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Accountability: 26 Days of Learning Leadership

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Twenty years ago.

Twenty years ago, I set foot in my first classroom. I remember it like it was yesterday. And just as much, I can vividly recall the high level of accountability I had.

For myself.

As a new teacher, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. Every. Detail. Mattered. The signage that adorned the classroom door that greeted "my" students. The arrangement of the books in the classroom library, desks, tables, and learning centers. Bulletin boards, posters, and name tags. 

The lesson and unit plans for the day, week, and month to come. All carefully scripted, nearly to the word, for that fateful first day - the day I had been waiting for since being offered that first opportunity, to make an impact on the lives of children.

I'll never forget the level of accountability I felt. To be the best teacher I could be, for students, who deserved the best teacher and learning experience they'd had to this point in their school lives.

Ten years ago.

Ten years ago. I set foot in my first office. At times, I still smile recalling the feeling of dragged from the classroom I had come to know and to love. The safe space where young people grew to become who they were meant to be. And for me, the space where I could be who I needed, for them. That uncertain feeling that I couldn't put a name to was that of being recruited - for leadership.

I was in a position in which I wouldn't always see to the direct immediate impact of my decisions, moment-by-moment. But, if I could get it right, I would be among a team dedicated to making a greater impact on more people. Students and their parents, teachers, stakeholders, and a learning community. 

Ten years later, the rest is history.

But the accountability still exists, and has intensified, feeling all at once, more complex and more sophisticated.

We have allowed our perceptions to shift, tempting us to move from a proactive to a reactive stance. Top-down mandates. If/than scenarios. And messaging by way of fancy websites, presentations, and speeches, all laden with buzzwords, threats, and promises. The result is a system struggling to adjust it's 20th Century approach to produce 21st Century results. 

Some perceive external pressures as a threat to invade what is still pure and good - in our schools. The trust and relationships we build. The sweat equity that goes into being a great teacher. Despite the push of external priorities onto and in some cases, into, our schools...we continue to prevail.

But why? And how?

The best schools and the best educators know that:

We are accountable

to ourselves.

to the students we serve.

to the adult members of our communities: our parents and teachers, our community stakeholders and our community partners.

to our learning organizations and school communities.

And we are accountable to our profession, ensuring that its reputation remains honorable and adaptable, evolving to stay relevant.

The best schools and educators don't wait for external forces to hold us accountable. 

We hold ourselves accountable.

This summer of learning affirmed my belief personal accountability. It’s gotten me wondering how we might design accountability systems for ourselves. Here's what has worked for me...so far.

1. Extend the invitation to learn.

Surround ourselves with three kinds of people: those with whom we share common values and interests, those who challenge us and our belief systems, and those whom we emulate because each possesses qualities unlike ours, that drive us to achieve our personal best. I have found that blending a rock-solid core District team in combination with being involved with a diverse team who embraces the "Edcamp mentality" has brought me in contact with people who put learning and leading first. Some of the most rewarding learning experiences have come quite spontaneously. And to think, there are so many more waiting out there.

2. Accept the challenge to learn.

Embrace situations that make us feel uneasy. Because risk-taking helps us grow. This summer, being part of the AMLE Leadership Institute as a facilitator introduced me to unfamiliar situations that, at first thought, made me feel uncertain. But jumping in, with good people, reminded me that without risk there's no reward. The unexpected reward is, seeing how we rise to the occasion and grow when first faced with a challenging situation. Choosing to do this keeps us versatile and dexterous, ready for when there is a need to handle unplanned situations. 

3. "Team up".

When asked, tell others we would "love to". There's an exhilaration associated with "going for it". Commit to a book talk or a blogging group. Facilitate a webinar or co-facilitating a presentation or a conference. The impact of learning intensifies when the responsibility is shared. Asking others to join you in making it happen sets the stage for that impact. The personal-professional fulfillment that comes with a shared learning experience is like no other.

4. Start the conversation.

If all of this seems overwhelming or intimidating, there is a fourth option: start small...really small. Start one conversation with one person about one topic that matters. Then build on it. Determine action steps and how to indicate and measure progress. Check up on one another as a reminder that we are not alone. Celebrate risks. Dissect mistakes. And share small victories - the milestones - along the way. Knowing there's someone else there with you serves as a reminder that all things good in education come as a result of clear and consistent communication and an unwavering commitment to learning together.

This school year can be the best school year yet. And the first step in making that happen is being centered on how YOU will hold YOURSELF accountable. 

But this is what works for me. And it's not an all-inclusive, exhaustive list of ways in which I hold myself accountable.

What is this that YOU do to hold YOURSELF accountable?

 

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Dennis Schug is proud to serve the students of the Hampton Bays Schools community for the past 20 years, as a Teacher, Assistant Principal and as a Principal in Hampton Bays, New York. As a school leader, he believes in the value of using communication, collaboration, and professional learning as a means of building capacity and engaging all members of a learning organization. He is one of the founding team members of Edcamp Long Island and a lead organizer for Edcamp Leadership: New York. He is also one of the moderators of #NYEDchat, a bi-weekly Twitter chat on current topics that influence high-impact teaching and learning. He has served as a facilitator at the AMLE Leadership Institute, and has presented at the NYS Middle School Association Teaching for Tomorrow Long Island Regional Conference and the Long Island Tech Summit on using technology as tools for purposeful learning and meaningful engagement. He is also proud to serve as a Regional Director Alternate for the New York State Middle School Association. Connect with Dennis via Twitter@schug_dennis, or on Voxer at dschug597. Learn more by following his blog, Learning Leadership at www.dennisschug.blogspot.com.

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Guest Tuesday, 06 December 2016