ICSEI Underscores the Importance of Context, Community, and Capital

Several members of the CSC team attended the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) in Ottawa this week. We were ecstatic about the opportunity to share stories of the work we’ve been doing in Peru, and eager to hear about school improvement initiatives from other communities and countries.  

icsei ottawa education learning

On the ground, we were surprised and encouraged by the number of delegates from around the world who were sharing research and experiences reflecting diverse approaches with common goals and aspirations for our students. Among the wide range of initiatives discussed, a number of common themes emerged. Both at the booth and in our sessions, we had a plethora of meaningful conversations and noticed an interesting echo of themes. Intriguingly, the key themes of ICSEI all started with the letter C:


education learning amy coupalWith everything she does, our CEO, Amy Coupal, likes to begin by setting the context. School improvement is no different. We start from different places when building professional capacity. There are things we know, things we don’t know, and unique areas of priority within our schools. The context piece helps us determine what the needs are, and where we want to go together [click to tweet]. This was evident in Amy’s sessions, where the presentations began by sharing pictures and stories of the Peruvian context where CSC has been working. It was also evident in the booth, where delegates discussed a wide range of priorities and locally driven initiatives to achieve them. At ICSEI and in life, it’s important to remember that we don’t always move along a linear continuum; we begin in different places and we end up in different places. And that’s okay.


Karen Seashore Louis brought forward the importance of community on day one. She talked about seeing the school as the part of a bigger ecosystem and responding to the true needs of the community to create a bigger impact. This message was echoed in our colleague Gonzalo’s Conti’s presentation about the work of Innova Schools, and it was evident in every conversation at the conference. From the conference sessions to the reception and the hotel bar, delegates were fiendishly exploring opportunities to interact across boundaries and expand their community. Across countries, across practitioners, and researchers; it’s collaborations that have brought people here [click to tweet], but there’s definitely new ones that are emerging across the world as a result of being together.



Amy’s paper session on CSC’s work with Los Alamos school in Peru was built around Hargreaves and Fullan’s concept of professional capital. (Curiously, also C’s.) She emphasized the imperative for schools to build professional capital by encouraging educators to share their knowledge and time. This message was echoed in other sessions where presenters advocated for the development of social capital. To do this, we must recognize the value that gets created as we develop our skills and our communities together [click to tweet].


Many other Cs emerged at the conference including Collaboration, Communication, reConciliation (as inspired by the compelling keynote by Charlene Bearhead), but it really comes down to understanding where we are coming from and recognizing the value of learning from each other. We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to connect with people working to improve education around the world, and we can’t wait to continue the conversation!

By Amy Coupal and Kate Salmon

Amy CoupalI am CEO of Curriculum Services Canada and Learnography and have been with the organization since 2006. I have a M.Ed. and have worked with the Toronto District School Board, Japan’s Osaka School Board, and the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario before joining CSC in 2006. I champion the role of the learner in the training process and advocate for all learning levels. From working closely with My Class Needs, to allocating resources to create free adult courses, I believe in true learning advocacy. I live in Toronto with my husband and children.


Kate SalmonKate Salmon (@CSCKate) is a Communications Specialist and general word nerd from Ottawa, Ontario. With a BA in Rhetoric and Professional Writing from the University of Waterloo, she continues her learning journey at Learnography with a great team of former educators who are dedicated to creating transformative learning experiences. She lives in Toronto with her very fat cat.


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