The culture of our state is deeply rooted in building relationships and maintaining respect; as a young Hispanic girl, I was taught to acknowledge every adult in the room with a hug or handshake. I was taught to respect those who were older than me, those who were in “charge,” and those with whom I worked. “Compadres” of my grandparents are well known to my entire family, and our family has only grown in the relationships we have developed. This is true for many New Mexico families. But are our relationships and fear of “hurting others’ feelings” holding us back as a state?
The relationships that we build lead to partnerships, strengthen community and support us as individuals. But sometimes these very relationships have caused us to overlook the potential for growth and to treat “accountability” as a dirty word. Accountability is defined by the business dictionary as “the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities.”
In New Mexico education, new accountability systems have been set up over the past few years. As a teacher, I have used these systems for self-reflection, planning and collaboration. Unfortunately, our two strengths as New Mexicans, relationships and respect, have not quite made room for accountability to become part of our culture. I recently sat in an education meeting that focused on the lack of success for an online charter school. It was the consensus of the leadership group that if students were not learning, as data showed, the school should no longer exist. In another meeting that same day, discussion centered on a small number of public “brick and mortar” schools were discussed. Although data indicated minimal proficiency levels for students, leaders advocated for these schools to remain open. The difference between the virtual charter schools and the “brick and mortar” schools are the relationships that we have with the public school’s community.
The more involved I am in the politics of education, the more I learn about how we, as a state, are letting down our children, often times those in most need, because we think that strong relationships and accountability are mutually exclusive. Sometimes students who have less are given less, including less opportunity and fewer higher expectations. I know that some teachers do this because of the relationships they have built with students and their families and are trying to protect a child by giving them less and trying to avoid challenging situations. But if we do not raise the bar for what our students can achieve and use our relationships to push and support them in this effort, how will we ever change the cycle?
We should use our relationships to speak honestly about how to get better for our students. Some of our students come from high poverty homes, broken families and struggle academically. Now what? Do we spend energy and effort on conversations focused on why we are not doing better, or should we instead focus on how we can do better? I believe that we must do the latter, and that we need the accountability systems that provide an opportunity for teachers, schools and districts to evaluate their performance, identify areas for improvement and take necessary action.
We must hold ourselves accountable for the decisions we make, including the expectations we set and results these yield. We must use our ability to build relationships to empower and support educators, for the sake of our students. Our relationships will be even stronger if we hold ourselves accountable for them.
Hope Morales was a teacher on special assignment at Military Heights Elementary School in Roswell and is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.