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Teaching Accountability Through Distance Learning

Encouraging students to be accountable is crucial to help them complete assignments and improve their academic performance. It also helps them learn how to self-motivate and take responsibility for their actions.

As an abstract concept, accountability can seem tricky to teach, especially with distance learning, where it's harder to motivate or monitor students. However, there are ways to master the art of teaching accountability regardless of where your classroom is. Here are seven strategies to help you succeed.

Create a Supportive Environment

An environment where students feel supported, respected, and trusted contributes significantly towards promoting student accountability. When students feel connected to you and their classmates, it can encourage them to engage and take responsibility for their learning. A study on sixth through eighth-grade students by Carol Goodenow found that "teacher support was consistently the strongest predictor of motivation among students." You can provide ways for students to ask questions easily and utilize listening skills to indicate respect. Support can also include explaining ways students and families can get IT assistance when they have technology problems. 

Encouraging discussion and student interactions online can be accomplished through creating an online community for your class. Ensure that every student participates by asking them direct questions or requiring a response from everyone. You can also connect with family regarding activities, learning schedules, and expectations so parents and guardians can positively influence student learning. With platforms such as ClassDojo, students can create portfolios to showcase their work, and you can share classroom highlights with families. 

Set Clear and Realistic Expectations 

It's crucial to set clear expectations on assignments such as due dates, requirements, and how students can ask for help when teaching remotely. You can set virtual office hours or have a platform where students can submit questions and comments on projects online. Having a set time for attendance check-ins also clarifies when you expect them to be online for class.

Don't be afraid to set high standards for students, encouraging them to aim for quality results. However, make sure assignments are realistic so students don't feel it's an impossible goal. Students are more likely to stay engaged if something seems attainable. By letting them know you believe in them and providing support, it can be easier to motivate students to complete assignments. 

Establish A Student-Centered Approach to Instruction

When you include your students in conversations about how you can improve distance learning, it gives them more ownership of their learning process. Students are more likely to be excited to engage in ideas they participated in generating. This process can also help them feel heard and their opinions respected. You can facilitate a group discussion or ask students and parents to complete surveys.

There are multiple online tools for creating free surveys, including Surveyplanet and Typeform. You can also use websites such as Dotstorming that provides tools for collaborative brainstorming. It includes a feature to add digital sticky notes that students can vote on and discuss.

Highlight the Importance of Honoring Commitments 

An essential component of accountability is understanding why it is important to honor commitments. Students must be willing to make sure they complete what they agree to do on time. When they get off track, students should feel motivated to seek help or find solutions instead of making excuses for failed commitments. Conversations on commitments can go beyond completing homework. Try encouraging students to brainstorm ways they can be more accountable at home, like with chores. 

You can use case studies or picture books to highlight the importance of commitment. For example, in the picture book "But It's Not My Fault!" by Julia Cook, an elementary student named Noodle learns to accept responsibility instead of blame others. He finds how to "use mistakes as opportunities for problem-solving and to turn negatives into positives."

Take Time to Discuss Self-Efficacy 

Self-efficacy is the belief in your capabilities. When students believe they can accomplish goals they have committed to, it is easier for them to stay accountable. Facing challenges, accepting failures, and approaching goals with plans can all contribute towards developing self-efficacy.

You can also lead discussions on what traits people who accomplish things despite significant obstacles have in common by showing clips from motivational movies like Rudy and Apollo 13. These conversations can remind students that, while distance learning is difficult, it is a challenge they can overcome. 

Make It Easy For Students To Self-Assess 

Like how writers should first edit their work before submitting it, students can learn to assess their work in any subject area. Research has shown that when students evaluate their work and generate strategies for more learning, it improves their motivation and achievement levels.

You can support self-assessment activities by providing grading rubrics upfront. Students can know what criteria you will evaluate them on and assess themselves beforehand. 

You can also encourage the skill of self-assessment by including self-reflection assignments as part of bigger projects. This process teaches them to pause and assess what they have accomplished before completing a project. Make sure you have straightforward methods for checking their work, along with guidance on what you expect them to reflect on. 

Use Digital Tools To Help Reinforce Accountability 

You are not alone in teaching accountability. Multiple digital tools can support the reinforcement of this lesson and help you monitor student actions remotely. When students realize you are paying attention to their actions, it can encourage them to stick to their commitments. Below are three useful tools to try.

1. edpuzzle

With this website, you can customize videos for lesson plans. It also has a feature where you can check if students are watching the videos, how many times they watch each section, and whether they understand the content. 

2. Kaizena 

This feedback tool for Google docs allows you to give fast, personal feedback on student work. There is a voice comment feature to help you review work 75 percent faster. Kaizena also auto-completes your rubric and lets you embed explainer videos. 

3. Remind 

This tool helps you stay connected with your students and their parents through text. It provides two-way communication for updates, assignments, and coursework. 


Using these strategies to teach accountability, despite remote environments, can support your student's school performance and help them develop a foundation for their future. Being accountable is a habit that encourages self-motivation, self-reflection, and self-efficacy. All these traits can lead to success in any goal. 


Written by Sara Menges

Education World Contributor

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