by Julie Brock
Shrouded in blame and punishment, accountability has been twisted into a punitive action versus the rich conversation it actually is intended to spur. To account is to reconcile, balance, see the full picture so future decisions are better informed.
In his Fast Company article, Four Ways You’re Getting Accountability Wrong, Mark Lukens explains why a culture of accountability is vital to the success of any organization. The principles Luken presents ask leaders to:
“Whether you’re looking to fix a problem or to replicate a success, don’t act until you’ve understood why you got the results you did,” says Lukens.
Depending on how many classes of students move through a classroom in a day, it is possible to have three to six ‘micro-organizations’ that look to an educator as the ‘CEO’ responsible for setting the tone and expectations of their collective work.
How, then, do we function as a leader cultivating a collective culture of accountability as well as one of individual progress?
Mark Friedman, author of Trying Hard isn’t Good Enough, created a data framework that helps communities work toward big, shared goals. The crux of his argument is that no one organization can own the results of an entire community. It takes many organizations contributing to get sustainable solutions. Within each contributing organization are departments or programs that contribute to the overall effectiveness of the organization. For example, a large school district may think that they do own the graduation rate for their community, but they do not—they do not have every student who lives in their boundaries attending their school, so they share that result with other education settings.
Each educational setting can contribute to the overall graduation rate; yet, it does not have to look exactly the same. It is why school choice exists. Imagine each of those settings creating a culture of accountability in which students understand the systems serving them and also understand their role within the overall culture. It creates collaboration, cooperation, and communication.
The conversation that data inspires what leads to actionable change. Our educational systems are limping along. The last blow of COVID damaged our barge and we cannot bail the water out faster than it is coming in . And it is all levels. No educational setting is immune. We are a fleet of zero—grad school education settings taking on water and pivoting to figure out if the bucket brigade will work from a different angle.
That’s the thing with pivoting. I think about basketball. Once that pivot foot is set, it cannot move before a dribble. Players are stuck in one place until a pass or a path opens up for them to move. It is stationary, but all the while we keep spinning…thinking something will change.
But it doesn’t.
Instead, I ask…
The state of education can be overwhelming, stifling, and feel futile. But a classroom’s contribution matters. A department’s contribution matters. A building’s contribution matters. An afterschool program’s contribution matters. They matter when we hold ourselves accountable to a shared result. Students want to learn. According to the 2019 Minnesota Student survey, 97.8% of Olmsted County 9th graders (current 11th graders) said “if something interests me, I’ll learn more about it.” In that same survey, 99.2% of 11th graders said they will learn more about something that interests them.
Maybe we need to co-design around standards with students. Ask them how they want to learn the standards, what will resonate, and what will ultimately spur them to learn more within the content area . Results Based Accountability™ (RBA), Friedman’s framework, asks for a community of people to solve community problems together. It isn’t a framework that leaves people behind. If we adopt this framework within communities, new partnerships start to blossom. Youth who move between organizations are more likely to be supported when there is a framework holding us together around the success of youth. Pair RBA and the co-design process with students, and now we have created partnership, collaboration, and ownership for youth over their own education, potentially fueling that 97-99% curiosity students reported in 2019.
The nice thing about RBA is that we can start right now, today, using it in classrooms. We don’t have to wait for the community to get on board: it can start a ripple effect. In fact, we may already live in a community that is using RBA to effect systemic change. Strive Together is a national nonprofit that has seventy communities across the nation doing this kind of work. If you live in Minnesota, there are seven cradle-to-career communities and two promise neighborhoods working for systemic change.
Accountability isn’t about shame and blame. It has to be reclaimed and untwisted from its negative connotation to create space for creativity, for innovation, and a way to get those on the shore to help get those on the sinking barge off and together—find our way into the next wave of education.
Interested in learning more about RBA and using it in your classroom / department / building / feeder system / district? Let me know and we’ll collaborate!
by Sweta Patel
I’m a teacher and also serve as a “Seniors Transitions Advisor” at a local alternative high school. This involves meeting with seniors one-on-one and talking about their plans for after high school and how to best support them. Often, I help our seniors with college and scholarship applications. There is one question that always makes them pause:
What extracurriclar activities have you participated in?
Now, when I see that question, I think about my 9 year old and 5 year old. Regularly, I find myself in the position of a taxi driver, stopping in front of art and dance studios, soccer fields, tennis courts, piano lessons…and the list goes on.
But for our seniors? They usually name classes or activities they participated in at some point during their time at our school:
I believe there is a population within all of our schools that doesn’t have access to these types of ‘extracurricular activities’ due to any number of factors, including financial constraints, transportation barriers, or needing to work after school.
And yet time spent in these activities often leads to feeling a sense of community and teamwork, learning a skill that may become a lifelong hobby, or even developing a sense of what career path we’d like to pursue.
At our school, as a staff, we agreed that this list of benefits is equally as important as our academic standards. They are not “extra” to us… They warrant being a part of our school curriculum and culture. We want our students to be exposed to a variety of new experiences so that they can identify new strengths and interests and carry them beyond graduation.
The Duiring-the-School-Day Solution
To that end, we completely overhauled how Wednesdays look at our school. On these days, we go by a different bell schedule and master schedule. Each teacher teaches 5 sections - advisory, academic help, and 3 seminars (single or a double block).
During advisory time, students spend an hour deepening their relationship with each other and their advisor. Advisors also use a part of this time to have one-on-one conversations with each advisee, following a set of weekly questions created by our social workers. Past topics include: goal-setting, healthy relationships, coping with stress, and self-talk.
During academic help time, we give students a built-in pause during the school week and use this time to re-teach concepts and help students one-on-one with assignments. This helps to prevent the end-of-the-quarter mad rush that often happens to catch up on the past 8 weeks’ worth of learning.
And during seminar time, teachers choose engaging experiences to offer students, such as:
At our school, we are on a 9-week quarterly system. We broke each quarter up into two rotations, consisting of 4 Wednesdays each. We call these our “Student-Centered Wednesdays” because the students get to self-select what their schedule looks like for each rotation. Some rotations, students might be heavy on academic help hours; and during others where they’re feeling academically strong, they might have one advisory period with 4 seminar experiences. Their schedules are centered around their learning needs.
Prior to Each Rotation
Rotations & Collaborations
While it’s definitely more work to be on this type of rotation system, we feel it’s necessary for the following reasons: Students can try out many different types of experiences throughout the year. Also, if they don’t end up liking an experience, they only have to make it through three more Wednesdays (same goes for the teachers!). But most importantly, it allows teachers to more easily partner with community organizations.
For example, for our Chess Seminar, we’re partnering with the Rochester Chess Club. One of their chess instructors comes out to teach our students, and they only have to commit to four Wednesdays at a time.
As we continue to reflect and revise what these Wednesdays look like, our hope is that we’ll eventually be able to take students to off-site trips (for example, hiking at Quarry Hill or volunteering at a care center). Right now, our experiences are all on-site.
Implement With Purpose
Some may argue that these types of experiences don’t belong within the school day, but at our school, we argue back: We all agree that extracurricular activities have value, but it’s a matter of access to these opportunities. Because our students can’t participate in after school activities, we’re trying to integrate these activities into their school day.
If you’re interested in doing something similar at school but can’t on this larger scale, one idea is to replicate it for the last week of each quarter or even a few days each quarter. You’ll be surprised by how many students as seniors will remember these experiences when it’s time to complete that “extracurricular activities” box on an application.
But there’s even a greater reason for more schools to jump in:
When I was younger, I took piano lessons, and this led me to introducing music into my daughter’s life. My husband played cricket and badminton, and he continues to play now as an adult as part of his fitness routine. My 9-year old daughter takes art and dance lessons, and through these, has developed dreams of selling her art one day and making it on the high school dance team. So many of us have these stories.
We’re hoping that through our Student-Centered Wednesdays, our students will generate similar stories of their own. A particular seminar just might change the trajectory of their life.
Ideas by Gauri Sood & Dr. Amit Sood, framed by Heather M. F. Lyke
Building trust, whether it be with students or fellow staff members, is foundational for learning and growth to occur. In our recent conversation with student Gauri Sood and her father Dr. Amit Sood, we explore five aspects that, when laid out and actively implemented, help establish trust.
Amit Sood notes that, “people don’t like you for who you are: people like you for how they feel about themselves in your presence.”
Plotting it Out
The Soods share five ways to build trust in such a way that people will grow to “like you for how they feel about themselves in your presence.” And, not surprisingly, these five fall into line much like the points found on a traditional plotline.
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Social Emotional Learning as a Collaboration
with Gauri Sood & Amit Sood | 9.28.21
Daughter and father, Gauri and Amit Sood (an international expert on mental health) speak to the team about collaboration with your audience as well as great mental health tools for teachers and students.
Dr. Amit Sood is one of the world's leading experts on resilience and wellbeing, executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing, and the creator of the Resilient Option program. He has also authored many articles and books, including The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living.
Gauri Sood is co-creator and lead trainer of HappiGenius, a Social Emotional Learning tool for young learners. She also serves as a member of the education committee for the Rochester Community Initiative and the Rochester Youth Commission, and she is the teen representative for Food Allergies of Rochester, MN. Gauri is a senior at Mayo High School.
Heather M. F. Lyke is the Teaching & Learning Specialist for Dover-Eyota Schools and author of numerous articles focusing on quality education.
A community partnership is a relationship between the teachers and students of a school with an organization that is long-term and mutually beneficial. The participants understand the value of the work together. They also believe and agree on common outcomes and learning objectives from the experience. In Spring Grove’s journey to become a community-based school, we have learned what makes a partnership a bonding and motivating experience.
We have multiple successful community partnerships to use as examples: a farm partnership with our middle school, and outdoor classrooms and a heritage center partnership in our elementary, and business partnership in the high school. We also have partnerships that are ending, adapting, or just an idea. Community partnerships are a living curriculum in which the relationship and experience drive the future, which is what makes the learning experiences deeper and authentic.
Now that you are convinced that you need to create a community partnership within your school, how do you start? What steps do you need to take in order to cultivate relationships and spark a drive to work together? I will share steps with you. These steps will look more like building a campfire than walking a stairway. You will need to put the right tools and people together and then wait and support for that spark to build into a flame.
- Create a partnership of interested educators. The educators will be the drivers of the experience. They will be writing curriculum around experiential learning and communicating outcomes that connect to the standards. They will need to hold strong relationships within themselves, with the students, and with the people representing the community partnership. They will need to work out organizational tactics, roles of contribution, and ways to assess outcomes. This will not be an easier way to educate, but it will be more rewarding. The educators will need to trust each other and also be willing to fail. They will need to see themselves as coaches and facilitators who are learning alongside the students and guiding next steps instead of experts who will always know the next step of learning.
- Find a partner within the community. The adults form the organization who will be partnering with your school need to be invested and interested. They need to be willing to share their space, data, and goals for the future. They need to understand students’ development needs and tendencies and understand that this meaningful type of work will take time. Students will bring inspiration and creativity, but will also need structure, clarity, and support. The partner will need to be able to create an actionable outcome that is not too big, but also not superficial or fake. Students and educators will only benefit from a partnership in which their time and efforts will truly benefit the outside entity.
- Identify clear outcomes. Outcomes will be communicated in a variety of ways. This is ideal. Outcomes need to be clear and co-created by students, educators, partners, and the community at large. This will allow for grants to be written to support efforts and celebrations to take place as outcomes are achieved.
- Understand the partnership experience will go through phases. Just like our relationship, partnerships will be always changing. Make sure plenty of time is spent in relationship building. Spend time exploring, asking questions, and spending time together before jumping into the work that needs to be accomplished. Don’t be afraid to take time throughout the experience to slow down and just enjoy each other. Plan times for metacognition, reflection, and building energy. Modeling this will help our students to understand the flow of work and how this relates to the relationships involved. Sometimes, this even involves ending a partnership. Be open to moving to a new location or working with someone new if you are having trouble identifying outcomes, communicating, or finding meaningful work to pursue as a team.
- Pursue support. A partnership will need layers of support. Communicate with instructional coaches, leadership, and outside entities. We knew that we would like to move to competency-based reporting to bring our educational outcomes together with our partnership outcomes, so we brought in an expert to guide our experience. Look for examples, ask questions, and approach the experience with curiosity and respect.
- Enjoy! Last but definitely not least, enjoy the experience. Remember to sit back and watch the students as they dive into this meaningful work. If it isn’t meaningful to them, they probably need more voice in the outcomes or how to achieve them. Remember that even if this work feels messy you will have more meaningful and memborable experience that will leave your students better prepared to interact with the complicated world we live in.
Some of you will choose to finish reading this article here, but others will be looking for some examples of the shifts and changes our teams made in creating these partnerships. You want to hear the story so that you can compare yours. Feel free to look for similarities and analyze different. Reach out to us if you would like. We know collective learning helps us all to move forward to transform education to experiences of deeper meaning.
The pandemic made us shift our programming to pods. We couldn’t have students intermingling, so we changed to a middle school teaming model where our teachers were teaming in instruction. We moved to Humanities and STEM programming with 7th and 8th grade students only. The teachers created a series of interdisciplinary experiences throughout the year including a park partnership where students worked with an environmental educator to map a native prairie and wildflower plan for a city park. They presented their work to the Parks and Rec and City Council Representatives before planting the garden in the spring. This work brought all students, teachers, and subjects together around learning and created an authentic audience, but we still saw a needed to build a sense of belonging, pride, and connection for the students. The teachers knew they wanted to continue to work together but needed something deeper to bring together the standards in a way that is consistent and developmentally aligned throughout the entire year. We used a Montessori article named “Erdkinder” to back our decision to connect our middle school age students to the land an phenomena around them. Research supports students at this specific age needing to take steps away from the cohesive family units to make connections with the land and greater community around them.
This led us to our farm school partnership. We saw an opportunity to bring the learning standards togethers around competencies. We brought in Rose Colby from New Hampshire to help us to map, connect, and create competencies that ensure interdisciplinary learning experiences that extend beyond academics. Our teachers know what life skills they are supporting while also mapping the content delivered in a way that connects and supports the content in other subject areas. Essential questions guide the learning, discoveries, and group projects students will embark on throughout the partnership. Teachers will support projects, deliver supporting content, and continue to co-create the learning with students with each weekly visit to the farm throughout this school year.
Sitting on the front porch at the farm this summer, our educators and farmer engaged in a conversation of inspiration and depth. They discussed how values guide decisions. They compared efficiency, money, power, and happiness affect the decisions we make. They discussed land ownership and the historical inequities that need to be considered as we embark on our journey. We left that front porch understanding the weight of importance this learning journey holds for us and the students. We are entering a multi-generational relationship that includes people, pigs, land, the people before us, and the sustainability of the future. We hope for all participants to question, connect, and build a foundation of decision making that will affect how they impact the world.
Our city and parents were as excited as our teachers to embark on this journey. The city funded fixing up outdoor buildings with optional closing sides to block wind. Our teachers started to use a method called storylining to map out and link standards with outdoor phenomena and locations. Students jumped into their outdoor experiences with curiosity, excitement, courage, and preparedness. Teachers co-created learning objectives by helping students to categorize their questions into learning themes.
The three teachers who created outdoor classrooms planned and planted native prairie gardens, community gardens, and improved spaces within our community. They said the experience forever changed the way they will teacher. This year, we didn’t offer outdoor versus indoor classrooms. Instead, this programming will live within our system. We will start more grow labs, start composting programming, and continue to expand on our outdoor learning experiences as an elementary system.
Heritage Center Partnership
We also hope to create a research partnership in which our students work with experts to research the early histories of our community. There are some missing links of knowledge of the people who first lived in our area, and we hope to connect with American Indian tribes and archeological organizations to better paint the picture of the entire history of our community.
Career and College Partnership: Redefining Ready
We also created a Business Experience/CEO course where students partner with four to five businesses to use the businesses’ data and vision to implement a design cycle of improvement. Students’ participated in creating newsletter and social media pages, researched the most successful businesses in small towns, and created prototypes used by the businesses in improvement.
The partnerships in Spring Grove have helped us to create a community-based school. Students of all ages get to make a difference within the community around them. They learn from and with people of all ages to dig deeply into the values, history, and future of our small town. Place-based learning helps our students to not only be prepared for their future, but also to be empowered and important youthful members of our current society.
strategies for balancing voices and minimizing cultural-bias
It is because of my podcast addiction that I recently learned a few new strategies for balancing voices, and in-turn minimizing cultural-biases, when collaborating with colleagues or facilitating student discussions.
Turn and Learn
When I work with leaders around how to run meetings, I always say like, worry about the bandwagon and the halo influence. So the halo is whoever has the most influence, everyone changes their answers to that person, and then the bandwagon is just human nature to gather around the common mean…
...I’m really interested in what you just said. Those obviously are road blocks to creativity or productivity, so those are to be avoided?
Yeah, so let me give you an example. So halo effect is the person with the most influence, if they share first, will, without question, shape and change the answers of the people who share their opinions behind that person. That’s the halo effect. The bandwagon effect is even if people are all lateral in terms of power and influence, there is a tendency to gather around the group mean. So one of the things we do when we talk about time estimation for projects, I’m worse at time estimation than I am at any other thing in my life. I mean, it’s awful…
And so what we do is, we’ll say, “Okay, Tim, Dax, we’re going to launch this new project and we need to make sure the website is up and ready, blah, blah, blah. How long does everyone think it’s going to take?” And then we write on a post-it and we flip it, it’s part of Scrum and Agile process to do this, we flip it over at the same time, and that way we avoid any halo or bandwagon, and mine will always say 90 days and the chief operating officer’s will say 1.5 years.
That’s a great hack, because I was thinking, oh gosh, you’re going to have to single out who the halo maker is, which will make that person defensive…What a great easy way to handle that.
Turn and Learn, that’s what we call it, the Turn and Learn. Yeah, it’s really effective, and it also just surfaces massive problems right off the bat because people’s expectations and understanding of things are so different.
For instance, sticking with the element of time noted above. My husband has a degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Minnesota. He has shared stories about his sophomore year Ojibwe Language class—during which he was often the first student in the room. For my husband, a cis-gendered white male from a middle class family with European heritage who was raised by parents who often noted “if you’re not early, you’re late,” being on time was par for the course. Had you asked the sophomore version of him what was going on, he’d have likely said, “everyone else is late,” “they’re not respecting the professor,” or “I thought that if you’re not early you’re late.”
That said, had you asked is fellow classmates—most of whom were idigenous—to write down on a sticky note about the importance of being “on time,” you’d have seen a wide swath of answers:
- A disrupter of authentic conversations
- A regimentation brought in by European colonization
- An approximate time for gathering
- A way to show respect to the facilitator (that would've been my husband’s sticky note)
Now, if the professor flips his sticky note first, people may wish they’d changed their response (bandwagon). If there is a classmate that many respect who flips first, others may wish they’d shared a similar response (halo). However, by flipping all sticky notes at the same time all voices get put on the table and, as in this instance, different cultural beliefs come to light.
Here is the process Alberts took us through:
- We each identified a small object that could be held in our hand—this was the virtual world’s version of a talking stick. (Had we been together in the same space, we would have all shared the same item—one talking stick for the full group.)
- The facilitator (in this case, Alberts) shared a set of questions to work through on our own: gave us time to jot down our own thoughts.
- The facilitator randomized participants names: this became our speaking order.
- The first speaker (the first name listed) held up their talking stick and shared one answer from their list of reflections—there was a choice here in what they shared, and had the option to pass if uncomfortable. When done, the talking stick was ‘passed’ to the next speaker (second name listed). This process continued until all had shared.
- For the second round—the second topic discussed—the person who started the rotation (noted in #4 above) was not the first randomized name listed, but rather the second. In other words, with each round, who begins the sharing circle shifts to a different group member, a different voice.
There is some magic in what may seem like a simple rotation of ideas and share alouds: each woven in intentionally by the IDEAL center in the way it was shared with Alberts and his team:
- There is an opportunity to think first (jot down ideas) and then speak, which helps offset the verbal process which tends to naturally take over conversations.
- It disrupts the pivoting back to a lead facilitator—rather, by knowing who speaks when the talking stick is passed from participant to participant, creating an equally distributed level of leadership and inclusion.
- There is an intentionality with everyone having an opportunity to speak—everyone has a voice. There is an added intentionality with knowing the order of who will speak when while also having it selected randomly—knowing when you will speak reduces anxiety, while the random distribution of who speaks when can disrupt any typical pecking order that otherwise might emerge.
Additionally, to assist in the above process and purpose, the IDEAL Center has at its foundation these shared norms (which are always evolving, according to a recent communications with their team):
To increase one’s awareness of how white supremacy exists in our communities and organizations, often without individuals even knowing it, is broken down in Tema Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture” article from Dismantling Racism, which was shared by Shavana Talbert, the Statewide Culturally Responsive Practices Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Wisconsin RtI Center. Understanding the imbalance is one of the first steps to creating balance. How might these characteristics show up within you? Your organization?
There is a creative energy and a passion for new ideas that often comes from the collaboration and conversation between individuals. For our podcast team, that is what makes the time devoted to our efforts more than worth every minute spent. This is also the root of why our team walked away with so many new ideas and revitalized energy after our discussion with four of Minnesota’s 2021 Teacher of the Year nominees.
For the full conversation and elaboration on each of the above resources be sure to listen to the full podcast discussion (released April 27, 2021).
Snapshot of a Collegial Conversation
Cultural Exploration and Understanding:
One clear thread that came up during our conversations was a desire to expand one’s personal understanding of bias, racism, and cultures other than one’s own. Some of the resources shared were:
- Zaragosa Vargas’s book Crucible of Struggle: A History of Mexican Americans from Colonial Times to the Present Era
- Bettina Love’s book We Want to Do More than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom and her Teaching to Thrive podcast that she co-hosts with Chelsey Culley-Love
- Jason Reynolds’ Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You—especially the audio version.
- Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i
Two professionals in the field come up often, including in this conversation, when talking about teacher leadership—specifically in the area of instructional coaching. A portion of our conversation kept circling back to the works of Jim Knight and Elena Aguilar.
Inspiration from Outside Education:
It may be hard to believe, but educators do take breaks from time to time—spread our wings outside our field. That said, we never fly too far from the tree of education that roots us to the profession, often discovering ideas and tools that lead us back to the field we love. Such as was found with:
- Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.
- Scott Ellsworth’s The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph
- Mark Barden’s A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It's Everyone's Business
- Dessa’s memoir Our Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love
- Carly Israel’s memoir Seconds and Inches
Bringing Conversations into Classrooms
Rich conversations need to happen in classrooms too. As Goodall noted, it is in conversations where the “explosive development of our intellect” comes into play. There is a thirst for learning that happens naturally and sporadically when we bounce ideas off of each other: in podcast conversations and in classrooms.
- Terry Heick’s Teach Thought article, “20 Types Of Questions For Teaching Critical Thinking”
- Larry Ferlazzo’s Education Week article, “Integrating Critical Thinking Into the Classroom”
- Matt Goldman’s Ted Talk, “The Search for ‘Ah ha’ Moments”
with Shannon Helgeson, Suzette Rowen, Tami Rhea, & Natalia Benjamin | 4.26.2021
We have the pleasure of digging into innovation, inspiration, and influances with four of Minnesota's Teacher of the Year Nominees.
Shannon Helgeson is an instructional coach with Winona Area Public Schools with prior experience as a classroom social studies teacher.
Suzette Rowen, a master of reading and science, is a kindergarten teacher for Dover-Eyota Schools, coordinates district relicensure and the school woods.
Tami Rhea is the K-12 Media Specialist for Dover-Eyota Schools, coordinates STEM Village for SE MN, and teaches coding to secondary students.
Natalia Benjamin is an EL and Ethnic Studies teacher for the Rochester Public Schools and a Cultural Competency trainer for Education Minnesota.
Heather M. F. Lyke is the Teaching & Learning Specialist for Dover-Eyota Schools and author of numerous articles focusing on quality education.