Finding the Right Balance Between Accountability and Support

“Rules without relationship leads to rebellion” is a saying that applies to the interactions between teachers and students, as well as between administrators and teachers. When I transitioned from the classroom to a supervisory role, part of my responsibilities included holding teachers accountable for meeting deadlines and district expectations. However, I have learned as an administrator that it is crucial to prioritize strong and effective support for teachers over blanket accountability measures such as strongly worded emails, overtly negative performance reviews, and write-ups.

This is particularly important due to the impact of teacher retention on student achievement. Teacher mobility is increasing while teacher shortages worsen teacher vacancies, and administrators play a crucial role in teacher retention. School communities need administrators who understand the challenges of teaching and the demands placed on teachers in the post-pandemic era. If you lead a faculty team, it is important to find a balance between support and accountability.

Reflect on and assess your own progress

As leaders, we are ultimately responsible for the successes and failures of our teams. The first person we need to hold accountable is ourselves. When reflecting on our progress, it is important to consider the following questions with transparency and vulnerability. It is okay to fall short of our goals, as the gap between where we are and where we want to be is the work we need to do.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What does supporting teachers mean to you?
  • What have you done this year to support your teachers?
  • Specifically, how have you lightened the workload for your team, including new and struggling teachers?
  • How do you identify teachers who need support?

Create an environment where teachers can ask for support

Throughout my years in education, I have built relationships with many teachers, not only within my own school community but across districts and even state lines.

I have heard numerous teachers express the following about their administrators:

  • “They do not respond.”
  • “They probably won’t listen to me.”
  • “They are difficult to approach.”
  • “They do not reply to my emails.”

As an administrator, it is my responsibility to create and maintain a professional and supportive environment that encourages teachers to interact with transparency and vulnerability. To achieve this, being visible and communicative are essential.

Visible: Leading a team requires more than just staying in the office. Maintaining a visible presence demonstrates that we are actively involved and shows that we see and value our teachers and students. Sometimes, being a visible and supportive administrator means more than simply walking the halls.

During my first year outside of the classroom, managing student discipline was a primary responsibility. I held weekly meetings with grade-level teams to discuss disciplinary issues and find solutions. As the year progressed, some teachers would express their frustrations during these meetings. In my naivety, I started canceling these meetings to avoid conflict. However, I learned that the teachers actually wanted the meetings to continue and appreciated being seen and heard.

Communicative: Supportive administrators are responsive, proactive, and transparent in their communication. Responding to emails and returning text messages are crucial. Even if you cannot immediately respond, making time in your schedule to address texts and emails makes you approachable and receptive in the eyes of teachers.

Interpersonal transparency is essential. Administrators who are perceived as secretive foster a culture of distrust. While teachers cannot be part of every decision-making process, it is important to be transparent in communication when possible. A culture of transparency builds trust between teachers and administrators.

Proactive communication to assess the needs of teachers is also vital. I end my collaborative meetings with each team by asking if they have any needs or requests for support. This has led to numerous requests, including:

  • Requests for deadline extensions
  • Assistance with lesson planning
  • Requests for supplies, from pencils and markers to glue and paper
  • Requests for collaborative grading sessions to align rubric expectations
  • Requests to try a new activity and receive feedback through classroom visits
  • Requests to problem-solve why a lesson fell short
  • Requests for support with classroom management strategies
  • Requests for support during parent calls or conferences

Sometimes, I wonder if these requests would have been voiced without an open invitation.

Support means being present

In my experience, one of the biggest misunderstandings between teachers and administrators revolves around the concept of support. I have come to view support for teachers as an investment of time and effort. Supportive administrators show up.

For example, consider a teacher who consistently fails to submit lesson plans on time, or at all. While you can notify the teacher and document their failure to meet expectations, I have found that supporting teachers through the lesson planning process almost always resolves this issue.

What does this support look like? For me, it means setting aside time to meet with the teacher and work on lesson planning together. Sometimes, the issue is related to time management, while other times new or inexperienced teachers simply need guidance and a partner to help them get started. Understanding the workload of teachers is essential for reflection, assessment, and ultimately, success in supporting and retaining our teams.

Ultimately, realizing that the teacher you feel needs to be held accountable is the very teacher you need to show up for.

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