Host Lori Boll speaks with Kevin Simpson, the founder of one of SENIA’s partner organizations, AEILOC, which stands for the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color. Today Kevin and I speak about AEILOC’s important work, address privilege, and touch upon the intersectionality between SENIA’s and AEILOC’s missions and visions. Kevin shares the 4 A’s that all international schools should think about when addressing DEIJ work; Acknowledgement, Awareness, Action, & Advocacy.
Resources from today’s show:
- The Principal as Chief Empathy Officer– Dr. Thomas Hoerr
Kevin Simpson is a native of Flint, Michigan who owns and operates KDSL Global, an international education consulting company which launched in 2016 in the USA and in the United Arab Emirates. He and his team have served thousands of schools, educators, and leaders worldwide in over 60 countries. He was an international school educator and leader serving in Laos, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Simpson is founder of the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color.
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 hour of content in under thirty minutes, leaving you with time for a true happy hour.
Lori: Hello, listeners today, I speak with Kevin Simpson, who’s the founder of one of SENIA’s partner organizations, AIELOC, which stands for the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color. Kevin has worked as an international school educator in Laos, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. And on top of all that, Kevin owns and operates KDSL Global, which is an international education consulting company which launched in 2016 in the USA and in the UAE, he and his team have served thousands of schools, educators and leaders worldwide in over 60 countries today. Kevin and I speak about AIELOC’s important work, address, privilege and touch upon the intersectionality between our organizations. I really know you’ll enjoy today’s conversation as much as I did. So now on to the show.
Well, hello, Kevin and welcome to the podcast.
Lori: Hello, Laura, thanks for having me. It’s exciting that you’re here. I really appreciate you being here. Kevin, you’re an important part of two organizations KDSL
Kevin: Global and AIELOC. In fact, you’re the founder of AIELOC, right? I am, I’m the founder of AIELOC. We’re celebrating, we’re still in year six, but we’ll be celebrating year seven soon.
Lori: Wow, congratulations. For our listeners who may be new to your organization, tell us what it is and what called you to start it.
Kevin: Definitely. So, AIELOC was set up initially as a Facebook group. What had happened was we had some colleagues who shared some unfortunate situations around recruitment that dealt with race and gender. And so I think it was sort of this increase, being curious, are these experiences we’re having in 2017 that we’re being told, don’t apply for certain positions because you don’t fit these identity markers. And so it sort of moved from a Facebook group into an association in 2019. And at that point, our focus became on those that, you know, were being impacted, tended to be folks of color who identified as a person of color, whether it was around race, multiracial, but also gender and then it sort of sort of morphed, to be honest, you all these other stories came out around. Yeah, this has happened to me and this is my background, this is my identity marker and this is why I’m not able to progress within the International School ecosystem, whether it was in leadership or teaching positions.
And so for us, our big three became focused on advocacy. How do we advocate for ourselves? But not only that, how do we advocate for each other? So this sense of community advocacy learning again, what do we need to learn? as it relates to ourselves, learn about the, the ecosystem and about others. And then our, a component of research because we found a lot of people were doing doctoral programs or the PhD/EdD. But they were like, there’s not a lot of research when it comes to, you know, issues of race, gender and class at times in the international school space specifically. And so, yeah, so we’re in year six. It’s been a labor of love. I honestly see it not as, you know, in terms of letters, you know, in terms of DEIJ, I see it in terms of people and humans. I feel like if humans aren’t on my calendar, if humans aren’t on my whatsapp, if humans aren’t in my email, that’s a problem. So we for us, it is about relationships. It’s about people, it’s about making sure that people are able to be themselves and flourish within our international school ecosystem.
Lori: That’s amazing, amazing work. And we’ve had several members of AIELOC on our podcast in the past, Dominique Blue, Daniel Wickner, Joel Llaban. So they’ve all shared the tremendous, impact AIELOC has had, in their lives and, helped us learn how to be more of an ally in, in your work. So, we appreciate you greatly. So, how do we get people to think outside of their own experience when it comes to, you know, racism and other forms of discrimination?
Kevin: Oh, yeah, that’s a great question for me. I, I think it honestly comes down to, you know, one word. I’ve been reading this book by Doctor Tom. He was one of the speakers at a conference I did in Dubai before and he wrote on SCL some years ago, wrote on leadership. He’s with ASCD and he has a book out on empathy. and it’s specifically around like being a leader and thinking about radical empathy and, you know, we think about the word sympathy and empathy and I always think about it is when I come to fully understand and fully listen to people and acknowledging them and not stopping there but thinking about like, how could I be of support. And so I think for us a lot of it is dealing with empathy.
And so I feel like there are so many just stories shared and obviously work around child protection that, you know, came and was, has been a part and that is gonna always be a part of our system and, you know, I feel like, and a lot of us feel like, and we’ve said this, that, you know, when it comes to discrimination, racism, sexism, whatever ism we want to call it because there’s a lot of ISMs in this world that falls underneath that same categories, like, how are we protecting each other? How are we being a source of support for each other? And I think as leaders and as teachers, and it’s interesting, this ties into the session I’m gonna be doing for the conference because I know we’ll get there. But that, you know, how are we making sure that everyone has a voice, like literally, and I, I think that’s the piece. It’s like if there shouldn’t be this, we only listen to certain people, we only listen to certain groups. Like how do we truly, really make sure that everyone has a voice and it’s being heard and listened to and if it’s in a situation where I don’t know what to do or what to say that I am doing something, I’m seeking an outside resource if we don’t have it within our, you know, our zone or our location, our geography.
And I really feel like that’s it. And it’s been interesting to see different leaders come in at different points like we’ve had people say that, oh my goodness. I just read this, I just heard this, I just saw this. I need to be doing more work, you know. So you know, call to action because to say like that we, we can’t say they’re not, you know, that they’re, we live in this perfect international ecosystem. We can’t say it’s been solved. You know, we heard stories last year of, oh, that Deij thing. We have it down we’re doing, you know, it’s like, oh, wait a minute, we wanna all know what you’re doing over there so that we, you know what I mean? So we can all be doing what you’re doing since you’ve, you know, “fixed it and got it” and did it while everyone else is like, I’m a work in progress. You know, you, you will admit that, you know, when it comes to ableism, when it comes to language, when it comes to, again, there’s so many different identity markers when we think about diversity of this world. And again, I think that’s the thing for me that is the, the joy, but also it’s the pain at times. It’s the remembering that, you know, I’ve been brought up a certain way. I’ve been, you know, bred a certain way. We’ve been, you know, we’ve been schooled a certain way. And so a lot of this is unlearning. It’s unschooling, you know, and for me, it’s, it comes back to what I went to Michigan State and they really talked about this lifelong learner. And to me this has been a, you know, a real big reminder of what it means to be a lifelong learner.
Lori: Yeah. Beautiful response. Well, and it leads me to my next question. Do you have any, advice for someone? You know, you, you mentioned the, the school that says they’ve got it, the DEIJ, you know, down. So what advice might you have for someone who’s experiencing diversity dishonesty where a company or an organization or an international school works hard to look like they’re invested in diversity and slowly realizing the continued lack of internal changes to support their diverse community.
Kevin: Yeah. and we’ve definitely seen that. I think it’s from the stance of, you know, either I put photos here, I put a message here and again, it might appear as though we’re doing whatever we say we’re doing, you know, and I think it comes back to like mission and vision, you know, I, I was always big on it when it came to strategic planning and when it came to accreditation and any sort of external, internal looks at ourselves as an organization, a school organization was. what are we, what are the words saying? And how are we living the words? And to be honest, I think there has been a lot of this, you know, and again, good intentions, our intent is we wanna attract whoever we want to attract those that have normally not been at our school. You know, whether it’s parents, teachers, leaders, but it’s, you know, I, I come back to the four A. My four A always ask and sort of get a sense of where people organizations are.
- Have you acknowledged your history? So let’s look and see who you are or who you have been as an institution. So, historically, all your leaders have been males, they’ve all been white, just acknowledge it and say it, it is what it is. But at the same time, if your students, your parents are saying we want to push and move towards, you know, a, a male or a place that is a little bit different. We want to ensure that our applicant pool does not mirror what we have been historically. Then again, say that that’s, I think that’s the biggest thing. Say where and who you are, you know. Number 2 is awareness. So how are we making ourselves more and more aware? What do we need to do once we have made that acknowledgement? Now, we want to increase our awareness of whatever we say we want to focus on and hone in on. So that means like there’s gonna be some financial, financial resources that are designated towards that specific focused, they’re gonna be professional learning, internal, external that are focused on that. And then with the awareness comes the action again, what are we doing and what are we consistently doing? You know, and it shouldn’t be a, ok. So we did this year one and two, but we’re talking about the life of your institution. If you’ve acknowledged it, you’ve increased awareness, you know, that that action is gonna be ongoing and you’re gonna be thinking about policy long term. What can we do that’s gonna be even beyond a leader and a teacher who’s there. So 5, 10 years from now, how we know that that change actually stood the test of time, you know, it just wasn’t about an individual being there. And finally advocacy. So again, it, it’s beyond my context, it’s beyond where I’m currently standing and sitting, how am I in my global community being an advocate for or like you said earlier, about being an ally, being an advocate for others, you know, outside?
Lori: Love it, love those A’s. It’s interesting in the autism world, there’s also the four A’s which are very similar. So that can lead us right into that intersectionality piece of your work and SENIA work, you know, for SENIA, we’ve recently changed our mission, or not our mission, Well, yeah, we changed our, but we’ve also changed our, but we’ve also changed our vision. and it’s very simple now and it’s just to live in an inclusive world. So what? Yeah, because, you know, we, we are in our mission, we are advocating with for disabled people and empowering our educators. But that vision just to live in an inclusive world, we want to include everyone in that vision. So what are your thoughts on our intersectionality?
Kevin: Definitely. And I love it. I, you know, I was reading on it and reflecting on it and like you’re saying a lot of times it doesn’t even need to be a paragraph to live in an inclusive world. So how do we, you know, going back to like words and actions? So when we do conferences, how are we doing that? And it was interesting, we had our, we’re planning our conference coming up and guess what, what we talked about yesterday? How inclusive were we being? Are we looking at? You know, and not just for people to film, how specific are we being but also making place for. And it was interesting that the comment came up about the word other because a lot of times you’ll see when you’re filling out forms, it’ll say if it’s, you know, here are some of the different markers other. And so we’re like, how do we, I know. So we’re like, how do we, you know, exit the use of the word other because we don’t want anyone to feel other, you know, that people are feeling included. And then again, if, you know, and noting that, you know, instead of using the word other, how we phrase it differently.
And I feel like, you know, definitely, like you said, in terms of intersectionality, that’s, that’s what we want too. We want this free flowing, you know, where we’ve really thought about everybody, you know, we really thought about everybody. And I think that’s been a growing point for us, you know, as a because again, we really did the root of beginning and getting started was race and gender because that’s how the Facebook reform, you know, it was, you know, someone being told they want a white man, you’re a black woman, they don’t want, you know, they want someone from the certain country and it was like, what, you know, and so that, you know, the focus was and then through out, you know, through the, the last few years, again, that intersectionality of neuro diverse individuals, thinking about ableism, thinking about language and knowing that this work really, it’s, it’s bigger and it’s more and for us to not you know, think about it for us to not acknowledge and to not collectively work side by side. What are we saying? Because we’re actually, we’re actually doing what’s already being done. And so I always, as we mentioned, it’s interesting when we talk about inclusion, going back to the acknowledgement, I’ve asked actually schools and people, you know, you know, they’re saying we’re, we’re inclusion, we’re inclusive, we’re to, we’re towards being inclusive. I said, well, have you had that conversation about exclusion? You know, it’s like, let’s go like now it’s like, let’s acknowledge who and where we’ve been, we want this, this is our vision to be inclusive. But where have we been? Why have we been there? And why has it taken so long for us to really, you know, acknowledge, I remember like early years in, you know, being in international schools where there were situations where they wouldn’t let kids in because they’re like, we don’t have the resources, but there was no attempt to solve it at, at the same time. Just like, well, what are we doing? Well, trust me when I say that’s still happening, you know, and it’s, it’s that always that line of we don’t have the resources.
And so my, my response is always, well, let’s get the resources exactly. You know, and I mean, I know that’s a very simplistic answer, but it can be, it can, it can work, right? Because it’s almost like how else will change happen when and how will occur and who’s gonna do it. So, always say that same response. Guess what? Here’s now the same response. Nothing. And I guess you have to want to, you know, you wanna make it happen. So instead of always falling back on that, that response.
Lori: So well, have you seen successful DEIJ initiatives or programs in our international school community?
Kevin: Yeah, great question. I where I see them, you know, there’s, there’s a range of them. And to be honest, I was on with our some of our leaders yesterday, most recently, we have some new fellows who are coming on board. We’ll be announcing them soon and we talked about in the classroom, you know, I think a lot of times what we’re hearing and seeing is, oh, you know, there’s, the leadership team has formed a DEIJ, you know, team or committee and, you know, they’re gonna attack this, they’re attending this and they’re bringing this and they’re looking at this. But I’m like, but let’s come back to the heart and soul of it in the classroom every single day. So how are those literacy? How are those math, how are those homeroom, those advisories? Because for us, it’s about the life of the institution. And so when you say the life of the institution as everybody, you know, so it’s not the couch over here with a team or it’s everybody you know, the parents are aware the students are, you know, so I think so for us…
I think Kristina Pennell-Götze, she definitely stands out in Germany in terms of the student action and students taking action group that stands out. There’s a student and again, a lot of these are gonna be students, let me be frank. There are student groups of alumni, Organization to Decolonize International School. And when I’m citing these groups and organizations again, it’s coming right back to what we want as part of the, the SENIA virtual conference too. Acknowledge those that we have heard of maybe but maybe some that we’ve not heard of. There’s a Black student alliance group that’s out of Vienna. It’s reset revolution out of you, you know, so I can keep going on on it’s students in Vietnam. So know if I’m saying more students than I am saying teachers than we were in our meeting, guess who we were talking about centering even for our January conference in Vietnam. Students. How are we gonna consistently make sure that they are a part of this? Not an add on but they’re at the center of this, you know, and I’ll be honest, the thing that keeps me going artist do you know, I love the teachers. I love the leaders. I see where we are as adults but the students will hold us accountable. You know, they were saying you said this you know, and you’re doing this, so your words said this, but your actions either are or not matching. And so that’s for us, we want that and we have some, again, phenomenal interns who again will hold us accountable, you know, and that’s, that’s what we want to hear and see more of and from.
But again, like, I feel like the adults are in that learning mode that, you know, team mode again, doing some great things around recruitment, you know, and changing practices. But I think the, the better places that, where I see it is where the students are actually taking, their, the students are leading, the students are actually are in the driver’s seat, their voices are given space in place. But like I said, yeah, there’s a lot of professional learning going on with teachers. There’s a lot of, you know, doing curriculum audits, there’s a, there’s a lot of that stuff and again, places that know it’s gonna take time because things have been done a certain way over time, really get it versus that we’ve arrived and we, you know, we got it, it’s, it’s, it’s all handled, you know, because even the place where it’s been done 30 plus years, I mean, they still are like, we’re a work in progress, there is work to be done, you know, and we’re constantly thinking about who’s, you know, who are centering, who are we not centering? Who’s been included, who’s not been included and how do we make, you know, make sure that we are consistently allowing space for our own learning and growth.
Lori: Yeah, you know, I keep bringing this back to SENIA but everything you said or it just reminds me, you know, our original logo was the student at the, at the center and it soon changed to a heart. So our, our logo is a heart and that it all focuses around this. The student being the heart of every decision that we we make at and that it follows our mission. So I’m with you. So here’s a, here’s one, they say this is from one of our one of our senior members. I, I reached out and asked if someone could help me with this question. So his question is they say that when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression, what are some ways we could provide our international school school communities to understand and reflect their privileged identities? That’s a biggie, isn’t it?
Kevin: It’s a biggie and it, you know, in this day and age we, we both know it is controversial. Let’s be real. You know, we, we’ve seen, you know, you know, I’m in the States, but I obviously my feet and my brain and you know, hands and things are all over the world. And so, you know, obviously we hear these stories of, oh, we don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, you know, we wanna as though that’s the world that we live in. like, so it’s just like, wait and, you know, I think for me and, it was a conference I was at recently and that this was a talk and it was about, some of the things done when it comes to, the different trips that, you know, youth groups take. And, and I don’t remember we did a trip but it wasn’t a trip in the form in which, you know, I think it’s more service related, you know, ie we go to a country, we might volunteer, we might give some money and then we leave. Yeah, I mean, let’s be real, let’s be, let’s be real. like what message are we sending? Like, what does that say and what learning is actually happening? And so I feel like when it comes to that privilege, it’s that it, again, it has to be this ongoing work and acknowledgement of sort of where folks are at where when it comes to access, what we have access to how others in our context are and what that means. So I remember when I moved to LA and they said people live on $2 or less a day. Yeah, I literally went, I’m in my math mind, went straight to like, OK, so two or less. So if you do get two on that day you know, times a week you’re talking 14 times, you know, in a month you’re talking 56 do you know? And I literally went to, whoa wait. Ok. So I’m making this like an average, you know, it heightened my awareness of, you know, when it came to passports and came to, you know, treatment. And so, and for me, I feel like if I’m not using my privilege for the good of others, that’s an issue. So how am I thinking about access, not for myself. So how am I putting myself over here to the side?
But how am I looking and thinking about others and not in a short term type of thinking for, you know, format, which is where I think some of the study trips, you know, wrong, I’ll be frank, you know. So it’s like, how are we establishing ongoing relationships and partnerships and thinking long term? And so I think in the same sense of privilege too is the same thing. And I remember someone saying like people who do the type of work we do, it’s not about money, it’s not about rich. It’s, it’s not about, it’s same thing with teaching. It’s not, I ain’t going to teaching because I want to be whatever. When it comes to money. It was, it’s never been about that. You know, it comes to that heart that you said of it. It comes back to centering students, it comes back to things that I can’t even see that are gonna be like the messages and emails I get from students from like 2005 when I first went overseas that were like, like, wow, that was 18 years ago. And like you all are added me on Facebook, which you can now because you’re over 18, you know, you’re, you’re now grown adult. So again, it’s those things that, you know, we can’t see. So again, when I think about, you know, it’s, I think about individual privilege, but also I think about sort of this collective privilege and to know that, you know, our space, there is a lot of privilege and it could be used in different ways. And so I think once we make that we’re more aware and have that heightened sense of that. It’s how we think about it, but a collective good.
Lori: Yeah. everything you say, I’m just always, I’m just like, feel like I’m learning so much and you’re so well spoken, it’s just beautiful. So, thank you. Let’s hop on over to your, our virtual conference that we’re having in November and people can watch our videos, sorry, people can watch our videos for six months afterwards. So that’s great news. But tell us about what you’ll be speaking about.
Kevin: Yeah, I sure will. So, number one, I’m excited about the, the theme I feel like unifying voices of inclusion is one that is so timely. you know, one thing I think that in partnerships such as with SENIA and other groups and organizations just looking for, you know, how do we compliment each other? So what are opportunities to obviously do core and create space and think about again, what doesn’t exist and what hasn’t been addressed and how can we enter into that space so far? This session, I’m very excited. The word voice came to me and, you know, obviously looking at the, the theme of the conference, but then I’m, you know, we live in an acronym world when it comes to education. I literally like literally just looked at the word and I thought about, OK, what’s currently going on, you know, messages that we get that we hear at a or things that are sent to us. And I just thought about, you know, how much, how much are we really valuing and putting value and you think about value, you think about the work value and amount and things like that, but how much are we truly valuing those in the community who are like willing to do the work that we’re doing? Who are, you know, taking a step out, who are going against the norm, going against history, history, their story going against narratives. And so in the session, which voice taken word is value, organizing individuals, com committed to equity. And so again, I think I want less of my voice and I want more of the voice of others. So in terms of me, so and folks who know me know that I’m never going to, it’s never gonna be all about me anyway. So I’m gonna be like, who’s out here doing this work? That again, folks might not know about folks that may, they may know about and groups and how do we give them a platform and let others know who might be at the? I’m thinking about doing this, you know, or oh, I’m not for sure and let them know that there is a community, there are others who have did what you’re seeking to do. And so I think that’s the, the format that, that we’re going for.
Lori: That’s really exciting. I can’t wait to see it. So, well.. I think, oh no, before we pop off, I’d love to know what’s next for AIELOC. Do you have goals for this year for the future, where are you at?
Kevin: We do. So we got some big stuff. So we’re excited to launch and this was talked about almost over three years ago. Again, thinking about sustaining the work. We’ve seen an increase in international schools who either are bringing on a DEIJ leader some which I would say in less in a full-time capacity. And again, we feel like we will advocate for if someone is in DEIJ leader role that they they’re working number one across the entire organization school, they are on, they should be on senior leadership team, they should be paid accordingly. It shouldn’t be a percentage type of thing. So in place this is where they’re, you know, sort of getting started with those roles, you know, we definitely advocate for making sure that it’s not a, I’m a DEIJ leader plus these five other things because that’s not gonna work, you know. But we’ve seen an increase in that. And so we are collaborating with Sunny Buffalo State University for the first DEIJ certificate program. Again, we felt like there’s a lot that’s on offer, but we needed something that’s specific to the international school space. So we’re excited to launch that at the end of September. And then that’ll be so we’re starting with the first cohort course. It is new. So go slow and learn and then, but we look forward to, you know, moving it out in other parts of the world as well and growing that.
We have our fourth annual. It’s funny, I thought it was the third and I’m like, oh, it’s the fourth annual virtual conference on the 5th November that’s live, but it’s also recorded same thing and people can access it, they can’t make it live because of the time zones in collaboration with the Women of Color and ELT. So we’ve been doing a conference since 2020 with the focus on representation, identity, anti-racism, equity and justice.
And then we’re doing our first in-person conference. We’re excited. I know January 26th to 28th, in collaboration with UNIS Hanoi Vietnam. So we’re very excited about that. That’s up and coming. So those are a few of the things that we’re working on. We also have our cohort three of our spring league as a color program. It is the largest, we have 15 folks this year. We went from seven. Yeah, so lots of leaders, a lot of more people are, are are have signed on as mentors. We had like a large interest and so that’s exciting.
Lori: So, wow, it is all very exciting work. Congratulations on all of it.
Kevin: Thank you.
Lori: So now I believe it’s all we have time for today. So thank you so much for your, for your wisdom and your time you spent with us today, Kevin. We really appreciate it here at SENIA,
Kevin: We appreciate you.
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