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.

(cross-posted with VoiceEd.ca)