A bi-annual magazine for the Hong Kong Academy community.
Accreditation: A Literary Interpretation by JENnifer Swinehart As an English literature teacher of nearly 20 years, I have frequently witnessed the transformative power of literature in the classroom. Through their encounters with fictional boys and girls, humans and animals, and heroes and villains, students time and again have finished reading a play, novel, short story or poem and expressed a newfound understanding both of the world and of themselves. Often, the characters we love in literature have the capacity to encourage us to contemplate ideas and issues in a way that the real world might not; through fiction, we as readers see what might otherwise be invisible to the eye. Hong Kong Academy is currently in the process of being reaccredited by three organisations: the Council of International Schools (CIS), the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO). The purpose of accreditation is twofold: to evaluate all aspects of a school’s programme against internationally-agreed standards; and to reaffirm our identity as a school as we embark upon the next stage of our organisation’s development. The dispositions and skills required in a meaningful accreditation self-study are the same ones we teach our students; these are also the same attributes we often find in literary characters. To this end, I thought it befitting to examine how we engage in the accreditation self-study process by making connections to some of my favourite pieces of literature. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902) In the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Doyle crafted two literary sleuths who embody the self-directedness and introspection essential to an effective accreditation process. In their many cases, detectives Holmes and Watson look at evidence from a variety of perspectives and place value on different data points in order to make meaning within a given situation. Together, they are dogged in their determination to solve the mystery in front of them; they are committed to seeing the process through and seeking resolution. As well, each knows himself as a thinker and leverages his strengths, particularly when it comes to complementing the other’s approach. These methods of detective work mirror the process we undertake through accreditation; self-study teams collaborate to seek understanding of the accreditation domain standards, supporting one another to interpret and apply information in search of a clear outcome. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum (1900) Dorothy knows she isn’t in Kansas anymore and that the only way for her to get home is with help. Throughout her journey down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy seeks input from the residents of Oz to find out what they think she should do next. The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion all join Dorothy in her quest, sharing in the goal of persuading the Wizard to help them become more insightful, caring and courageous respectively. The quartet demonstrates the power of multiple perspectives and the importance of creating opportunities for shared voice and how important balance is within the individual. Each of the accreditation domains asks us to consider unique yet interconnected aspects of our school and reminds us that each of these areas is essential as we continue to grow. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien (1937) The hero’s journey is a quintessential feature of literature that transcends time and space; from Odysseus in the ancient Greek poem The Odyssey to Atticus, Jem and Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, literary heroes have faced trials and tribulations in their journeys of self-discovery that have ultimately made them better people. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins discovers previously unknown bravery and fortitude as he leaves the comfort of his home and embarks on a journey for treasure. Along the way, Bilbo experiences success and realises his own capacity for growth; moving forward, he is determined to build on these newfound skills to be triumphant. In the context of accreditation, we might see our treasure as the four drivers of the CIS process: purpose and direction, student learning, student well-being and the development of global citizenship. Through these lenses, we reflect on our achievements to date, identify the factors that have made us successful and set goals for our next stages of development so that in future we can be even more effective in putting our mission into practice. Charlotte’s Web, EB White (1952) The spider Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web is a character whose beliefs are evident in her behaviour. Destined for an early death, Charlotte’s barnyard companion Wilbur hopes to defy his destiny as a pig and enjoy a long life. In support of Wilbur’s goal of survival, Charlotte demonstrates her resolve and moral purpose by doing all that she can to help him in this endeavour, spinning web after web with messages meant to keep his dream alive. During the accreditation process, schools must reflect on their 2
own policies and practices and evaluate the extent to which they are in alignment with the school’s mission. Our goal is to behave as Charlotte does — like her, our convictions should be lived, exemplifying the importance of aligning our day-to-day procedures with our overarching mission. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943), translation Richard Howard (2000) The Little Prince, the title character in the novella The Little Prince, offers observations about life based on his encounters with people during his exploration of several planets. The Prince’s impressions of human nature are often sombre, however during his travels on Earth he meets a fox who reveals to the Prince the power and value of relationships. “It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important” (Howard, 2000: 64), explains the fox, reiterating that the value one places on an idea, person or object should be reflected in one’s actions. At HKA, we have strong beliefs about education; our collective identity is driven by our mission as well as our passion as educators, parents and learners. The self-study component of the accreditation process reaffirms these values throughout our community and empowers us to ensure the sustainability of our mission and guiding statements in the years to come. Like the Little Prince, we know we are responsible for our rose and for nurturing it within and beyond our time at HKA. Through accreditation, we have the opportunity to engage in a process that is self-directed and introspective; seek out perspectives from all community stakeholder groups; reflect on our successes and set priorities for our next stages of development; ensure school policies and practices are aligned with our mission; and nurture the sustainability of HKA’s identity, beliefs and values. By connecting these opportunities to literature, we should feel inspired by the potential inherent in accreditation for us to refine and extend our convictions as a school and deepen our understanding of ourselves as a community. 3