Who’s Accountable?

Have you seen that comic that compares a parent teacher interview in 1960 to one in the year 2010? It’s the one that shows the 1960’s parents screaming at the kid over a failing mark while in recent times, both the parents and the kid are screaming at the teacher. Regardless of what message the comic sends, it raises the issue of the imbalance in accountability that seems to have always existed in education. How do we deal with that imbalance? What should the responsibility/accountability framework look like?

In a recent discussion with a fellow colleague and friend, we, like all teachers, envision for the future, a balanced triangle with student, teacher, and parent clustered around the goal of accountability/responsibility. Carlo Fusco and I are part of a team of educators who come together to discuss issues in podcast form on our site educast.me. Since integrating various web 2.0 tools in the classroom, we are noticing a recurring theme of potential for accountability in the future of education through transparency. The idealist in me says “keep things open” so that all parties may be placed in a perpetual ring of open communication. I say “idealist” because I know this concept does not come without its own issues, but I think it’s best to focus on the benefits first.

Social media tools, class websites and wikis can all be used to share information and course content with all interested parties. A parent can check a Twitter feed or a Google calendar to help support a student schedule for completion of a project or test preparation. In addition to posting marks and course content, Carlo posts attendance on his password-protected class site for parents to view.
Parents of my students can also monitor their child’s progress through a parent account in Edmodo. They can track assignment marks, completion, and even a news-feed generated separately for parents. A student has to log in to show the assignments to a parent, but this separation between public and private allows some control over transparency, which is not a bad thing when we are trying to teach youth some autonomy.

A student who is sick from school can check online and get caught up or even participate from home, taking ownership for learning. I recently had a student show up in a Google Doc to collaborate with her group while she recovered from an injury at home. Students were able to use the comment stream to chat while co-creating a script. At the beginning of the year, I had a student and his parent come visit me at parent-teacher night. This student used the excuse of being sick as a reason why an assignment was not complete. I was able to show the parent multiple date-stamped postings that appeared over a week and a half in my news-feed on the educational social media site, Edmodo. The news feed was very clear in setting timelines, expectations, and instructions for the assignment.

Open communication through online environments makes teachers accountable too. Because of the date-stamping of assignments, I find that I keep up with my marking. I’m not worried about being held accountable to what I say on-line as I am always professional. Although the textual evidence could work against me if a parent were to take issue with anything I post, it is much more likely to work as supportive evidence for assisting me in my job as a teacher and for helping me meet the demands for a shared accountability.

Now, the heavy. I can speak from both a teacher’s and a parent’s perspective. In this busy fast-paced society, I’ve found that parents just don’t have the time to be engaged in their children’s lives as much as they would like to be. Canadians are still chasing the North American dream, working long hours and putting their kids in countless organized activities. We are spending less time at home and less quality time with our children. This most definitely has an impact on the balance of accountability. Parents are a necessary party in making it work. How do we increase parental engagement? There’s been a fascinating discussion led by Sheila Stewart on this topic right here in VoiceEd.

2 Comments

  1. Sheila Stewart /

    Hi Jane,

    You have mentioned some great points and questions! I really appreciate that you wrote about your experiences and perspectives in this area. There is a lot to consider regarding accountability, responsibility, and transparency….and what each one means to and for teachers and parents. It was great to read about the things you are doing to make information available. I recognize the struggle to find the balance and the meeting ground with students and parents.

    I have never been very comfortable with the “accountability” references with regards to parents, and I am not certain it is something that can really be a focus or goal to accomplish or expect. It is my worry that when we start talking about things that might make parents more accountable we may take approaches that may end up affecting the important relationships that we may need to make in order to help connect them as partners and in support of their children and the school. I think there are some other approaches that can be taken to keep relationships and respect intact for all. Here is one example:

    http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2012/05/16/changing-approach-to-parent-involvement/

    I also like what I am hearing lately from others about “differentiating” approaches to connect with parents – which I recognize may take some time to determine what works for different parents, but it may be really important to meet them “where they are at”. Chris Wejr wrote a few posts relating to that, and here is one example:

    http://chriswejr.com/2011/11/23/using-tech-to-meet-parents-where-they-are/

    I think many share the struggles you have mentioned, especially when we see the potential of technology to help overcome some of the barriers to support the student-parent-teacher connection and support, and not all parents are “there yet”. Here is another post from a teacher who wrote about making connections with parents and “evolving parent communication”:

    http://primarytech.global2.vic.edu.au/2012/05/07/evolving-parent-communcation/

    Hope my train of thoughts and links are helpful. Will likely reflect more on your post. Thanks!
    Sheila

    • Jane and Sheila,

      Your thoughts on open parent communication really resonate with my own experiences at the moment. My views, differ from most traditionalists and I find it a struggle to find a medium that differentiates for all parents.

      This is my first year at transferring communication onto the a website and engaging my students in a new type of learning environment. For communication purposes, our class website has monthly newsletters, weekly homework, journals of the week chosen from our student blog and many more useful learning tools.

      I was so excited about the shift in my own teaching within and outside of the classroom, that I forgot about the parents who were still not along side my philosophies. In hind sight, I would chose to educate them more and offer more such as student grades, updates of lesson topics, etc.

      Thanks for the articles Sheila. It is always helpful to hear about others that experiences and some helpful solutions.

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