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Taking a Cue from Kids on Creating an Environment of Personal Accountability


Can you imagine a school where kids are responsible enough they get to make all the rules? They get to choose what they study, when they study and for how long they study. Moreover, as a collective, they make all the decisions that impact their school. Are you picturing mayhem?

Recently I heard a story on one of my favorite radio programs, This American Life, about a school that operates just like what I mentioned above. The Brooklyn Free School (BFS), located in Brooklyn New York, is modeled after the democratic process this country was founded on. According to their mission statement; “BFS is a true democratic school for children of all ages. Each child and staff member will have an equal voice in major decisions (and minor ones) affecting the day-to-day running of the school.”

The radio program focuses on how BFS operates, and what really struck me was that accountability seemed to be a major reoccurring theme that was woven throughout the piece as a vital part of the schools success. A school like this works because all the students, with ages ranging from 4-18, have an incredibly high sense of personal accountability.

This got me thinking: how can you bring an equally high sense of personal accountability into a work environment? If you take the example of this school, your first instinct may be to say this type of model of learning would be a disaster and yet it works successfully. Digging deeper as to why, you start to understand that engagement can mean many things, and one form engagement takes is when people’s voices have a direct and tangible impact on their organization. This gives the employees the chance to put some skin in the game. It provides ownership over the organizations success so that it becomes their success as well and holds them able as an individual.

In Fierce’s Accountability Training we define accountability as “A desire to take responsibility for results; a bias towards action. An attitude, a personal, private, non-negotiable choice about how to live your life.”  When an organization creates a work environment, similar to that of the Brooklyn Free School, where everyone shares the context that you are not only able to contribute to the team but that there is certain agreed upon standard of excellence, the ownership of responsibility gets transferred to the individual. When an environment is created that holds people able and it’s done successfully it can create limitless possibilities; even allowing something as crazy as a school where the kids are in charge.

So what do you think? What could your organization do better to create an environment of personal accountability?


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