The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same. -Steve Maraboli
Do teachers fear holding students accountable for their learning? What about students holding themselves accountable? Teachers holding themselves accountable?
True analysis of proficiency levels at the beginning of the school year or throughout a unit can make us feel vulnerable as teachers. Do I really want to know where my students are starting? Or would I prefer to start where I always do with the first unit and proceed according to the curriculum guide as the year progresses? I was asked at one point in my teaching career if I would actually use pre-assessment results for something…I was shocked to be asked this. If I were going to take the time to give a pre-assessment, I had better do something with it! I had never thought of not analyzing the data or results to inform my instruction. But I suppose in communities of compliance, for some teachers giving a pre-assessment was just checking off another box on the form of good teaching. ‘No one told me that I have to USE it for anything’…sigh.
Another concern with accountability is communication, and at times tough conversations. We open ourselves up to a different type of exchange with kids, parents, and colleagues when kids are not achieving at a high level even at the beginning of a unit. Students feel pressure and don’t necessarily want to bear the burden of accountability, yet this is a shared responsibility. Parents are such a critical support in their children’s learning, but sometimes would rather give sole liability for success to the school or the teachers. We risk pushback from teachers who feel kids have the right to fail, not complete formative practice, and even refuse to assess.
I believe this stems from a few factors. Our students are overly concerned with grades and perfection. They pass the accountability of failure along to the teacher especially when put on the spot about a low grade. Students must be held accountable to a high standard learning and know that apathy is not an option. Help them understand nothing will be perfect and the learning process is a series of steps forward and backward. Hold them to the fact that learning never stops, and they are never finished with it. Assure them that you are working with them, not against them. Giving students ownership of learning and accountability for it is not easy or comfortable for them, but it’s the right thing to do. Letting them off the hook by allowing a zero or time to sit idle because their work is ‘done’ does them no favors in the future.
Teachers are also accountable in the learning process for addressing students’ varied needs, maintaining and delivering high quality curriculum, instruction, and assessment, creating a culture of learning, and supporting students in failure and success. Teachers need to make learning experiences meaningful, relevant, and respectful to the student. Grading practices that support learning lead back to student accountability. Instructors provide and are responsible for the support, but learning is for the students. For many of us, student growth is or is becoming a part of our evaluations. This can be a scary new world of accountability, but when the learning happens, the growth will follow. Providing high quality instruction and assessment in a culture of caring and trust will produce the gains we are looking for.
Are you ready to be vulnerable and guide your students to share accountability with you? It may not be easy, but it is the right thing to do.