Tag Archives: reflection

ACCREDITATION IS ALL ABOUT BEING BETTER

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.  

Impact.   

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)~Teachers  
~Parents  ~Support Staff
~Business Staff  ~Building and Grounds
~Nursing Department  ~Public Relations and Marketing  
~Admissions  ~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.  

SO WHAT?  

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.

NOW WHAT?  

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.

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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:

www.acswasc.org/

www.msa-ces.orga/

Meeting Learners Wherever They May Be

“Aim for the middle of the square,” I encourage an 8-year old boy on my basketball team.

The power of geometry on full display. Meanwhile, another player kicks the ball against the gymnasium wall, seemingly confusing basketball for soccer.  Two others chase each other in a game of tag. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot another dancing the Macarena.  The Macarena?  Is Tik Tok responsible for the one-hit wonder Spanish song of 1993 being brought back? Reaching for my whistle, I notice another player launching shots from beyond the three-point line.  In wonder I look on, taking a few seconds to just take in the full scene.  

Weren’t the directions and demonstration clear?  To take shots from 3 feet away, stepping from side to side and aiming at the middle of the box. A timeless backboard drill.  

Before I am able to blow the whistle, it happens.

“Coach, can you tie my shoe?” one 4-foot tall player earnestly requests.  His large blue eyes match his dyed fringe.  The shrill tone of his voice resembling my 5-year old nephew’s.  

I look down at his knotted lace and caught up in the chaos, regretfully do not seize the opportunity to teach this “life skill.”  On the ride home, the moment continued to be replayed. Impossible to get out of my head, it stewed the next 48 hours.  

For a veteran teacher, this was a serious self-check.  An invaluable lesson to meet the learner, wherever they might be. A cornerstone of any education certification program, I would have guessed I perfected this lesson.  However, in the midst of “herding cats,” did I forget?  Mere negligence? Simply distracted?  Whatever the reason, I was embarrassed for myself.  A “wrong” to made right!  

Grateful to learn from the error, I was reminded how we may have a particular aim for a class or practice, yet of even greater importance than our plan, is that we remain flexible and respond to the learners right before our eyes. Differentiation sometimes a reflex, while at other times requires utmost intention.  

The next practice I approached the boy with the knotted laces and on bended knee showed him how to tie his shoe. Singing in a hushed tone, “Over, under, around and through, meet Mr. Bunny Rabbit, pull and through.”  Smiling, he gave it a try, his motor skills a clear challenge. The third attempt a success!

During my childhood a poster hung in our home’s laundry room.  It shared advice from best-selling author, Robert Fulgum and was titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Fulgum conveyed the simplicity and power of such adages as, share everything, and to play fair. 

Years later, a third grade teacher, I turned to look over my shoulder each time a student called, “Mister…”  I looked for my father, a bit bewildered because from one day to the next I had become a “Mister” myself.  Though the exuberance, joy, and energy of 8 and 9-year olds was a pleasure, middle school became my wheelhouse.  More than twenty years would pass before I would be in the company of third-graders again. 

This time, wearing the hat of coach. A chance to improve my well-conditioned skills in patience but also explicitness, assuming nothing.   

Not even that all the children can yet tie their own shoes.

An Economist’s Take: Budgeting and Adventure

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

This post is not just for any would-be bike tourer. It considers an issue we could all think about.

We have seen all sorts on this trip so far, literally from feast to famine. The extreme wealth of the flashy supercar-driving Chinese high-fliers, to the maimed and forgotten street beggars in some parts of south-east Asia.

This trip is a real lesson about economic development for an Economics teacher.

For years I have taught middle school Humanities through to first year degree level Economics courses. I try to deliver the topics of Inequality and the Distribution of Wealth in a thoughtful and pragmatic way inside the classroom, but rarely is it ever effectively applied to real life. How can it be, when many of the young minds in the room belong to people from privileged backgrounds? I can share my experiences and things I’ve seen, and maybe even offer some thoughts about how it can be and whether a positive change will ever happen, but it is often the case that students listen but cannot yet hear. We do however excitedly apply lovely abstract formula devised by Lorenz and Kuznets to the reality of human tragedy and ecstasy.

So, I have come to appreciate that the position we are in of having some savings to spend whilst cycling around the world is not a common one, and there certainly is only one way our cash flows these days, and that’s out. We had to be prepared for that. Our reality is that we are in a small minority; to put things into context I always like some cold, hard, sober, emotionless numbers:

71% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day (Few Research Center, 2015)

39% of the world’s population does not a bank account (World Bank, 2015).

22% of Brits & Americans have no savings (Telegraph, 2012, MarketWatch, 2015)

64% of Brits & Americans have less than £1000/$1300 in savings accounts (TIM, 2014).

62 people have the same wealth as 50% of humanity (Washington Post, 2016)

It would be easy to say then, that being able to tour the world for two years means we are lucky and blessed. Well, I’m not so sure it’s either of these. We have worked hard to establish our careers, providing reassurance that when we need to earn again, we should be able to find work.

We didn’t do anything personally to affect it, but maybe we were ‘lucky’ to be born in UK and Ireland into caring middle class families. From then on, I think we make our own luck. Are we blessed? Well, this suggests some kind of divine intervention, which doesn’t compute with me. Who is the one that decides if we can or can’t do something that we dream of? Personally, I believe it is us – only us.  Sure it takes some forward planning and self-belief. I prefer brave (maybe a little bit crazy), self-assured and assertive as ways to describe ourselves.

Also, people make excuses far too easily and frequently about why they can’t do things they’ve “Always wanted to do”. Sometime it seems people say it just to exonerate themselves. I don’t understand that. That “could’ve”, “would’ve”, “should’ve” tense. I believe that where there is a will, there’s a way. If ultimately it doesn’t live up to your expectations, well I’ve always thought that it’s better to regret something that you have done, rather than always wonder about how it might have been.

There is never a bad time to go and explore. We have met retired couples touring, single 70 year olds, read of friends who ride the world with their two kids in tow, or their dogs. Those who are battling with sickness, those who just don’t know what they want to do in life, so go out for a ride. I don’t think that you particularly have to have a reason or a cause either. I found out how much I love touring by just giving it a go a few times and have discovered that there is a beguiling beauty to the rhythm and excitement it brings.

Six months into our two year ride now, we have become acutely aware of, and are grateful for:

Freedom of movement – Having EU passports (although for me not much longer) enables us to roam. Sure, visa applications are a hassle, but there are many people in the world we know and love who cannot whimsically cross borders.

Western Privilege – Not really sure what this means, but we certainly have a life of relative comfort back in our home countries. Services that are provided to us as a matter of course are to some, always out of reach.

Health – We should never take this one for granted. Staying fit, eating well, not taking too many risks. Enjoy every day you feel good, and battle when you don’t.

Age – Am I middle-aged? I guess I am, but they are just numbers. Are we always too young for things until we are too old? Rubbish. Don’t be held back thinking about your age. If you can’t help it, then get a younger partner, they’ll keep you young!

So what does all this suggest? ‘Carpe Diem’, would be the obvious thing to conclude, but that’s one hell of a cliché. Perhaps we should all live frivolously? No, that would be irresponsible.

Budget? Yes, but don’t let it suffocate you.

 

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Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.