A Golden Rule of School Reform… Okay, Maybe a Few Golden Rules #WhatIfWeekly

From “Why Not Ask Teachers How They Would Improve Our Schools?,” Kenneth Bernstein, Nation of Change, 17 January 2013 (emphasis mine) —

We teachers are aware that our influence can be both positive and negative. To be certain that it is positive, we need to have our voices heard as educational policy is being formed. And yet, for too long, teachers have been forced when they are allowed to speak to do so in a frame that is not authentic. In my conversation with the reporter, she began a question by framing it in terms of “accountability,” and I immediately stopped her. Those of us who take teaching seriously dislike that word because it implies that we would not care nor act responsibly towards our students absent some outside measure. To a teacher, that is a wrong mindset, an improper frame that loses sight of the students for whom we are responsible.

Just to be clear, I agree with Bernstein – educational reform MUST include the voices of educators. But this post is not about my agreement with Bernstein.

This post is about the statement in bold above and repeated here – “Those of us who take teaching seriously dislike that word [accountability] because it implies that we would not care nor act responsibly towards our students absent some outside measure.”

But isn’t this exactly what many of us do to our students? We assume – intentionally or unintentionally – that they “would not care nor act responsibly” towards the curricula “absent of some outside measure.”

“Let’s do unto our student learners as we would want done to us.”

Let’s ask students what they want and need from their schooling reforms as well!

…and parents

…and various industry leaders

…and real-world problem solvers

…and …


What if… we did.

[Hat tip to Charles McNair for passing along the article to me.]

5 thoughts on “A Golden Rule of School Reform… Okay, Maybe a Few Golden Rules #WhatIfWeekly

  1. I generally agree with your sentiments and point here, and few things frustrate me so much as the hypocrisy of adults in the educational community. (Example: The same teachers who can’t pay attention for 10 minutes in a faculty meeting always seem to be the first to complain of students being rude and distracted in class.)

    That said, are you suggesting there is no place or use for accountability in a classroom or professional environment? As Ms. Chesser points out, teaching and nurturing responsibility is a more important goal, but nothing about our society (banks, Enron, Office of Minerals Management, ATL testing cheating scandals) suggests that we behave very well when oversight gets too lazy, distracted or naive.

    While I’m not a fan of how “accountability” is being approached and addressed in the public ed realm at the moment, but can’t it be done well? Doesn’t it have value to an institution and to individuals?

    • Billy, I really appreciate your comment here. You and I share the frustrations about adult hypocrisy in ed community (although I know I’ve been guilty myself at various times).

      I don’t think I am suggesting that there is no place for accountability in a classroom or professional environment. I think the brand of accountability we have devised is sad and wrong. I much prefer the self-initiated, self-actualized, collective-care, interdependent kind of accountability that shares more synonymous meaning with RESPONSIBILITY, as Holly mentioned in her comment. I would like to think that our accountability system – the watching over kind – developed because people were not developing or demonstrating responsibility. But now we might be in a vicious cycle. So, in the short term, we may need a bridge, as we reduce the negative type of accountability and increase the positive type that “rhymes” with responsibility. But I am frustrated that we think people are going to learn it in the current accountability system we have allowed/caused to be created.

      Does that make sense?

      Hope you are well.

      • Excellent points all the way around, Bo, and you’re right. Accountability is important and can be implemented in productive, healthy ways, but very little of “Accountability 2013 AD” is either productive or particularly well-implemented. Thanks for the reply.

  2. Everything I read about human psychology underscores your point. The word accountability places the emphasis on giving an “account of one’s actions,” implying the presence of one above who directs and judges our behavior. It teaches us to work for someone else as the arbiter of our competence or excellence instead of developing in us the desire to fulfill our own potential. The connotation for most people is probably negative. Responsibility, on the other hand, suggests the impetus for action derives from inner will.

    If we’re trying to build autonomous learners, we’ve got to begin with respect and trust. What words we use matter.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Exactly, Holly. I agree completely. Thank you for your comment. And I love that you used autonomy. There is much misunderstanding about this trait, but I think it’s the one we are trying to build – autonomy, not independence.

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