A New Era for Accountability, Leadership, Teaching, and Learning

Conference News Online March 2012

Conference News Online
March 2012

Douglas Reeves delivered a message to a packed audience on Friday, March 23 that highlighted the most current research as well as called for educators to test their thinking about innovation and the new era of accountability. Reeves called on principals to examine research evidence to “challenge the prevailing assumptions about education,” and then become advocates for change. Using a combination of common sense, humor, and research-based and forward thinking approaches, Reeves described transformational actions and thinking for school leaders.

Reeves described innovation today in terms of what it is not: technology. Technology can only be innovative when it is not used as an expensive overhead projector or “coat rack” as one teen described it. Teachers must understand that innovation is not found in programs, but in classroom practices that make a difference for students. Too often reliance on packaged programs leads to program fatigue and the unwillingness to search for new ideas. Principals need to improve their own leadership practices and provide professional development for their staff members.

Innovation is disruptive and can be associated with error. But to advance new thinking and actions in school, leaders must adapt and do something different, even if the change is difficult and uncomfortable, Reeves said. Reeves encouraged principals to admit leadership errors and dive in to do the right thing, even at the risk of negative feedback from staff, parents, and students. Past thinking pointed to 100 percent buy-in before changes could or should be implemented. But Reeves suggested that this type of buy-in is not necessary. What is needed is for schools to focus on a few innovative changes. Dr. Reeves asked what would happen if we could evaluate true 21st century skills, such as technology, kindergarten learning, or leadership, without interference of federal mandates. Now that would be innovative!

Reeves described the next generation of accountability as a system in which one size does not fit all. It gathers information using similar values, equity, and objectives. Accountability demands flexibility and is tolerant of errors. New accountability systems challenge teachers to add value by describing student learning in terms of items that don’t appear on a standardized test, for example leadership at school, an art exhibition, or a musical or dramatic performance, Reeves said.

What actually influences teachers and school leaders? Reeves explained that direct modeling by great teachers (and even great principals!) can positively influence new or struggling teachers. In the same manner, watching colleagues teach can be a powerful professional development experience. Individual teachers as well as teaching teams must receive feedback regarding their performance. Assessment for learning is as essential for adults as it is for students.

Reeves charged principals with implementing changes that can make an impact on student learning and achievement in the next 100 days. First, teachers must stop the use of averages for final grades. This grading practice does not give parents, or students for that matter, a true view of their proficiency. Second, teachers should create alternatives for giving failing grades and zeroes for missing work. Perhaps students could actually learn the material and do the work during the school day. A demand and expectation of excellence requires feedback from caring teachers who are more concerned with student learning that using grades as punishment. Lastly, principals should find means to determine the evidence of teacher impact for every class every week. Do teachers “know thy impact” (John Hattie)? How powerful: teachers who understand that they are making a difference in children’s learning with evidence to prove it!

Principals were reminded that change is never easy. Nor does it get easier with time and training. Daunting? Discouraging? Not really. Principals are up to the challenge that Reeves presented today; the gains that occur when true change happens are worth it.

Sandi Cox, principal, Norview Elementary School, Norfolk, Virginia