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Are You Ready to Be a Team Leader?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Lee Hark, Associate Head of School, Durham Academy, Durham, NC

I’m not surprised that the folks at SAIS asked me to write an article encouraging people to chair SAIS accreditation teams; I’ve been an SAIS supporter for years. I want to offer an enthusiastic endorsement of the chair experience, which over the years has been one of the most important professional development opportunities I’ve ever had. Here is my reasoning:

Chairing a team is hard work, which is a good thing. It will be no surprise to anyone that chairing a team is more demanding than serving as a team member, but the personal benefits are more than commensurate with the additional work. With the accreditation teams I’ve served on, most of the chair’s time and energy is focused on organization, planning, and team management – things that come easily to most teachers and administrators. Of course, the chair has to contend with the public nature of the accreditation and the stress of the expectations of a school community weighing down on you – you often become the unofficial spokesperson for the process – but that performance piece is something most of us take in stride, too. Professional pride also requires that you submit an insightful, well-written report, and producing one as a team can take some leadership finesse. But over the years, SAIS has worked hard to streamline and simplify the accreditation process (sometimes I log onto the Accreditation Portal and just ... stare at it longingly), so you and the team can spend more time getting to know the school community and providing helpful feedback.

Chairing a team is enormously satisfying work as well. Chairing an accreditation team is always a process of self-renewal for me. It’s gotten to the point that if I’m not in the midst of someone’s accreditation, I feel a little out of sorts. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues from different schools around the region, learning from the experts at SAIS, fully immersing yourself in a new school community, and thinking deeply about the context of education in novel ways have all led me to be a better and more thoughtful educator. It’s become a cliché to say that you leave an accreditation visit with lots of new ideas to consider for your own school; that’s true, but the experience is much deeper and richer than that as a chair. When schools see the self-renewal process as an authentic opportunity to improve and are hungry for advice and feedback, playing a part in that is powerful.

No two chairing experiences are the same. Small schools, big schools, religious and secular, well-funded and ... not as well-funded – nothing makes the vast diversity of SAIS schools more immediate or exciting than chairing an SAIS accreditation team. I’ve chaired teams in Atlanta and on the banks of the Mississippi, and in each case I’ve made great friends and trusted colleagues. Some, like Comer Yates, have even become personal heroes. I’ve also eaten some of the best food in my life – seriously, if you ever make it to Greenville, MS, have the tamales for lunch and then hit Doe’s Eat Place for dinner. (Thank you, Rodney Brown!)

It teaches you to suspend judgment. Like the time I was having dinner with a Board of Trustees, and I ordered an IPA ... and then every other person ordered a sweet tea. (When I called my wife and told her what happened, she said, “You’re an idiot.”) Chairing teams forces you to be more culturally attuned, it pushes you out of what’s familiar, and it reminds you that there is no one right way to educate children. Often, it seems like you’re seeing education for the first time. And that’s a good thing.

It requires a lot of you as a writer. My first, middle, and last thought in each accreditation is how to uncover a recommendation that might be useful to the host school – and how to frame it in a way that is clear and cogent. What is going to matter to a school? What have they not already thought of? It’s a tall order and always a stretchy intellectual exercise.

You get to play a significant role in a school’s celebration of itself. An accreditation is, at its heart, a celebration. We all want to share our pride in our schools and what we accomplish on a daily basis, and the self-study process is a great way to affirm that publicly. Getting to play a role in that process is an awesome responsibility – and a lot of fun. Most of the time it’s a joyful affair and a chance for schools to show off what they do well.

Someone once praised our head of school by saying, “Your blood is always up.” It’s an apt description. Chairing an accreditation team is something that never fails to get my blood up, too. My colleagues on the team and the school we are serving deserve my very best. It’s an awesome responsibility and a journey I encourage you to take.

SAIS welcomes new candidates to become chairs of visiting accreditation teams. Requirements include serving on three previous visiting teams and participating in a chair training workshop. For more information, contact SAIS Director of Accreditation Joanne Andruscavage at, or stop by to see her at the Accreditation booth at the 2017 SAIS Annual Conference in Atlanta, October 22-24. If you have not previously served on an SAIS visiting team, visit to register.


Lee Hark has been named head of Greenhill School in Addison, TX, effective July 2018. SAIS extends heartfelt thanks to Lee for his many years of service to Durham Academy and to SAIS. 

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