Skip to main content

Accreditation Through the Looking Glass

Written by Ash Pugh

I took some time away this fall to engage in some professional development. Normally, when I decide on PD, I reflect on my skills and abilities, identify a specific area that needs improvement, and set a challenging, yet achievable learning goal for myself. It’s a logical, sensible, and structured approach to learning. You probably do much the same thing.

This fall I did something different. On reflection, not only was it different, but I believe it may be the most valuable professional development I’ve taken as an education practitioner;

I joined an accreditation peer review team. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last.

There are many differing opinions on the benefits of accreditation. I’ve heard dozens of them from educators, administrators, and parents. I have given as many myself, not only through the lens of an educator, but as an accreditation commissioner and policy chair, a school services provider, and in my work with various child safeguarding groups. With the myriad of opinions I’ve heard, no one has stated the value of accreditation so clearly as our team chair at the end of our recent visit.

The team visit is one component of the lengthy accreditation process. It provides the opportunity to compare the schools’ extensive self-study with what is observed in practice. At the end of a multi-day whirlwind of interviews, questioning, meetings, and observations, the team chair delivers a verbal report to the school’s accreditation team.

During the verbal report at this particular visit, our team chair took an interesting approach to provide some reprieve from what was a stressful time for the school’s leadership team. He said he wanted to share a passage from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland whereupon Alice encounters the Cheshire cat. My team members were as surprised as the school’s team.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Alice asked. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat. “I don’t much know or care where….” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.

He paused for a beat and continued; “This process of accreditation is the conversation of who you are as a school. It is the dynamic process of reflecting, re-evaluating, and refining not only who you are but also where you want to go.”

The clearest statement I have ever seen on the value of accreditation.

It’s also why joining an accreditation team is such valuable professional development for us as education practitioners. It serves to ground us in the ‘why’ of education. It pulls our heads out of the sand, takes us away from the monotonous metrics and minutiae of our day-to-day, and calls us to sit and ask the core questions as critical friends.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit and work with schools around the world. Schools with different linguistic, ethnic, faith, and curricular groundings. All with varying racial, cultural, and socio-economic makeups. Each with a unique history of colonialism – colonized, colonizer, or both. Large multi-campus and multi-curricula behemoths to tiny community schools servicing a dozen families. The intersection of each of these differentiators creates innumerable combinations of school types. Truly, no two schools are the same.

What is the same are the core questions which define the value of accreditation for their particular context;

‘Who are we?’

‘Where do we want to go?’

The benefit of working with a school as they navigate these essential questions is two-fold. It provides them with the necessary outside scrutiny to avoid the pitfalls of confirmation bias as they focus on school improvement. Second, visiting team members gain a renewed perspective on the questions needed to ensure their organizations are centered on their purpose.

I see joining an accreditation team as professional development, but given the benefits it creates for education as a whole – you could call it development for our profession.

Ash Pugh is the CEO and Founder of a company that is an accredited education service provider, and a former member of the Middle States Board of Directors.

Shared with permission from the National Council for Private School Accreditation (NCPSA). Originally from

Ash Pugh