Being fully immersed in another school for five days is like no other professional development. And it is available to us all.
“Creditum” in Latin means, “a thing entrusted to another.” Fast forward from Roman days and to the United States at the end of the 19th century, where there was a push for “accreditation.” The nature of the process being one where secondary schools were poked and prodded in effort to determine whether they could be entrusted with adequately preparing students for university.
Roughly a hundred and fifty years later, accreditation lives on. The tenor centered more on reflection and support, and less on judgement. Today, the United States Department of State has granted authorization to six regional non-profit accreditation agencies. Recently I was invited to participate in my first virtual visit by one of these agencies, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
One word continually surfaced throughout the accreditation deep dive.
After examining everything the school said it did, we would do our best to tease it out in conversation. We would also look for it in hallways, classrooms, and in conversations with students. An effort to confirm to what degree programs and policies ultimately have a positive impact on student learning.
Accreditation days and nights are long. Initially, closely reading all the documentation is critical. Looking for and triangulating evidence then ensues. A vanguard of this “paper trail,” is to learn more about the extent reflection and collaboration played throughout the self-study process. Is the report a true reflection of the entire school community? Folders within Google doc folders are pored over. Questions likely surface and streams of notes are taken. Accreditation members met with various smaller groups in effort to better understand the school. In these meetings, committee members moderate the discussion, often launching the conversation with “Can you please share with us how your team worked together to gather evidence on x, y, or z?”
Accreditation requires a 360-degree approach, one that truly is multi-dimensional. Learning from all stakeholders is essential. This means:
|~Leadership team (head of school and principals)
|~Building and Grounds
|~Public Relations and Marketing
|~Governance or board of directors (or governing company which was the case of the visit I partook in)
Beyond conversations with adults, some of the most telling evidence is out of the mouths of students, as they share more about their learning. Impressively, many even talk about why and how they can apply this learning. Busy daily schedules include time for the committee to debrief but also plan forward. “After hours” are dedicated to contributing to the writing of the final report.
Accreditation is a lot of work but the results are very gratifying. Moreover, I can think of no other venue to develop or improve skills. People whom I have met with accreditation experience agree that there is no better professional development. Here is a short but not comprehensive list of some of the skills incorporated in a school visit:
~Question development ~Interview strategies ~Formal writing
~Collaboration ~Presentation creation ~Oral presentation
The visit I did was unique in several ways. The nature of a virtual visit, itself is different. However, on our committee we were four members in three different time zones. This visit also happened to be the second ever dual commission visit (WASC and MSA~Middle States Association). Further, the school’s governing board which happens to be in Dubai, welcomed the participation of three evaluation specialists from the education ministry of Qatar. The amount of experience and expertise, combined with a high degree of mutual respect, ultimately led to a very thorough process. One where collaboration, honest communication and consensus building were benchmarks.
At the end of the process, a school is provided with commendations. Celebration of these strengths is encouraged. Additionally, critical areas of follow-up are included. The final report with its action steps is often greatly appreciated, as it very well may be the needed wind in a school’s sails. A sort of distilled and formalized plan for improvement moving forward.
The whole accreditation process is value added for all. Professional development for committee members but of even greater importance is the role it provides in helping a school hold a mirror up to itself. To reflect. To be vulnerable. To speak but also listen. Then, to take a moment to celebrate before setting out on the path of betterment. Because what it all comes down to, is self-improvement. Schools ultimately focusing on improvement, to the benefit of all students and their learning.
Note: Accreditation commissions welcome teachers to participate and I highly recommend it. Two commissions I have experience with are below. If interested, click on the following links: