Whether in Primary, Secondary, Post-16, Higher Education or outside of education, accountability is everywhere. From the setting of targets and appraisals to ensuring that the right people get the right support at the right time, accountability is a key part of any role and shapes the success of individuals and teams. So why is it so often a ‘dirty’ word that is associated with the negative side of leadership and management, as well as tending to describe the end of a process? Being ‘held to account’ does not need to have negative connotations; it can and should be used to describe a supportive process, making sure that people can be accountable, which helps staff to develop.
But, to do this, what steps do managers and leaders need to take? Below are suggestions which can support positive accountability in any setting.
First, when setting any targets or goals, it is vital to understand the strengths and areas for development of all teachers (or staff member, at any level, in any organisation). This can be in relation to a specific goal within a department, for an individual target or even at whole-setting level, but some element of the evaluation must be completed collaboratively. What does the teacher feel is their main strength? What is their main area for development? How will they continue to develop this strength and improve any apparent areas for improvement? What support will they need? When? Who will need to be involved in these next steps? In doing elements of this evaluation collaboratively, an open and honest culture can be developed, and teachers become involved in a dialogue (as opposed to merely a broadcast).
Now that you know where the strengths and areas for improvement lie for each member of staff, it is vital that they have the resources to perform to the best of their abilities. The resources that teachers need can vary wildly from setting to setting, or even within the same department. Whether in relation to effective and consistent IT, knowledgeable Learning Support Assistants or even just suitability of a classroom, without the right tools, no teacher can properly support students and continue to develop as a practitioner. Key to this stage, teachers must have access to high quality training and continuous professional development, as well as opportunities to collaborate with practitioners and leaders inside and outside of a setting. Providing these opportunities is key to improvement, and when done effectively, will support consistent improvement. If teachers do not have the tools to ply their trade effectively, they cannot be held accountable.
With relevant CPD, facilitation of collaborative practice and provision of the basics (high quality IT, effective timetabling, relevant systems, timely reporting etc.), teachers can develop in the short, medium, and long term. If this consistently happens over the long term, students and leaders will reap the benefits and an ‘elevation’ can occur. Teachers perform at a level above where they may have been when initially evaluated. Planning improves, differentiation caters for all, starting points are captured effectively and efficiently – teachers teach more effective lessons. Again, collaborative reflection should continue, facilitated by leaders: do teachers understand expectations? Is there a dialogue to discuss challenges in meeting goals? There must be regular checkpoints to support and guide staff – to elevate.
It is at this point that leaders and managers start the process again, and begin to reflect and evaluate their teams, how they have performed and the strengths and areas for improvement that each teacher possesses. Strengths and areas for improvement will be evaluated not only on what the team needs, but also on starting points (as we would with students): what progress have teachers made? What additional support do they need? How have strengths been amplified? Having done this, leaders can again look at targets and goals, and evaluate if they need to be amended, broadened, or contracted.
Each of these stages can supply enough workload to fill every day of the year, but if leaders and managers want goals and targets to be achieved and students to succeed, we must find the time to complete all three stages on a regular basis. Without this reflection and collaboration, teachers may struggle to develop, and this is a key part of succeeding in any role.