One of our Senior Math teachers, Deanna Catto, just returned from a four-day accreditation visit to another member school of CAIS, the national organization to which we belong, Canadian Accredited Independent Schools. Tomorrow morning, I and our Director of Junior School, Nancy Richards, leave for a similar accreditation visit to a school in Toronto, Bishop Strachan School. SMUS had its last accreditation visit in the fall of 2007, and will be due for another one in the next couple of years. We are strong believers in this process, which involves a thorough self-examination by staff in every sector of the School – including academics, extra-curricular life, finances, athletics, and even Board, Alumni and Parents Association. It is a comprehensive and integrated examination of how effectively we fulfill our Mission in all ways, and it is conducted over four days by a team of about twelve staff and Board members from other Canadian schools, usually with a couple of independent professionals thrown in. No stone is unturned, so to speak.
In explaining the process, I regularly refer to Socrates’ line, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Likewise a school: it is useful to examine what we do and have others participate in the examination to provide an external and unbiased point of view. We want to open ourselves up to the scrutiny of eyes not our own, recognizing that the pursuit of excellence does not end in a destination you arrive at; it is the journey itself, and it never ends. For those who are curious, our last accreditation report was very positive, the visiting team finding a School where the staff engaged in their work in a spirit of continuous improvement. Music to my ears.
When the shoe is on the other foot – that is, when staff members of ours are on accreditation teams to other schools, the benefits are also significant. To go into another independent school and examine its efforts, with the aim of recognizing what works and recommending improvements where we can, does take us out of our focused and intense SMUS bubble and compel us to see how other institutions are grappling with the same purposes we pursue: the challenge of preparing young people for a dynamically changing world. Both exercises – either as the visitor or as the visited – are exercises in humility since you recognize that there is always something that needs improvement or new emphasis. And also in aspiration, since you recognize that seeking the best environment for the current generation of leaders is all about the world of tomorrow.