Accountability in Schools: Purpose Driven or Fear Driven?
I often wonder if we changed our thinking about accountability in schools, if we’d get a better result in the classrooms?
Here’s what I’m thinking: Instead of focusing on ACCOUNTABILITY (of tests, of standards, of evaluations, of observations) we should focus on RESPONSIBILITY and create PURPOSE.
In fact, accountability in schools can just feel like “big brother’s watching over my shoulder” when it’s not attached to RESPONSIBILITY AND PURPOSE. Think about it, when we just go about our business and we’re focused on “meeting the expectations of ‘the district'”, there is little oomph (or joy!) in the work. But when I’m really super excited and invested in a particular subject area or technique I’m using with my kids, I’m teaching like my hair’s on fire – accountability or no accountability!
Here’s the deal, accountability in schools is a given – we don’t have a choice. BUT purpose? Well, we have a BIG OPPORTUNITY TO create, recreate and be motivated by purpose everyday. And that’s no one’s job but our own!
Let’s look at a good working definition of accountability: the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable.
Now let’s take a look at a definition of purpose:
1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
3. determination; resoluteness.
Here’s what popped out to me as I read those definitions: Purpose is not just a pie-in-the-sky idea or thought – it’s built upon action and RESULTS. And accountability is RESULTS driven, too!
Soooo….without purpose, then accountability is ALWAYS going to feel like “the district” or “the man” is breathing down our necks!
Let me tell you a little story that just happened THIS MORNING!
We work with some larger school districts with the goal of helping them implement their reading programs and get organized on their Common Core implementations. One of our districts has 19 elementary schools – they’re all trying to accomplish the SAME THING and they are held accountable for the same levels of performance: implement their reading programs so expertfully that they get 80%+ kids on benchmark just with their Tier I instruction! (By the way, it IS possible…email me if you want to know how!)
I had two emails from this particular client in my inbox this morning: 1 email from what I consider to be an “on fire” principal – SHE ISN’T MESSING AROUND! (My kind of gal!) She was asking for some feedback on a letter that she was sending her staff, motivating them to really power through until the holidays, rather than limp into the holidays – she was having them choose 2 kids in their classrooms that are not currently benchmark, but would be by December 15th!
And then 1 email from a very nice, kind principal complaining that he just “doesn’t have any time to get into classrooms because he spends his time putting out fires all day” and he’s behind on his observations and hasn’t met with his leadership team lately.
Well, I have news for ya: both principals have the same size schools, the same highly impacted, low poverty clientele and are held to the same standards…as they should be! One is getting it done and ASKING THE DISTRICT TO COME WALK THROUGH THE CLASSROOMS and the other is mulling over the same stuff as last year and is bemoaning why “the district” always shows up unannounced to walk through classrooms.
What’s the difference? Not accountability! They both have visits from the district!
The difference is PURPOSE LINKED TO ACCOUNTABILITY. The principal who asked for feedback from me on her mission for her teachers is doing what she’s doing because she’s passionate about the “doing” for their students…she’s not worrying at ALL about “the district” or “the test”. The other principal? He’s so focused on “the district” and “the test” that he’s, AT BEST, trying to meet the minimum requirement.
Doesn’t sound very inspiring to me…what do YOU think?
BUT HERE’S THE DEAL! Accountability is what “they” put into place to monitor school improvement, but meaning and purpose is what “we” put into place to drive us each day – – especially on those days when we don’t have accountability checks!
It’s like exercise, guys…do I get up and do my exercising when my exercising partner is sick and doesn’t show up on my back door at 5:30 a.m. or do I snooze and decide to sleep in? If I snooze and sleep in then I’m accountability driven – motivated only by my friend showing up on my back doorstep! If I get my tired and lazy behind up, then I’m purpose driven – I know that I am committed to improving my health even on those days I don’t feel like it!
So, you know I have to ask…in your work in your schools…are you accountability crabby or purposely going about your business?