After college I started calling my parents on Sunday night.  Rather than a conventional greeting, my dad started each conversation with a probing question, “What did you accomplish this week?”

By Wednesday of every week I began thinking about my answer to that question.  Was the world a better place by an appreciable amount?  What would my children say, how about my wife? Had I made a difference in any person’s life? Had the meetings and the phone calls left anything profound?  The repeated question called me to account.

Accountability is a gift that is seldom appreciated.  Associated with the standards-based reform sweeping American education is a push for more performance accountability for schools and educators–the discussion of which creates fear and loathing.  Rather than a curse, it is a gift that implies freedom and responsibility. The standards movement is usually associated with an increase in site-based decision making.  With common performance expectations schools generally have more latitude and teachers have more curriculum development responsibilities.  Accountability is granted to the responsible and the competent—at least that how’s it is supposed to work.

As they grow, children constantly seek more freedom.  They want to walk across the street, then stay at home alone, and then take the car on a date.  Parents add measures of accountability to insure safety and teach responsibility.

At work, most people seek freedom and added responsibility (or at least the additional pay that goes with it).  Employers add measures of accountability to safeguard assets and insure performance.  Accountability signals that the work matters and it provides room to strive and grow.  Accountability is not about taking orders; it is about taking ownership.

The accountability of citizenship is as real as it is at home or at work, but there are no bosses or parents to enforce your responsibility to vote, participate and contribute on a local, state and national basis.  You must take up the responsibility and hold yourself accountable to our founding ideals and the greater good required by citizenship.

You have been given gifts and talents.  It is your job to put them to good use.   Accountability means showing a return on investment when called to account.  It begins with high expectations, demands initiative, requires follow through, and ends with results.  To call anyone else to account, you must demand a great deal of yourself.  Put your gifts to good use.


Good Work is a Sunday series about doing & finding mission-driven work.  It started as unpublished journal entries while serving as a public school superintendent.  We’d love to hear your story about the work!


  1. Tom, I enjoy this series of posts. Today’s resonated as we have four core values that drive our culture across Envision. Accountability is the first one: We are…

    We set high goals.  We hold high expectations.  We work relentlessly to achieve our goals and check our progress regularly. We honor our commitments. We don’t make excuses.

    Keep up the Good Work!


    • Thanks Bob. Imposed accountability can never work better than a set of training wheels and can’t work as well as an embraced core value. Thanks for sharing the Envision statement–it’s powerful.

  2. This is an excellant blog which points out one of the key ingredients that made this country great. We need to return to personal responsibility to make it great once again. The most important thing that should be taught in schools, digital or otherwise, is our Constitution and why it exists. Far too many people fail to understand those simple things.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here