"In the Know" Weekly Newsletter - The International School

NWAIS Self-Study: Commitment to Diversity

Diversity is one of The International School’s stated core values and guiding principles: “We honor the uniqueness of each individual and embrace diversity in peoples' backgrounds, values, and points of view. We are aware of a wider world and have a sense of our own place in it as individuals and as a community.”

The faculty, staff, trustees and families who worked on this self-study section all share the belief that diversity is one of the school’s greatest strengths. At its core, TIS uniquely teaches students to understand and identify with others regardless of differences, and fosters attitudes and attributes for students to embrace and appreciate diversity. The school curriculum, teaching methods, learning activities and community events encourage the sharing of cultures and experiences to make diversity a natural part of every day school life.

Through the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, students learn how diverse perspectives can lead to a richer and more complete understanding of the subjects they are studying. Students are actively encouraged to explore diverse points of view and to engage in respectful discourse about ideas, cultures, and values different from their own. For example, in the transdisciplinary theme “Who We Are” students explore the many dimensions of how we as humans define ourselves and how we are connected to one another. Through the IB Learner Profile, our program cultivates the characteristics of open-mindedness, caring, communication, and inquiry in our students. These characteristics combined with the immersion experience and exposure to various dimensions of diversity help build each student’s knowledge and respect for customs and ideas different from their own.

TIS does not set expectations regarding the demographic diversity of its student body nor do we employ selective admissions criteria to create a specific student body composition. Rather TIS endeavors through its marketing program to attract families that value the inherent diversity at TIS and share our commitment to educating and developing global citizens. Although the demographic composition of the Portland metropolitan area is predominately Caucasian, the student population at TIS is racially, ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse. Nearly twenty percent of TIS families receive need-based financial assistance each year, encouraging a level of socioeconomic diversity as well. On another dimension, the school has been developing its capability for differentiated instruction and its Student Support Services program to increase support for diversity in learning and teaching styles.

The school administers all employment practices in a non-discriminatory way, without regard to race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, handicap/disability, and meets or exceeds state and federal non-discrimination requirements. Beyond those basics, hiring practices ensure that faculty and staff represent many ethnic, cultural, linguistic and ideological backgrounds. All teachers are natively fluent in the language that they teach, and many were born and raised in other countries. Administrative staff and English-speaking specialist teachers also bring a broad spectrum of cultural experiences, and many are fluent in a second language. Collaborative work teams promote the sharing of diverse perspectives and opinions, enabling staff members to learn from one another’s cultures and experiences. For example, every week teachers of the same grade level from all three language tracks gather to discuss how to best implement the curriculum and support student success.

The school does not currently offer specific diversity training for faculty, staff or trustees, but does recognize the immense value of professional development in this area. Language barriers and diverse personal and cultural beliefs can present obstacles to effective communication and collaboration. Although the TIS community already manages these situations with patience and understanding, TIS recognizes the benefits of further training that will give people more tools to appropriately respond to complex situations. Teaching staff, in particular, have noted they would benefit from training to help them better communicate with parents on difficult topics that may be complicated by cultural and/or linguistic differences. The school is investigating training opportunities that would increase employee capacity to communicate about issues related to diversity in a constructive and open way.

Membership within the TIS Board of Trustees has become less diverse as individuals have resigned and new appointees have been recruited for their expertise in a specific field. The Governance Committee of the Board has stated its commitment to enhancing and maintaining diversity of the Board and committee membership, and should continue to make diversity a strategic priority. Incorporating a diversity statement into the Board’s bylaws and ensuring the policy is followed would provide an excellent example of the school’s commitment to diversity.