The CORE to holding others to account is to promote clarity, openness, reflection and engagement. Holding your colleagues to account is not easy and in many cases can be uncomfortable, especially if they are a close friend. It is easier to hold others to account when figures are involved – it is more objective. There is still room for interpretation but the one upholding the expectation is taking a policy position. It is more difficult when it is subjective, for instance challenging a colleague’s behaviour. In this case, resentment and conflict can quickly arise and smolder over time. The tension from these examples can lead to mistrust in school processes and those that enact them.
However, holding others (and yourself to account) is necessary and important to reinforce culture, to develop individuals and to make improvements in the school. If you fail to hold someone account then you are doing them an injustice. By ignoring or avoiding the conversation you are possibly making things worse in the long term. For example, if you avoid challenging your appraisee in their mid-year performance management review and they do not meet the objective at the end of the cycle (which may impact their employment status), you hold some responsibility because ideally there should be no big surprises at the annual review.
That is why the CORE to holding others to account is critical to uphold the organisational health, culture and progress of individuals and the school. To do this you should: promote clarity in the school’s expectations and communicate them to colleagues; its about creating openness built on trust so that colleagues can work autonomously and feel supported; provide space and time for colleagues to reflect and diagnostically evaluate performance to identify areas of strength and development; and encourage engagement because stagnation will appear if performance expectations and school objectives are left to collect dust.
Your expectations and objectives must be clear and over communicated to staff in the school. The central question you have to ask yourself is “what are you holding to account?”. If you don’t know then how can you challenge and support others? If you expect all teachers to be at their classroom door between lessons then every teacher needs to know this and it needs to be regularly communicated. If not, then variations in practice will appear and also resentment. If you hold a colleague to account for an action that they are unaware of the perception of unfairness as a leader and school will be widespread. Therefore, by being absolutely clear of what you are holding people to account for you remove the personal emotional barriers and the subsequent challenge is understood by both parties.
The process must be open so that the process itself can be challenged and held to account. Everyone involved must trust that the process is there to provide constructive challenge as well as support to help people and the school improve. This is not possible if precedents are set or there is a lack of clarity and inconsistency in the process. Trust plays a critical role in creating a culture of openness. If trust is not present then the process will only create fear and suspicion which will undermine the school’s objectives and personal development. How can someone approach their manager for support in a particular area if they believe that it will only be used against them at a later stage? Paranoia can cause insurmountable damage and impede on everyday working life, creativity and well-being.
We are very good at “doing” stuff but not so good when it comes to “reflecting” on the “doing”. Reflection is not simply thinking over a situation, it is diagnostically assessing your performance to find areas of strength and development. I wrote about Kolb’s reflective model (See HERE) of “Plan, Do, Review, Learn” that supports the reflective process. However, nurturing reflection in your school can not be solely dependent on the intrinsic motivation of individuals. Other practices need to be invested in or encouraged such as coaching or development groups. The investment of time in reflection will pay dividends because understanding “what went well” and the “even better ifs” will help determine which path to take tomorrow.
If there is no engagement in the process then improvement will not be made, only regression or stagnation will manifest. Everyone in the process has to remain active. There may be a temptation to intervene with sanctions but true engagement is the individual taking charge and seeking challenge and support. For this to occur trust must be at the heart of the process. If not, then people will disengage or engage in other forms of communication or practices that will only undermine the school and the individual. A good school will hold each other to account but to be an outstanding school colleagues need to hold themselves to account.
Holding others to account is critical to reinforcing the school’s expectations and overall objectives. The most successful schools create a culture that is underpinned by trust and eliminates fear. The process is about challenge and support and improving the individual and the school. There should be no surprises in the process with clarity regarding what people are being held to account for, openness to challenge and take risks, time to reflect and apply new learning so to improve motivation and engagement.