Strategic Vision

The print version of the Strategic Vision 2020-2025 features content in Chinese and English working from both directions toward a common center spread. Enjoy the sides in either English or Chinese below:

Reimagining CAIS - English Side Reimagining CAIS - Chinese Side

Evolution of the Mission

Message from Head of School Jeff Bissell

Many of you may be familiar with the work of the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow articulated a theory of human motivation that he captured in his well-known “hierarchy of needs.” According to my understanding of Maslow, human beings are motivated to fulfill certain human needs before they can fulfill other, loftier needs. Our motivation to fill our bellies and stay warm, for instance, needs to be satisfied before we worry about having awesome hair highlights or crisp sound on our wireless headphones. The highest level of needs that I learned about in my freshman psychology class were called “self-actualization needs.” People who are self-actualized achieve the full realization of their individual potential. Self actualization roughly equates with the pieces of the CAIS mission that encourages students to “become your best self” and “create your place in the world.”

In the last few years as CAIS has deliberately shifted to more of a “we” orientation, I have often wondered if there was too much “me” in our mission statement. Why, for instance, does the third phrase in our mission define the relationship between individuals and the world in terms of creating my place in it? What about the responsibility of individuals to the world around them? Maslow had this concern too; something that is less well known about his work is that late in his life, he revised and even criticized his own theory of human motivation and added another level at the top of the hierarchy that he called “transcendence needs.” This is significant because Maslow proposed that the highest level of human motivation is not self actualization but of dedication “to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos.”

I asked many, many CAIS faculty and parents about the “me” vs “we” orientation of our school mission during the year long process of developing a new five year strategic vision for our school. What I learned was that I was not the only person thinking about this; overwhelmingly people in our community expressed support for the idea that our children must develop a sense of responsibility toward others. Some even expressed concern and discomfort that their children might be growing up “in a bubble,” and parents very much wanted their kids not only to appreciate their own good fortune but also to parlay the good fortune of a supportive home and an independent school education into service to something other than themselves. Fifth grade teacher and CAIS parent Ron Morris put it this way, “Academics are super important to me, but I want our kids to use their academic skills to be superheros and not super villains.” We seem to be a community that is motivated to fulfill Maslow’s transcendence needs.

After a full year our strategic visioning process is nearing a conclusion; last Saturday the CAIS board of trustees voted to adopt a new five-year strategic vision that will carry us through 2024. I look forward to sharing it with the community over the coming weeks and months. Today I want to share with you our revised mission, which is a reflection of the community’s shared aspiration:

At CAIS, we are committed to inspiring and empowering learners to:
Embrace Chinese
Become our best selves
Contribute to a better world


Confucius and Core Values — Part 1

Did you know that Saturday, September 28, was supposedly Confucius’s birthday? (His 2,569th according to conventional wisdom…although admittedly we do not have his long form birth certificate). Confucius was a teacher, and accordingly Teachers Day is celebrated on September 28 in Taiwan. Happily, our hardworking teachers were able to rest on Teachers Day this year (though I imagine many of them spent their weekend preparing lessons and looking at student work). Each year I use the occasion to send something useful to the community about Confucius, as he is such an important figure in Chinese and world culture. This year I use the occasion of Confucius’s birthday to introduce our school’s Core Values. 

The connection here between Confucius and CAIS Core Values is not tenuous, but some context is probably useful. Confucius is one of those figures, like Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain or Albert Einstein, to whom pithy quotations are often attributed erroneously. The consequence is a kind of diminished importance—at least in the West—of an understanding of the core philosophy of this historically foundational figure. Add to this the tendency of westerners, especially Americans, to see China’s rapid economic development—manifested in things such as skyscrapers, restaurants, airports, department stores, and Chinese tourists everywhere—as evidence that China has become “Americanized.” For decades, China itself has had a complicated relationship with its own past, reacting to its own history with a combination of pride and suspicion, looking outward for political, economic, and cultural models. In fact, China may possess its own indigenous resources to address many of the issues of our contemporary world, and Confucius is a logical place to start. As I think about the Core Values of the Chinese American International School (which I’ve been doing for the better part of a year now), I feel proud and deeply satisfied that we can connect the dots between the Core Values that emerged from our long and inclusive process and some of the received wisdom from China’s first sage, Confucius. In other words, these are not American values or Chinese values, they are world values. They are our CAIS values. 

So, here are our newly articulated Core Values, accompanied by some of the things that Confucius—whose birthday we celebrate—had to say about these values: 


Core Value
How We Live It at CAIS Confucian Connection
好 奇 Curiosity 多问:我们想了解我们的世界和想象新的可 能性

Ask More: We wonder about our world and imagine new possibilities

What a pleasure it is to learn and frequently practice what one has learned 

(from the Annalects of Confucius《论语》)
包容 Inclusion 欢迎:我们支持和关心社区内外所有的人

Invite In: We champion and care for others within our community and beyond 

A person of noble character is in harmony with others even though they may not see eye to eye. 

(from the Annalects of Confucius《论语》) 
善良 Kindness


Build Up: We use kind words and actions to support each other and ourselves 

To be kind is to be human. 

(from “The Mean”《中庸》)
毅力 Perseverance


Keep Trying: We push ourselves and stick with it when things get tough

In building up a hill, if I stop before adding the last basketful of earth, then I have stopped. In leveling the ground, even if I have only filled one basketful of earth, I am still moving forward and making progress. 

(from the Annalects of Confucius《论语》)
勇气 Courage 勇敢:即使碰到困难,我们也能勇于尝试,负起责任

Be Brave: We take risks and responsibility, even when it is hard

Seeing what is right but not doing it shows a lack of courage. 

(from the Annalects of Confucius《论语》)


I know there are people who take a skeptical, even cynical view of the notion of institutional core values. I get that, and I also think that this skepticism can be a result of an organization paying mere lip service to values without a daily commitment to living them. I can say without reservation that your children’s teachers are enthusiastically committed to doing everything in their power to embed these values into the daily rhythm of the CAIS school day. 



Looking Back on How We Arrived at Our New Vision 

Strategic Vision Process Interview with Head of School Jeff Bissell

CAIS Strategic Visioning Process 2018-2019

The Community Vision Advisory Team (listed to the right) is working in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, Administrative Council, and Head of School Jeff Bissell to shepherd the Strategic Visioning Process which involves the entire community. In addition CAIS has engaged the talents and experiences of educational consultant Bill Jackson, who is acting as thought partner for Dr. Bissell in helping to shape a process that is both inclusive and effective. Bill is an alumni parent (Claire CAIS ’14, UHS ’18, University of Chicago ’22), the founder of Great Schools in 1998, and now the driving force behind Raise Ready Kids. He will be helping CAIS to collect community input throughout the process and may be reached at Bill has helped CAIS think through and outline the process as follows:

What CAIS has accomplished in the past five years?

  • Impressive gains in literacy (English & Chinese)
  • Strengthened support for teachers
  • Improved facilities: renovations and space agreements at Oak with French American, refurbishments at Alice A. Carnes (Waller), and entirely new 888 Campus for middle school
  • More students traveling to and learning in China
  • More effective use of technology in teaching and learning
  • Better support for diverse learners
  • Growing focus on diversity, equity, inclusion

Where do we want to be in five years?

We’re not sure yet. The Strategic Vision process will answer this question. Yet, as we begin this process, we have three high-level ideas in mind:

  • We want to continue to evolve the CAIS brand of immersion education so that the world comes to see it not only as a great way to develop bilingual and bicultural young people, but also a powerful approach to helping children develop along all the dimensions we care about: academic, social, emotional, and as citizens of the world.
  • We want to deepen our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and also strengthen students’ engagement with the world outside the school.
  • We want to to further develop our facilities so they can support our continuously-improving program.

Key questions as we begin our visioning and planning process

  1. What are the abiding, deeply-held values that inform how the CAIS community views education?
  2. In what ways are our graduates well-prepared for the future? How could they be better prepared?
  3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of CAIS today? What should we be doing more? What should be be doing less?
  4. What kind of change does the world need—change that CAIS is in a position to help bring about?

Fall ’18/Winter ’19 activities

  • Community conversations: The Head of School will meet with individuals and groups small and large to discuss the key questions
  • Surveys: Students, alumni, parents, and faculty will be surveyed
  • School visits: Administrators will visit schools that CAIS may be able to learn from
  • Core values research: A consultant will observe and describe our core values

How to get involved

  1. Respond to the surveys that come your way
  2. Share your ideas by talking with our strategic planning consultant Bill Jackson (send email to

The Vision Advisory Team, a small group of CAIS faculty, trustees, parents and alumni is being assembled to help guide the process.

Expected outcomes for the process

  • Refined vision/mission statement
  • New statement of core values
  • A new set of five-year goals and key strategies
  • Communications that express our strategic vision to the community and beyond

The new plan will be rolled out in early fall 2019.

As Head of School Jeff Bissell mentioned to prospective families at CAIS 101, when you look around at who is drawn to be part of this community, it is truly awe-inspiring. With these hearts and minds guiding the journey, the impressive accomplishments of the past 38 years feel like the booster rockets propelling Mission CAIS onward to greater heights even than previously imagined. Thank you for being on this ride together!


Fourth Grade Coding Class