Focusing on Accountability - Steve Barkley

Focusing on Accountability

I have been exploring with leaders, ways to gain accountability without supervision. How can we design processes where individuals feel accountable to work on a desired change or goal without having supervisory checklists or deadlines. I describe it as seeking program progress that is more organic and less focused on preset timelines and requirements to be fulfilled. A Culture Partners post titled Responsibility vs Accountability states: “Because accountability is a broader concept than responsibility—it’s something you do to yourself, not something that someone does to you. It’s with this version of accountability that people not only take accountability for the results they need to achieve individually but for results that they are not 100% in control of.  Organizations embracing positive accountability have a culture of people that hold themselves accountable for the ultimate results of the organization.”

I recognized that accountability vs responsibility was a key to why administrators would want to spend more time focused on coaching and mentoring teachers than on supervising and evaluating. Supervision will usually focus on a teacher’s responsibility to meet some standard. The Culture Partners Blog identifies that “a focus on responsibility can create attitudes where people justify the ways they think and act to “cover their tails.” Justifying the ways you think and act in an effort to “cover your tail” pulls in the opposite direction of achieving results—often sapping time and resources to the detriment of others or the organization.”Sapping time and resources to the detriment of others or the organization has often been experienced by instructional coaches when they are “told” to work with unwilling staff members.

“An unwilling teacher can chew up a remarkable amount of a coach’s time and energy, especially emotional energy. These teachers can use the coach and their time with the coach as a way of avoiding the administrator’s supervisory and evaluative functions.” (Podcast: Coaching Teachers: the Unaware, the Starting, the Developing, & the Unwilling)

The Culture Partners Blog notes that organizations embracing positive accountability have a culture of people that hold themselves accountable for the ultimate results of the organization and generate these benefits.

  • People at all levels take ownership of the strategic results of the organization.
  • Balls do not get dropped and projects do not slip through the cracks.
  • People think differently about the job that needs to get done.
  • People break down barriers and collaborate to achieve the right results.

Organic vs. Calendar Timelines

Another place where I have explored accountability vs responsibility is in building professional growth plans (PGPs) around teachers forming, implementing, and assessing hypotheses for increasing student success. (Developing and Coaching Teachers’ Professional Growth Plans)

When calendar dates (responsibility) start and stop a PGP, the opportunities for learning frequently decrease. Stopping a process because it is June and starting a new one because it is September encourages a paper chase. Imagine teachers completing and starting new PGPs at various times throughout the year. Accountability might be supported by PGP conversations/exhibitions quarterly, where staff shared with each other …

What they learned from a completed PGP

What they are pondering in their current PGP

A student outcome that they are exploring to build their next PGP

Requests for possible hypotheses around their desired goal

Jackson Zmuda writing for ASCD contrasts compliant and engaged student learners. Notice how these traits align with what is desirable for educator learning.

Compliant Learners:

Follow directions with minimal prompting.

Timely complete explicit procedures.

Focus on task completion.

Respond to straightforward questions (not deeper critical thinking or questioning).

Complete work with no expectation for personal relevance.

Engaged Learners:

Pursue their own thoughts over assigned tasks at hand.

Are fascinated by questions that require teasing out ambiguity and complexity.

Take risks, solving problems in a novel way.

Seek to make work interesting or disengage.

Constantly question.

Professional Learning Communities should be a place where teachers find themselves engaged.

The above list for engaged learners provides a valuable set of considerations concerning teacher engagement in PLCs. Are teachers entering PLC time from a lens of responsibilities to be met or an opportunity to seek and provide support to meet their accountable, shared outcomes? Are teachers’ questions exploring the complexity and ambiguity of teaching and learning driving the PLC agenda? Are novel options and risk-taking present in the decisions that PLCs execute?

Teams can generate individual and collective accountability.


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One Response to “ Focusing on Accountability ”


    By some mystery of convergent evolution we have arrived in similar territory. I’m working to replace ‘teacher evaluation’ with the co-construction of learning cultures then plotting our work against 3 broad types of learning culture in a cultural continuum. The 3 identified cultures predominantly Inform, Inquire, Inspire. It’s evolving into a complete cultural system…so it does require the hard yards of building the culture first…in very clear and intentional ways. Would love to set up a conversation.

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