Sitting On The Same Side of The Table: On Student Accountability

We’ve seen the signs.


We’ve said to ourselves, “Been there!”

And we’ve typed out responses like, “Preach!”

Because student accountability is tough. But it’s also one of the slipperiest slopes in education.

On the one hand, we have a desire for/belief in students’ ability to grow, and expectations for responsibility.

An example of the reasoning in this camp includes when author Jessica Lahey says with regards to the above parent stop sign, “Childhood is a continual, long-term process of learning how to make our way in the world, and parents who short-circuit that education by rescuing their kids are not doing them any favors.”

On the other hand, we have a desire to both exemplify and show compassion, patience, and developmental understanding.

Outspoken advocates in this camp include Alfie Kohn when he states, “A pair of studies by researchers at the University of Texas and New York University confirmed that parents who “attribute greater competence and responsibility to misbehaving children” are more likely to get upset with them, to condemn and punish them. Such parents become frustrated by what they see as inappropriate behavior, and they respond, in effect, by cracking down on little kids for being little kids — something that can be heartbreaking to watch. By contrast, parents who understand children’s developmental limitations tend to prefer “calm explanation and reasoning” in response to the same actions.”

Amid the missing papers, messy desks, and forgotten lunch ID numbers, it’s easy in our exasperation to want to point across the table at that little human’s deficiencies. To implement stricter consequences. To put up more posters on students taking responsibility.  In other words, it’s easy to put it all on the children in front of us, sitting across from them instead of “sitting next to” them (see Engaged Feedback Checklist below) to look at the issues together.

I don’t necessarily believe there’s never a place for the sentiment or action displayed in the above photos in specific contexts. BUT at the same time, I wonder how the culture in our classrooms would be impacted if these kinds of posters plastered our schools instead.

Like Brene Brown’s Feedback Checklist (this one had a significant impact on my attitudes and practices the year I decided to display it in my classroom):


Or this profound reminder to us all:


Or even just:


Yes, student accountability is messy. But I think we do a better job navigating it if, instead of trying to create one-size-fits-all zero-tolerance policies, we choose to simply accept the messiness and focus on the relationships.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Come back next Friday for another “Learning Through Reflecting” post. Read here for the rest of my weekly blogging topic schedule/background.

2 Replies to “Sitting On The Same Side of The Table: On Student Accountability”

  1. Great post. Love Bene Brown’s poster and Maya Angelou’s quote. You are right to focus on relationships. They are what’s important. Each of the first two posters has something to offer for individuals and individual situations, but should not be made a “rule” for responding to all situations. There are many reasons a lunch may be forgotten or homework not done. A teacher, and parent, with a good relationship with a child will know when it’s important to say “take responsibility” and when to show compassion. It’s all part of the learning process. I know if I forgot my lunch, I’d love someone to care enough to bring it for me. I’d not be able to learn anything after lunchtime without food in my belly.

    1. “A teacher, and parent, with a good relationship with a child will know when it’s important to say “take responsibility” and when to show compassion.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!! That’s why it’s so important to just be real with each other. I think people sometimes decide the messiness and subjectivity is too much headache or doesn’t seem “professional” enough to them, so they distance themselves from their students, but it only results in the perpetuation of the teacher vs student game.

      Thanks for your comment, Norah!

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