Can I Help You With Student Accountability?

Mar 02, 2021

The million dollar question in education right now is how in the world we get our students to do the work?  It seems we have alarming rates of failure and, week after week, a substantial amount of students just not doing the work.  In the flipped classroom, this has always been one of the top questions I’ve fielded from teachers when they come to me for help to get the flipped classroom process started, and that is “What happens when a student doesn’t do the work, meaning take the notes, at home?  Then what?”

This week we will dive into what it is to actually hold students accountable and how you  can use it to not only be a more effective educator, but one who is actually reducing your own to-do list as student accountability increases.  After listening to this episode, you will have clarity around what it means to hold your students accountable in ways that empower your students to own their learning, and ultimately reduce your to-do list as you watch your students totally rock it in your classroom.

Let’s start off by addressing the elephant in the room, shall we?  Schools across the nation, and probably across the globe, are looking at staggering rates of students just not doing the work and ultimately falling behind at the elementary level or failing at the high school level.  And many teachers ask themselves, other educators, and have even asked me, what do we do about grades?  Do I just fail them?  Because, really, they’ve done nothing.

This is such a hard conversation to have in education because your answer to this question, no matter where it lies, determines what polarized side you fall on, and therefore who agrees with you and is on your “team” so to speak, and who’s not.  

But if we do nothing else on this blog it is to have the hard conversations on issues that  educators and teachers are facing.  Let’s not tiptoe around our issues anymore.  Let’s meet them head on like the brave and grounded in sound principle professionals that we are.

The answer to this question must be one that you arrive upon with your administration, school, and district level professionals. Simple as that.  But I can also offer my two-cents from the perspective of a teacher who’s  really here to look out for you, other teachers.

You can’t fail them all.  What would that do?  Cause a crap ton of problems down the road and serve NO one, particularly that student and their family.   Likewise, you don’t just give them a grade that is automatically passing even though they’ve done nothing.  If there is some kind of contact with the student, think outside the box on what it is the student has to do in order to be able to move on from your course or receive the numerical (or alphabetical) symbol of their level of mastery.

I’m offering up 3 key points in this blog that will absolutely help in improving student accountability whether that’s in the context of distance learning or on the other side of it when we’re back to some sense of normalcy.  These points are ones that  I’ll explain and then give a suggestion or two on how to best implement them.  You have told me before that you like a good step-by-step, suggestions-packed episode, and I am listening, my friends.

By the way, the only way I know this is by folks who connect with me on social media to give a review and rating.  I would love it if you’d do that too.

One more thing I’ll say before getting to those three points is this.  I believe that if we don’t change, if we teachers don’t  respond in some way to the paradigm shift that is happening in education (and the world for that matter) on what it means to learn and “go to school,” then a teacher who is only accessible and effective in the four walls of her classroom will no longer be a necessary part of our society.

So in the context of a conversation around student accountability, I am challenging you, teacher friend, to think about how (or if) you can shift with the times and think way outside the box in how you will be educating students.  This is not some threat as if teachers will cease to exist the way they do in the next ten to twenty years.  But I do believe we’re looking at a huge shift in what means to be a teacher and how we educate our kids.

So  let’s get  ready.  Let’s equip ourselves to BOTH be effective in our current classrooms, but also be ready for these shifts that are happening even as we speak.  In fact, you as an individual could get out ahead of them, and for me that started with flipping my classroom.

Flipped learning is what allowed me to be effective with my students AND reach students outside of my classroom.  Meaning I was doing both with ONE  strategy.  If that’s not working smarter not harder then I don’t know what is.

And as I share these  points about student accountability they are all in the context of what flipping your classroom allows you the time to do with your students.

Know Where You Stand

Get clear on exactly what it is you want students to be accountable for.  I would venture to say that 100% of the time a teacher is talking about his/her desire to increase student accountability, it's them wanting students to do their work.  But I think there is a more foundational aspect to accountability we need to be reckoning with here.

Knowing what it is you're holding your students accountable for is the foundation of all alignment and truly teaching our students the process of learning rather than the game of school.  And here’s your choice… Do you want your students to be held accountable for doing their work, or for what their brain knows and is able to prove they know?

Put another way, do you want to hold students accountable for doing their notes in your flipped classroom or for knowing the information that was covered in those notes?

This was a crucial understanding I had to come to when I first started flipping because although I knew the notes were imperative, I couldn’t reward 10 points for everyone… everyone would pass with flying colors while failing tests.  Ok, that’s dramatic, but it was mathematically possible and therefore could not be an option.

Not to mention, the reason I even wanted to flip my classroom in the first place was to increase student accountability.  Truly, it was.  I was tired of saying the same darn thing period after period, working harder than my students to understand the material.  Seriously, I was exhausted and they got to just sit there and listen.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, well thought out lecture, but doing it everyday or most days of the week was just bonkers.  There had to be a better way, and flipping is what allowed me to find a middle ground of covering the content and putting the responsibility of learning on my students.

Once you’ve come to know where you stand, do a quick assessment of your course and determine if it’s standing with you or not.

Are you collecting and grading absolutely everything your students complete or do in your class?  If so, your holding them accountable for the work they do is outweighing the proof of what they know, their mastery.

Make small, slow and steady shifts in this area by still assigning work in class (work that allows students to further master the content) but not grading all of it.  And when you assign this work, make it abundantly clear how doing the work will serve them on their upcoming assessment.

Which leads me to the next point.

The Big Connection

Make the connection between the learning process that you lay out for them and their performance on assessments, ultimately showing them if their work is effective or not, ridiculously obvious.  I’m telling you that if you aren’t sick of overtly making this connection for students then you aren’t doing it enough.  

This is not an obvious connection for most folks, as if learning is some magical happenstance that one is only lucky enough to be a part of.  So it is our job to make it incredibly obvious to them, and you start doing that by offering them frequent opportunities to see it… through assessment.

Have you ever heard of the power of natural consequences?  I often tease my mother-in-law because she is admittedly very cautious and even paranoid when it comes to the safety and health of my children.  Just ask her and she’lll admit it and not even have a reason why, sharing that she was NOwhere near this cautious with her own kids.  On a few occasions she’s brought something to my attention about what it is one of my boys was doing - balancing one-legged on his tricycle, chugging their chocolate milk too quickly, putting his fingers in the oscillating room fan - at which point I assured her that I was ok with natural consequences taking care of that lesson.  I’d even say, bet  he’ll only do it once.

Now before someone calls Child Protective services on me, know that not all lessons (i.e. running in the street, getting too close to open fire, repelling off the deck) should be learned by natural consequences… duh, that’s my job, to step in and let them know, yea, you don’t want to do that.

But natural consequences are absolutely necessary in the classroom.  We have to give our students frequent opportunities to learn from them so that a) they learn the lessons before they get to the bigger assessment, and b) so that the lessons they learn on those smaller assessments don’t hurt them as much in the form of their grades as those bigger assessments do.

So the biggest suggestion here is to give more frequent and obvious assessments of what they know (which doesn’t always have to be a quiz) and helping them overtly notice the connection between their performance and the work they put in.

A suggestion I’ll make here is making the  process of learning obvious to students in context outside of your class.  A fun conversation to have with students is this.  Ask them to share something they truly and deeply know.  Any factual information, but something they don’t just know; something they are PROUD to know.  After a few people share and you have some laughs and some reflective moments, ask them how they know it.  Can they remember learning it for the first time?  Can they remember working on and rehearsing the information so they wouldn’t forget it?  It might work better, at least for the older kiddos if they share something they’ve learned in the last year or so.

They didn’t, for instance, learn to play the guitar just by being near their instructor or the  book they took their lessons from - no, they studied, they practiced, and above all, they  wanted it.  Draw the parallels then to learning in school - sure it’s not always as fun as learning to play the guitar, but if you want to do well just to move on that’s fine, just remember you know how to do it.

The flipped classroom allows you the time to truly make this happen.  You might be thinking, well this requires more one-on-one conversations with students, and you are absolutely right.  Having those one-on-one conversations is imperative to a flipped classroom’s success, and good thing because it allows you the time to truly meet with each of the students in your room as unique learners and help them walk through the learning process you’ve laid out for them.

Find Your Balance

Oftentimes in this blog when I say the word balance it is in the context of work-life balance, but that is not the balance I’m talking about here.  Although I do believe finding balance in this particular way will help you with balance elsewhere, including that of work and life.  

Find your unique balance between what you hold students accountable for - between doing the work and knowing the information.  For many students, especially those who don’t clearly see the big connection we were talking about earlier, you’ll have to start with what most teachers  would call hand-holding… making sure doing the work is not an option for them.

My  biggest suggestion for you with these kiddos is NOT that you only determine the process in which these students will in fact do the work when they’ve come to class having not done it… but that you then follow that up with helping them see how having done the work allowed them to do well on a quiz.  If you don’t do that second part, then you just wasted a COLOSSAL amount of your own time in holding that child accountable and you’re just going to have to do it again.

In your flipped classroom, find a balance between checking their notes and giving them points for doing them, and assessing their knowledge.  Their grade should indicate their mastery, and finding balance here with student accountability and how that is reflected in grades is crucial.  For more on sustainable grading be sure to check out my previous blog 3 Steps To Sustainable Grading.

There you have it, the three keys to increase student accountability.  Now you can absolutely know where you stand when it comes to how you’re holding students accountable and how making the BIG connection obvious to them not only serves them in immense ways, but also helps you reduce your to-do list in the future.  

Wondering how you can take steps in getting started flipping your own classroom and really owning this student accountability thing without working harder than your students everyday?   I’ve got just the resource for you.  Head over to Teach On A Mission Starter Kit and download the brand new Flipped Classroom Starter Kit created by yours truly.  It’s a 27 page guidebook, built on my years of experience flipping my own classrooms and helping hundreds of teachers do the same, on taking steps towards your immensely effective and sustainable flipped classroom.  One that allows you to grow and move with these changing times in education, creating a massive asset outside of the four walls of your classroom.

Don’t miss it.

I’ll see you next week, same time, same place.


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