Podcast: Focusing on Accountability - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Focusing on Accountability

Accountability is a broader concept than responsibility – it’s something you do to yourself, not something that someone does to you.  A focus on responsibility can create attitudes where people justify the ways they think and act to “cover their tails” which pulls in the opposite direction of achieving organizational or team results. With accountability, people not only take accountability for the results they need to achieve individually but for results that they are not 100% in control of. How might your leadership or coaching practices encourage accountability.

Read the Culture Partners post, “Responsibility vs Accountability” here.

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Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.270] – Steve [Intro]

Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.

[00:00:25.660] – Steve

Focusing on accountability. How can we design processes where individuals feel more accountable to work on a desired change or goal without having supervisory checklist or deadlines? Can we track program progress that is more organic and less focused on preset timelines and requirements to be fulfilled? Consider this description that comes from a culture partners post titled, “Responsibility Vs. Accountability.” I’ll put the link to this post in the podcast lead-in. “Because accountability is a broader concept than responsibility, it is something you do to yourself, not something that someone else does to you. It’s with this version of accountability that people not only take accountability for the results that 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 in an organization.” I’ve recognized that accountability versus responsibility is a key as to why administrators would rather 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 a standard. Now, again, from the Culture Partners blog: “A focus on responsibility can create attitudes where people justify the ways they think and act to cover their tails.

[00:02:33.510] – Steve

Justifying the ways you think and act in an effort to cover your tails pulls in the opposite direction of achieving results, often sapping time and resources to the detriment of others or the organization.” Draining time and resources to the detriment of others or the organizations has often haven’t been experienced by instructional coaches when they’re 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 the coach’s time as a way of avoiding the administrator’s supervisory and evaluative functions. The Culture Partners blog notes that organizations that embrace positive accountability have a culture of people that hold themselves accountable for the ultimate results of the organization and generate these benefits. One, people at all levels take ownership of the strategic results. Two, balls do not get dropped and projects do not slip through the cracks. Three, people think differently about the job that needs to get done. And four, people break down barriers and collaborate to achieve the right results. Another place where I have explored accountability versus responsibility is in the building of professional growth plans, PGPs.

[00:04:23.620] – Steve

Building PGPs around teachers forming, implementing, and assessing hypotheses for increased student success is often my focus. But when calendar dates, which we would call responsibility, start and stop a PGP process, the opportunity for learning frequently decreases. Stopping a process because it’s June and starting a new one because it’s 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 or exhibitions that occur quarterly, where staff can share with each other what they’ve learned so far from a completed PGP or what they’re pondering in their current PGP. They might share a student outcome that they’re exploring to build a PGP around and asking for brainstorming from their colleagues. Or they might have request for a possible hypothesis around the desired goal that they want to achieve. Jackson Zunda, writing for ASCD, contrasts compliant and engaged learners. Notice how the traits that he identifies for compliant and engaged learners from a student standpoint really align with those for teachers as learners being compliant or engaged. He states, “compliant learners follow directions with minimal prompting, timely complete explicit procedures, focus on task completion, respond to straightforward questions, rather than deeper critical thinking or questioning, complete work with no expectation for personal relevance.”

[00:06:41.730] – Steve

Now, I want you to listen to that list again. How often do any of these actions appear when teachers are in PLC’s staff meetings or professional development sessions? Here they are again: Follow directions with minimal prompting, timely complete 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. Now, Zunda describes engaged learners as pursuing their own thoughts over assigned tasks at hand. Engaged learners are fascinated by questions that require teasing out ambiguity and complexity, taking risks, solving problems in a novel way, seeking to make work interesting or they disengage, and constantly questioning. Professional learning communities should be places where teachers find themselves engaged. As you observe PLCs in your schools, are teachers entering PLC time from a lens of responsibilities to be met or as an opportunity to seek and provide support to meet their accountable shared outcomes? Are teachers questioning and exploring the complexity and ambiguity of teaching and learning driving the PLC agenda? Are novel options and risk-taking present in the decisions that the PLCs execute? Consider your coaching and leadership actions. How do you focus on creating an environment that encourages accountability from engagement rather than compliance through responsibility?

[00:08:51.230] – Steve

Are there places in your practice where the focus on responsibilities might be interfering with empowerment to build accountability? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment or question anytime at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.

[00:09:13.270] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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