Lynn Stoddard: Authentic accountability in education

By Lynn Stoddard

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

What if we hold teachers, parents and students jointly accountable for things that are possible to do? Is America great because of the uniformity of its people or because of their diversity? I work with a group of veteran teachers and committed parents who found a way to make school interesting, fun and exciting again. They call this new approach, "Educating for Human Greatness."

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The Utah State Board of Education has launched another system for holding teachers accountable. It's called, "Utah Comprehensive Accountability System." UCAS, is touted as being better than previous systems because it measures each student's progress in becoming standardized. Before and after tests will be administered. Schools are then ranked and compared.

Should teachers be held accountable for the impossible task of making students alike in knowledge and skills? Ever since the "A Nation At Risk" report in 1983, when the federal government started to exert excessive power over public education, teachers have been asked to standardize and make students alike in reading and math. What all students should know and be able to do is specified for each grade level. Standardized tests are used to enforce this mandate.

As a result, teachers are demoralized, student achievement remains flat, bullying, gangs, disruptive behavior, drop outs and even suicides have increased. Many good teachers also drop out. Students, teachers and parents report that school has lost some very important things — things that make teaching and learning exciting, challenging and fun.

Teachers can no longer practice as professionals who interact with individual students and make decisions but are now menial, subordinate workers who must follow required and often scripted behaviors that don't fit the needs of students in their classes.

What if we hold teachers, parents and students jointly accountable for things that are possible to do? Is America great because of the uniformity of its people or because of their diversity? I work with a group of veteran teachers and committed parents who found a way to make school interesting, fun and exciting again. They call this new approach, "Educating for Human Greatness."

The basic concept is to stop trying to standardize students, like products on an assembly line and to start helping students develop their positive differences, their individual powers of "greatness." It starts by building on student assets, what each child is inherently good at doing.

In interviews with thousands of parents, teachers at two schools in Northern Utah discovered three dimensions of human greatness that became priorities. They are shown below, with four more added, to become the seven fundamental powers of human greatness. All seven are possible to accomplish. They restore teaching as a respected profession. They are all "measurable" in one way or another:

1. The power of identity (The power of knowing who you are) — help students develop their individual talents, gifts, interests, and abilities, their distinctive ways to be contributors to society. 2. The power of inquiry — develop curiosity, the power to ask good questions and to fall in love with learning. 3. The power of interaction — nurture respect, caring, communication and cooperation — the power of healthy relationships. 4. The power of initiative — help students develop discipline, will power and a passion to excel in something. 5. The power of imagination — develop creativity in its many forms. 6. The power of intuition — help students sense truth with their hearts. 7. The power of integrity — instill honesty and responsibility.

The teachers and parents found that when they taught "powers" rather than "subjects," students learned basic skills much better and at the time and pace that is right for each student. Students engaged in self-chosen home study rather than teacher assigned home work.

Teachers found that a good way to teach reading, writing and math is to help students develop an insatiable curiosity about something. Reading, math and writing taught as a process of inquiry and interaction are learned in a natural way without students developing an aversion to them. When students become intensely curious about something, they usually want to observe, count, weigh, measure and compare things. Math is then learned in a natural way as a tool of inquiry.

It is revolutionary to use subject matter content to help students grow in the powers of human greatness. When curriculum is viewed in this way, the teachers found that every child can excel in something.

When we change education to help students grow in the powers of human greatness, teachers and parents become "the wind beneath their wings." In the process, parents and teachers also rise to a higher level of learning and teaching.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, is a Founder of the Educating for Greatness Alliance. He can be reached at lstrd@yahoo.com

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