I have had the opportunity to work with the school accreditation process, school improvement planning, and serve on external review teams – all linked with the work of AdvancED . With substantial experience in different avenues of the accreditation process, I can honestly say that I have grown professionally from my participation in these processes and attention to school improvement – though have worked to better understand the balance in objective-subjective evaluation. Below are a few of my highlights within these three categories of experiences.
In my experience with the school accreditation process, the first time I sat on the school’s continuous school improvement committee and shared the work with a committee in preparing for the at-that-time SACS evaluation visit to our school – which was successful. For the second time around, I was in charge of pulling everything together for the accreditation team’s visit in such a way that it was ‘business as usual’ in that the school’s stance was that we would demonstrate who we were, as we were. Given this directive, we did not follow the specific SACS-CASI protocol, but were awarded continued accreditation at a recognition of a high level of performance. I remember being commended for the novel use of hyper links in documents that referenced electronic documents – instead of contributing to the high stack of paper documents to serve as evidence! Tech sure has changed things since then! During the third cycle of the accreditation process that I participated in, extra challenges and speed bumps were faced as school leadership changed too frequently, leaving an open helm – which I was left to try and steer. While I felt that I had done the most professional work in preparing for the accreditation review team’s visit, I learned an interesting lesson concerning the pushes and pulls within school governance that do not always make for a healthy school environment, nor accreditation process. Never-the-less, the accreditation process bore out in its function to prompt our school to become better – though with some unjust blame for school performance being placed on the unwilling accreditation process helmsman’s shoulders. I have since partnered in leading the fourth round venture for the 2015 accreditation visit. This time around, we were extremely well prepared in advance with a comprehensive internal review to inform a school improvement plan that was shepherded by a standing continuous school improvement team made up of representatives from all of the stakeholder groups.
As for school improvement planning, or strategic school planning, or school renewal planning … take your pick of terms depending upon the times, it has been interesting to see the ebb & flow of interests from the business sector that influence the schools. This is typically brought to bear through school boards made up of business people in the private, embassy, and NGO circles. I have tried to balance acute calls for 3 and 5 year plans to those people who have advocated for a 3 or 5 year vision to work more realistically towards. I believe that one of the successful pieces of school improvement work that I have been a part of was the designing and conducting of an Appreciative Inquiry School Improvement Summit. We (critical thinking school board members and I) were able to bring together equal stakeholder groups of students (current and alum), parents (current and former), teachers/administrators (current and former) in a day and a half event that succeeded in creating energy and unifying community school improvement efforts to create seven school improvement targets that were later reduced to five in developed three-year action plans. While many of us marveled at the fusion of so much well-intentioned positive energy and focus, an important lesson that I further learned was of the negative effect that oppositional forces may exert on the process by refusing to enter into the dialogue. I still very much believe in the strengths-based approach and look forward to using the SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, & Results) tool for some upcoming work.
My final sharing is about the richness for growth in participating on the AdvancED external review teams in visits to schools seeking accreditation. It is an opportunity to grow professionally in learning about (a) other schools and their practices, (b) distinguished colleagues on the team and their views and best practices; and (c) ones own self and stance on many educational issues. I am thankful to the folks at AdvancED for placing me on a team that was visiting a school in Ecuador who was seeking a first-time accreditation. The team was made up of some seasoned and quality veteran educators who provided on the job training for me in undertaking the evaluators tasks. I have since enjoyed working on teams that have performed accreditation reviews in schools in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, and Mexico.
Strategic Planning along with Appreciative Intent yields Inspiration to SOAR by Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelly (2003)