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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Shared Decision Making is not the Leader Sharing His/Her Decisions

This is one piece of a continuing series of posts on school improvement reflecting my professional experience. I had prepared this manuscript for publication but time eluded me. The blog posts advance in time and concept in book-form beginning with the Blog post on March 21.

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

The days of the great leader are gone. The time when employees acquiesced to the employer simply because of relative standing in the organizational hierarchy has passed. Titular respect, blind faith in the company, and subservient compliance are similarly anachronistic. The waves of change that have swept away the mechanical, bureaucratic, efficiency oriented, scientific theory of management have seeped into one of the bastions of change, the school.

Site based management, win-win negotiations, shared decision making, and active staff participation has entered the gates of the schoolyard. Empowerment, perhaps the buzzword of the nineties, has either gained internal acceptance in school or been externally thrust upon the school. In several states, New York for instance, public schools have been mandated (is there an irony here?) to embrace staff members and parents in a school developed, state approved, plan for shared decision making. No matter, the benefits of empowerment are plenty. However, the shift in decision making has often been challenging.

How ironic that shared decision making is often greeted with skepticism and reserve within an educational arena that simultaneously embraces cooperative learning as an attractive and appealing practice. The similarities between the two areas beg concomitant acceptance by any school sincerely interested in developing a community of learners. Both concepts rest upon the benefits derived from multiple perspectives obtained from the collaborative efforts of a small, heterogeneous group of people focusing on an assigned task. Learning evolves from the enriched insight available from a variety of stakeholders. Commitment is engendered through participation in crafting outcomes. Success is shared with all contributors.

Instead, many schools are receiving the process of shared decision making as an unwelcome, externally generated mandate that will disrupt the traditional, albeit tenuous, relationship between labor and management. Many administrators fear a diminished leadership role (“The inmates will be running the asylum!”) while many teachers are reluctant to accept the responsibility of leadership (“Let the administrators make the decision, that’s what they get the big bucks for!).

If school communities hope to experience effectiveness they must collectively pursue a vision which acknowledges that all staff members are capable of leading. This belief must be expressed with the same vigor that is employed when we preach that all children are capable of learning. Surely, staff members would receive training in leadership skills prior to the expectation that they exercise such abilities.

The nature of typical schools, with egg crate classrooms resembling an archipelago of islands, serves as a detriment to the professional interaction that fosters collaboration. The privacy of teaching and isolation from other adults obstructs the cross fertilization of ideas. Schools need to promote a changed culture that nurtures individuality while also cultivating cooperation. Maintaining an organizational culture built upon a patriarchal covenant evidencing a top down, control oriented bureaucracy impacted by external authority is not conducive to harvesting the full potential of human resources in schools.

Harold Leavitt suggests that “the future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious." Too many schools have, unfortunately, waited for the merit of shared decision making to become quite obvious, and thrust upon them through mandates, before indulging in the mutually beneficial interaction that results from a genuine commitment to shared decision making.

The goal here is to demonstrate that while school systems are fairly quick to adopt the practice in the classroom they are often loath to extend the same concept on an adult level by incorporating staff members in cooperative learning opportunities such as shared decision making.

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