Taking responsibility, leading the way

A recent conversation with a friend got me thinking about responsibility, accountability, and efficacy, and the ways in which these words seem to govern our sense of self, the satisfaction we feel about our work (and maybe life in general), and our place in the world. There are some things – people, tasks – we feel keenly responsible for. This responsibility may be specific (as teachers, we may be responsible for someone’s learning) or general (as parents we feel responsible for a child’s overall care and development). The more specific the area of responsibility, the more likely we are to want to measure efficacy, and the more we are held to account for failure and success.

In general, it is a good thing to take on (even involuntarily) responsibility, but it’s important to understand the scope and weight of what we have undertaken to do. This means we don’t take on too much, nor do we limit ourselves to doing too little. Recognizing this “golden mean” is crucial if we are to set realistic measures for success, and to know what we are accountable for.

In the corporate world, a lot of thought goes into job descriptions. The JD clearly outlines expectations and boundaries, and it is possible for a worker to refuse to do something because it is “not in the JD”.

Can you imagine an educator doing this? Teachers have a hard time drawing boundaries around their work; their areas of responsibility are vague and pretty much boundless. Yes, a teacher needs to deliver the syllabus. She needs to ensure that children learn. She needs to set an example for how to be, how to learn, how to articulate, and how to relate. She needs to nurture. She also needs to help organize events and decorate the school hallways on demand. The metrics that are used to measure a teacher’s efficacy – student grades, pass percentages – capture only a small part of this activity. She is accountable to multiple stakeholders: children, parents, school administrations, society at large.

It’s easy to be crushed by the weight of that responsibility, or, at the very least, develop a severe case of spondylitis. It’s easy to feel that you are being held to account by everyone, which makes it hard to measure efficacy on all fronts. This is magnified many times over if you are the person in charge. So, for this issue of Teacher Plus, we decided to find out how school leaders deal with these demands. In addition to the specific demands of educating children, the leader of an educational institution – or indeed any institution – has a large basket of vaguely articulated responsibilities that became even less clear during the pandemic. What works? How does one cope? How does one balance the sense of self (the internal compass) with the external demands (perceived responsibilities and accountability)?

As always, we’d love to hear what you think – and what this issue made you think about!

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