Southwest Spotlight: Character-Driven Leadership at Chengdu International School

Chengdu International School (CDIS) stands as a beacon of educational excellence in Chengdu, proudly holding the title of the city’s oldest international school. With a rich history of fostering academic achievement and a commitment to holistic development, CDIS strives to go beyond conventional education, emphasizing character building and global perspectives. The AmCham China Quarterly spoke to CDIS’ Head of School, Dr. Will Hatten, who delves into the school’s distinctive approach to character education, its celebration of diversity, and the impactful stories of alumni who embody the CDIS vision.

Photo courtesy of CDIS

“At CDIS, we focus on developing nine character qualities that we believe are essential for life,” Dr. Hatten shares. “These qualities – Connection, Compassion, Courage, Curiosity, Purpose, Humility, Discernment, Service, and Persistence – are integrated into every facet of our students’ daily experiences.”

The commitment to character education is not just lip service at CDIS; it’s a lived reality. Dr. Hatten emphasizes how these qualities permeate the school day, influencing interactions on the athletic fields, discussions in the classroom, and even casual encounters in the hallways. “We catch students embodying these traits and make sure to acknowledge and encourage them,” he adds, illustrating the school’s dedication to making character education a tangible part of student life.

Celebrating Diversity

Dr. Hatten proudly highlights CDIS’s multicultural environment, stating, “We are a very diverse school with students and teachers from over 20 countries. Our diversity is not just acknowledged; it’s celebrated.” He details one of CDIS’s most significant annual events, International Day, where the entire school community comes together to showcase their cultural heritage. Dr. Hatten speaks of the event’s impact, saying, “It’s a day where parents, staff, and students become both teachers and learners, sharing their unique cultures and learning from others.”

He further explains that the school’s theme for the year, “You Belong,” emphasizes their commitment to inclusivity. “Many of our students are ‘Third Culture Kids,’ growing up in a culture different from their parents. We want them to know they belong here, that their voice matters, and they are valued members of our community,” Dr. Hatten states.

Dr. Will Hatten currently serves as Head of School at Chengdu International School (CDIS). Before relocating to Chengdu in the summer of 2023, he spent three years as Elementary Principal at CDIS’s sister school, Wuhan International School, while residing in Wuhan, China. Dr. Hatten also worked in the United States, working as both a teacher and administrator in the North Carolina public school system. Beyond teaching, he is passionate about coaching, integrating technology, and organizing extracurricular activities.

Photo courtesy of CDIS

A Culture of Diversity

Dr. Hatten emphasizes CDIS’s character education, focusing on diversity through the LifePlus 9 Qualities for Life, exemplified by connection. He stresses the importance of seeing differences as opportunities for learning and community building. Additionally, Dr. Hatten discusses the advisory program, highlighting its role in fostering personal connections and guiding students through social and emotional aspects, emphasizing the significance of understanding, and connecting with peers from diverse backgrounds. Furthermore, he underscores the active role of students in promoting inclusivity, citing the vibrant student council’s initiatives, especially in events like the High School ‘Lock In,’ where students lead efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion. He praises the students for their initiative in creating diverse small groups and ensuring equal opportunities for all participants. “In all student council activities, the focus is on inclusivity, reinforcing their role as representatives of our student body,” Dr. Hatten shares.

When asked about ensuring inclusive leadership at CDIS, Dr. Hatten shifts the focus to the collective effort of the school’s team. “We have a team made up of staff members from every department that meets quarterly to guide strategic initiatives,” he explains. “This team is composed of individuals from many different backgrounds and cultures, ensuring every voice is heard and valued.” He details the importance of regular training sessions that highlight the need for cultural understanding in a diverse workplace, explaining that they host regular discussions about how to honor cultural differences at all levels.

A Focus on Soft Skills

In addressing the importance of soft skills, Dr. Hatten details how CDIS actively incorporates elements like communication, teamwork, and adaptability across subjects. “Teachers actively teach speaking and listening standards that apply across all subject areas,” he explains. “Collaboration is not just about group projects; we explicitly teach collaborative skills and provide feedback for effective group processes.”

He speaks of the critical role of critical thinking in real-world scenarios, emphasizing the connection between academic concepts and their practical application in students’ lives. “Our robust Student Services department provides direct instruction through small groups focused on social and emotional learning,” Dr. Hatten adds.

Photo courtesy of CDIS

Measuring Success

Discussing the assessment of the character education program’s success, Dr. Hatten says active student involvement is essential to the process. “One of the most effective tools is the student-led conferences, where students actively reflect on their progress and set goals for the future,” he explains. By involving students in the reflection and evaluation process, Dr. Hatten believes that students are more likely to embrace the educational process and achieve genuine growth.

The success of CDIS’s character education program is best exemplified by the achievements of its alumni. Dr. Hatten shares testimonials from recent graduates: “As a graduate of the class of 2020, Chengdu International School provided an unparalleled educational experience, in terms of academics, extracurriculars, and personal growth,” shared Jaeho Lee, currently a student at Yale University. “What really separates CDIS from other schools is its mission to develop student growth. CDIS places its emphasis on developing a student’s character, and the faculty executes this goal exceptionally. This allows students to fully thrive in a healthy and encouraging environment. I will always be thankful to CDIS and how the faculty motivated me to grow as a person.”

Leah Shin, a member of the Class of 2019 and current staff member at the International School of Qingdao, adds her perspective. “After completing my university education in the US, I came back to China to teach. I felt that LifePlus was a suitable place for me because I knew the language and culture. I have been in the student’s shoes, and I now serve as a teacher in the International School of Qingdao, which is a sister school to CDIS and part of LifePlus. I believe that everyone has the ability to love, learn, and lead.”

CDIS stands out in the education landscape with its commitment to character-driven education, diversity, and inclusivity. Actively promoting character development, celebrating diversity, and preparing students for a globalized world, the school is molding the next generation of leaders poised to make a positive impact. Aligned with its vision of raising “world-class servant leaders,” the school’s holistic approach to education undoubtedly achieves this ambitious goal.


This article is from the AmCham China Quarterly Magazine (Issue 4, 2023). To access the entire publication for free, sign up on our member portal here.