When I started teaching I thought that accountability meant having consequences. Students need to pay attention and write certain things down and only talk to their seat partner and ask to go to the bathroom and not throw small objects across the room every time I turn my back. If they don’t then I punish them because behaviorism or something.

I think about accountability differently now. Accountability is how I let students know that their learning matters. My goal isn’t to catch them doing things wrong, it’s to make sure they have what they need to do things well.

This shift in perspective is particularly important in pandemic distance teaching. Do I assume that students are trying to avoid learning and seeing what they can get away with? Or do I assume that students are doing their best in a tough situation? Those assumptions lead to different actions for me as a teacher. Who do I follow up with? Do I ask questions to learn more? How flexible am I willing to be?

Sometimes consequences are important. But young people are complicated, and it’s easy to build a narrative in my head that oversimplifies a tough situation and assumes the worst. We all work in an education system that has conditioned us to use carrots and sticks to coerce certain behaviors. I want to practice accountability in a way that looks for the good first and offers support. This doesn’t mean that I look the other way or lower expectations. I still want to hold students accountable, but my first instinct isn’t to exclude or punish students.

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