Through the open window where I taught my last Spanish course for the day, a crisp autumn breeze enticed me to finish a few minutes early so I could get started on my Thanksgiving break. However, a sinking feeling set in when I realized that I still had a meeting to attend, so I could help write a part of the accreditation report, which was mandatory for everyone at my institution to do. When some colleagues asked the administration for extra pay for contributing to this report, they were reminded that this work was within their job expectations and necessary in order for the entire institution to maintain its educational standing. In other words, we weren’t going to get out of this task and we would not be compensated for it.
Accreditation reports and self studies may seem like thankless and time-consuming tasks, so it’s tempting to simply take the descriptions and requirements stated in the rubric for the report and turn them into sentences such as this one: Yes, we develop a curriculum that encourages independent thought and fosters diversity and respect. However, making these claims without explanations or examples takes away from the snapshot picture accreditation teams need in order to understand each institution’s unique opportunities and challenges, which faculty, administration, students, staff, and community members face. Adding examples and details could also lead to unexpected sources of support for facing the challenges and enhancing the opportunities.
When writing sections of the accreditation report then, it may be helpful to develop topic sentences that address specific questions or parts of the accreditation rubric. Then, the body of each paragraph could include a few concrete examples that mirror the atmosphere and personality of the institution—as community members, employees, and students see it. For instance, if a team of writers has to report on “systems for reporting, prioritizing, and responding to safety issues, repairs, and maintenance concerns of the campus and facilities,” (Northwest Association of Independent Schools rubric, 2017), these writers might consider developing a topic sentence that explains which opportunities and challenges community members, board members, teachers, administrators, parents, and students have identified regarding the safety of the campus and its facilities. Then, specific examples could be given to help showcase the institution’s initiative in taking care of these items. Or, if challenges have been identified, a bullet-point list or action plan could show the accreditation team that resources and a reasonable timeline are in place to tackle potential problems. In other words, it’s more valuable to show, rather than tell accreditation teams the important milestones that have been met.
Once the report has been compiled and written, a group of individuals can look it over and make sure that all parts are complete and that the report is an accurate reflection of the institution. However, it might also be beneficial to get an outside consultant’s view to make sure that the report flows logically, is easy to read, addresses any contradictions that might be present, and is free from major grammatical errors and shifts in font or formatting. Outside readers and consultants can also remind writers of the report to tell their stories. In fact, I recently took on this role for an independent school. When I read the report, I was able to identify parts where short examples highlighting creative fundraising and experiential learning opportunities could be included. It also became clear that the board had put together excellent policies in just a matter of a few years, so highlighting the processes they used to meet their goals would seem significant in the eyes of the accreditation team. In reminding the stakeholders to tell those stories and to include the warm, welcoming language of their newly-developed website, I hoped to encourage them to not see this task as a burden, but as a chance to highlight the mountains they move regularly with just a few resources.
If your institution is writing or has written an accreditation report and you’d like an outside observer’s insight, I would be happy to help out. Feel free to contact me. (Cecilia Kennedy, email@example.com)