6 reasons every teacher needs an accountability partner

Ayodele Harrison

Ayodele is an educational consultant and senior partner at CommunityBuild Ventures LLC, a consulting firm committed to developing powerful and impactful organisations serving Black communities. He is the creator and host of a weekly Tuesday night Twitter chat @BMEsTalk, a digital space for the voices and perspectives of Black Male Educators (BMEs). Since 2015, Ayodele has facilitated workshops and training programmes on topics ranging from navigating stress on the job, cultivating effective youth and young adult mentoring programmes, to building a culture of curiosity in the Maths classroom.

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Image credit: Pixabay // pmbbun. Image credit: Pixabay // pmbbun.

Around this time of year, my commitment to my professional resolutions begin to wane. Deadlines, demands and life in general clouds my path to the professional improvement I seek. While my desire and intent are strong, my actions (or behaviors) often fall short or don’t even get off the ground. I find this is most often the case when try to do it all by ourselves, which is the case for many educators. Some colleagues have described it as feeling like they are working in a “silo” - ISOLATED!

The busy day of working with students, making photocopies, short lunches and even shorter bathroom breaks can leave me no time to focus on my professional growth. I know first hand that this can lead to frustration, disappoint and a growing desire to leave the profession.

So, what is an educator with a strong desire to grow their practice as a professional to do? Start an accountability partnership.

What is an accountability partnership? It is when two people agree to work collaboratively to assist each other with articulating goals, identifying short term commitments aligned with their goals, and supporting each other in keeping their individual commitments. Simon Sinek, when asked in an interview about the role of accountability partners in his life, commented that when you have “other people invested in the work you do, you are more likely to do it not because of you, but because you don’t want to let them down.”

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Simply put, we are more effective in improving our professional practice when others know our intentions and are willing to support our efforts.

Okay, you might be thinking: “If it was that easy, everyone would have a partner and would be on their way to reaching their goals.” You’re right to be skeptical. So, what type of person makes the best accountability partner? Tony Robbins, of course! Just kidding - the legendary entrepreneur has definitely produced some amazing results, but your partner doesn’t have to be an expert in motivational speaking or in the specific area in which you want to grow. They can be a colleague from down the hall, a friend from another school, a neighbour, or mate from the gym. That said, there are six things you and your partner can do to increase the effectiveness of the accountability partnership.

1. Be available and reliable

A partnership is not just one meeting and a phone call. It is a ongoing relationship fueled by personal connection and collaboration. This partnership requires that you and your partner can both commit to working together for 30 to 60 days. This requires that you both show up. Over that time, the plan would be to meet multiple times either in-person, over the phone, or video chat.

2. Spend time strengthening mutual respect and trust

Invest time getting to know one another. Set aside time regularly to have both quality and simple chit chat conversations.

3. Be a great listener

The ideal relationship between accountability partners is not based on giving and following advice, but rather on exploring a range of topics together. Elena Aguilar, a transformational leadership coach wrote in an article for education week: “When you are listening very deeply to another person, your own thoughts and concerns quiet down, your ego naps in a corner of your mind. This creates a tremendous space for your [partner] to explore [their] own issues.”

4. Commit to asking questions, not giving answers

A great strategy for becoming a great listener is to focus on asking reflective questions. The goal in asking reflective questions is to assist each other with navigating inner thoughts and experiences, in order to gain deeper clarity and understanding of one’s own thinking. An accountability partner is not a mentor, and not necessarily an expert. Their primary role is to draw out, not pour in.

5. Avoid being judgemental

I once read that “judging a person does not define who they are. It defines who you are.” Effective partnerships are not about pressuring, shaming and whatnot. They are about consistently being available to support one-another with keeping to commitments. If a commitment wasn’t reached, don’t dwell on it. Set another commitment and work on holding to that.

6. Mind the time

Keep meetings short, and stay on point. We are busy people. We have lesson plans to write, parent phone calls to make, field trips to plan, and so on. Keep the meetings short and try not to get bogged down in what’s not going well. Use a timer, and don’t take it personally when it goes off.

All in all, teachers can often find themselves feeling isolated; not making the professional improvement they desire because they get stuck on the hamster-wheel completing day-to-day activities. Break out of that silo by recruiting and working one-on-one with accountability partner. The least of what they could do is tell you that you are on the hampster wheel and potential collaborate with you to develop solutions to get off in order to reallying get running toward becoming the educator your heart desires to be.

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