For nearly the whole of 2009, Seton has been occupied with matters of accreditation. In order to maintain accreditation, a school must perform a self-evaluation every five years and must write a self-evaluation report which is submitted to the accreditation agency. After the report is submitted, an evaluation team is sent by the accrediting agency to confirm that the report is accurate and complete.
Writing an accreditation report is about the same complexity as going through an audit. The accreditation report lists seven main standards which the school must meet, and each of the seven broad standards includes several self-evaluation questions. For each answer that a school gives, it must provide proof. This proof might be standardized test results, or the results of parent surveys, or school brochures, or advertising, or other documentation.
It might seem that the purpose of the self-evaluation report is for a school to maintain its accreditation; however, this is not the purpose of the report. The purpose of the report is to make the school look critically at itself to try to identify areas in which it is doing well and areas in which it could improve. Perhaps most importantly, it is an opportunity for the school to ask itself, “Are we delivering what we promise?” and “Are we doing the best job that we can?”
Seton submitted its self-evaluation report in September, and we were happy to host the on-site accreditation committee over a period of three days in mid-October. The members of the committee had carefully read our report, and took their time with us to dig down deeper into our answers to highlight areas of exceptional competence and areas for possible improvement. Although one might question whether committee members could truly understand the operation of a school from reading a report and then spending only a few days with us, we found the comments and the recommendations of the committee to be very insightful.
We expect that the accreditation on-site committee will forward a positive report to the accreditation governing body and that Seton’s accreditation will be renewed for the next five years. But that is not the end of the accreditation process. Over the next several years, Seton will work to implement new policies and procedures based upon what we learned during the accreditation process. By the time that is done, it will be just about time to start another round of self-evaluation. In short, the process of looking at what we do, how we do it, and how we can improve never ends.
There is something to be said for periodic self-evaluation. This is one of the blessings of the Sacrament of Penance. Instead of allowing ourselves to float along with the prevailing current until we hardly know where we are and how we got there, the Sacrament of Penance makes us take stock of ourselves. What are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, and how can we do better? By making use of the Sacrament of Penance, we can right our course when it has gone wrong, before we have gone so far astray that we do not know how to make our way back.
In the same way, it is good for each home schooling family to look at itself periodically and review what is going right and what is perhaps going astray. Like the self-evaluation report filled out by Seton, you might start with broad areas and then ask specific questions to get meaningful answers. And then you might ask yourself, “What is the proof for my answer?”
The broad areas of evaluation should correspond to standards or goals that you set for your family. These areas might include spiritual goals, academic goals, household goals, family goals, and personal goals. Of course, these standards and goals will differ for each family, but, supposing your goal was to attend daily Mass more often. How has that gone? Have you made it to Mass more often, or do you need to redouble your efforts? Perhaps a family goal might be to watch less television. Have the children moved away from watching whatever is on and started reading books, or has that particular current proved too powerful?
When looking at your standards and goals, what is the proof of your answer? If your goal was to watch less television, then perhaps the proof is that your kids have a list of the books they have read this year, or that you are praying together more as a family. If you have a positive answer and you have the proof, then you can say that you have met your standard.
Of course, you may find that you have not met certain standards that you set. In that case, you must ask yourself why. Did you not meet the standard because the standard was unrealistic and unachievable, or could you have done better? Is the standard important enough to put more effort into it? You must pick your battles, and trying to change everything at once will not work. In areas where you fall short of an important standard, pick the most important thing and start working on that.
Inertia is one of the prime forces in the universe. What has happened in the past tends to keep happening unless a counter-force is applied. Or, to put it more simply, habits are hard to break. The first step toward applying a counter-force is to understand where inertia has failed us and to identify areas that are in need of change.
Of course, the nice thing about inertia is that it can be a positive force. Good habits are just as hard to break as bad ones.