Posts Tagged 'interpersonal accountability'

The challenge of shaping school culture

The power of school culture in shaping continuous improvement and the challenges leaders face in creating and sustaining such a culture is a subject of perennial interest to readers of this blog.

Here is a post on that subject from August 2015 with links to frequently-read essays on that topic.

School culture matters 

School culture is an incredibly powerful but often invisible force that shapes a school community’s work. It is more powerful than new ideas and innovative practices.

Administrators and teacher leaders who ignore school culture or underestimate its influence will almost certainly fail in improving teaching and learning for all students.

While school culture may be largely invisible, some of its qualities can be discerned by observers who are attuned to them. 

In an earlier post I suggest 9 symptoms of a problematic school culture.

Among the most common of those symptoms are that: 

• the most honest conversations happen in parking lots rather than meeting rooms, 

• in just a few years new teachers begin to sound and act like veterans who are resigned to the status quo and deeply entrenched in their ways, and 

• educators feel more professionally connected to followers on social media they have never personally met than to grade-level, department, or PLC colleagues with whom they share students and common purposes.

In another post that focused on desirable cultural shifts I wrote:

“[N]ew cultures [cannot] be created by leaders acting alone. Indeed, a primary characteristic of high-performing cultures is that leadership is distributed throughout the school community. That means that new, more effective cultures are co-created by leaders and community members, especially teachers.

In that post I identified several shifts that occur when school cultures move in a positive direction:

confusion and incoherence regarding important goals, ideas, and practices to clarity and coherence;

leadership centered on a single individual to leadership developed and distributed throughout the school community;

resignation and powerlessness to hopefulness and collective sense of efficacy;

low levels of trust to high levels of trust;

• a focus on deficits, negativity, and complaint to strengths, positivity, and appreciation;

professional isolation and dependence on outside authority to results-oriented experimentation founded in teamwork and community;

accountability to external authorities to accountability to one another for achieving important goals; and

episodic, superficial professional development to team-based learning embedded in the planning, assessment, and continuous improvement of teaching and learning for the benefit of all students.

I encourage you to read and study these essays and to have candid conversations with colleagues about the culture of your school or school system and to determine what can be done with urgency to strengthen it.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful 2019….

5 unacceptable reasons for breaking our promises

Dennis Sparks
When people don’t keep their promises, relationships suffer. In addition, when promises are not kept in professional settings, the work that was promised is not getting done.
Promises made and kept are the engine of continuous improvement in teaching, learning, and relationships in schools.
Promise keeping is a fundamental attribute of integrity, which in turn is linked to trust, a core element of effective teamwork. It determines if and when important work gets done.
Promises are the concrete, actionable ways in which we state our intentions. Promise keeping enables us to achieve important individual (promises made to ourselves) and collective (promises made to colleagues, family members, friends) goals.
There are always “good reasons” for not keeping promises. But only one is acceptable.
Here are five unacceptable reasons for breaking our promises:
• I forgot.
• I didn’t  use the word “promise” when I said I would do it.
• I am far too busy to be expected to do everything that I say I will do.
• Some things are so trivial that it doesn’t really count if I don’t do them.
• No one seems to notice if I keep my promises so it doesn’t really matter.

The acceptable reason: Unforeseen events may occasionally require that we renegotiate our promises with those effected in a timely way.

No last minutes surprises. No waiting for others to reach out to ask us for whatever it was we promised to do.

No promise is too insignificant to be honored, no matter what its content or to whom it is made.
Educators’ integrity and the goodwill of others is far too important  a resource to be squandered in that  way.

When leaders fail the integrity test, they fail at leadership


Each week this summer I’m introducing a blog theme that connects popular and important posts from recent years. Each theme offers a number of perspectives on a perennial challenge of school leadership.

This week’s topic is “integrity.”

Integrity is, in my view, the most important personal quality for those who lead school communities. Simply put, it means that leaders are honest and keep their word even when it would be easy or advantageous not to do so.

I encourage you to scroll through articles in this thread to find those that match your interests.

In addition, I encourage you to take a closer look at these essays:

“Choose integrity over expediency”

“Creating school cultures with high levels of interpersonal accountability”

“When principals and teacher leaders speak their truths”


“Inservice” as a near-death experience

IMG_1365I hope that I die during an inservice because the transition between life and death would be so subtle. —Original source unknown

I first heard that simple but profound joke 25 or more years ago. It remains as likely to draw laughs from appreciative educators today as it was then.

For far too many educators “inservice” continues to be a dreaded, near-death experience, an event that is often mind numbing and disrespectful of their professional judgment.

Consequently, it’s not surprising that my most widely-viewed post was titled “Mindless professional learning produces mindless teaching.”

Before I have my own real-death experience, somewhere far down the road, I hope that:

• A day will come, sooner rather than later, when educators fail to see the humor of this joke. “What does it mean to be ‘inserviced’?” they will ask.

• Educators will no longer think of professional learning as something they leave their work to do, an add-on to their primary responsibility of teaching.

• Teachers’ professional learning will be inseparable from the primary tasks of their work—planning for instruction, assessing student progress using various sources of evidence, reflecting on the effectiveness of their methods in achieving valued outcomes, and continuously improving teaching and learning with their colleagues in cultures of interpersonal accountability.

While there are pockets of excellence, my experience and perusal of the professional literature—where the same core problems are raised year after year, decade after decade—tell me that for the vast majority of educators professional development has shown little improvement in spite of the herculean efforts of many individuals, professional associations, and foundations.

Fortunately, however, it is possible for school leaders and leadership teams to make dramatic improvements in the quality of professional learning and in meaningful collaboration within two or three years.

All that’s required is intention, a serious study of effective professional learning practices, a willingness to learn from the successful efforts of others, and a cultural ethos of continuous improvement.

Large and challenging tasks, I know, but ones that are within the circle of influence of school leaders who are serious about the quality of teaching and of learning for all students every day.

Creating school cultures with high levels of interpersonal accountability

Our promises create our lives. Our promises give life to our purposes and goals. Our promises move us into action… Life works to the degree we keep our promises. —Dave Ellis

Imagine a school in which:

• everyone spoke with candor and respect;

• agendas were on the table, not hidden;

• important conversations were conducted in meeting rooms rather than in parking lots;

• essential work was completed on time according to the agreed upon specifications; and

• meetings began and ended as scheduled with everyone present, prepared, and fully engaged.

For many educators, such a work setting would be beyond their imagination.

But cultures founded on integrity and accountability among members of the school community are attainable when leaders commit themselves to cultivating such habits in themselves and others.

In these schools: 

• interpersonal accountability replaces mandates and high-stakes testing as the primary motivating force in the continuous improvement of teaching and learning;

• teachers feel responsible to one another for the actions they take to steadily improve their work;

• teachers speak candidly about their perceptions and beliefs In team meetings and other learning and decision-making settings without fear of judgment or retribution; and

• teachers make and keep promises to one another about the actions they will take to improve the learning of all their students, in particular those students who have been unsuccessful in meeting agreed upon standards;

Leaders support the creation of such a culture by:

• consistently speaking with respect and candor;

• keeping their promises and expecting others to do the same; and

• not making promises they cannot keep simply because it is easier to say yes than it is to say no.

When leaders understand the positive energy generated through interpersonal accountability and their central role in creating it, they enable profound changes in the culture of schools.

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