Steve Barkley on Accountability | Instructional Leadership


In a Smart Brief post, Cultivate coachability with these 5 mindsets, Julie Winkle Giulioni describes five mindsets that, “help others realize their potential, perform optimally and engage in continuous learning”:

  • The relational mindset-prioritizing the human connection.
  • The listening mindset-creating the space for others to reflect.
  • The growth mindset-promoting effort and praising persistence.
  • The accountability mindset-helping others to own their own plan.
  • The support mindset-assisting in finding resources, predicting roadblocks and brainstorming strategies.

I paid special attention to the accountability mindset as I frequently find the lack of accountability a detriment to results from coaching and team efforts. Giulioni states, “One of the greatest gifts a coach can give others is a sense of ownership. But this requires a mindset that places responsibility squarely with the other person.”  She suggests these practices to tap greater accountability in others and yourself. Consider how they apply to instructional coaching:

  • Involve others in setting their own goals and action plans to reach them.
  • Encourage others to develop their own monitoring systems to track progress.
  • Resist solving problems, instead encouraging others to search for their own solutions.
  • Let others determine how and when to follow-up.
  • Honestly help people confront performance shortfalls and own plans to correct them.

“In the weakest teams, there is no accountability. In mediocre teams, bosses are the source of accountability. In high performance teams, peers manage the vast majority of performance problems with one another.” 

– Joseph Grenny from  The Best Teams Hold Themselves Accountable

On the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team , Patrick Lencioni identifies the following regarding the avoidance of accountability:

A team that avoids accountability… (Lencioni, 2002, p.214)

  • Creates resentment among team members who have different standards of performance.
  • Encourages mediocrity.
  • Misses deadlines and key deliverables.
  • Places an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline.

I often find that accountability increases when commitments are verbalized, public, and at times recorded.

During coaching sessions, as plans are made for actions that a teacher and coach will take, it’s valuable to specify who, when, and where.

Example: The coach agrees when she will model a strategy in the teacher’s class and sets a time for planning the lesson together. They agree on what the teacher will focus on during the modelling and when they will debrief following the modelling. At the debriefing meeting a date is set for the coach to observe the teacher implementing the strategy and providing feedback. Without the specificity of these commitments, days can pass by without actions taken as teacher or coach get caught up in the “world of urgencies.” Negative assumptions and resentments can emerge from the missing actions.

A similar scenario can exist in PLC meetings. Often, during a PLC conversation, next step actions or questions are raised. An “assumed” consensus may emerge as someone says, “It would be good if we had samples of student math problem- solving from our classrooms to examine next week.” Some members write a note to plan on collecting those before the next meeting while others consider this something that if appropriate in the events of the week, they would do. At the next meeting with some members bringing the samples and some not, the quality of PLC work decreases and a lack of trust in team members emerges. Commitment to the whole PLC process can erode.

Creating a structure where commitments to action are verbalized and recorded in minutes and the agenda of the next meeting can increase the accountability of members to completing the “homework” tasks and to PLC facilitators in honoring the commitment to the time in the next meeting for follow-through. Resentment can be high when the agenda changes and the completed tasks are ignored.

In your instructional leadership role, consider the structures and strategies you can implement to support educators in increasing their commitments and accountability to each other….. building teamwork within your school to guide student learning.

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