Not Just Checking the Box

Sometimes a shock is just what is needed to remind you of what drives you. I’m referring to  the continuous improvement model of AdvancED, an international accrediting agency that recently reviewed the organization. Led by Donna James, EdD, Director of AdvancED North Carolina, a team of experienced educators assessed each of Grafton’s school sites not against the traditional regulatory model, with which we’ve become so proficient, but rather, against a continuous improvement model.

Don’t get me wrong—I fully understand the importance of providing regulatory bodies with the necessary traditional documentation to confirm that we are adhering to established guidelines. We have constructed numerous practices, protocols, and policies to meet these guidelines on a daily basis. Given how frequently we experience such reviews, organizing a binder full of evidence is as natural as rolling out of bed.

advance ed

But the continuous improvement model is a different animal altogether.

You see that quickly, if you’re being reviewed with it. You are still scored in general categories, such as “purpose and direction, “  “teaching and assessing for learning, “ etc. You may still get requests for samples of schedules or lesson plans, and the team still conducts observations in the classroom and interviews your staff.

That, however, is where the similarity ends.

As we learned at a one-day boot camp, this wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill review. Hosted at Radford University, AdvancED let us know immediately that they wouldn’t be measuring to see if we met minimum requirements. Instead, they would ask us to assess ourselves in a variety of categories and then determine how we might improve. At face value, that doesn’t seem too daunting. I mean, don’t we all want to get better?

The critical difference is that in every one of the categories, we needed to identify how we might improve based on our interpretation of quality indicators.The self-assessment process was comprehensive, taking into account not only our own perspective, but feedback from stakeholders as well.

Parents, students, staff, and external agency representatives received surveys prior to the review (and participated in interviews during it). Using the quality indicators, we assessed their feedback as a lens for viewing our own performance. Check boxes weren’t even in sight. Instead, we were getting answers to critical questions regarding our utilization of resources to support students, our ability to authenticate the mission with daily practice, and our integrity to deliver on the instructional expectations that our schools had established.

Even before the review team arrived in mid-November, we had spent weeks pouring over the feedback, self assessment diagnostics, and related action steps. Teams were organized at each site, and the response was phenomenal.

The process involved such a global perspective of school operations that every department in Grafton contributed to the comprehensive self-assessment.It was incredibly encouraging to see how well the various departments responded to these requests, engaged in the dialogue, and suggested action steps in an expedient, thorough manner.In short, folks quickly became invested in the process and the review’s true value became apparent immediately.

When the external review team arrived on the scene, they had already gone through our diagnostics, and they came prepared to continue the dialogue. Staff interviews occurred, not individually as we had been accustomed to, but in small group settings, where an external team member could assess the content of questions, as well as the interpersonal strengths of our teams.

Likewise, the classroom observation process was unlike anything we had experienced before. A team member completed an observation of each classroom for a minimum of 20 minutes.In three days, they worked from 7:30am until as late as 11pm gathering information and compiling their review using a continuous improvement model.

The culmination of this process was a series of exit meetings held on November 19. Almost universally, the external team identified the same areas for growth that we had determined weeks before.They were very pleased with the investment of time and attention which we paid to the process.In many instances, they believed that we were very critical of ourselves, but in truth, that was the value of the process.

The team was also very pleased with the quality of education services our students are receiving.This is high praise from a team of experienced educators who are credentialed and versed in a variety of school settings.

While it was gratifying to hear praise for our strengths, it was also encouraging that we were able to identify how to be better. Remember, AdvancED accredits public and private schools around the globe.Using their expertise, we were able to write a to-do list for improving our school services.It’s going to be exciting to show them what we’ve accomplished.

(I want to extend a special thank you to the Education Administrators for their work throughout this process- Allyson Davis, Canice Nuckols, Debbi Richardson, and Fredericka Harris-Richardson- you were amazing!)