Accountability in schools is something we teachers talk about but rarely own.
More often than not, “accountability” is interpreted as “explaining why I did something wrong”. In other cases, it becomes synonymous with evaluation, which comes with a different set of red flags.
But with the right school climate, not only can accountability be seen as not scary, it can lead to the growth of teachers in practice, and students in achievement. We have no problem asking students to be accountable for their actions or their studies, and we must model to them what it means in such a way that makes it safe for them to follow our lead.
A recent post from Robert Kaplinsky, a mathematics teacher specialist in Southern California, mentioned a teacher who had posted a sign outside of his classroom inviting anyone to observe him at any time he was teaching, and offering three points on which he would like feedback. Kaplinsky then turned it into the #ObserveMe campaign.
I loved this idea, and immediately put one outside my own classroom. That was three weeks ago, and do you know how many observers I have had? Zero.
I have, however, spread the idea to a colleague in another school in my district, and her principal stopped me one day to tell me what a good idea he thought it was. But, I’m a little disappointed. I want that feedback. More than that, I want my school to feel that they can give and receive feedback to one another without fear of consequence.
I’m a career-switcher. Before becoming a teacher, I managed a record store. Immediately upon entering education, I was taken aback by the resistance to the evaluation and self-reflection process. In my previous field, employee reviews were common - twice a year formally, and almost bi-weekly (and unscheduled) in between those dates. I learned to prepare every day as if someone were coming in to judge me and those who worked under me. I continue to carry that mentality into teaching.
Many younger teachers coming in do not seem to have the same aversion to feedback as career teachers. Still, too often, I hear teachers complain about the views of people who are not in the classroom - whether that be policymakers, parents, or administration. Those can be valid arguments, to be sure, but my challenge to educators is to respond to that by taking matters into your own hands. Open up your classroom to your colleagues, with three quick items of focus:
Specify What You Want Observed. When students come in with a vague, “I need help” statement, you will naturally prompt them to be more specific. The same applies for teachers. Don’t have a colleague watch everything in a 45-minute period. Give them one or two things on which to take notes and provide feedback. For example, I know that I sometimes (OK, many times) catch myself talking to students instead of with them. I do not have enough dialogue in my instruction. But, I only pick up on it late into a class period. I need someone to call me on it as it happens.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Everyone. If your school culture doesn’t yet seem ready to make this a priority, find a group of like-minded colleagues and do it among yourselves. Then, other conversations in faculty meetings or lunch rooms may open up more doors. They may like the idea, but don’t want to be the first ones.
Involve the Students. When someone new comes in the room, students notice. Be upfront with them and tell them what’s happening - even if you need to leave some details out. When students see that a teacher is constantly trying to improve themselves, it sets the tone for them to follow suit. If your school is one that is adopting a growth mindset, it can make a wonderful lesson and lead to many teachable moments.