Monday, April 16, 2012

Accountability Gone Wild

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a group interview process as part of a doctoral program I was considering. The experience was interesting and challenged us on various levels (that's a whole other post) in thinking about the decisions we make as educational leaders. After getting situated in the group interview room, the process was kicked off with the following question (I don't remember the exact wording of the question because it's been almost two months)... Should educational leaders be held accountable if their former students do not contribute positively to society after their schooling experience? Again, the wording provided here isn't verbatim what was asked on that day but the challenge that lay before us was to think about the idea of accountability and what amount of accountability was considered reasonable.

We were given a piece of paper, a pen and were told that we had 15 minutes to generate a response to the question. Although I had a million ideas floating around in my head, I couldn't get started because I was completely frustrated by the question! Don't get me wrong, I am all about accountability and I feel very strongly that while a student is a member of our learning institution the entire educational community is responsible for educating the child; for making sure the individual needs of the child are being addressed each and every day; and for equipping the child with the skills that they will need to be successful in the future. As an elementary level administrator, I take this responsibility very seriously because I see our role in elementary school as that of laying and solidifying the foundation as the child grows and evolves. I also feel strongly that it is our responsibility to continue to support our children as they move forward in their academic careers (MS, HS and even college). For example, recently one of our former students was struggling at the MS and several members of our team collaborated with the MS team to brainstorm about different ways to support this child and address the needs based on what had worked in the past. This child needed our support and there was no doubt we would offer it! Another example was the former student who was in college at the time studying to be a teacher and wanted to return to our school to complete her student teaching hours because she had such a positive experience as a student. This former student needed our support and there was no doubt we would offer it! Finally, there was my former 5th grader who finished college but was uncertain about a career path so he wanted to come meet with me in the hopes that I would offer some good advice (In the end, I told him he had to find the thing that he loved to do where he could support himself). This young man needed my support and there was no doubt I would offer it!

This is why I became an educator - to teach, learn, support and nurture my children in their many journeys and explorations. Teach, learn, support and nurture my children - not be held accountable for their actions in adulthood. Should I potentially lose my job if one of my former students makes poor choices in their life? No - I don't think so because that would be an example of accountability gone wild! At some point it becomes about choices... the choices people make based on their knowledge, experiences, skills and needs at any given moment in time. Those choices, and the ramifications of those choices, belong to the individual - no one else!

As I sat there thinking about how I wanted to answer the above mentioned interview question about accountability, one example came to mind that made the most sense to me. I have had dental issues my whole life - cavities, chipped teeth, root canals, etc. I am fortunate to have found an amazing dentist who has patiently supported me through correcting these issues and improving the situation. Recently, after putting in a temporary crown, my dentist told me that I should avoid chewing gum or eating anything sticky in the next couple of weeks until the permanent crown was put in place. Well, two days before returning to the dentist, I couldn't resist a piece of Dubble Bubble gum and guess what happened... thats right, my temporary crown got stuck to the gum and fell out! So, who was at fault for this problem? My dentist because he was the one treating me and he put in the temporary crown? Or me, because I disregarded his orders and chewed a piece of sticky, sugary gum anyway? In my mind, there is only one person to blame... the dentist! Ok, just kidding! The crown falling out was clearly my fault and my dentist should not be held accountable in any way shape or form.

In my mind, the same is true when looking at the idea of accountability in the world of education. Yes, I do believe educators should be held accountable for student performance and growth over the course of a school year (no - I still don't think its ok to connect teacher/principal evaluations to students' standardized test scores). I think there are many ways to assess student performance and growth - portfolios, project based learning, etc. - in connection with accountability but at some point, the educator comes off the accountability trail and the child/student assumes full responsibility. As an educator, I will do my best to equip my students/children with the skills and experiences they will need to be successful in life but whether or not they access those skills or experiences in the future is up to them - not me. Once we start holding educators responsible for the choices that former students make in their adult lives we have entered the world of accountability gone wild!    

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