Those of us in elementary schools or non-member secondary schools may appreciate a brief background. Every ten years a 16-person team of educators recruited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) descends upon each member school for an intense four-day visit. The team observes instruction; meets with parents, teachers, students, and administrators; reviews curriculum; examines student work; assesses core values; and more. It’s akin to being formally observed as a first-year teacher--for four days straight.
After moderate arm twisting, I agreed in October to coordinate our self-study and have our report polished and ready for consumption by March. I took this on partly to be well positioned to advocate for strong library support. However, I also wanted to contribute in a meaningful way to school improvement from outside the library.
The work took up many, many hours outside of the school day--more than I imagined. Gathering information from all departments and various faculty members, revising and rewriting each standard committee report to have one voice and a uniform message--all time consuming. Not only did our self assessments need to conform across standards, but the small details needed to align as well. Add to that the fact that like most NEASC coordinators, I was essentially clueless. I learned by trial and error.
Despite crying twice and swearing a little bit, overall I enjoyed much of the work. I learned a lot, about the process, my school, the people I work with, good educational practice, and even our library. This endeavor delivered far more than any grad program ever could.
I studied our library from the perspective of faculty and students. Eye-opening, yes, but if I am honest I’ll admit I didn’t always like what I saw. It’s easy to say we do the best we can with what we have, but the truth is often more complex, isn’t it? Prime material for kayak self-reflection.
I also learned good things about my coworkers that I never knew in 13 years on the job. I learned the unique complexities of various roles in the school. I learned about faculty concerns and fears. I have a new appreciation for the level of commitment of my fellow educators. I imagine it is natural for every professional teacher to feel passionate about education and see the work they do as essential to student success. This, evidently, is not a trait limited to library people.
With our NEASC visit safely behind us, my school community waits patiently for its final report. I hope the results will position me to help my entire school moving forward, through either improved funding or an informed mindset. NEASC describes the overall process best as an “in-depth, self-reflective analysis of one’s own learning community validated by peers in the educational community. The value is intrinsic; the benefit is in the doing.”
“The benefit is in the doing.” Wise words, to be sure. As librarians who serve varying multiple grades in multiple school types, we do not need NEASC to remind us to engage in self-reflection in order to better serve our communities and contribute to student success. We do, however, need kayaks.