• Suzanne van der Eijk

Accountability v. Learning: Still on My Mind


This past March I attended the Deeper Learning Conference in San Diego for the second year in a row. As an Instructional Technology Coach in a public high school in the 10th largest district in the nation, I am grateful to attend this kind of progressive and boundary-pushing event. It rocked. We all became a little more woke. I need to write a whole post or five dedicated to this “spiritual” experience. I need to tell you about the drum circle last year and the paper airplanes this year. I will. I promise. Today I need to focus on one concept that has been sitting with me since the conference. If you want to hear a little more about this conference from another educator, right now, then check out Rachel Baxter’s blog post, “Now What?”


So what’s sitting with me? To recap the context, every conference attendee is invited to participate in a deep dive. My goal this year relates to “coaching through transformation.” Naturally, I signed up for the deep dive entitled, “Everybody Should Be Coaching” with Jim May and Matt Thompson of New Tech Network. So near the end of our jam-packed and dazzling day of learning together, I asked Jim some question which I really can’t remember but it doesn’t matter because it led him to share this gem of a graphic with me, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.



Let’s dig into this a bit. As we consider a system, like education, being driven by accountability or learning, it looks very different. In a system driven by accountability, the structure is a hierarchy. In a system driven by learning, the structure is partnership. On a school level what I am picturing is an administration “partnering” with the teachers to plan something like professional learning, rather than telling everyone what to do. We can take it to the classroom level as well. In a system driven by accountability, the expected behavior is compliance. One driven by learning would compel curiosity and inquiry. Do students do something because they are told to do it, or are they engaged in their learning because it’s relevant, relatable, and inspiring? This is true for our adult learners as well.


I’m wondering: How can we shift our system driver in education away from accountability and toward learning? This connects to so many other shifts we desperately need in education. Another question I’ve been mulling over a lot: How do we move school from teacher-directed instruction to student-centered learning? I think the answer is in this graphic.


As I’ve brought this up with colleagues we’ve gone down a few paths, such as:

  • Can you send that to me?

  • How do you introduce learning as driver in a system rooted in accountability?

  • How micro or macro can we take this?

  • What’s the difference between training and development?

  • How do schools driven by either accountability or learning look similar and/or different?

I'm also making tons of connections to the book In Search of Deeper Learning by Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine, but that, too, is a whole post for another time!


What do you think about this graphic? Share your thoughts on Twitter! @TechieSuzie