In today’s podcast, host Lori Boll speaks with Joel Llaban Jr., the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Justice of the International Schools Services (ISS). Joel and Lori discuss the important work ISS and other organizations are doing to ensure schools are inclusive in all areas from their hiring practices, to their mission statement, to their curriculum and how they should be living the words, “We’re not complete without you.

Resources from Today’s Show


Joel Jr LLABAN | (siya, he, him) is the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Justice of the International Schools Services (ISS). He is a learner and an international education leader who is committed to our collective work for the transformation of international education grounded on anti-racism and DEIJ. Prior to his current role, he was a Learning Specialist, Instructional Coach, and schoolwide DEIJ Lead at The International School of Kuala Lumpur.

Joel has been in education for 20 years. He worked at the International School of Brussels, International School of Beijing, and Cebu International School as a classroom teacher, department coordinator, and accreditation coordinator. He has led schoolwide initiatives in curriculum, assessment, professional development, innovation. Joel has been involved in accreditation as a team evaluator during team visits representing NEASC and CIS. He leads various professional learning for international schools and organizations.

Joel serves in the advisory role of the CIS Board Committee on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Anti Racism. He is also a member of the Editorial Team of The International Educator. Joel holds a Master of Education in International Education Administration from Endicott College in Massachusetts and a Certificate of International School Leadership from The Principals Training Center. He is a proud member of  AIELOC and Diversity Collaborative. He is a dog parent to Frida the poodle and Asgier the schnauzer.



Transcribed by Kanako Suwa

[ Introduction music plays ]

Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour with your host, Lori Boll. We know you’re busy so we bring you 1 hours worth of content in under thirty minutes, leaving you with time for a true happy hour. 

Lori: Hi everyone. Today I had the opportunity to speak to Joel Llaban, who is the first Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice at the International School Services, or ISS. He’s a learner and an international education leader committed to the our collective work for transformation of international education, grounded on anti-racism and DEIJ. Prior to his current role, he was a learning specialist, instructional coach, and schoolwide DEIJ lead at the International School of Kuala Lumpur. He has been an education expert for 20 years and has worked at several international schools all over the globe. Joel serves in the advisory role of the CIS board committee on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism, and he’s a member of the editorial team of The International Educator and he is a proud member of AIELOC and Diversity Collaborative. We had a great discussion today and we talk so much so let’s just get right into it. And now, on to the show. Hi Joel, and welcome to the podcast.

Joel: Hi Joel and thank you for inviting me to be a part of this conversation today. It’s really an honor to be a part of the growing movement of inclusion, equity, justice, and diversity in international education, which SENIA has been one of the lead in this work in international education, so thank you for the invitation. 

Lori: Thank you for coming. We’re excited to talk to you today. So, Joel, you’ve been in education for 20 years, serving in various roles from classroom teacher to learning specialist, learning coach… Most recently, you were at the International School of Kuala Lumpur and were the DEIJ lead for the school. And now you’re working at International School Services, or ISS, as their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. So, can you tell me how and when you first got into this focus area of yours and what is your why for doing the work you’re doing? 

Joel: Yeah. As a person of color in international education, I think we’ve always been mindful that our place and positionality in primarily white institution and international education and I think we’ve been talking about it in the past around race and racism or perhaps we’re talking about it in sort of hushed tones in the past… Reallyu right now, how it started was the movement in international education got, sort of, louder and bolder, and in more pronounced after the murder of GEorge Floyd, where many of us started to ask challenging hard questions around the role of international education when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, as well as how we’ve been complicit to this race system and systemic harm and the injustice that we perpetuate in internationall education. And I think that circles back to our WHY around… what is our responsibility in promoting equity and inclusion in our schools. As an international school educator, I think my why is that we need to ensure all of our kids can participate in our spaces without shutting or shaming any parts of who they are. And I think that is the why when it comes to this part. 

Lori: Yeah, well, thank you for doing the work you’re doing. It’s been a long time coming and it’s powerful to see what you all, your group, your groups, as you’re a part of several, have done to make this at the forefront of everyone’s minds. 

Joel: Yeah, we really value that piece, Lori, and I think you mentioned something about from group to groups, right? Because I think this work is the work of community, like all of us at different pockets of international school. When we’re mindful of who we are and the contributions that we have and how we can harness those strengths and dispositions and actions that we have. Whether you’re doing systemic work such as yourself with SENIA or at international educators in the classroom doing deep identity work, doing deep equity & inclusion work, I think all of us have been treated in many ways. So I don’t really see this as a singular pathway in DEIJ work. Or a single group or a single individual leading this work. I think all of us has the power, responsibility, and role in promoting DEIJ in our own community. 

Lori: I really like what you discussed about you know, you’re ensuring that all students are represented and all students are well, cared for for who they are and your focus, also, is on teachers and employees at the school and highlighting who you are as people of color or marginalized people. Can you tell us more about that? 

Joel: Yeah, I think the work of DEIJ sometimes there’s a perception sometimes that it is a siloed work, that here’s a DEIJ committee or a DEIJ focus or a DEIJ sort of area of strategic plan but really I believe that, and I think many of us believe that, DEIJ should underpin or underguard all of the work we have at school. So if we think about the different areas of priorities and focuses at school from mission and vision to leadership to governance, to curriculum, teaching and learning, operations, staff, faculty, and student well-being and child protection, they’re all interconnected. And each of those components within the school definitely has an impact and an implication on our beliefs and practices around DEIJ because what we believe, and it’s highlighted in our mission and vision, should trickle down into the curriculum and teaching and learning or to the diversity of staff, or how we lead equitable practices as principals and directors of learning. And also at the National Association of Elementary School Principals, has written one of their white papers that talks about having that meaningful lens around equity. Really asking ourselves, who is well served in our communities and at the same time, who is marginalized and harmed by practices and policies of our organization and systems. 

Lori: Wow. That’s impressive. What are some of the evolving learning and actions in our communities that are grounded on DEIJ? 

Joel: Yeah, there’s been a lot of conversations and listening circles and affinity groups and professional learning conferences that are happening in international education that’s centered on identity and power and positionalities, social oppression, race and racism, cultural responsive pedagogy in the classroom, developing or harnessing our capacity to lead DEIJ, among many others in our communities and I think what is currently defining or re-defined right now is that after 2 years of learning and professional learning and partnership, what we’re asking right now is that as a result of these learning, where will we sort of transfer these learning we have? What is the action we need to take systemically? And I think that is the question we have and we sort of designed and conceptualized the Learning to Action Institute at the International School Services, in collaboration with Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color, or AIELOC. And through this, we want to be able to see international educators and leaders in different places taking action as a result of their learning. And so now that we’ve learned from the provocations that are offered by our facilitators and learners, what happens next. How does it impact our community? What are those actions that are already being taken as a result of our learning? And that’s where sort of the trajectory of learning now in international education. How can we move beyond learning and listening circles into deep intentional action taking in our communities? 

Lori: So, speaking of systematic change, you mentioned earlier about hiring practices and making sure more people of color are represented in schools and the like. So, how do we re-define what schools should be looking for? 

Joel: Mmmm. Yeah, there’s seminal work that was done by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop that talks about windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. It’s very much focused on the literacy forces that we have in our classrooms, right? The literacy forces, to me, it really, she talks about ensuring that our kids have mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors in our communities but at the same time, I also believe that the adults around in school are also mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors for our students because we are also vessels of stories, narratives, and identities that our children at school can learn from, reflect upon, and that they can see themselves in the adults around them. And so that is a challenge for international school recruiters to be able to ensure and ask themselves, do our kids see themselves in the adults around them? And so it’s re-defined diversity and we also need to ask ourselves, are we waiting for diverse candidates, so to speak, to apply or are we intentionally inviting them to say, hey, you are needed here. Because of your joy and genius, we need you here, and that we’re not complete without you. And I think that that’s a powerful shift that we need to really, sort of, re-define for international education. That intentional invitation to co-create with intentions in our communities. 

Lori: I love that – we’re not complete without you. That’s very powerful. *both laughs* So, let me just stop the podcast right there. That was amazing! So, what is… what anti-racist work is being pursued and facilitated by the work at ISS? 

Joel: For the past 2 years, even before I joined International School Services, Liz Duffy, our president and Dana Watts, has been, along with our senior staff, have been involved and engaged with AIELOC or they were co-creating with intentions in their communities and supporting us in their professional development, learning together. So I’ve seen ISS always at the forefront of coalising with communities of color in international education. So prior to me joining ISS, they’ve already had, sort of, beginning stages of anti-racism committee, but also, ISS has been one of the founders of the Diversity Collaborative, that was established years back. So when I joined ISS, they already had established anti-racism committee, which is an internal work within ISS, and so at the moment, myself and Liz Duffy are co-creating with intention, we’re co-creating this committee and different directors and our staff at Princeton and globally have been involved in it. There are people in this committee leading and facilitating these processes, and it’s grounded on some of the data that we’ve collected and some of the data we’ve asked, as well as really reflecting on the impact of our work at ISS and how can we take actions in relation to that impact and purpose. 

And externally, we also ask, now that we have this internal work, what can we do as well as an organization of communities and leaders with power positionalities and influences in international educators to lead and facilitate and promote DEIJ in our communities? And that is where we are conceptualizing the Learning to Action Institute, because we’re not only thinking about the ISS schools, the ISS owned, managed, and supported schools, but we’re also thinking about it as a global responsibility that we have. And so through that ISS Learning to Action Institute, we’ve collaborated with AIELOC because most of our facilitators, if not all, are members of the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color through that partnership. We’re building capacity for leaders who take action within their communities and so these are the developing work on anti-racism, led by International School Services. 

In addition to that, we’re also thinking about the many different areas of focus. We started looking at an equity leadership continuum, and looking at the different areas of focus like I mentioned earlier, such as mission and vision, governance, leadership, curriculum, communities, student learning, and in refinding and re-defining our goals around this and the impact we have on these areas of focus, in both the committees. Learning to Action is a global work, and the internal work we have as well at ISS. 

Lori: Gotcha. You’ve mentioned AIELOC a few times. For people who aren’t aware of that group, how can, if, how can they join or how can they become a part of it? 

Joel: Yeah, it’s really an organization open to anyone who’s committed to doing the work of DEIJ and I think we, we have community visioning every month, we’ve got the AIELOC and Women of Color in ELT conference happening on the 12th and 13th of November. Signing up, there is a link for registration for membership at the AIELOC website. You’re more than welcome to participate and enjoy, that’ll open up access to a lot of AIELOC and partnership and collaboration. And through this work, a lot of affinity groups have been formed within the community. And also there’s organizational work around Aspiring Leaders of Color, that’s led by Kevin and Nadine Richards, who is our Director of Leadership Recruitment at ISS so that’s, there’s a really strong partnerships between organizations and communities. 

Lori: Right. Perfect. And I will put links to all of these on our show notes for our listeners as well. As you know, SENIA, at SENIA, inclusion is literally part of our name, Special Education Network and Inclusion Association. Our mission is to advocate for and provide resources for individuals with learning differences and disabilities. Well, what do you see as the intersectionality between your work and the individuals for whom we support? 

Joel: Yeah, individuals, people are made up of intersection of identities. Our stories, our narratives, our joy and genius, capacity, and abilities, are differences that make up who we are as human beings. And I think the challenge though that we have as educators and leaders in schools is to be able to see children in that totality, in that intersectionality of identity and not only in their abilities, their cognitive abilities, not only our physical ability, social emotional aspect of their identities, but also their racial identity and gender identity because often times in the trajectory of change in international education, there’s been a lot of focus on supporting our cognitive identities or learning differences and disabilities but also we have sort of avoided, if not denied, some conversations in the past around race and gender. And probably because we’re not, we did not want to see it yet in the past. And now though, we are braver, bolder, and we have reflected upon how complicit we are of the denial we have perpetuated, and I think we’re now braver and bolder in looking at it and saying hmm, how might we have missed the racial and gender aspect of a child’s identity and how can we pursue in supporting, acknowledging, and affirming race and gender alongside cognitive identities and cognitive abilities in international education, and in schooling in general and learning in general. 

Lori: Yeah, I agree with you. And SENIA is doing some major work now, just re-defining who we are and what inclusion means to us and so that is why we have so many speakers coming up at our conferences who reflect different areas of that inclusive work, right? And you are one of them. So we’re really excited that you’ll be joining us at our upcoming virtual conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be presenting about? 

Joel: Yeah, as I mentioned to you earlier, Lori, I, we started this conversation many months ago around what can I share and what can I present and at some point, over the 3 months, probably pivoting a little bit based on conversations with different people, I’ve been reflecting on what might be beneficial for our community to learn together. And so as I begin to think about that, it’s really grounded on how can we harness our leadership dispositions to lead the work in our community. How can we become leaders in systems, in schools, in the classroom that is culturally responsive and sustaining and culturally affirming. Or as what Daniel Wickner, the founder of Identity Centered Learning, would say, as identity centered educators. And so, sort of really looking at what are some of those leadership dispositions that we can live by in our communities so that it will have an impact and influence on the lives of our children and the communities that we serve in international schools. 

Lori: Wow, it sounds amazing, and we have so much to learn from you so I’m really excited about your presentation and as a matter of fact, we also have Daniel Wickner coming to present so there you go! Well Joel, that’s really all we have time for today so thank you so much for your time and your commitment to your work. It’s really impressive and I’m proud to know you. 

Joel: Thank you Lori, the honor and pleasure is mine. And this is a powerful partnership that we all have as I mentioned earlier, it’s not really a singular work but it’s really the work of the community and so you’ve been part of that as well and you’ve been doing the intentional work at SENIA so really, at this last part, I invite everyone to take part and join any conferences, AIELOC, ISS, SENIA, and there’s so many other organizations that are supporting this work so to all the members and leaders of SENIA International, thank you for this opportunity to collaborate and learn with everyone. And Lori, thank you very much for this and I look forward to the Inclusion Revolution through SENIA. 

Lori: Yes, awesome! Thanks. Thanks Joel. 

Thank you for joining us for today’s show. For more information including how to subscribe and show notes, please head to our website. That’s SENIAinternational.org/podcast. Until next time, cheers.