Written by Kevin Bartlett, Next Frontier Inclusion
Understanding the Why Behind Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI)
After years of intensive research at the International School of Brussels we came up with an interesting finding about expatriate families with school-age children. We discovered that, when they take an ‘overseas’ assignment, they take their children with them. All of them, including those who ‘learn differently’. If one of their children, for whatever reason, is not performing at grade level, whatever that means, they don’t leave that child at home in the attic with two years’ worth of sandwiches and an emergency phone number.
The Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) was founded in conversations at the school between the Head of Learning Support, Kristen Pelletier, two close friends and collaborators, Bill and Ochan Powell, who had long been known for their work as champions of inclusion, and myself working as the School Director.
We pulled from experts in organizational leadership. Peter Drucker describes leadership as ‘doing the right thing’, and management as ‘doing things right’. Simon Sinek might frame this as ‘leaders start with why’, managers ‘see to the how and what’. Certainly, the how and what of leading an inclusive school, or an inclusive global movement, are of critical importance and occupy huge amounts of our time, energy and material resources. We can’t create inclusive learning systems unless we understand the elements of the system and organize them for optimal efficiency.
But How and What Don’t Inspire People to Action. Why Does.
Let’s unpack our simple why in a little more detail. Locating this global decision in our local setting—when a family brought their children to Brussels and when one of the children needed a different kind of challenge or support— the simple question was, ‘Who will provide that?’ For us, the answer was straightforward.
Let’s run through the options. Should it be the national system in Belgium? Why would that be, since that was not their mission. Should the family simply stay home? Why would that be? Why should a family’s life choices be limited because one of their children learned differently? Should they go to another international school in Brussels, of which there were several? Why would that be? Are those schools more flexible, more supportive, more capable, more intelligent than we are? Surely not, unless we’re prepared to relinquish the moral ground and the arena of professional expertise to others.
No, we decided that our role in the field of international education was to serve international families, and that meant the whole family, to the very best of our abilities. So we did. It wasn’t easy. We had to control numbers, manage resources, persuade nay-sayers, rally the support of our large, savvy Board of Directors, support teachers, parents, and critically, support all students. Inclusion impacts everybody.
As we went about our work, we learned. We went slowly, one step at a time. We made mistakes, many of them, so we unpacked them in order to learn from them. As we moved forward, our organizational intelligence grew. We became smarter, because inclusion demands more of us. We became a better school, more effective, more efficient.
We also became a better school in terms of organizational character. More empathetic, kinder. Over time, we realized that we were not just ‘doing inclusive things’, we simply ‘were inclusive’. Inclusion became our identity, expressed through our mission, ‘Everyone included, everyone challenged, everyone successful’.
Then we sat down together and felt that there was more work to be done. Our simple goal was to use what we had learned to support other schools on the path to inclusion. So NFI was born, and is thriving, with over 100 members worldwide. The how and the what occupy much of our time, but we are still driven and inspired by the same simple why. For NFI, an ‘overseas’ assignment for parents means an ‘overseas’ assignment for the children—all of them. We believe in inclusion for all.
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Kevin has held leadership positions in the UK, Tanzania, Namibia, Austria, and Belgium, where he was most recently Director of the International School of Brussels from 2001-2015. Kevin has co-designed accreditation systems for the European Council of International Schools (ECIS), the Council of International Schools (CIS), and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEAS&C) and is currently engaged with a small team developing ACE, an innovative new accreditation protocol for NEAS&C.
Kevin is a regular author of articles on a range of topics, a keynoter/workshop leader at multiple international and national conferences, and an on-site consultant on a wide range of topics. He is a writer and trainer in the field of curriculum design and leadership for learning for the Principals’ Training Center. As a curriculum designer he was the initiator and early leader of the IB Primary Years Programme.
Contact Kevin at [email protected]