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Is Being Accredited Really That Important When Selecting a College?

We all hear and read about the benefits of earning a college degree: We make more money over a lifetime; we get better jobs; we receive company-paid benefits; we tend to be happier and healthier overall. However, choosing the right college or university can be quite daunting, and yet it’s terribly important, because not all institutions are alike, and the quality can vary widely. While there are lots of things to consider such as cost, degree programs, scheduling, and the like, one thing many college students often overlook is whether or not the university is accredited.

There are many types of accreditation–you may likely hear terms such as regional accreditation, national accreditation, functional or programmatic accreditation, and sometimes even state accreditation. Each plays an important role in quality assurance for specific programs or an entire institution but here’s a strong recommendation:

Don’t ever take a single course from an institution that is not accredited. Never. Ever.

While no guarantee of perfection, accredited institutions have provided certain levels of assurance to respected bodies within academia that students will be taken care of. Non-accredited institutions have had no one looking over their shoulder, digging deep and looking in various academic or financial nooks and crannies; they can accept your money with absolutely no guarantee that the course or degree that you completed will be worth anything at all.

Plus, if you complete courses from an unaccredited institution, there is no guarantee that those courses will be accepted should you decide to transfer to another university later on. Even worse, if you go the distance and complete an entire degree from an institution that’s not accredited, you may find that many employers or graduate schools will not recognize that degree–in their eyes it will be like you don’t have a degree at all–but you’ll still have those student loans to pay back just the same.

Here is an entertaining yet informative video that clears up some of the confusion:

ASPA 2016 Explainer

You should be able to choose a college or university that fits your particular needs:

  • faith-based
  • public
  • private
  • traditional brick & mortar
  • online
  • non-profit
  • for-profit

Regardless of which you choose, make sure it’s a program that is accredited.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

Professional Dispositions: Essential Traits for Effective Teaching & School Leadership

Being an effective teacher or school leader involves much more than simply possessing a solid command of subject matter or earning a certain GPA. It also takes more than an ability to write detailed lesson plans, or to maintain discipline in a classroom. Being an effective educator requires skills that are just as important to teaching and learning success–they are the attributes students mention when they are asked to think back to their favorite teacher–the one who made the greatest impact on their lives:

  • She always made me feel as though I mattered.
  • He had a great sense of humor!
  • She could admit when she had made a mistake.
  • He was tough, but always fair. 
  • She was kind of like a mom to me when my life was in such chaos.
  • She always encouraged me to keep going and told me she knew I could make it. And I did. 

 

These attributes–sometimes known as soft skills–are more properly labeled as professional dispositions. Accrediting bodies such as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) started emphasizing their importance many years ago. Even though they never defined them, NCATE spoke about dispositions in terms of values, commitments, and ethics; these in turn impact the behaviors and decisions of teachers in the classroom and in their interactions with others. More recently, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as well as industry leaders such as the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) emphasize the role that professional dispositions play in effective teaching and school leadership, and they hold schools of education accountable for identifying, selecting, and graduating individuals who indicate a propensity for success as an educator, including the demonstration of specific professional dispositions.

Needless to say, dispositions can have a huge impact on student learning, development, motivation, and overall happiness in school. Dispositions stem from our beliefs, our attitudes, and our personal “compass” that steers us through life. Do we really care about others? Are we compassionate and empathetic? Are we respectful of other ideas or traditions, even if they differ from our own? Do we take responsibility for our own actions? Do we take the high road even when no one else is looking?

Other important questions to consider:

  • What dispositions make the very best teachers? What about school leaders?
  • How can dispositions be assessed?
  • Can these skills be taught, or are they innate?
  • And if they can be taught, how can it be done effectively?
  • On a wider scale, are the dispositions for teachers and school leaders the same for those outside of education–such as in the health professions, or in IT, or in business?
  • Are there particular teacher dispositions that are most highly correlated to student success?

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, educator quality, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Competency-Based Education to Support P-12 Student Success

The competency-based educational (CBE) model has been used successfully in higher education for the past two decades, and it is starting to gain national traction at the P-12 level. Several states, particularly on the east coast, have already come to appreciate its benefits. The Marzano Academy at Lomie G. Heard Elementary School, a new magnet charter school focusing on STEM will open its doors this fall under the CBE model. The state of Illinois currently has 10 school districts that will begin a pilot in academic year 2018-19 under the Illinois’ Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program.

Within CBE, learners must demonstrate what they know and are able to do through carefully designed and calibrated assessments. Expectations are clear and well-defined, and there is thoughtful, purposeful alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

This model is truly learner-centered: Seat time becomes less important than learning time. Students are able to drive their own learning and work at their own pace within structured guidelines. They are supported through meaningful feedback and mentoring.

Parents and caregivers feel more informed about their child’s progress under the CBE model. They know what their student is learning, their learning goals, progress, and their level of proficiency in each skill set. This helps them to partner with teachers to provide additional support at home.

Teachers recognize the positive impact the CBE model has on student learning and development. They are able to easily track the progress of each student on a daily basis, and they know exactly when a learner needs additional support.

School leaders are able to support teachers more effectively when they know exactly what their needs are. With the CBE model, they can provide strategic assistance through forming a mentoring network to support struggling students; through building school-community partnerships; through offering targeted professional development support, and the like.

Before making a decision to develop one or more programs based on the CBE model, educators must consider the following major questions:

  • What is the competency-based education model?
  • What are the major tenets of CBE?
  • Would CBE align with our school’s mission and vision?
  • What are the benefits of CBE at the P-12 level?
  • What are the challenges of CBE?
  • What are the basic steps needed to convert to the CBE model?
  • Could our school commit to a pilot lasting at least five years so we can fully measure the impact CBE has had on our learners?

The bottom line is this:

Competency-based education is NOT a shortcut nor an easy fix to serious school challenges. However, if built correctly and maintained properly, the CBE model can prove to be a powerful way to increase student learning, achievement, and satisfaction.

If you are interested in discussing whether CBE would be a good fit for your school, please reach out to me.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

AI to Assess Teacher Dispositions? 

I just finished reading a piece entitled AI Could Conduct Peer Review, Report Findsit actually focuses on using robots to detect plagiarism, finding instances of misused data and noting when statistical tests have been used incorrectly. This sounds like Turnitin perhaps joined at the hip with SPSS software–on steroids. It may prove to be quite a handy tool.

However, I had other thought: Could forms of artificial intelligence accurately identify individuals who have a propensity for success in the classroom? In other words, could they be programmed to assess an individual’s professional dispositions? Dispositions are the “soft skills” needed to have a positive impact on the lives of students–not just academically but also developmentally, socially, and emotionally. Skills like compassion, caring, ethics, values, commitment, grit, attentive to detail, organized, collaborative, and so on–cannot easily be measured but we know them when we see them, and they make a huge difference in the classroom. I’ve seen so many times over the years individuals who had a tremendous command of their subject matter and yet they were terrible teachers–they didn’t have those dispositions necessary for working well with students, parents, colleagues, and others.

Institutions of higher education struggle with how best to measure dispositions; it’s often cost-prohibitive or personnel-prohibitive to assess each applicant once, much less at multiple points in their program. But what if we could build tech tools that would be very effective at evaluating the professional dispositions of prospective teachers or school leaders? If developed correctly, this could potentially save schools of education huge sums of money each year and it would help them to better identify those who are most likely to be successful: Most likely to be retained in the program, most likely to graduate, and most likely to be successful after program completion.

Of course, this would also open the door to all sorts of research studies! And, it would be entirely possible to confirm things such as content validity, reliability, inter-rater reliability, and so on.

What might this look like? And how would we get started?

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Meeting the Needs of Learners in Today’s Universities

In a recent piece entitled Survey: American Confidence in Higher Ed is Waning, it appears that only about 25% of the sample thinks the current higher education system is fine the way it is, and among millennials, that number drops to 13%. First of all, why do 75% believe the system is NOT meeting their needs? And of the millennial group, why do they feel even more strongly about the current system? In other words, what do today’s learners need that our colleges and universities are not providing?

We need to take a deep dive into this survey data in order to learn more about exactly what questions were asked, and what the demographics of respondents were. For example, are we reading the results of a representative sample, or were most respondents within a particular age group? Were the questions focused on seeking a first college degree, or did they include advanced studies? That sort of thing…However, just speaking in general terms, I’d say we need to focus on two things:

First, we need to revisit the relevance of curriculum found in today’s college degree programs. Are they workforce-driven? Will what students are learning really help them develop better job skills? I see very little true collaboration between higher education institutions and specific industries; this is essential for modernizing the curriculum and ensuring that what graduates will know and be able to do upon graduation will prepare them to be workforce-ready.

Second, we need to provide more structured support for those who need it throughout their programs, from matriculation to graduation. Mentoring models work wonders–This is particularly true for first-generation college students but really can benefit all learners. The key is to have a formal mechanism in place for continually monitoring and evaluating the progress of each learner, and to provide a safety net for them all along the way. Regular phone calls, emails, academic outreach, and the like can work wonders to help learners stay focused, achieve manageable goals, and attain success.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Competency-Based Education: Academic Excellence in Action

 

Competency-based education (CBE) is quickly becoming accepted as an effective way to facilitate powerful, authentic learning at all levels. Sometimes referred to as personalized learning, mastery learning, or proficiency learning, students must demonstrate what they know and are able to do, rather than just put in “seat time” and complete a prescribed set of courses. However, designing a solid CBE program is not as simple as it sounds–it requires a great deal of thought, understanding, and know-how.

I’ve worked in institutions using traditional learning models and spent 10 years working in one that employs the CBE model effectively. I’ve really come to appreciate the level of learning that takes place in a CBE model, and I’ve seen over the years how effective it is in supporting students’ learning. I’ve celebrated with students and their families who reached their goals and achieved their dreams because they were in an environment that enabled them to show what they knew and then move on at their own pace. CBE, when structured properly, helps educators to personalize learning experiences. I predict the CBE model will be a major player in the educational arena over the next two decades at the P-12 level as well as at the collegiate level.

There are some essential thoughts to consider for programs thinking about adopting the competency-based education (CBE) model, and I shared some of those tenets in a commentary published in the Journal of Competency-Based Education entitled, Implications for Educator Preparation Programs Considering Competency-Based Education. 

Helping students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do within the context of a set of well-articulated competencies and measured through high-quality assessments is certainly one example of academic excellence.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Alternative Educator Preparation: A Viable Option, or a Non-Starter?

There’s an interesting article about alternative teacher preparation programs entitled Analysis Finds Alternatively Credentialed Teachers Performed Equal to Peers in First Two Years–while the results are inconclusive on several fronts it does present some thoughtful information to consider, including:

  • Are traditional educator preparation programs the ONLY way to train future teachers successfully? Are they BEST way?
  • Can alternative (non-traditional) educator preparation programs support student learning in a positive way, whilst supporting supply and demand challenges faced by multiple school districts across the nation?
  • What are the long-term impacts of educator preparation on our country’s workforce? And, what are the long-term impacts of what we view as an educated society?
  • Will how teachers are prepared impact our standing in the world relative to student achievement?
  • How would we know? What research questions need to be posed?

 

An experienced consultant can help with these questions, and more. Reach out to me for program development, collaboration, accreditation, clinical partnerships, and other matters related to preparing educators with excellence.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Transition Points & Gateways: Stop Gaps Universities Should Consider

Each higher education institution’s program of study, regardless of major, contains specific phases of progression that each student must successfully complete before being allowed to graduate. In other words, there is a planned, purposeful order to completing a program or earning a college degree—an individual does not just apply for admission and have complete autonomy over the courses taken, the sequence of coursework, when/where/if practica or internships are completed, and so on. The institution makes those decisions after carefully designing each given program of study. They decide things such as:

  • Admission and enrollment criteria
  • General education requirements
  • # of semester hours required for graduation
  • Minimum GPA required to pass each course
  • Clinical experiences, internships, practica
  • Exit examinations required for graduation (or state licensure, depending on the program)

Transition points are sometimes referred to as “gateways”—they are specific points at which a student passes from one stage in his or her program to the next. As long as a student meets the stated expectations, the journey continues and he or she moves ahead toward graduation. If the student fails to meet one or more expectations in a given stage, the institution implements a plan for remediation, additional support, or in some case, counseling out of the program.

I have created a Transition Points framework that may be useful to some educator preparation programs. Of course, Transition Points must be tailored to fit each unique program but could include gateways such as:

  • Transition Point I: Applicant to Pre-Candidate Status 
    • Admission to the program
  • Transition Point II: Pre-Candidate to Candidate Status
    • Completion of Block #1 Coursework & Preparation for Formative Field Experiences
  • Transition Point III: Candidate to Pre-Graduate Status
    • Completion of Block #2 Coursework & Formative Field Experiences 
  • Transition Point IV: Pre-Graduate to Graduate Status
    • Completion of Block #3 Coursework & Culminating Clinical Experiences
  • Transition Point V: Graduate to Program Completer Status
    • Pass Required Licensure/Certification Examination(s)

Do you see the progression? When detailed out, a complete Transitions Points or Gateway table should paint a portrait of a student’s journey from matriculation to program completion; the sequence should represent a logical flow with at least some detail relative to minimum expectations.

I hope this has been helpful to you. Need more ideas? Want to collaborate on a project? Feel free to reach out to me.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Educator Prep: There’s a Better Way.

Numerous sources can point to a teacher shortage across the United States, with some areas having a much greater need than others. With some exceptions, Elementary and Social Studies teachers tend to be in greatest supply but in least demand, while the converse is true for Special Education, English Language Learning, Mathematics, and Science teachers. School districts typically have a much harder time filling teaching positions in urban districts, in Title I schools, and in remote rural areas. In many instances, a lack of experienced, qualified teachers in those areas forces districts to fill those classrooms with individuals who may be well-intentioned but lack sufficient training and cultural competence to be successful. Moreover, those districts often fail to provide adequate mentoring and support in the first two years of employment which results in new teachers feeling isolated and without tools to succeed. Consequently, we typically see a high turnover rate in those areas which has a negative impact on students and the local community at-large over time.

Various state departments of education have taken steps to address this problem. California has recently committed $25 million for scholarship money to help alleviate the teacher shortage by using a “grow your own” model. They are distributing this money to 25 school districts and county offices of education to help 5,000 support staff members earn their teaching credentials while continuing to work at their schools. While the idea has some merit, I see big gaps in the approach. Specifically, they are granting funds only to individuals who complete their teaching license requirements at one of the California State University campuses; this severely restricts the type of training these individuals will receive and it only supports the enrollment of those campuses. Moreover, EdSource reports 1,000 eligible employees can get stipends of $4,000 per year over the course of the five-year grant, which could cover all or most of the cost to enroll in those select institutions, depending on how many courses these employees take per semester. Acknowledging it could take up to five years doesn’t make a convincing case that these programs are innovative or cutting edge—in fact they are likely just serving as a feeder into their current programs. So, for continuing business as usual, these institutions are reaping the reward of 1,000 new enrollments and $25 million. The latest initiative proposed in California is to offer teachers who have taught at least 5 years in the state freedom from state income tax. While an interesting idea, I don’t see it encouraging sufficient numbers of individuals to enter or to remain in the teaching profession. Plus, it could have a negative impact on a state already short on cash.

The state of Nevada has attempted to alleviate the teacher shortage, most severe in the Clark County School District located in Las Vegas. School officials in that district, reportedly the third largest in the nation, face the daunting task each year of hiring approximately 2500 teachers. At the time of this writing, there are currently 672 openings for licensed teachers. The Nevada Department of Education approved an Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL) program designed to alleviate shortages across the state but it seems to be only a partial solution in its present form. What’s of equal concern is that once hired, districts struggle to retain teachers for a variety of reasons.

In addition to approaches that focus on state funding and providing paths to licensure through nontraditional means, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recently begun looking at teacher preparation itself; staff have initiated statewide conversations amongst educators regarding how new teachers should be prepared. And of course, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has established itself as a national leader on educator quality and preparation through research and rankings of educator preparation programs.

 So what’s the answer?

The solution to having an adequate supply of qualified, well-prepared teachers who will positively impact the lives, learning, and development of their students is not simplistic—it is complicated, and that’s why no one has solved it yet. However, I believe one answer lies in how teachers are prepared. While many educator prep programs do a fine job, many do not and new teachers are simply not ready to enter the classroom, hitting the ground running. They have absolutely no idea how to effectively manage a classroom, deal with an angry parent, meet the needs of EVERY learner in their class, and so on. There is an apparent disconnect between what is being taught in colleges of education and the reality of teaching in today’s classrooms. Is one reason because those responsible for preparing those future teachers have little to no current teaching experience themselves? Have they stepped foot in a P-12 classroom in the past five years? Have they cleaned up vomit all over desks and the floor? Have they done before and after school bus duty? Have they had a student arrested in their class? Have they had to bring comfort to a child who is homeless? I think that while credentialed education faculty are well-intentioned, knowledgeable, and experienced, their skills may not be what’s needed in today’s classrooms.

I have been developing some specific ideas regarding how to train new educators some of which challenge the current preparation model. I’m working on creating an educator preparation program that could work for new teachers as well as new educational leaders that has features unique to any other program I’ve reviewed. Some would call it an alternative program, but I really don’t like that word and would love to see it disassociated with education preparation. Want to know more? Interested in partnering with me on a project of immense importance that is built from the ground level up on academic excellence? Let me hear from you…

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

 

Accreditation Site Visit Logistics

Preparing for an accreditation site visit is always stressful for university faculty and staff, even under the best of circumstances. Depending on whether we’re talking about a regional accrediting body, a state compliance audit, or a discipline-specific accreditor, there are certain processes and procedures that must be followed. However, for the sake of simplicity, this blog will focus on one discipline–that of teacher preparation–using the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as the sample accrediting body. In this piece, I provide topics to be covered during a pre-visit conference call between the site team lead, the education preparation provider (EPP), and state representatives. By the end of this call, all parties should be “on the same page” and should be clear regarding what to expect in the upcoming site visit. Here are the topics that are essential to cover:

  • Any general questions the EPP has regarding completion of the Addendum
  • Confirm Addendum submission date
  • Review and revise draft visit schedule
  • Travel Details
    • Confirm preferred airport
    • If arrival and departure times coincide, team prefers to pick up a rental car at the airport and provide their own transportation during the site visit.
    • Otherwise, EPP will need to make ground transportation arrangements.
  • Reminder per CAEP guidelines: No receptions, banquets, poster sessions, dinners with EPP representatives, etc.
  • School Visits
    • Typically limit of 2 (from different grade levels such as 1 Elem & 1 HS)
    • Should not require significant drive time
    • EPP should provide a guide (typically faculty) to drive and serve as host/hostess
    • Usually should take no more than 1 hour on-site at school
  • Work Room at Hotel and on Campus
    • Must be secure and private; lockable.
    • Only site team members and state representatives are to enter the work rooms.
    • Conference table large enough to accommodate all team members and state representatives
    • Printer, secure wifi, LCD or HDTV projector
    • Shredder
    • Basic office supplies (i.e., stapler, paper clips, post-its, note pads, pens, highlighters, etc.)
  • Food/Snacks
    • There should be healthy snacks and beverages (i.e., bottled water, coffee, soda) in the work room at the hotel and on campus.
    • The team will eat breakfast at the hotel each morning.
    • If at all possible, the team will want to remain on campus for lunch, with the ideal arrangement to have lunch catered either in the workroom or in an adjacent room.
    • The EPP should suggest a variety of restaurants within easy driving distance of the hotel for dinner each night.
  • Interviews
    • Generate interviewee list.
      • Dean
      • Assessment Director
      • Field Experiences Coordinator
      • Full-Time Faculty
      • Key Adjunct Faculty
      • Current candidates representing multiple programs
      • Program completers representing multiple programs
      • Cooperating teachers from field experiences
      • Clinical supervisors
      • P-12 partners (i.e., superintendents, principals, teachers, etc.)
      • Other:
    • Interview Rooms
      • Depending on final schedule, 3 rooms may be needed simultaneously.
      • Should have a door for privacy
      • EPP representatives should not attend interviews with candidates, program completers, or cooperating teachers
      • EPP should prepare sign-in sheets for each interview.
      • A staff member should be responsible for get all participants to sign in and then leave the room.
      • All sign-in sheets should be sent to the site team lead.
    • Requests for Additional Information or Data
      • All requests should flow from and back to the site team lead.

There will be additional items to discuss but these are the most essential. Remember–advanced preparation is one key to a successful site visit. Do your homework and know what is required. Get organized. Appoint someone with experience to coordinate the event. Start well in advance. And if in doubt, hire a consultant. Earning accreditation is crucial to an institution’s overall success and should never be taken lightly.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Accreditation Stress: It’s Real, and You Need to Prepare for It.

In nearly every profession there are standards by which institutions, agencies, and programs are held accountable. State, regional, national, and profession-specific bodies determine the health and strength of an institution in a variety of ways, one of which is through an accreditation site visit. While each body’s requirements vary, accreditation is determined through a rigorous program review process. This requires a significant financial, personnel, and resource commitment on the part of each institution.

In many instances, staff involved in the accreditation process focus so much on preparing for the site visit they aren’t ready for the emotional or physical toll that it can take on them. Moreover, the stress usually doesn’t end when the site review team leaves. My experience in accreditation over the past 10 years has confirmed there’s a need for this kind of information, and yet it’s a topic I’ve never seen addressed at conferences or in professional literature.

Accreditation-related stress and anxiety are real. You might be able to function, and you may be able to hide it from others. But, how do you know if it’s starting to get the best of you? And what can you do about it?

Red Flag Alert: Signs the Stress is Negatively Impacting Your Life

You’re surviving, but you’re not thriving. You may be making it through each day, but the quality of your life is suffering. You aren’t enjoying the things you used to enjoy. You feel guilty about taking the time to watch a sunset or to read a book. Every waking moment is spent thinking about the site visit.

Those lights in your brain just won’t shut off. You can’t sleep, even though you feel exhausted. You’re worn out physically and mentally, but you can’t allow yourself to take even a few hours off to rest.

You’re numb inside. You have no appetite and aren’t eating. You’ve even managed to shut down your emotions. It’s like you’ve gone on auto-pilot and feel like a robot.

You feel empty, like there’s a gaping hole inside. But even though the emptiness isn’t from hunger you binge eat everything in sight. And then you still look around for more because you still have that huge gaping hole that just can’t seem to be filled.

You become obsessed with every detail, no matter how minute it may seem. It’s those little foxes that spoil the vine—and you’re determined that you’re going to make sure NOTHING is overlooked.  

You come to believe that you are ultimately responsible for the success of the site visit. If you’re honest with yourself, you don’t think others are as committed to success as you are. The little voice inside you says, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!”

You start to resent others who don’t seem as stressed out as you are. While you hate feeling like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, you refuse to delegate responsibility to others and then you get mad when you hear that they went to a movie or a concert over the weekend.

Drink the Stress Away: You may hear yourself saying “I just need to take the edge off” or “I just need to relax for a while.” Having one glass of Chardonnay is one thing but knocking back five tequila shots in 30 minutes is another.

Ups and Downs: You may self-medicate by taking a pill or two to help you sleep because even though you’re exhausted, you’re wired due to all the stress.

Caffeine overload: You may guzzle coffee, soda, or Red Bull throughout the day (or night) because, “I’ve got to keep going for just a little while longer.”

Shop ‘til Your Fingers Drop: On a whim you may go on a shopping spree and spend a ton of money on things you probably didn’t really need. Not at a brick and mortar store or mall—that would be far too self-indulgent. Instead, you likely visited Zappos or Amazon, where you could remain close to your computer and be right there to respond to an urgent email should one land in your Inbox.

Keep Setting the Bar Higher: You set impossible standards for yourself to meet and then criticize yourself endlessly when you don’t meet them. It’s like you’re obsessed with proving something to others—and to yourself. Except that you’re never satisfied with your performance, even when you do things well.

Slay the Dragon: You plan things down to each minute detail, leaving no stone unturned. You review things in your mind, over and over again. You obsess about forgetting something. You are determined to emerge victorious, regardless of the personal cost.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Think the stress of getting ready for a site visit only affects you? Think again. If you have close friends, a life partner, or children, they are affected as well. It’s possible that your furry buddies at home can even detect your anxiety. You’ll know if your stress is out of balance if you hear a loved one say, “I miss you!”; “I HATE your job!”; or “Will this ever end?”

 

Moving from Surviving to Thriving: How to Manage Your Stress in a Healthy Way

Even Superman struggled at times with Kryptonite, but he found ways to adapt and overcome those challenges, and so can you. While an accreditation site visit always leads to a certain level of stress, there are things you can do to minimize the anxiety. For example:

Prepare ahead of time: It may sound simplistic, but a lot of stress can be avoided by getting a jumpstart on the process. If you don’t start on the process until 6 or 8 months before the site visit, you are putting yourself squarely in the crosshairs of some serious stress and anxiety. Ideally, quality assurance should be an integral part of every program, so there really shouldn’t be any significant scrambling or looking for data—your institution should already be reviewing, analyzing, looking for trends, and making data-driven decisions to improve programs on a continual basis. That said, you should plan on starting your self-study report (SSR) no later than 18 months prior to a scheduled site visit. The more you delay this timetable, the higher your stress level will be. Guaranteed.

Provide faculty/staff training: Letting others know what to expect and getting them on board early on will greatly reduce anxiety for everyone. Plan a kickoff event, and then schedule periodic retreats/advances. Create a solid communication protocol and stick with it. When team members are fully informed and are active contributors to the process, the stress is reduced for everyone.

Delegate to others as much as possible: It’s important to have a project manager/coordinator for every major project, and that includes accreditation site visits. However, that does NOT mean that this one person needs to take on the bulk of the responsibility—quite the contrary. Instead, that person should be seen as a “conduit” who facilitates the flow of information between internal and external stakeholders. That person should also play the primary role in delegating tasks to appropriate personnel and maintaining a schedule so that tasks are completed on time.

It’s OK to talk about it: Know that a certain amount of stress and anxiety are normal reactions to accreditation site visit preparation, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to talk with your colleagues and leadership about your stress level. It’s entirely possible that others share your feelings—it might be helpful to start a small informal support group. Getting together one day a week for lunch works wonders.

Be upfront with your friends and loved ones: Help them to know what to expect and make them a part of the celebration once it’s over. Your children, significant other, and close friends may not be writing the self-study report or creating pieces of evidence, but they are most definitely involved in the site visit process as a part of your support system.

Be kind to yourself: This may sound silly but it’s really important. Purposely build one nice thing into your personal calendar each day. It may be taking a walk, working out, or reading for pleasure for 30 minutes, but regardless you choose it’s crucial that you make this a part of your schedule.

Be ready when it’s over:  You may find that you can hold yourself together from start to finish, but then after the site review team packs up and leaves your institution you have a feeling of not quite knowing what to do with yourself. What you’ve focused all your energy on for 18 months is suddenly over. This can result in your emotions taking a deep dive—and it can last for several weeks. You can greatly reduce this by planning a combination of fun activities and work activities for your next four weeks after the site visit. You been functioning within a very structured paradigm for several months—to suddenly have nothing to do will likely lead to additional anxiety so it’s best to transition back slowly.

 

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a consultant to higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies throughout the United States and internationally. Specializing in quality assurance, accreditation, competency-based education, online education, and educator preparation she can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

 

 

 

The Path to Leadership

Do you have a desire to lead but aren’t quite sure how to develop the necessary skills? Have you ever looked at those in leadership positions and wondered how they got there? Are some people just born with a natural ability to lead, with others left to follow?

These are legitimate questions to consider. While I believe leadership ability is innate, I think leadership skills are learned, developed, and honed over time. I doubt if you will find this supported in any textbook or graduate course, but upon reflecting on years of experience in this area, I’ve concluded the following:

  • Exploration leads to both successes and failures.
  • Successes and failures build knowledge, experience, wisdom, and character.
  • Knowledge, experience, wisdom, and character develop good judgment and confidence.
  • Confidence serves as a springboard for more exploration, thereby continuing the cycle of development.
  • Over time, this loop births a desire for efficacy.
  • A desire for efficacy prompts a need to serve the greater good, which includes helping others to build their own skills.
  • Serving the greater good is the epitome of true leadership.

 

Is this the only path to developing leadership skills? Probably not. There have been multiple books written and entire programs of study devoted to the subject. But I know these statements to be true—I’ve seen them proven out too many times.

Are you wanting to develop your own leadership skills? Are you a mid-level manager with a desire to take your career to the next level?  Might you benefit from a mentor or coach? I may be able to help—reach out to me and let’s talk.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com).

 

Countdown: Assessing Your Way to Success

We’re just a couple of days away from an all-day workshop I’m conducting on behalf of the Network for Strong Communities entitled, “Assessing Your Way to Success: How to Use Measurable Outcomes to Achieve Your Goals”.

The June 14th workshop is designed for non-profit organizations representing a variety of sectors (healthcare, social services, educational, faith-based, etc.) who are committed to tackling problems and meeting the needs of those they serve.

Designing new programs and initiatives is something all non-profits do—but it’s important to give those efforts every chance of success. This workshop will provide many tools that can help!

This will be a fast-paced, action-packed day with lots of hands-on activities and FUN! Please consider joining us as we tackle topics like:

  • •      The basics of designing effective programs/initiatives
  • •      Determining success through measurable outcomes
  • •      The role of high-quality assessments to accurately gauge success
  • •      Building a strong program evaluation model
  • •      Assessment basics
  • •      Putting all the tools to work
  • •      Making data-driven decisions to inform strategic planning
  • •      Individualized consultation time: Let’s get started building your new                                       program/initiative!

 

 Looking forward to seeing you there! If you live outside the St. Louis metro area, reach out to me and I can come to your location.

–rrf

 

About the Author

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, program evaluation, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

 

 

Exceptional Educators: Key Players in Building an Exceptional Society

Interesting…I just finished reading a piece by Linda Jacobson entitled, “What’s Still Wrong with Teacher Evaluations?”  and it aligned so well with recommendations I made in one of my previous blogs entitled, “Educator Evaluations: Moving from Performance Appraisal to Continuous Growth & Improvement“.

The bottom line is that we can and must do a better job of evaluating the performance of our nation’s teachers and school leaders so they can continually growth, develop, and mature as highly effective professional educators. Teacher training does NOT stop upon completion of a prep program or graduation from college–it’s really just the beginning. It’s the starting point of one’s career, and of one’s training.

How can we hone and improve our skills if we aren’t mindful of our success? As an avid gardener, the measure of my success is determined weekly as indicated by the bounty of my harvest. An athlete’s performance is measured by earned runs, touchdowns, or finish line time, and the goal is to continually work toward improvement. It’s no different in the classroom. We as educators should ALWAYS be mindful of our performance, with self-evaluation, peer-evaluation, and supervisor evaluation being the norm. Professional development should be tailored toward meeting each teacher’s needs–not necessarily their interests, but toward areas identified as needing improvement.

After all, one of the bedrocks of our great nation is a highly educated society capable of solving problems, developing new inventions, and continually finding ways to improve the lives of others. I would argue that one aspect of producing such a society lies in the quality of our teachers and school leaders – Exceptional citizens are mentored by exceptional educators — and exceptional educators should embrace a career-long cycle of evaluation, reflection, and professional improvement.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

Think-Speak-Learn-Grow

She doesn’t know it, but Heather Wolpert-Gawron got my morning off to a good start. I just read that the 2017-2018 Missouri Educator of the Year is working with middle level students to help them to hone their speech and debate skills. On surface that may not sound groundbreaking or earth-shattering, but I’ve felt for a long time that it’s a very important skill we should be promoting in our P-12 schools.

Wolpert-Gawron teaches at Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield, Missouri. The school was originally established in 1908 as part of the teacher training curriculum at Springfield Normal School but has been associated with Missouri State University for many years. In fact, I’m proud to say that I completed my student teaching at Greenwood many years ago and am pleased it has maintained its reputation for innovative instructional practices.

Ms. Wolpert-Gawron correctly observed that most P-12 students have no problem expressing themselves in social situations with their peers—the difficulty comes when they are asked to apply what they have learned about a given topic and communicate on a more formal level. In my opinion, it is extremely important to teach our students how to think critically, analyze, articulate a position, and engage in thoughtful, meaningful discussions with others. In a nutshell we really need to be teaching all the Language Arts, which are broadly comprised of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Some additional key skills that can be developed in association with the Language Arts include:

  • Formulating arguments without being argumentative
  • Disagreeing without being disagreeable
  • Knowing what you stand for, and then being able to defend it
  • Using your knowledge for good – to effect positive change
  • Feeling empowered to make a difference

Students who are taught these skills and given opportunities to hone them will become much more confident thinkers, writers, and speakers. They will grow up to become valuable employees, entrepreneurs, and political leaders. Most importantly, by teaching language arts skills including debate, these students will become informed, confident, articulate, and empowered citizens of our great nation. In other words, Active civitate opus effectum positivum mutation. – “Active citizenship to effect positive change.” I can think of no better gift to give to our students, or to our nation.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

HELP WANTED: EXCEPTIONAL LEADERS. OTHERS NEED NOT APPLY.

HELP WANTED: An exceptional leader who desires to make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of others. This individual must be able to: work well under stress; collaborate with others; manage and lead; inspire and motivate; and yield results. The ideal candidate will demonstrate the following attributes:

  • High moral standards
  • Strict personal ethics
  • Executive energy
  • Exceptional organization skills
  • Artful communication skills
  • Loyalty

 

It’s difficult to find individuals who meet these criteria; isn’t it? Over the years we’ve gotten used to settling for less than the very best. Sometimes we settle because we’re in a hurry to fill a position; other times we’re more focused on saving a few bucks so we hire someone less qualified, less experienced, less committed, and less successful. In some instances, individuals come along who possess few of the skills we’re looking for, but they are charismatic and convincing, only to leave a path of destruction for others to clean up. Regardless of the reason, we eventually we pay a price for not insisting on hiring the very best leaders.

There actually is one individual who meets all the criteria above—it’s Robert Frances Kennedy. In fact, he was described in this way by his brother, President John F. Kennedy, in an interview with Newsweek magazine in early 1963 (Matthews 2017).  In respectful observance of his tragic death this week in 1968, I think it’s important that we reflect on what true leadership is. We need more leaders today like Bobby Kennedy, and we need to be teaching leadership skills in our P-12 schools to nurture those qualities in our young people so they in turn can fill important societal roles in the future. President Kennedy said that anybody can have ideas—the problem lies in actually making them happen. Helping students to identify problems, develop ideas for solving those problems, and then taking action to yield results are important skills that schools should build into their curriculum starting in kindergarten.

Since my field is education, that is the lens through which I look most often. But I think real leaders probably possess many of the same attributes, skills, and dispositions regardless of which sector they serve in. Specifically:

In addition to building a vision for the future, developing a strategic plan, and setting high but attainable expectations, a leader’s major role is to motivate and inspire others; to model effective and ethical practice; and to facilitate growth in other team members.

I think there is a distinction between management and leadership, but they are intertwined on many levels. Those assigned to roles of responsibility must be adept at both.

Successful management is one piece of advancing the institution’s mission, but leaders must be careful not to micromanage because it can signal a lack of trust, breed confusion and ultimately, can productivity and success. Delegate responsibilities to others when appropriate but lead when necessary.

I believe an effective leader must be truly committed to academic excellence. By setting high expectations for ethical practice and academic outcomes, a leader can inspire others to achieve great things.

Likewise, an effective leader must have confidence. It is difficult to lead others when we don’t communicate that we truly believe the path being taken is the right one.

An effective leader must ensure proper recognition of other team members for their contributions, particularly in the context of a significant or challenging project. It’s necessary to motivate and inspire, but we must also show appreciation and recognition.

And finally, an effective leader must be prepared to make tough decisions. He or she must be willing and able to make the decisions necessary to ensure program quality, because if a leader fails in that arena he or she simply is not doing the job they were hired to do.

The bottom line is that an effective leader must wholeheartedly believe in the cause he or she is leading—must be completely committed to success—and must treat others with respect and appreciation.

For so many reasons, I truly wish Bobby Kennedy was still with us. But, we can still learn from him and others like him. We must commit to building a nation of true leaders. I think our way of life depends on it.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com).

 

 

Matthews, C. (2017). Bobby Kennedy: A raging spirit. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Assessing Your Way to Success: How to Use Measurable Outcomes to Achieve Your Goals

I’m looking forward to facilitating an all-day workshop on behalf of the Network for Strong Communities entitled, “Assessing Your Way to Success: How to Use Measurable Outcomes to Achieve Your Goals”.

The June 14th workshop is designed for non-profit organizations representing a variety of sectors (healthcare, social services, educational, faith-based, etc.) who are committed to tackling problems and meeting the needs of those they serve.

Designing new programs and initiatives is something all non-profits do—but it’s important to give those efforts every chance of success. This workshop will provide many tools that can help!

Here’s a rundown of what we’ll cover:

Morning Session:  9:00 am – 12:00 pm

  • The basics of designing & developing effective programs/initiatives
  • Determining success through measurable outcomes
  • The role of high-quality assessments to accurately gauge success
  • Building a strong program evaluation model
  • Making data-driven decisions to inform strategic planning

 Lunch Break:  12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

Afternoon Session:  1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

  • The basics of designing high-quality assessments
  • Putting all the tools to work:  How to design your powerful program or initiative
  • Wrapping up:  Final questions & answers
  • Individualized consultation time:  Let’s get started on building your new program/initiative

 

This will be a fast-paced, action-packed day with lots of hands-on activities and FUN! Please consider joining us.

NOTE: If you live outside the St. Louis area I can come to your location. Contact me for details.

 

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE. NOTHING LESS.

Educator Evaluations: Moving from Performance Appraisal to Continuous Growth & Improvement

As I write this, spring has finally sprung and I’m enjoying puttering around in my garden after so many long months of winter. I’ve come to be a big fan of container gardening, with straw bales being my favorite. Of course, gardening takes time and I won’t be able to go out and pick a nice juicy red tomato for several weeks, but I know that if I carefully prepare the soil (or straw) and provide some tender loving care and attention they will grow and ripen, and hopefully by July 4th I will be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

The thought occurred to me this morning that gardening seems to be an appropriate analogy for how we prepare and then measure the impact that educators have on their P-12 students. It is a commonly accepted premise that teacher quality has a huge impact on student achievement; that’s why it’s so important to prepare teachers (and school leaders) with excellence. Returning to my tomato analogy for a moment, I look for quality seeds and strong bedding plants because I know it will make a difference in the end result. Selecting high-quality teacher and school leader candidates who show a propensity for success is essential, and exceptional preparation leads to exceptional performance.

But, how is the best way to measure their performance once educators are in the classroom? Because the United States Department of Education does not mandate a specific approach, there are multiple models in use. Some departments of education have adopted statewide models while other states leave it up to each individual school district. Some use well-constructed, proprietary assessments that have been proven valid and reliable, while others allow building principals to create their own forms and evaluation criteria. This makes it impossible for researchers, teacher educators, and policy makers to identify patterns and trends or draw any conclusions with confidence about specific performance indicators of highly effective educators. However, one common thread is that in the United States, nearly all teacher performance evaluations are (1) compulsory, (2) completed by their building principal and (3) used primarily for continued employment and/or salary increase decisions.

There’s a lot to unpack here—far more than within a single blog posting. As my schedule permits I’ve been reading a book that has prompted me to question the current model. In their work, Coens and Jenkins (2000) challenge not only the current US model, but they question the very notion of teacher performance evaluations (which they refer to as appraisals) altogether. I’m not ready to take it that far, but I have formulated some “What if?” thoughts I’d like to share based on quotes from the book:

  • If this discussion were voluntary, requested, and if the person got to choose whom they got feedback from, then the process might be justified (Block, xv).
    • What if teachers could select at least 3 sources of feedback (i.e., parents, colleagues, student learning, building principal/headmaster, etc.)?
  • When we combine compensation with a developmental discussion, we undermine the openness and vulnerability that development requires, and all our ears can hear is the money (Block, xv).
    • What if schools separated a teacher’s continuous growth & improvement from their annual salary increases?
  • We can create cultures where peers can be accountable to each other and bosses can be as open in hearing feedback as they are in giving it (Block, xv-xvi).
    • What if teacher colleagues were seen as peer coaches and professional partners?
    • What if building principals/headmasters were viewed as an equal leg on the continuous growth & improvement stool, not one rating or evaluating performance?
    • What if building principals/headmasters received feedback from teachers about their support?
  • It requires a shift from “managing” people to helping people manage themselves and the business (p. 5).
    • What if a model could be developed to support each teacher’s continuous professional growth & improvement, whereby he/she would:
      • Establish goals and action plans
      • Seek feedback from trusted sources
      • Participate in targeted professional development opportunities that align with goals and action plans
  • Paramount to this book is the idea: Employees want to be and are fully capable of being responsible for themselves (p. 5).
    • Unfortunately, while it is true that employees want to be and are fully capable of being responsible for themselves, unfortunately, they do not all possess the same level of maturity, responsibility, work ethic, self-discipline, etc.
    • Therefore, a continuous professional growth & improvement model may not be sufficient for all employees. In those cases, an additional performance appraisal may be necessary.
  • Performance Appraisal defined: The practice of performance appraisal is a mandated process in which, for a specified period of time, all or a group of employees’ work performance, behaviors, or traits are individually rated, judged, or described by a person other than the rated employee and the results are kept by the organization (p. 14).
  • The functions of appraisal (pp. 16-17) are: (1) Improvement; (2) Coaching and Guidance; (3) Feedback and Communication; (4) Compensation; (5) Staffing Decisions and Professional Development; and (6) Termination and Legal Documentation.
    • What if a Continuous Growth & Improvement Model could be created that would include functions 1, 2, 3, and 5?
    • What a Continuous Growth & Improvement Model could be kept separate from functions 4 and 6?
  • Assumption, Nature of Defect, and Alternative Assumption table (pp. 22-23)
    • What if a Continuous Growth & Improvement Model could be created that would address these defects?
  • Emerging Thinking model vs. Appraisals model (p. 44, Figure 2.1)
    • What if a Continuous Growth & Improvement Model could be created that would facilitate Emerging Thinking indicators?

 

After jotting down my thoughts I noticed some others share my interest in this topic including a blog post by Stacia Garr.  This is all an important part of the conversation we must have about quality assurance, institutional effectiveness, student achievement, and teacher preparation. What else do we as a community need to consider?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

#STEM. #TeacherShortage. It’s Real. And we need to fix it.

Scientists. Technology gurus. Engineers. Mathematicians. We need these highly skilled professionals to solve problems, to make new discoveries, and to advance the quality of life around the globe. The trouble is, we are quickly running out of teachers to prepare future workers in these areas.

A couple of months ago I published a blog post entitled Tackling the STEM Teacher Shortage and am pleased it got noticed. This is a huge issue that isn’t going away any time soon, and it will take a concerted effort to turn the ship around and get it headed in the right direction.

I was interviewed by a freelance writer working on a piece for a national publication on this topic; it was recently published and while I’m pleased to see she used some of the information I provided, it sure would have been nice to have received at least a mention in the article. Since that didn’t happen, I’m not too inclined to promote her work. But, I wanted to add my own follow-up and offer some additional thoughts for consideration about the national shortage in STEM classrooms:

Why Don’t We Have Enough Teachers?

There’s no single cause of the teacher shortage, which makes it that much more challenging to address. Some of these factors, however, include:

(1) Low teacher pay. When you figure all the time you put in outside of student contact hours during the school day—all those nights, weekends, holidays, and even summers when schools aren’t even in session—it’s easy to see that teachers actually make very little. The reality is that they have bills to pay and children to raise just like everyone else, and in many cases, there are other jobs that simply make it easier to provide for their families, particularly in the STEM sector.

(2) Many teachers feel undervalued and disrespected. They don’t always get the support they need from the school principal or parents. Regardless of how dedicated or committed we may be, no teacher is an island unto him or her self—and they need to be able to trust that they will have support from others if and when the need arises. This can be particularly true in high demand areas.

(3) Poor preparation. I call this the, “What did I get myself into?” syndrome. Now, while I think by and large we as an education community have gotten better over the years with how we prepare our teachers, we still have a lot of room for improvement. You would never expect a pilot to fire up the engines of a 747 and take off with 200 passengers on board without a LOT of extensive training and practice, and I sure wouldn’t entrust my financial planner with my life’s savings if all she had to do was pass an exam or complete a program that was designed 30 years ago. But that’s what we often see in teacher prep programs—we have such a wide range of preparation programs in our country, many of which quite frankly do not prepare teachers for today’s classrooms. For example, some schools of education require a full-year of clinical practice before a teacher candidate completes their program while others may only have an eight-week student teaching program. Some may have full-length courses or modules covering topics that are essential to classroom success such as current teaching methods, using assessment to steer instruction, and of course, effective classroom management—while others may take their candidates through their entire prep curriculum over a two-week workshop, and then place their seal of approval on them and recommend them for state licensure. My heart goes out to these candidates, because they often feel ill-prepared for the reality of being in a classroom, meeting the needs of students with a variety of needs. As a result, many of these individuals leave the classroom after a year, with about half leaving the profession within 5 years of receiving their teaching license.

 Piecemeal Approaches – Piecemeal Results    

Multiple states, and even individual school districts have taken it upon themselves to find ways to recruit teachers in those areas of highest demand. But the results of their efforts have been mixed, at best, for a couple of main reasons:

(1) Few state departments of education collect data regarding supply/demand. They are not reaching out to school districts in their state, engaging them in real conversations about what their needs are. That leads to a lot of (2) piecemeal approaches that are often kneejerk reactions to anecdotal information, and those efforts are rarely strategic and coordinated.  So, in a lot of instances, we don’t really know the extent of the problem in a given state, nor can we project how many science or math teachers will likely be needed over the next decade—and (3) we have multiple groups (state departments of education, school districts, and universities) all wanting to address the problem. But they are mostly working in silos, not as a unit moving synchronously. Very little data are being tracked, and the result is a train barreling down the track that continues to pick up speed.

Now, one of the strategies that several state departments of education that tried is that they have permitted alternative routes to licensure through non-traditional educator preparation programs (Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, New York, and many others). These models vary widely from state to state; some only excuse student teaching experience with 2 years of documented employment as a substitute teacher, or as a paraprofessional while still requiring all other coursework and exams, while others simply require a bachelor’s degree in ANYTHING, and proof of passing the state’s required licensure exam.

The virtual school movement is also gaining traction in a lot of states for many reasons, but in part because of the inability for school districts to find qualified teachers in high demand areas such as math and science. Multiple school districts could pool their resources, form some type of co-op and essentially hire one Calculus teacher who could potentially provide instruction for hundreds of high schoolers, depending on how many sections were offered. But while it sounds good and has a lot of potential, this approach isn’t without its drawbacks, given that quality assurance measures for virtual instruction, particularly at the P-12 level, still remain largely undefined. That means we often find huge gaps in quality, which could be an entire conversation on its own.

There have also been some privately-funded initiatives, such as:

  • National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR): This organization doesn’t necessarily focus on the teacher shortage per se, but its mission is to support a network of residency programs dedicated to preparing highly effective urban public-school teachers. It is built on the “grow your own” premise, with the thinking that (1) individuals who already have strong ties in a local community either by living there or working in the school district will likely stay in that community, thus reducing turnover, and (2) may understand and meet the needs of students in that district where they already live, or where their own children attend school.
  • 100Kin10 Project: 100Kin10 was birthed a few years ago as a result of President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative and was given its wings by the Carnegie Corporation. Its mission is to connect universities, nonprofits, foundations, companies, and government agencies to address the nation’s STEM teacher shortage, with the goal being to produce 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021.

 

In it for the Long Haul: Eliminating the Band-Aid Fixes  

I really believe that solving the teacher shortage over the long haul will require a comprehensive, cohesive approach that brings together our state partners, our federal agency partners, and equally as important—our school districts and our community partners. I’m talking here about school principals and teachers, as well parents and workforce stakeholders. All these groups need to have a seat at the table; they need to do a lot of listening and then they need to truly work together on a planned, purposeful strategy for ensuring teachers of excellence for every classroom in the United States. I think the piece that’s missing is centralized leadership in bringing this all together—it seems to me that it would be terrific for Secretary of Education DeVos to take on that role. It would be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate her commitment to public education in our nation.

 

Some Final Thoughts

Those of you who subscribe to this blog and follow me on social media know I’m all about academic excellence—meaning that I believe every initiative attempted at addressing the teacher shortage should be done with that benchmark in mind: not only to fill classrooms with teachers but fill them with teachers of excellence—individuals who demonstrate a propensity for success in the classroom, and who have received exceptional preparation. Not to sound dramatic, but I truly believe that the quality of education we provide to our students directly impacts the quality of life we enjoy in our nation. We must commit to working together to meet this challenge.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practical Strategies for Accreditation Site Visit Preparation

The Purpose of a Site Visit

Do we have to do this? What’s the point? Why do we need strangers coming to our “house” and make judgments about our programs?

The on-site program review is a critical step in the quality assurance process, with the overarching goal to perpetuate continual program review & improvement. Program review as a whole represents an analysis of the Self-Study Report (SSR), Formative Feedback Report (FFR), Addendum, annual reports, and on-site interviews and inspection of evidence. The purpose is to verify continuity between what you have stated in your written documents and evidence:

Are you doing what you have said you were doing? Do in-person interviews support what was presented in the SSR and evidence? Is continuous program improvement purposeful, mindful, and strategic?

The bottom line is this: A site visit, stressful as it may feel, is designed to support you and your colleagues in creating relevant, meaningful programs of high quality for your candidates.

The information I’m sharing is based on many years of experience in compliance & accreditation. I’ve learned over the years what works, and what doesn’t. The truth is, I’ve been on the other side of the table more times than I care to admit. I’ve had some successes, and a few I’d love to do-over. Site visits can be very stressful but there are things you can do to reduce that stress, and to make a site visit go as smoothly as possible. And, while each accrediting body has its unique nuances, standards, and procedures, many things remain constant and therefore steps taken to accredit a Nursing program are likely very similar to steps taken to accredit a business program, a teacher education program, and the like. For the sake of simplicity, this blog will focus on teacher education accreditation and specifically the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Please note that I am not an employee of CAEP and cannot speak for them in an official capacity.

Who Conducts Site Visits?

The exact number can vary, but there are typically 3-6 site team members and a team lead for every site visit. It should be noted for most program review teams these are all volunteers—they don’t receive any compensation except for travel reimbursement. These are your colleagues and your peers from higher education institutions, P-12 practitioners, and others from across the nation. Sometimes there will be a representative of the state’s department of education; this can vary depending on the details of the state agreement with CAEP.

Specific to the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) program reviewers are selected by CAEP staff and:

  • Typically have some experience with the type of institution (public, faith-based, online, for-profit, etc.)
  • Were previously selected by CAEP for training through an application process
  • Completed months of virtual training and accompanying assessments plus an intensive face-to-face (F2F) training (more for site team lead)

 

The Role of the Site Team

So, what exactly is the role of the program review team that will visit your campus? It’s to provide a thorough, robust, and rigorous review of your programs, but one that is also fair and just without bias. Their role ultimately is to help you continue to improve the quality of your programs by helping you to identify your strengths as well as areas that must be given more focused attention. Specifically, the team will:

  • Review the narrative and evidence that you submitted in your self-study report (SSR)
  • Provide initial feedback through a Formative Feedback Report (FFR), identifying items of concern and in need of additional clarification
  • Review your Addendum, where you respond to their feedback
  • Finalize a list of questions they want to ask on-site for further clarification
  • Verify the information you’ve already given them by conducting multiple interviews & requesting additional evidence on-site
  • Write a site visit report indicating their findings and recommendations

 

Are We Accredited???

You will NOT know if your program is accredited or not at the end of the site visit; this decision is not within the site team’s purview. The site visit itself typically lasts 2 ½ days, with a brief exit meeting on final day. That exit meeting usually lasts no more than 15-30 minutes, with the CAEP team, team lead, and program’s senior leadership present. The team will provide a summary of:

  • Its methods for gathering information
  • A general analysis about the accuracy & quality of the evidence
  • What was verified and not verified
  • Program strengths and perceived deficiencies

 

After the Site Visit

Within approximately 30 days after the site visit, the team will submit a final site visit report. The program’s leadership will then have 30 days to submit a Rejoinder to the site visit report. The site team lead can then submit a response to the Rejoinder if desired. The CAEP Accreditation Council meets 2x per year, where they carefully review the site visit reports submitted by the site teams. The AC will make the final decision regarding your program’s accreditation per CAEP policy, which can be found on the CAEP website.

 

Getting Ready for the Site Visit

Proper planning is essential for a successful site visit! Taking a road trip on the spur of the moment is fine, but this is not the approach you want to take with an accreditation site visit. In fact, I would submit that planning for your next accreditation site visit should be a CONTINUOUS process, as part of your program’s overall continuous improvement plan. However, relative to the site visit itself, I recommend that you start the planning process at least one year in advance, and ideally two, so that your institution can allocate necessary expenses related to the site visit itself as well as costs for hiring any additional staff, consultants, and so on.

 

Identify the Key Players

As soon as you begin the site visit planning process, you need to identify key staff who will play one or more important roles. There is no magical number, but it’s best to keep the team size nimble—probably no more than 10. This model can vary from institution to institution, depending on your size and departmental structure. Some examples:

  • Program Administrator – Typically a dean or assessment coordinator; serves as the official point of contact between your institution, CAEP, and the site team lead
  • Site Visit Coordinator – Takes care of project management & logistics; could be an accreditation manager, assistant dean, director of institutional effectiveness, or other similar position
  • Other Faculty/Support Staff – Serve in various capacities, such as on the SSR writing team. The typical list includes: dean, associate dean, faculty chairs, assessment director, field experiences coordinator, key faculty, tech support liaison, institutional research liaison, etc.

 

Create a Site Visit Project Map

For a successful site visit, you must consider all aspects of the event and plan every detail. I recommend creating a project map for this purpose. Your logistical coordinator should be responsible for building this map, with input from other key staff and leadership.

There’s no one way to approach a project map—some institutions use something simple like Excel, while others are much more elaborate by creating their own pages in SharePoint, Dropbox, OneNote, Confluence, and the like. Regardless of your method, a project map should include such things as:

  • A list of every task, even if it seems silly or redundant. It’s those little foxes that spoil the vine. Some examples might include:
    • Identify & reserve each room needed for interviews during the site visit.
    • Assign a room host for each interview room.
    • Arrange for the team’s transportation to and from the hotel each day.
    • Test the Internet speeds at the hotel.
    • Order thank-you gifts to candidates and alums who participate in interviews.
    • Print name tags for team members & for all internal staff.
    • Identify a person to be responsible for each task.
    • Plug in deadlines/milestones for each task.

 

The Prep Kick-Off

An important part of your project management map will be to build a schedule of meetings (scrums). You will want to start with a kickoff meeting, which really needs to be conducted F2F in the form of a 1-2 day workshop. To back up a bit, one kickoff meeting should be conducted before you even write the self-study report. Then, when you turn your focus over to getting ready for the actual site visit, you will want to have a site visit prep kickoff meeting. You will want to bring together the entire team of key players for this event, where you will want to cover a variety of topics and really set the stage for the site visit. For example, you will want to:

  • Review the purpose of accreditation & the CAEP process.
  • Review CAEP standards, components, rubrics, etc. (if needed).
  • Review narrative & evidence submitted in SSR and Formative Feedback Response.
  • Go over onsite visit process.
  • Introduce the project management mapping/tracking process.
  • Establish schedule of future meetings, assignments, deadlines, etc.

 

A Basic Project Management Roadmap

  • I’ve provided a very basic graphic of what a project map might look like—yours could easily be a bit different from this.
  • A suggestion would be to meet every 2 weeks up to 8 weeks before the site visit, then move it up to 1x per week up to 4 weeks prior. Then 2 weeks prior to the site visit, plan on meeting with your team daily, even if it’s just a brief 15-minute check-in scrum.
  • Make sure everyone leaves each meeting knowing exactly what has already been completed; what work remains; what their particular responsibility is; and when it’s due.
  • The main thing is to have a well-defined plan, and then carry out that plan.

 

The Communication Protocol

One of the most important parts of preparing for your site visit will be communication. I’ve learned over the years that effective communication can certainly go a long way toward a program feeling prepared for a site visit. Likewise, I’ve also seen where things can go very wrong when there is either a lack of communication, or if communiques are not messaged properly.

Sometimes we simply have too many cooks in the kitchen—when multiple staff, well intentioned as they may be, are sending out emails, or are hosting their own workshop sessions, and the like. Facts can get mixed up; we quickly don’t know who to listen to; and it doesn’t take long for people to start feeling frustrated about the process.

Sometimes we haven’t planned ahead and designated someone to develop and facilitate a communication protocol. That should be included on your project management map. Some quick examples found in a communication protocol might be things like:

    • Create a 3-minute video designed to provide an overview of the accreditation site visit.
    • Draft and send out an initial email to all internal stakeholders and P-12 partners that includes a link to that video.
    • Send out monthly reminders with key tips for success or “Did you know?” information about CAEP accreditation.
    • One month prior to the site visit, start sending out brief weekly reminders. Include items such as dress expectations, a reminder to tidy up offices and classrooms; and a finalized schedule of the visit.

 

Technology Logistics

It will be crucial to have a user-friendly tech support person on site and on call throughout the site visit to assist team members if needed.

Decide in advance how much tech “bling” you plan to use – discuss this with your team lead. While some institutions choose to purchase all new iPads or Surface tablets for the team to use while on site, this can sometimes backfire when you have team members who aren’t terribly tech adventurous, and who prefer to use their own laptop that they feel comfortable with.

Consider hosting a technology overview prior to the site visit, or at the very beginning of the site visit, if the team lead agrees. This is particularly useful if your program is offered primarily online or is otherwise very heavily dependent upon technology that team members may not be familiar with.

Work with your tech support liaison to set up some login credentials with a temporary shelf-life. Then link those credentials to specific portals, dashboards, and the like that team members have expressed an interest in seeing.

Make sure you provide some essential equipment for the team, both on campus and in their hotel workroom. Your team lead will let you know exactly what the preference is, but a few examples often include:

  • Laptops or flash drives pre-loaded with requested documents such as the self-study, evidence, Addendum, and so on
  • A printer
  • A shredder
    • A projection screen/large monitor
    • Cables necessary for connecting laptops to printers or monitors
    • Basic office supplies

Travel, Lodging, Food

Some other items you will want to be sure to include on your project management map will be travel, lodging, and food. There will be many details to this piece – again, it’s those little foxes that can spoil the vine, so make sure you have more than one person building the map so nothing gets overlooked. I’ve called out a few of the basics here on the slide deck.

 

Physical Arrangements

Just like when we go on a job interview, or when we go on a first date, we want to make a good impression. The same holds true for a site visit. First and foremost, you want team members to feel welcome on your campus. Remember, even though this is a stressful time for you and your team, these are volunteers who are taking time away from their own jobs and their own families to help you improve your programs.

We’ve talked about preparations related to communication, to technology, to travel, lodging, and food – now let’s talk about the physical arrangements that will require your attention. Things such as the hotel workroom and the on-campus workroom:

  • Both should be large enough to comfortably accommodate the entire team and their belongings.
  • It’s best to provide large tables so they can review multiple documents.
  • Something really important: comfortable chairs! Team members will be sitting often for hours at a time and providing them with comfortable seating is so helpful.
  • Both workrooms should be stocked with a variety of soft drinks, healthy snacks, possibly a coffee maker.
  • Both workrooms should be lockable, private, and no one from your program should enter without the permission of the team lead.

 

Part of your planning also involves selecting and reserving rooms suitable for conducting interviews. Depending on the size of the group being interviewed, you may need to use a combination of classrooms and conference rooms.

Interview guides or hosts should be identified ahead of time as part of the planning process. These individuals are staff members who make sure team members and guests find the correct room for their interview. They also make sure that sign-in sheets are completed for each interview, and they collect those sheets before leaving the room. There are certainly more things you need to prepare for relative to physical arrangements, but these are a few of the basics.

Other Considerations

Field Placement Visits:

  • Team members may or may not want to visit local schools where you may have student teachers. The team lead will let you know if this is something the team wants to include on the agenda.
  • If field visits are requested, you must remember to communicate with your school partners to coordinate those logistics.
  • Also, you will want to provide a guide or a host.
    • Typically, this is often a faculty member who can speak to the relationship with the school.
    • This person would likely serve as a driver to the site and remain with the team members throughout their tour.
    • To keep team members on schedule, school visits typically do not last more than one hour and need to be within easy driving distance of the campus.

 

Receptions – Gifts:

  • Per CAEP policy, you should not plan on hosting any formal receptions, cocktail hours, poster sessions, dinners with staff, etc.
  • Also, while certainly not necessary, it is permissible to present team members with a small, inexpensive swag bag—such as university pens, notepads, perhaps a coffee mug, etc.

 

Mock Site Visits

When the stakes are high, it’s important to give yourself every advantage. For example, a few short years ago, when we were so anxious to get our driver’s license in our quest for personal freedom and independence, we didn’t just wake up one day and decide, “I think I’ll go down to the DMV and get my license today.” No, you spent a lot of time preparing, both for the written exam and for the driving exam. You probably practiced parallel parking over and over, and you may have even gotten a coach of some kind to help you prepare for the big day.

It’s the same kind of thing relative to preparing for a site visit—you want your program to shine, and to be at its very best. You want everyone to feel comfortable and confident. You want your team to come out stronger on the other side as a result of this experience.

That’s where a mock site visit can come in handy. Not all institutions choose to go through a mock visit, and it’s certainly not required by CAEP. However, I’ve honestly never received feedback from any institution that went through a mock exercise to complain and say it was a waste of time.

A mock site visit can vary from institution to institution. It can be an abbreviated version of the site visit, or it can be a full-blown 2 ½ day event with multiple mock reviewers and even a mock site visit report.

Part of a mock review could include interviewing faculty, candidates, alums, school partners, and so on, with feedback offered regarding what the program’s strengths are and what it may need to shore up. It really just depends on the needs of the institution, and how experienced faculty and staff members are with the process. Some programs have a lot of new faculty who have never had any experience with accreditation, and in a case like that a mock visit would be extremely helpful. But regardless of whether your school chooses this path or not, it is essential to start preparing for your site visit well in advance in order to increase your chances for success.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

 

 

Accreditation Site Visits: Dare to Prepare!

Let’s face it: Accreditation is stressful. There’s nothing pleasant or enjoyable about the process. It’s one of those things that institutions must have in order to keep the doors open and classrooms or hospital beds filled, but it’s about as dearly loved as a root canal. Without anesthesia.

Institutions seeking the seal of quality assurance approval through a regional, national, or functional accrediting body often focus almost exclusively on writing the self-study report and overlook the amount of time and advanced planning needed to prepare for the site visit itself. There is an old saying that, “It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine” and this is so true in the context of accreditation site visits. Many times, details that may seem to be minute or inconsequential can have a significant impact on the success of a site visit.

Does your educational institution have an upcoming site visit? I can provide you and your staff with lots of practical tips that are essential to success, yet often overlooked. We can talk about essential elements to success such as:

  • Creating a project management plan;
  • Developing an effective communication protocol;
  • Holding regular team scrums;
  • Technology tools;
  • Food & lodging for the visiting team;
  • Physical arrangements for the onsite review;
  • Training interviewees;
  • The value of mock visits; and
  • Much more

 

The accreditation process likely won’t ever be enjoyable, but it can be manageable. I’m glad to help you and your team be at your very best so that you’ll be ready for this important event!

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and educational agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, leadership, outcomes-based performance, making data-driven decisions, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about various issues related to academic excellence through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). Roberta can be reached through Twitter (@RRossFisher), LinkedIn (Roberta Ross-Fisher), Facebook (Roberta Ross-Fisher), and email at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

 

Merit Badges for Grownups

Back in the day when I wore the uniform of Girl Scout I worked hard to earn those coveted merit badges, so I could proudly display each one on my sash. When others recognized them, they understood that I had demonstrated skill in certain areas such as first aid, sewing, camping, and music. Now granted, performance evaluation standards were built with a whole lot of room for subjectivity, because to tell you the truth there were times I know my troop leaders had to close at least one eye in order to place their stamp of approval on my work.  I recall one particular instance when I set my sights on the cooking badge—I told myself I was ready because I had a LOT of experience in the kitchen already making PBJs and bowls of cereal. I thought I was ready for a bigger challenge, and that’s when I got the bright idea of baking a cake for the first time. Ever. Two other girls in my grade had baked cakes to earn their badge so I figured, “How hard could it be?” Of course, being the natural born competitor that I am, I decided I would up the ante and bring my A-game to this event: I determined it would not be good enough to simply bake a cake like those other girls—noooooo—I wanted to make one that would dazzle and impress my troop, thereby setting the gold standard for all future cake baking. I decided to bake an orange, four-layer cake. In my mind it was going to be awesome.

Long story very short, I made a few slight miscalculations in my readiness to pull off such a feat, including the importance of allowing the cake layers to cool before attempting to frost and assemble. The result was four steaming cake layers covered in runny orange goop sliding all over the kitchen and onto the floor in a million pieces, plus a mother who nearly had a nervous breakdown. So, you may ask, “Did she ever get her cooking badge?” Yep—but let’s just say to this day I still owe my grandma big time. ‘Nuff said.

So, what’s the point of all this rambling and reminiscing about merit badges? I really am leading up to something here, which is the notion of demonstrating what we know and are able to do in specific areas, and then receiving recognition or credit for those skills in the form of digital credentials or badges. This concept has started to gain traction in the past couple of years or so and I don’t see it going away. Why should it? It’s a really good idea.

That’s why in partnership with digital credential provider Credly, the American Council on Education has recently announced plans to evaluate skills learned in the workplace. In essence, the goal is to create a system whereby skills are formally evaluated by an external reviewer—in this case, Credly—resulting in an opportunity for workers to build a set of digital credentials (or badges) that can be used for internal promotion in connection with company performance evaluations. In addition, the credentials would be portable, meaning those workers would be able to provide evidence of their skill set should they seek employment elsewhere. It’s even possible that in some instances, digital credentials could be aligned to certain college courses, thereby opening the door for individuals to earn college credit by demonstrating what they know and are able to do at work.

This concept stems from the competency-based education model, sometimes referred to as proficiency-based, mastery-based, or personalized learning. The CBE model is catching on quickly at the higher education level and now in some states, at the P-12 level. It’s just natural that the notion of demonstrating one’s proficiency in specific skills (or competencies) can apply just as effectively in the workplace.

The merit badges for Girl Scouts have improved significantly over the years, giving today’s youngsters the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in areas such as writing a business plan; digital movie making; outdoor art apprentice; and new cuisines.  Kind of makes me want to see if I could squeeze into that uniform again and give it another go.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

 

 

A Ground-Breaking, Totally Brand-New Approach to Helping Students Succeed

Years ago, a town’s churches and school served as major community and social anchors. In some instances, the two shared a single building. Parents, students, and teachers spent a lot of time together since local events were often held there. As a result, communication was frequent, and relationships were strong. Adults worked together to support the growth, development, and learning of students. Today, as our towns have grown into cities and residents are busy traveling from place to place, we’ve lost that central gathering place. Many parents rarely if ever visit their child’s school, and they typically receive a call or email from a teacher only when there’s a problem. While this practice may have been birthed from an efficiency perspective, it’s resulted in relationships that really aren’t—interactions simply represent the transfer of information: message sent/message received.

It may be one reason why students are still falling between the cracks. Teachers and parents are so busy trying to be efficient they may be overlooking the importance of truly considering the needs of each student. A gifted child may be feeling really frustrated because he’s bored in math class. A student diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) has recently turned inward and has stopped interacting with her peers on the playground. A student whose native language isn’t English may be struggling in American Literature class. Concerns like these can’t be addressed by a simple exchange of information through a phone call or email; it takes collaboration and partnership. It takes active listening, and it takes meeting people where they’re at. In other words, it takes building trust.

Rich, meaningful relationships are hard to build in the sterile, institutional environment found in most schools. That’s why an approach like some teachers in the Salt Lake City metro area are using appears to be so effective—because they are taking an important first step in building trust with parents—they are making home visits. This approach is not earth-shattering nor ground breaking; I actually recall many years ago my sister’s high school English teacher coming to our house for dinner one evening. I remember the uncertainty looming in the house before the event—we weren’t sure why she was coming or what to expect—we just received a note letting know what day and time she would be there. As a result, we cooked and cleaned as if the Queen herself was paying us a visit, hoping it would somehow be acceptable. Turns out, we fretted for nothing—the teacher was there simply to introduce herself and to get to know us better, so she could in turn better meet the needs of her student, my sister.

Of course, the Salt Lake City pilot is not without its critics despite its success stories; a lot of the concern centers around the age-old question, “But who’s going to pay for it?” I don’t claim to have the answer but it’s an approach worth thinking about.

One thing I do know, however, is that in the fast-paced, tech-driven society we live in, we must be very careful not to overlook one important thing: that each child, each student is precious, and they deserve our very best in helping them become their very best. We collectively share a large part of the responsibility for their success. If simply having teachers and parents slow down and take the time to talk with each other would help, isn’t it worth considering?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

Resuscitating a Dying Town

I recently read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that focused on life in an area of rural southeast Missouri known as the Bootheel; the piece was grounded in research findings that have connected the dots between education (or the lack thereof) and health. The current findings so far? “Educational disparities…economic malaise and lack of opportunity are making people…in the Bootheel sick. And maybe even killing them.”

While reading A Dying Town, I could feel my heart rate rising and my anxiety building. I read about good hearted, salt-of-the-earth people who have spent a lifetime loving this country, taking care of their families, and doing what’s right. They know the importance of a good reputation and hard work. They believe that a person’s word is their bond, and that a handshake is as good as any legal contract. So then why are these individuals in such dire straits? It’s partly because over the years the fabric of our nation’s culture changed, and they didn’t get the memo.

Nobody told them that at some point, doing until others as you would have them do unto you would no longer be the way we treat each other. Now, it’s get them before they get you.

They were too busy cutting logs or getting up at 3:00 in the morning to drive a milk truck to realize that a person’s word or promise means nothing anymore. Today, we can look someone square in the eye or through the lens of a camera, lie through our teeth, and not give it a second thought.

These people were too innocent to realize that in today’s Land of Milk and Honey people are sorted into groups based on how they look, how they talk, the label found in their clothes, and which iPhone version they have. Those that don’t make the cut are sorted into a group apart from the rest—and it seems the only time they are remembered is when we want to reform their entitlements, making them feel as though they are a bunch of freeloaders dragging down the rest of us.

If you think I take this personally, it’s because I do. I can relate to every person in that piece, because I know every person in that piece. Personally? No. But I grew up in rural southern Missouri, in an area very much like the Bootheel. My widowed mother who raised four kids on an elementary education always told me, “Your education is something no one can ever take away from you.” She was right, and I have a PhD to show for it. I was one of the lucky ones. But my heart still breaks for those who were not as fortunate, and I know something must be done so that these people and others like them in dying towns all across our nation can get an education to earn a decent wage, receive quality affordable healthcare, and feel like they matter.

After reading A Dying Town, I felt compelled to alert President Trump as well as Missouri elected officials to the plight of those individuals featured in the article and those who share their fate. I was convinced that once they learned of the tremendous needs of residents in that area they would take action—I wasn’t sure what—but action of some kind to help them. I sent the link to the article and pleaded:

Please, please read this. These are Missourians who desperately need both short-term & long-term help. What can we all do to make their lives better? How can we work together? I’m willing–are you?

The response? Crickets. Zip. Nada. Nothing. I guess an area where only 1 in 10 residents has a bachelor’s degree probably isn’t considered a hotbed for donor activity, photo ops, or a voter block worthy of their time.

But the article did gain the attention of some, as I learned in the follow-up commentary The Lack of a College Degree Is a Public-Health Crisis. Here’s What Higher Ed Can Do About It. Dartmouth Professor Ellen Meara, for example, shared some excellent insight regarding how to get started in addressing this issue; she could prove to be a valuable resource moving forward.  I will confess to being less impressed, however, by what was shared by two university presidents from Missouri. While they are in prime positions to make a significant impact on the lives of disadvantaged residents, it seemed their columns were little more than public relations releases—box checked.

Of course, we all know that this is not just a Missouri Bootheel problem; there are dying towns all across our country in desperate need of resuscitation. I would encourage all readers to take a moment and identify the one(s) in your local area. Every dying town takes a toll on its state, and eventually on our great nation. These problems are not going to take care of themselves, and it is essential that we tackle them together. We need leadership from the governor’s office, and from Washington, DC. We need it from healthcare, social services, workforce, and educational agencies. We need commitments from faith-based institutions and from everyday citizens. We need a strategic plan with long-term and short-term goals, and we need a sincere commitment over the long haul, not just lip service. I’m just one person but am willing to roll my sleeves up and try—how about you?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Uniqueness vs. Accreditation: Why Must We Choose?

In the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Higher Education, Mark LaCelle-Peterson introduces the educator preparation community to a new way of thinking about quality assurance and accreditation of programs. In the piece, LaCelle-Peterson challenges the notion that measuring the quality of an education program through a compliance lens really isn’t necessary—in fact, it can sometimes inhibit quality by forcing programs to demonstrate adherence to a rigid set of standards and criteria that may or may not be an appropriate fit for all programs given the diversity of missions, visions, populations served, and instructional delivery approaches. For example, what may be appropriate criteria for measuring the quality of a program that serves 18-22-year-old students on a residential suburban campus may be quite different from one that serves learners whose average age is 39 and who pursue their academic studies online within a competency-based educational model. Both prepare educators. Both are committed to quality. But when it comes to making judgments about those programs, one size just doesn’t seem to fit all—and what’s more, why should it? Why is it necessary to have a single set of standards and criteria that all programs must adhere to?

It seems to me that as a community of educators we figured out a long time ago that creating one lesson plan and teaching to students in the middle was simply not an effective approach—nor was it ethical, because that model failed to consider the needs of students who did not fit into a pre-determined mold.  Today we encourage our teacher candidates to not only acknowledge the differences in students, but to embrace that diversity, and to celebrate it—because we know that a diverse group of learners contributes to a dynamic and robust community—one that thrives because of its diversity, not in spite of it.

Quality assurance measures through an appropriate accreditation model can be instrumental to preparation programs’ success through data-driven decision making, continuous program review, and collaboration within the community. Program leaders should not have to put their uniqueness on a shelf in pursuit of accreditation.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com).