Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Managing Diversity: Reflections on the Ownership Perception Audit

Managing Diversity: Reflections on the Ownership Perception Audit

Fresh from the audit feedback session I attended at PEL Tuesday, I offer a few thoughts on managing diversity.

Council begins feedback sessions with a Power Point presentation summarizing the audit findings. Details from the data – and especially quotes from those who participated in focus group discussions and interviews – helped me understand exactly what was at issue in the Executive Summary circulated to all parents. By the way, I hope Council will make the complete audit report available either as an email attachment or as a PDF file on the school website. Edited as necessary to protect the anonymity of participants, it can serve as a valuable learning tool for the entire community.

Among other things, audit participants voiced concern about “culture clashes” and “segregation” by nationality, particularly at the secondary level. While there was fairly strong support for the idea that diversity strengthens and enriches everyone, moral owners believe JIS lacks clear core values or that the school hasn't been entirely successful in harnessing diversity to advance educational goals. To hazard a link to Cheryl's recent postings, the challenges of achieving a healthy and productive organizational culture are magnified in an international school setting, which is intensely multicultural.

And though Cheryl will have her own recommendations for how to meet the challenge in her next posting, I am suggesting here that ongoing discussion of the school's mission or ends is an important opportunity for building an effective common culture that “leverages” diversity in the JIS community. The ownership perception audit has launched the discussion, which will continue in a series of steps Council laid out at the feedback sessions. Stay tuned next fall for forums to discuss ends issues that surfaced in the audit! Unless the views of many stakeholders or moral owners are heard, respected, and acted on, the effort to sharpen or redefine ends policy will not be widely owned.

Because JIS is an international private school that is actively chosen by its patrons, all students naturally have an interest learning to:

1) Achieve their highest academic, social, emotional, ethical, and physical potential;
2) Effectively navigate a globalized world by embracing and bridging cultural differences and by harnessing diversity in the pursuit of excellence; and
3) Maintain their own cultural identity wherever life takes them.

In one form or another, these ends are already reflected in JIS’ current mission statement as well as the "Essential Qualities of a JIS Learner," both of which can be found in the “About Us” link on the website. However, the audit findings indicate that moral owners either do not regard these ends as core values, perceive a gap between “what JIS says and what JIS does,” or believe some ends are not fully realized. For example, some Asian participants complained that the Western approach to education, and the willingness to question authority in particular, would make their children pariahs in their home cultures.

Could it be that current ends continue to be relevant to the school's future, but the means for achieving them need to be strengthened? Though Council’s focus has shifted from means to ends since adopting the Carver model of governance a few years ago, it still has an important oversight function: to ensure that JIS’ leadership adopts effective means for achieving ends.

The 3 ends above are interrelated and support each other. To a large extent, JIS’ diversity derives from individual cultural identities. In turn, the experience of cultural diversity or learning from others’ perspectives and experiences fosters students’ ability to function optimally in a globalized world, while also helping them to achieve personal excellence or their highest potential.

Still, any school has to make strategic decisions about resource allocations. In my opinion, JIS should devote the bulk of its resources to ends 1 and 2, while acting as a catalyst or facilitator for end 3. At the same time, I believe the school needs to refocus its commitment to ends 2 and 3, either at a marginal additional cost or through some reallocation of current resources.

For example, classroom activities and school ceremonies for UN Day help students construct and showcase their cultural identities. But could more be done along these lines without breaking the bank? The body of literature on “global nomads," "third culture kids,” and "transitioning" offers practical steps expatriate families can take to promote a sense of rootedness in their children and to facilitate re-entry into the home culture. Wikipedia has a useful overview of this literature and includes relevant websites. With some professional development, JIS counselors might host regular talks on the subject and offer counseling services to families and perhaps even some instruction to students.

Regarding End 2, perhaps more thought and attention needs to be given to the specific, curriculum-based skills students need to navigate an international school and a globalized world. There are contenders from growing bodies of knowledge, including:

- Diversity management,
- Inter-cultural learning and conflict resolution,
- Classroom culture,
- Character or moral education and "just communities."

Educators for Social Responsibility not only sell materials on conflict resolution for grades K-12, but also advise schools on how best to integrate them into what is usually an already crowded curriculum. In my opinion, no life skill could be more valuable for students...whether at home or abroad.


At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think school uniforms would help create more sense of community at JIS? Maybe they could be a visible way to bridge the gap between diverse cultures and create more of a team feeling.

At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think school uniforms could help bridge the cultural gaps that exist among students? Maybe uniforms would help create more of a community at JIS and put everyone "on the same team."

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

Good, practical question! Interestingly, the JIS dress code was apparently raised in the audit as a specific example of a gap between what JIS says and does. It was suggested that the code is not clearly and consistently enforced, and that some student fashions are insensitive to the Indonesian cultural context.

I believe there is a long history of considering adoption of uniforms at the school. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with it. Would some of our veterans (or might we call them, walking archives?) weigh in, please? You know who you are!

On a final note, part of me wants to think that what happens inside students (e.g., learning conflict resolution skills) is far more important than what happens outside. On the other hand, appearance is very important, especially for adolescents. In our all-too-human pattern of selective perception, appearances may preempt or inhibit the development of relationships and team work. I believe a key principle of the literature on cross-cultural communication is to adopt the customs (e.g., speech and dress) of the culture one wishes to function effectively in. Of course, one may well ask which culture that might be at an international school. As you suggest, maybe uniforms could help build a common culture at the school.

At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uniforms: have been on every parent survey since I have been in Jakarta (>10 years) and never received more than 30% approval. Now more than ever I think they should be reconsidered. They could be a formidable equalizer in a world of 5,000,000 rp cell phones.

Culture: my greatest regret about the current 'cultural divide' is the cost to the sense of community which was once the greatest attribute of the school-- it has been tossed aside due to concerns of money and security-- and it contributes more to 'satisfaction' than math calculation achievement any day!

Process: JIS school council should take note of recent events at other IASAS schools related to decision making and ownership with an eye towards refining and defining the nature of the balance between-- faculty: staff: administration:council:parents There are lessons that we do not have 'relearn'.

At 11:16 PM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

Thanks for valuable input, Anonymous 2!

About uniforms, I was intrigued to learn not long ago that Australian civil servants (we're talking economic policy wonks, for example) wear long khaki shorts and cardigans. If JIS were to adopt uniforms, that is the kind of smart comfort and informality (tropical dress casual?) I'd like for my own kids with a choice of colors for tops.

Can you provide more background or links on trends in governance/roles and responsibilities among other IASAS schools? The IASAS website seems to be all about sports. Maybe I just need to hunker down over the websites of member schools and have a look at their Council links, eh?

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're pretty new to JIS & Asia. What are the "recent events at IASAS schools related to decision making and ownership"? Sounds interesting. Would you explain? Thanks!

At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every school undergoes regular WASC accreditation proceedings. One of the IASAS member schools which just completed this process has had a challenging 2-year period related to a headmaster change and the changing dynamic between their board/head with tremendous impact on faculty and programming. There is a lot to be learned from the web sites of the other IASAS schools themselves (the IASAS website offers nothing!) with regards to how 'sister' schools operate, manage the balance, foster spirit...No two of these schools are identical, but there are clear parallels. Faculty at the various schoools know one another and make comparisons....not just parents!

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a student at JIS myself right now, and I feel that the school uniform policy is perfect at where it is right now. It allows us to express ourselves through what we wear daily and actually differentiates us from one another in a positive way. Free dress helps us connect and socialize to students, as the regular "Hey I like your shirt!" comments usually end up in a better relationship with a totally random person. The policy also lets students feel more at home because with the current security measures implemented in JIS, and the monotonous green-brown-tan colors of the school buildings and surroundings, JIS is much more colorful than those three colors and the additional uniforms. Without the present dress code, the students would virtually become bored of school.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Anonymous@4:23. You're right, there are definitely many upsides to having no uniform. We've tried it both ways (at uniform-less JIS, and now at SAS, which has uniforms), and I can see the positive benefits of both ways -- and the negatives of both as well.

Thanks again. Hope you're having a good school year!


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