22. Accountability and Attention to Detail in the New Learning Infrastructure

Unlike Mary Chapman, Barbara Morgan was not immediately ready to participate in the new learning infrastructure. Her teacher preparation was good but traditional.

Barbara’s professors and field supervisors competently taught her HOW to conduct instruction and manage a classroom. But they did not delve into the WHAT and WHY of teaching and learning.

Traditionally, the WHAT is curriculum created by someone else.

Traditionally, the WHY means ensuring certain skills and knowledge areas are covered, with little or no mention of relevant mastery.

Those descriptors of WHAT and WHY are unacceptable in a district using the new learning infrastructure model. Curriculum is created and implemented by teachers. Skills and knowledge areas are never covered but rather — taught to mastery.

Barbara was set to be a neophyte in a familiar setting, but from the other side of the desk. As a teacher and not a student. She was quick to admit the driving influence behind her work as a teacher was her experience as a public-school student.

Not her professional teacher preparation.

She was not ready to be tapped on the shoulder and selected to be part of a groundbreaking endeavor. Ready or not, she was the kind of person who enjoyed meeting new challenges.

New ways of making a difference with her life.  

Young teachers are almost always motivated by altruism. An underlying motive for those entering helping professions such as medicine, social work, counseling, and the ministry.

But with a slight yet important difference. Other helping professions have at their core a definable skillset usually associated with a discipline.

Doctors and nurses are thoroughly trained to diagnose symptoms and how to treat them. Social workers and counselors are trained in the application of procedural or legal protocols designed to help clients heal themselves. Religious leaders and support persons are trained to listen, comfort, and convey meaning to underlying beliefs associated with their doctrines.

Those who teach, at any level, have a responsibility divided into TWO PARTS: the enlightenment of their students, and the ability to motivate them toward a change of thinking or behavior. Such a sharp dividing line that some pundits enjoy asking the question, “Are you a teacher of students or the teacher of a subject?”

Of course, the answer is both. Therein lies the problem of TEACHER ACCOUNTABILITY. The emphasis on standards, high stakes tests, and measurable student competency concentrates on a certain kind of enlightenment.

Such enlightenment is associated with a knowledge base that can be tested at any given moment. Ordinarily those tests operate at the knowledge, understanding and application levels. Easy-to-measure skills.

Analyzing and evaluating are skills that can be measured but require more time and sophistication.

Creating is a skill with so many facets it defies instant measurement and classification according to competence levels.

So, to what is a student to be held accountable? And to what extent is the student’s teacher to be held accountable for ensuring an acceptable level of achievement?

Barbara Morgan and others in her school district will strive to answer.

Barbara Morgan’s Story –Part 2

I thought my participation in creating a constitution-like policy would end my service beyond classroom teaching.

I was wrong.

Somehow, even as a new teacher, I was elected to the newly formed Curriculum Council. My peers chose me to represent middle grade teachers. Done in accordance with the bylaws provisions the Steering Committee prepared.

Working with key decision-makers in the district invigorated me. Sometimes I feared my inexperience was evident. My opinions did not always correspond with those of others.

I tried to be courteous and considered my observations carefully before speaking. Listening was an important part of the process, so I often took notes on the points others made.

While serving on other committees, I had been taught the “yes, and” principle. To allow myself to entertain reasons why someone else’s ideas had merit. Could ideas be made even better with a little tweaking?

My way of contributing confused some people at first, especially those who enjoyed being confrontational. In time, the conversational dynamics seemed to change. Even Vernon settled down a little.

The policy-building activity was akin to forming a club. But Dr. Johnson, who insisted on being called Rebecca, made certain the underpinnings of the process were understood as more significant.

She said, “We should never take our eyes off the reason for creating a policy.”

A stabilizing element in our ongoing decision-making and action-taking processes. The presence of the policy was a declaration of accountability. A commitment to clear and systematic governance of the academic program.

No one board member or administrator possessed authority to unilaterally modify the academic program and its day-to-day execution.

In the past, some building principals independently made programmatic decisions. Under the new bylaws, the district or the building administrators could make only slight adjustments without Council permission. But any changes needed to be reported at the monthly meetings.

Accountability under this system was not a chain-of-command function. Not for the academic program. It was designed to be pervasive and associated with agreed-upon principles and procedures. Starting with the bylaws and filtering down to subject area committees and individual teachers.

Accountability in the district’s academic program management did not allow sloppy thinking or whimsical actions. Attention to detail was not just a goal. It was a mandate in the context of making certain everyone gave full allegiance to previously agreed upon practices and beliefs.

Working from the bottom up, students now know what is expected of them. Teachers know what they must do to guarantee students meet those expectations. Administrators know what is required of them in creating an organizationally possible environment. The curriculum council maintains or adjusts policies to facilitate everything, under the auspices of the board of education.

The new learning infrastructure requires accountability and attention to detail.

Still, I had much to learn about both in my roles as a classroom teacher and participant in the governance of academic programs.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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