Rethinking accountability: Reframing mindsets

By Pablo Muirhead — Teacher accountability is a catch phrase that evokes various sentiments.

The dominant narrative has been created by folks, usually not from the field of education, that like to tie accountability to students’ performance on high-stakes tests. Ironically, the most important players, students and parents, have not had the same level of say in these matters. I’d like to call into question the dominant paradigm as falling far from the mark by sharing what effective teachers do and the most important constituencies to whom they are accountable.

Effective teachers are masterful in their work and are many things to many different people.

  • They are strong in their content areas, staying abreast of changes and new directions in their field.
  • They are committed to their learning communities, working collaboratively with colleagues and administrators in developing the best possible circumstances for their students to be successful.
  • They recognize that education is inherently political and ensure that students are able to create their own paths based on their needs, interests and desires.


  • Effective teachers are accountable to parents, who send their kids to school entrusting teachers with their most prized possession, their children. These teachers look at their students as if they were their own children and hold them to high standards.
  • Effective teachers are accountable to society in preparing a responsible, well-rounded and educated citizenry that will not only maintain a strong Social Security but also contribute to the betterment of the world.


  • They are committed to knowing, understanding, celebrating and tapping into their students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
  • They know what makes them unique, their interests, their strengths and how to maximize their learning styles.
  • They build off of, and celebrate, the social and cultural capital that students bring to the classroom, ensuring that students are also equipped with the cultural capital needed to be successful in a society often driven by a different set of values and expectations.
  • They are committed to preparing dynamic and engaging lessons, units of study and courses. 

That said, the elephant in the room beckons the following question: are teachers accountable to politicians and high-stakes tests? Sure, but not at the expense of their most important constituency, students. Effective teachers share a great deal in common with effective medical doctors that live by the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to their patients and practice medicine honestly. Effective teachers understand the unwritten oath to do well by their students and to constantly hone their approaches to teaching.

Pablo Muirhead, Ph.D. is the Coordinator of Teacher Education at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He has taught Spanish at the middle school, high school and college levels. A polyglot, Pablo’s research and curricular materials focus on developing communicative cultural competences. Learn more about his background by visiting his profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *