Accountability isn’t a bad word

Accountability isn’t a bad word

By Paul Restivo, Committee Member

There were times when I felt like I was not teaching in a real school — that I was victim to some sort of Seth MacFarlane satire of a school. Have you had those moments? The moments when if someone were to snap a photo of your face, it would feature your eyebrows drawn down, the crows feet near your eyes ready for their close up, the weird wrinkle thing your nose does when a foul stench wafts through, and your mouth slightly agape? That moment when you just want to tell the whole school, “Just let me do it.” Or “Just leave.”

I remember such a time, in January 2008, sitting around a table with colleagues — about 10 of us — when we began brainstorming ways to improve our instruction. For me, this Professional Learning Community (PLC) model was all I knew. I entered the teaching profession in 2004, and the PLC was roaring fast and furious in my school district. But I remember when one of my colleagues that morning in January said, “I’m uncomfortable sharing my handouts with you. I’ll give you an overview of what I do, but I’m not willing to just hand over my lessons.” And that’s when “the look” appeared across my face. A teacher not sharing? What could we possibly do with his lessons that would make him uncomfortable?

I came to two conclusions. One: He was scared we might claim ourselves as author of his lessons, thus stealing his thunder and all of the accolades that come with delivering a great lesson in class (*rolling eyes). Or two: He was insecure about the quality of his lesson.

I was more partial to the latter.

Seven years later, I’m realizing one of the most valuable qualities of the PLC: accountability. The “A” word has become a curse word in our profession lately, it seems. Holding journalism teachers accountable is one of the great mysteries of the world and is usually akin to writing them up, administrators conducting vapid walk-throughs and scribbling onto a form “for the state,” or asking teachers “did you document that?”

But accountability is so much more. It’s quality assurance for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students. The PLC is about colleagues holding one another accountable, not by offering how we think someone else should teach better. It allows our colleagues to reflect out loud about their own practice. It takes guts to talk about our teaching with others when we’re not sure what we’re doing is working, or if our strategies could be successfully duplicated in the journalism across town or across the country.

Randy Bomer, a teacher at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote recently that he believes the one thing that helps him attend to quality in what he does with students is the pressure to talk about it with a professional community. He writes, “That, to me, is accountability, the expectation that I can give an account of what I decide to do, one that will make good sense to others in my professional sphere.”

The PLC’s version of accountability is much more than playing “gotcha” with one another. The PLC propels us into the realm of professionalism and improvement. Joining something like the National Journalism PLC is step one of increasing the professionalism and quality of how we teacher and work with our student journalists.

Referenced: Bomer, R. (2011). “What makes a teaching moment: Spheres of influence in professional activity.” English Journal, 101(1).

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