability. Educators may also prioritize social and emotional learning (SEL), diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), and service learning or community engagement to offer students opportunities to think, learn and act as informed and reflective citizens. Leaders may seek strategic plans and outcomes that support student learner outcomes (SLOs) that feature global citizenship, and parents may choose schools that offer these types of authentic and meaningful learning experiences.


There is a growing awareness amongst international educators that this approach to educating students is foundational and critical for engagement, learning and the transfer of knowledge and skills to practical and identified needs in our local and global communities.


This leaves many educators asking the question “how”? How can I redesign my curriculum to help students learn about the world in inclusive and multi-layered ways? How can I change my assessment practices to offer more innovative and holistic ways of assessing student learning? How can my school create a more cohesive and purposeful approach to GCE?


Inspire Citizens co-founder Aaron Moniz has channeled these questions into an overarching one: “how to global citizen?” And he and the Inspire Citizens team spent years building models and tools to help educators answer that big question.



In working with dozens of international schools, Aaron has noticed several key ingredients that can propel a school forward in its goals related to active global citizenship. Many of these ingredients involve taking a long view of curricular and cultural transformation, and a long view ensures sustainability so active global citizenship becomes and remains a vital part of each learner’s experience. As schools employ a whole-school blueprint for active global citizenship, long term thinking is the key to sustainability both in developing the program and culture, and in equipping students to think in a long-term way about a positive and sustainable future, as well.


“Creating a whole school blueprint for schools has been creative and energizing,” says Aaron. “As we have worked with many leaders and groups of teachers, we have gathered compelling evidence that shows a cohesive plan with multiple stakeholders in the community is key.”


This approach resonates with ideas in Roman Krznaric’s book The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World. Krznaric says “By making wise—and long—choices as we emerge from this crisis, we could well become the good ancestors that future generations deserve.”


Aaron has some top tips for school leaders and classroom educators who want to offer more opportunities for students to experience PreK-12 active global citizenship, and this list of his top 9 ideas is a great way to start ideating about how your school can embrace a holistic vision for active global citizenship: :


#1: Articulate a clear plan



Articulating a multi-year approach for pursuing and implementing global citizenship education (GCE) is essential. A 3- or 5-year plan can create clear goals and outcomes for everyone, and this clarity can help everyone become committed to GCE as a way to connect curriculum to tangible local and global issues and as a way to empower students to be informed and positive changemakers. A good plan should include supportive and long-term implementation strategies such as:

  • check-ins with leaders and teams
  • defined and clear roles and partnerships (such as which coach or coordinator will meet with specific teams during planning blocks to embed resources, tools and strategies)
  • thoughtful reflection opportunities for students and educators.


#2: Think local



Hiring experienced and passionate local educators and staff members can ensure sustainability and authentic community connections. Local hires tend to stay longer at international schools and bring a more nuanced and whole perspective to the team.


“At COJOWA, where there is deep and impactful global citizenship taking place, a key person creating that momentum is Jessica, the community liaison officer,” says Aaron. “When Jessica came on board, she was able to connect teachers with valuable community partners and she was able to work with Spanish-speaking educators and staff to bridge language barriers. Now that she has worked with us to learn about global citizenship education, implementation in the curriculum, and community engagement, she is able to facilitate ongoing professional learning with the COJOWA team. Her role and her passion for the work has created deep change at COJOWA in a short period of time.”


Aaron values local voices, and feels it is essential to honour and respect local and indigenous perspectives and ways of thinking and being. Inviting local educators and staff into learning experiences with students is an effective way of encouraging students to be open-minded, curious and aware.


The Inspire Citizens Empathy to Impact enhanced curriculum design approach frames the learning journey for teachers and students around the four stages: care, aware, able and impact. When we bring local voices into the center of learning experiences, students can care about the perspectives and lived experiences of others, and become much more aware of the complexities and diversity of local and global issues.


#3: Create positions for GCE leadership



Creating space and resources (financial and otherwise) for jobs that support GCE is a way to ensure teachers will be supported and students will have access to relevant learning experiences. The types of positions most aligned with GCE include:


  • Sustainability coordinator
  • Service learning or community engagement coordinator
  • Global citizenship coordinator
  • Community liaison


“If you know you want your community partnerships to be more reciprocal, hire someone with a background in development work and building partnerships,” says Aaron. “If you put an educator with no training into that kind of position, it can be challenging. It’s key to hire someone who knows how to do that work, or who is passionate and can be equipped quickly to do the work well.”


#4: Prioritize sustainable partnerships


Some schools engage in multiple community partnerships across grade levels and the curricular/co-curricular realms, and this can sometimes lead to a more shallow or tokenistic approach to GCE. Ideally, your partnerships should be deep, sustainable, inclusive and reciprocal. While this takes work and time, it means that your school will engage in meaningful and authentic learning and service, and that your students will have the opportunity to work alongside community partners for multiple years.


“Break down the number of your partnerships and go for depth over time with more connections between grade levels,” says Aaron. “For example, maybe you have grade 11 students complete a needs analysis with a partner, and build the foundation of a new partnership. Grade 12 students can then prototype action plans and share these with the community partner as well as pitch the strongest prototypes to tenth graders so they can take up the torch when they get to grade 11. Prioritizing long-term thinking and action and building organizational capacity across grade levels is powerful.”


In terms of taking the long view, community engagement is an essential area for deep, sustainable impact.


#5: Collect data and evidence


“You can do all kinds of service and global citizenship work, but if students can’t articulate what they learned and the impact they generated, they just performed those tasks and they didn’t internalize the experience,” says Aaron.


He recommends collecting assessment and reflection data from all service learning and GCE experiences so teachers and students can evaluate changes in mindsets and community impact. This not only creates a picture of growth and transformation but also allows leaders and educators to continuously adjust approaches to teaching and learning to maximize the impact for students and community partners.


Data can be collected in a variety of ways, including assessments (formative and summative), formal and informal reflections (written, visual, oral), surveys and interviews.


#6: Create frequent opportunities to work with parents


Parents in our communities are an incredible resource. They work in jobs and fields that can be incredibly valuable for our service learning and GCE experiences. They have local and global connections that can put us in touch with knowledgeable and inspiring people, and they tend to care deeply about our schools because their children are in our care.


“There are so many people who want to contribute to their kids’ learning and to the experiences of all students in our schools,” says Aaron. “When you find the right parent, this isn’t an extra task we’re asking them to take on; they want to participate.”


Aaron recommends organizing multiple parent events each year and creating a parent group or committee related to service and GCE. You could also survey your parents each year so you know the types of positions and jobs and interests represented in your parent body.


#7: Offer mission “refreshers” on a regular basis


International school teachers move around, and each year we have new educators joining our teams. Aaron recommends introducing new hires to your school mission and to your GCE plan early, even including it as part of your onboarding process and orientation.


“If you build the system, it can sustain itself,” says Aaron. “You need to think about the capacity of new staff in terms of their skill as global citizenship educators, and the onboarding process is key for helping new staff understand your school’s priorities, approaches and tools in this area.”


If you offer mission “refresher” workshops for new and returning staff, you can highlight key language, examples and outcomes related to active global citizenship and community engagement. When your team is reminded of your reciprocal community partnerships and foundational GCE learning experiences, you can maintain and grow momentum over time.


#8: Think across disciplines


Supporting interdisciplinary learning experiences for students of all age groups can provide holistic and inclusive ways of learning. It’s a natural fit for English and social studies teachers to work together in creating interdisciplinary experiences. Bringing other core and elective teachers into the mix can also create innovative and connected experiences for students.


You can use time at regular staff meetings or orientation sessions at the start of each semester or year to create common planning windows or ideation sessions. Some interdisciplinary teams may be given common planning time throughout the year. This will look different at every school, and being purposeful about planning GCE initiatives across the curriculum helps students see the connected nature of their learning as well as the connected nature of local and global issues.


#9: Engage with an accountability partner


To create a plan and ensure its implementation over time, it can be valuable to engage with an accountability partner like Inspire Citizens. Working with an outside organization can inspire your team, provide valuable professional learning and equip your team members with the knowledge and passion necessary to continue learning and acting in alignment with your GCE goals.


These top nine tips from Aaron provide entry points for all school teams to evaluate and consider their global citizenship priorities and learning experiences across the PreK-12 spectrum.


If you’re interested in learning more about how to foster sustainable ways of designing global citizenship education at your school, please schedule a discovery call with an Inspire Citizens facilitator and check out more tools on the Inspire Citizens website.


More links from Inspire Citizens:


Global Citizenship Self-Discovery Tool


Whole School Roadmap for Global Citizenship

(Aaron, this page needs an update on the website; it says this is “coming in October 2022”)


Inspire Citizens Vignettes: Stories from Schools Engaged with Whole-School Global Citizenship


Empathy to Impact Design Sprint


Changemaker Action Plan for students


LeeAnne Lavender is a storyteller for Inspire Citizens, and she is also an educational consultant, coach and facilitator for international educators. She specializes in storytelling, digital storytelling, service learning and global citizenship (and all of the powerful intersections that exist in these realms!).

A recipe for whole school transformation towards active global citizenship

LeeAnne Lavender, Inspire Citizens Storyteller


The word “transformation” has energy and power, doesn’t it? The idea of radical change and positive metamorphosis is compelling and, when paired with creating opportunities for students to engage in authentic changemaking, can inspire and empower all educators.


Inspire Citizens co-founder Aaron Moniz and all Inspire Citizens facilitators spend a lot of time thinking about transformation in the context of schools. Their goal? Redesigning teaching and learning to kickstart and sustain active global citizenship for all learners. By making everyday teaching and learning relevant and meaningful in relation to local and global issues, Aaron and the team help educators and learners experience a deep transformation.


“We are really committed to this work,” says Aaron. “When we founded Inspire Citizens in 2018, we wanted to use our many years of classroom experience and passion for changemaking to impact as many schools and classrooms as possible so students feel equipped to lead the positive change we need in our world.”


Aaron and late co-founder Steve Sostak developed a four-step recipe for schools to build cohesive curriculum that can activate PreK-12 global citizens. In partnership with schools, Aaron and the team help educators experience these four stages in a way that makes sense and allows them to tap into their own deep desires to help students understand the world in all of its complexity, beauty and potential.


Step 1:  Mission and Vision Articulation



Most international schools have a mission statement that involves some component of global citizenship, service and/or global-mindedness. To begin a process of whole school transformation, this is where the Inspire Citizens recipe gets started: identifying the parts of your school mission related to global citizenship or designing a new mission statement if it’s time to update this core guiding statement.


The mission statement for a school invested in global citizenship should point towards:

  • desired learning outcomes related to engaged global citizenship
  • evidence that can be collected about growth towards those outcomes
  • tools, resources and approaches based on an understanding of global citizenship that grows out of the mission


“It’s essential to be clear and consistent about this so every stakeholder in the school knows what this means and how to do it,” says Aaron. “One of the biggest struggles for schools is how to achieve the mission for global citizenship with no guidance. You need to have a road map based on defining global citizenship for your school with clear targets so teachers and students know where they’re going.”


Step 2: An Integrative Approach



International schools are busy places, and achieving transformation related to global citizenship curriculum means approaching change in an integrative – not additive – way.


“Look at what you’re already doing with curriculum, instruction, professional growth and systems for assessment; from there, successful global citizenship programming needs to be holistic, not something separate,” explains Aaron.


When global citizenship becomes the foundation of a school’s strategic plan, educators can see multiple entry points for curriculum design and experiential learning that can serve to develop and foster core areas (like literacy, numeracy, digital and global competencies, social and emotional learning, DEIJ/B, and sustainability).


During this stage of an all-school transformative global citizenship experience, Aaron and the team guide and coach teachers through curriculum design and redesign. They also share approaches, resources and strategies to help busy teachers reframe curriculum in efficient, effective and sustainable ways.


Step 3: Build capacity for sustainable outcomes



Programming and curriculum development at international schools can sometimes feel like there’s a revolving door of new initiatives and goals. Aaron says it’s key to have an implementation plan for transformative global citizenship education so schools can weather shifts and maintain focus.


“You have to look at how you’re building capacity so the work sustains over time,” he reflects. “Every human organization is dynamic and you have to build flexible and responsive systems to sustain the work.”


To do that, Aaron recommends:

  • Ensuring professional development opportunities for teachers so there is widespread clarity what global citizenship education (GCE) looks like.
  • Celebrating successes and creating a culture that deeply values the impact of GCE.
  • Evaluating leadership structures so change can be championed and managed over a number of years.
  • Creating accountability systems so it’s clear who is responsible for specific targets and goals.
  • Coaching the coaches or training the coordinators so that they can carry on the work in the absence of the consultant.
  • Having a scheduled roll out/sharing protocol, starting with the school’s global citizenship champions as a pilot team, and eventually involving students, parents, and community stakeholders. With a purposeful roll-out, you can focus on deep work with specific teams during a specified time period and give others time to observe and understand what the pilot team is experiencing; this helps others get excited about their turn in participating in the next pilot team.
  • Sharing conversations and dialogue about GCE so educators and students can learn, grow and develop ideas, approaches and mindsets as well as share common language about global citizenship.


Step 4: Reflect and Grow



When you have teachers guiding students towards everyday teaching and learning tasks and assessments that are based on the development of GCE skill sets, it’s key to evaluate the evidence of the learning that is taking place. Reflection is vital and rich in this stage.


“When teachers have collaborative planning opportunities, access to new teaching and learning tools, and support from instructional coaches and middle leaders, they can experience immense success equipping students to connect content with local and global assets and needs,” says Aaron. “Once they’ve had a chance to reflect on a unit and the learning that occurred, it’s good to run a unit back through steps 1 – 3 so teachers become more experienced and confident. That’s how teachers – and schools as a whole – go from working with a coach to being self-directed over time.”


The whole school model


In the work that Inspire Citizens does with schools around the world, there are multiple examples of transformative all-school approaches for active global citizenship. From COJOWA in Cartagena, Colombia to the AES (American Embassy School) of New Delhi and Seoul Foreign School in South Korea, the Inspire Citizens team has served as an accountability partner for multi-year transformation plans that have radically shifted teaching and learning. Just this past year, the International School of Kigali brought Aaron in to begin the process at their small school, and innovative learning experiences are already emerging.


“It looks different in each school,” says Aaron. “Many schools will begin by creating pilot teams and equipping those teams to redesign curriculum with a focus on active global citizenship and community engagement. This shows the rest of the school what this can look like, and then others can be invited into the work through celebrating and sharing successes.”


As more and more teams come on board and get excited about student engagement and learning related to GCE, momentum grows and the school culture becomes deeply connected to the school’s mission. Once this happens, transformation has occurred and is sustainable because multiple stakeholders care deeply about maintaining and extending the work of changemaking.


“We love to work as an accountability partner for schools to make sure this process stays on track,” says Aaron. “Working with an organization like ours costs a fraction of what it would cost to hire a full-time staff member to take this on, and we ensure consistency and energy throughout the process. We love what we do, and it’s a privilege to help schools develop or realize their mission with students.”


To learn more about transformative whole-school approaches to active global citizenship, check out some of these Inspire Citizens vignettes that showcase what’s happening on specific campuses around the globe:


COJOWA in Cartagena, Colombia


AES in New Delhi, India


SFS in Seoul, South Korea


NIDO in Santiago, Chile


LeeAnne Lavender is a storyteller for Inspire Citizens, and she is also an educational consultant, coach and facilitator for international educators. She specializes in storytelling, digital storytelling, service learning and global citizenship (and all of the powerful intersections that exist in these realms!).

Telecollaboration: Empowering Students Through Global Connections

Telecollaboration: Empowering Students Through Global Connections
Gosia Jaros-White, MA

In today’s interconnected world, collaboration knows no boundaries. It presents an incredible opportunity for students and teachers to transcend the confines of their classrooms and gain invaluable insights into the global community. Telecollaboration, with its myriad benefits, equips students with essential skills such as cultural understanding, effective communication, and a broader perspective of the world. Whether it’s language, social studies, arts, or STEM, collaboration in a global context can be seamlessly integrated into any subject, engaging students from around the world in hands-on activities, research, and discussions that revolve around global issues, fostering creativity and problem-solving.


While engagement stands as a prominent benefit of telecollaboration, let us delve deeper other advantages it offers.


Nurturing Curiosity through Inquiry-Based Learning

Children possess an innate curiosity about the world around them, channeling their imagination to explore and absorb knowledge. Inquiry-based learning sparks this curiosity by encouraging students to ask questions about subjects that genuinely interest them. In telecollaboration projects, students not only question their peers but also observe and learn from their experiences. From simple queries like “Why don’t they wear uniforms?” to more complex ones such as “Why don’t they have a steady supply of electricity?”, students gain a more profound understanding through meaningful learning, as their questions unlock insights and open doors to new perspectives.


Cultivating Cultural Competence

The advantages of cultural competence extend far beyond preparing students for an ever-evolving world. In the realm of telecollaboration, cultural competency empowers students to navigate real-world problems with sensitivity, addressing issues like climate change, war, gender issues, and growing energy demands. Equipped with cultural competence, students possess the ability to locate accurate information, separate facts from fiction, and apply their newfound knowledge to foster societal progress. Moreover, virtual exchanges reinforce students’ understanding of the importance of global connections, illustrating the unifying power of meeting individuals from diverse backgrounds. Cultural competence not only nurtures appreciation for differences but also instills in students a sense of unity, transforming them into compassionate global citizens.


Teaching the Value of Humility

Consider how students respond to telecollaboration experiences – their reactions mirror those of their initial travel encounters. Every discovery strikes them with a sense of novelty and sparks moments of enlightenment. Statements like “Wow, they speak English so well!” or “They listen to the same music as I do!” or “I never knew they had that cultural tradition in their country!” may appear ordinary, but they hold profound significance in promoting inclusion.

Humility cannot be taught directly, but educators can create fertile ground for its growth. When students express surprise at seemingly universal aspects such as shared love for music, media, and movies, or the popularity of certain foods across borders, they make genuine, personal acknowledgments that resonate deeply with their developing minds. Telecollaboration erases preconceived biases and amplifies connections, providing an opportunity for authentic encounters that build bridges and foster acceptance.


Overcoming Bias

Prejudice impedes acceptance, while apprehension and discomfort hinder inclusivity. Fear becomes the enemy of education. It is our responsibility as educators to prepare students to thrive in a changing world and cultivate courage within them. By creating opportunities for genuine encounters, we dismantle prejudices and biases, forging connections that transcend borders and foster global unity. By engaging in meaningful interactions with peers from different countries or regions, students gain firsthand insights into the lives, traditions, and challenges faced by others. This exposure broadens their understanding and allows students to critically examine their own biases and develop a more nuanced understanding of complex issues.


Students as Empowered Educators

Telecollaboration, particularly language-based exchanges, offers students a chance to become teachers, sharing their expertise with their peers. Through video exchanges, students can alternate between their native language and the target language, seizing the opportunity to teach new words, phrases, and interesting idioms. Additionally, as cultural exploration lies at the heart of telecollaboration, students naturally assume the role of educators as they share their unique heritage and culture with their global counterparts.


Lessons in Empathy

When a fourth-grade class in New York State participated in a virtual project with students from Kenya, they gained firsthand knowledge about the lives and challenges their peers faced. This experience not only piqued their curiosity but also inspired them to take action and support their Kenyan counterparts. Upon discovering that a local organisation aimed to build the first library in the area, they organised a fundraising event to contribute to the cause. Telecollaboration projects like these empower students to develop empathy and foster a desire to make a positive difference in the world.

Language-based virtual exchanges, in particular, serve as profound lessons in empathy. Language learning imparts valuable insights into determination, resilience, and cultural diversity. As students struggle to master a new language, they can relate to their peers who face similar challenges. This fosters compassion and understanding, cultivating appreciation for the effort required to communicate effectively and be truly understood.


A Comprehensive Approach

To harness the full potential of telecollaboration and offer these invaluable benefits to your students, it is crucial to adopt a structured program. Level Up Village (LUV), a learning product of Language Testing International, is a safe, secure, and user-friendly platform that connects schools worldwide, offering standards-aligned, tailored courses in Arts & Sciences, as well as Languages and Cultures, through asynchronous video exchanges. LUV courses place a strong emphasis on collaboration, conversation, and comprehension, as students create video messages and respond to each other’s videos. Designed for students ages 8-18, the program guarantees authentic, hands-on experiences. By matching students with peers of similar age, LUV creates fertile ground for the growth of meaningful relationships. The class-to-class pairing cultivates a sense of community, amplifying the impact of telecollaboration.


Joy Palmer, a first-grade teacher from Mountain Brook Elementary School, has seen firsthand the impact a global collaboration project has had on her students. Her class participated in the Global Sound Artists virtual exchange, in which students in her class collaborated with peers in Argentina and learned about sound, music, and instruments through hands-on investigations and experiments. “This partnership has been invaluable for my students. They are so engaged and excited to learn about different cultures. This week, they enjoyed making instruments and learning about another country. Some students said it was their ‘highlight of the week.’ They cannot wait to see how our partner classroom made their instruments, how they are decorated, etc.”



Telecollaboration is a gateway to expanding horizons, fostering global connections, and nurturing essential skills for students’ future success. By embracing this powerful educational tool, we empower our students to become compassionate, globally minded citizens ready to navigate an ever-changing world.


Gosia Jaros-White, MA is the director of sales and marketing at Language Testing International. She holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics and is passionate about language and language education. As a bilingual marketer and former English as a Second Language teacher, she recognises the power of multilingualism and advocates for language education in the U.S.

Small Badges, Big Impact: Promoting the Value of Micro Credentials

From CYPHER Learning:


Are you tired of the same old routine of traditional education? Well the good news is that the way we learn has changed and we live in a world where we can quickly learn new skills on the go, without having to commit to a full-blown degree programme. This type of learning is called micro-credentialing.


What is micro-credentialing? Simply put, it’s a way that students can comprehensively learn specific skills or knowledge in a short period of time, without going through the long-term commitment of a full degree programme. Micro-credentials can come in the form of badges, certificates, or even digital credentials, and they’re becoming increasingly popular in education.


In a study conducted by the University of California, Davis, teachers who earned microcredentials “showed statistically significant gains in student achievement compared to those who did not participate in micro credentialing programmes.” [1]


So why is this approach to learning so popular? Well, first of all, it’s convenient, effective, and cost-effective. Microcredentials allow students to learn at their own pace, on their own schedule, and even in the comfort of their own home. Let’s face it, not everyone has the time or resources to enroll in a full degree programme. Additionally with skill sets and competency requirements changing so quickly, sometimes a full degree is not what is needed. Microcredentials can be the perfect way to reskill or upskill.


“According to a survey by the American Council on Education, 94% of employers believe that microcredentials demonstrate knowledge and skills that are relevant to their organisation.” [2]


Secondly, microcredentials are affordable and don’t require a long-term time commitment. Microcredentials are often much more affordable than traditional methods of education, making microcredential learning accessible to a wider range of individuals.


But the benefits of micro-credentialing don’t stop there. For students, microcredentials can help you stand out in a crowded job market, giving you a competitive edge over other candidates. For teachers, they can help you stay up-to-date with the latest teaching methods and technologies. And for administrators and organisations, they can help attract and retain top talent with specific skill sets, while also boosting overall productivity and efficiency. Let’s break down the benefits:


Benefits for Students:


– Visual proof of knowledge and skills


– Affordable and accessible


– Ability to upskill or reskill quickly


– Provides a sense of accomplishment


Benefits for Administrators:


– Better tracking and measuring of learning outcomes


– More targeted learning opportunities


– Improved data analysis and reporting


Benefits for Organisations:


– Encourages continuous learning and professional development


– Improved job performance and retention


– Supports talent development strategy


Although they are popular and  pack a big punch, there are skeptics who argue that micro-credentials in higher education aren’t as valuable as traditional degrees and that the value of micro-credentials isn’t clear to everyone in the same way. Additionally, organisations have varying degrees of confidence in the idea of micro- credentialing. Even though a candidate has a micro-credential, the employer may still want further validation of that experience, and may not be convinced.




Micro-credentials can be just as valuable as traditional degrees in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing job market, but to help students succeed, organisations and employers must embrace that micro-credentialing isn’t just a passing trend, but a valuable learning experience and earned competency worth investing in.


In a survey they did on micro credentialing, the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that “87% of employers believe that candidates with microcredentials are more well-prepared for the job market than those with only a traditional degree.” [3]


Still, many organisations must get past false assumptions that students aren’t committed enough to complete a full degree or that the shorter courses and programmes for micro-credentials don’t meet the high standards that we attribute to traditional degrees. Here are three ways to promote the value of micro-credentials:


Clearly communicate the value

Not everyone will understand the value and opportunity of micro-credentials so you need to create and share clear messaging outlining the curriculum, learning outcomes, programme length, instructor profiles, and other details. By communicating the level of difficulty, standards, and requirements, you can show both students and employers that the programme is worth investing in. Signed certificates and other types of formal documentation can make the programme appear more credible.

Build supportive messaging around the advantages of micro-credentials

Micro-credentialing is lifelong learning. Upskilling can be achieved with a reduced time investment. Maybe most importantly, the cost of micro-credentials supports equity and inclusion, and reduces learning barriers. With clear messaging, you can build confidence in micro-credentials that serve to corroborate that the student has the specific skills and knowledge required to be successful.


Partner up to improve the value of micro-credentials

Partner with employers to eliminate skills gaps and create credentials that meet specific industry needs. These partnerships are confidence builders for both employers and students and validate that micro-credentials are a worthy investment.


The truth is that most employers have a skills gap problem, and micro-credentials are the solution. They need skilled and knowledgeable workers from diverse backgrounds, and micro-credentials can address this need.


To learn more about micro-credentialing or to see what micro-credentialing looks like on a modern learning platform, go to www.cypherlearning.com.


CYPHER Learning® is leading the necessary disruption of learning platforms to unleash human potential with modern learning experiences. We exist to ignite lifelong learning passions through personalised, engaging, and limitless learning experiences for all. We give learning and development (L&D) professionals and educators more time to teach and train, build human connection into everything we do, and deliver tailored learning experiences that are meaningful and measurable.




[1] EdSurge, “Microcredentials Could Be a Game-Changer for Teacher Professional Development”

[2] EdTech Magazine, “Microcredentialing in Education: What’s the Hype?”

[3] https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/05/08/employers-are-warming-microcredentials-survey-finds

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 – https://ioneurodiversity.org/about-us. Sourced March 2023.

Sobel, D. (2022) ´Inclusion is a verb: Belonging and schools´ sourced October 2022. https://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/inclusion-is-a-verb-belonging-and-schools-send-vulnerable-students-mental-health-wellbeing-safeguarding-children-young-people/

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. https://www.freepik.com