Affirming the Quaker Identity of Friends Schools
for the purpose of Membership Renewal
Revised Fall 2021
The Quaker Self-Study and Membership Renewal Process (MRP) is the means by which Friends schools periodically affirm their intention to be guided by the basic tenets of the Religious Society of Friends and demonstrate evidence of putting these Quaker beliefs and principles into practice. Through this process schools maintain their membership in Friends Council on Education. Equally important, however, is the opportunity the MRP provides for schools to pause every so often, reflect meaningfully upon their Quaker underpinnings, celebrate the areas in which they are true to their mission, and discern appropriate next steps in the ongoing effort to live more fully into their identity as Friends schools.
The fundamental and abiding strength of Friends schools is our rootedness in Quaker faith and practice. There is a profound and hopeful ambition in the Quaker vision of schools as spiritual communities. When we approach this potential, our schools are places rich in love, challenge, collaboration, fruitful conflict, and a generative sense of what is possible in ourselves, in the classroom, and in the broader community. Through our work in Friends schools we support both children and adults in bringing the light of the spirit to one another and out into the world.
To engage in the MRP, each school is expected to form a self-study committee that includes representation from all constituent groups – faculty, administration and staff, trustees, parents, alumni/ae, and (as appropriate) students and Friends Meeting members. Over the course of a full year, the committee facilitates study across the school community, examining the school’s policies, practices, protocols, and culture through the lens of Friends Council’s Principles of Good Practice for Friends Schools: Affirming the Quaker Identity. These principles fall under seven dimensions of institutional life, the first six of which are: Mission, Worship, Equity & Justice, Governance, Administrative Leadership, and Program, Curriculum, and Community Life. The aim of the self-study phase of the MRP is for members of the school community to engage in meaningful and generative conversation, to gather or draft documentation that is called for in the MRP guide, and to prepare a report confirming the school’s adherence to Friends Council’s principles of good practice.
The final section of the self-study report - and arguably the most important - is entitled Continuing Revelation. It is here that the school is asked to reflect upon the self-study process itself and describe whatever has been learned through the year’s focused reflection and analysis. In this final section of its report, the school is asked to list a set of next steps that have emerged through the self-study process. In this way the Membership Renewal Process provides a roadmap for a school’s ongoing institutional renewal and growth.
Once this report has been received by Friends Council on Education, the school will be visited by a team of seasoned educators drawn largely from Friends Council member schools who will, in turn, report their observations to Friends Council’s Membership Committee. This committee will offer commendations and recommendations back to the school, and to the Friends Council Board, which is ultimately responsible for approving the school’s membership renewal.
Our ability to sustain a clear focus on the Quaker identity of our schools comes and goes amidst the many challenges of contemporary institutional life. Indeed, healthy spiritual life in schools seems to unfold in cycles: periods of active focus and attention to this dimension of the community, sharpening our vision, developing key skills, consolidating our efforts of faith and practice, and strengthening the commitment of the community to our most fundamental values. This vital work is often followed by a quieter period of living out the fruits of this labor, using the community's renewed strengths to turn to other important strategic initiatives. In time, the need for a new cycle of community reflection and inquiry into Quaker faith and practice comes around again. Gathering all members of a Friends school community in this reflective work, engaging the full range of voices in this dialogue, and making new the meaning of Friends faith and practice in the life of the school is a process that is forever renewing as new insights and understandings come to light and the community lives into its sharpened identity. Herein lies the essence of the Quaker understanding of “continuing revelation” as applied to our work in Friends schools.
The Principles of Good Practice for Friends Schools, as time-honored and firmly established as they may appear to be, must themselves be subject to continuing revelation, undergoing revision from time to time as new understandings regarding our work in the world emerge. Following events during and after the spring of 2020 in our nation’s history, Friends Council was compelled to revise the Principles of Good Practice to articulate more explicitly a commitment to matters of racial, economic, social, and political equity and justice, using the Membership Renewal Process as a vehicle to call Friends schools to a higher standard with regard to these matters than had previously been done. And, while Friends schools have long honored diversity across many dimensions of personal identity - including gender, sexual orientation, family structure, religion, national and ethnic origin, physical and intellectual ability, and more - we recognize that our nation’s history with regard to Black and indigenous peoples warrants especially focused attention in the self-study process. In order to redress historical wrongs that span centuries, including within our Friends schools, going forward we are called to redefine our schools as explicitly anti-racist in their policies and practices. The current version of the Principles of Good Practice embodies this deepened commitment to live our Quaker testimonies of integrity, equality, and community to their fullest.
In the process of revisiting these Principles of Good Practice, Friends Council has addressed another pressing issue that must be embraced by our schools in order to prepare our students for responsible and engaged citizenship in the decades ahead: the increasing reality of climate change and the related environmental, political, economic, and social ramifications of this crisis, all of which are deeply intertwined with matters of equity and justice. Over the past decade and more, Friends schools have exercised environmental stewardship in countless ways - whether participating in the work of the Friends Environmental Education Network, incorporating “green” technologies into capital improvement plans, taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, or establishing policies and practices that model concern for the earth, and more. This updated version of the Principles of Good Practice asks schools to explicitly address this critical aspect of our Quaker testimony of stewardship and environmental justice, describing the steps they have already taken and outlining future initiatives that are being planned.
As this revised version of the Principles of Good Practice is published, Friends Council urges each school, regardless of its place in the cycle of the Membership Renewal Process, to engage with the document - and in particular with the new section on Equity and Justice - during the coming year. While the MRP requires a formal and comprehensive self-study once every ten years, the work of revisiting our Quaker underpinnings, affirming our adherence to core principles and practices, and identifying next steps in living more truly into the mission of Friends education must be an ongoing process, carried out annually in all corners of each Friends school community.