Theme and Rationale
Drawing from the work of James Cooper (1999), Carl B. Smith (1992), and others, the Education Department is committed to a shared vision of teaching that places decision-making at the heart of the process. Like Nita Barbour (1986), we believe that teachers should actively participate in the decision-making process, rather than being mere technicians who implement only a prescribed curriculum and decisions made by others.
Carl B. Smith (1992) defines a decision-maker as one who regularly selects from among alternatives before taking actions that impact persons’ lives. In our view, this definition describes much of what teachers do.
Both Cooper and Smith classify teaching decisions into three categories or domains:
- Planning decisions occur prior to the actual teaching and include determining outcomes or objectives (i.e. the content one will teach); selecting teaching techniques (or pedagogy), identifying materials and resources to be utilized, choosing appropriate motivational and management strategies, and deciding on evaluation procedures;
- Interacting or implementing decisions occur during teaching. These involve providing instructional guidance and support, intervening when students are misbehaving or off task, and making mid-stream adjustments in instructional procedures;
- Evaluating decisions typically take place after teaching and include such choices as determining how to apply scoring criteria, determining grades, and deciding what information to provide to parents.
Though some teachers may regularly choose appropriate actions without following any particular process or model, we agree with Smith that teacher decision-making should be purposeful and involve a rational choice based on available alternatives. To assist our students in making purposeful choices, we have adopted Smith’s Rational Decision Model (1992). This model consists of four steps:
- formulating the decision question,
- collecting/considering information that reveals available alternatives,
- selecting criteria through which alternatives are sifted,
- and making a choice regarding the decision question.
To effectively implement this decision-making model, teachers must have a firm grasp of a diverse, research-based body of professional knowledge. This must include content knowledge (knowledge of subject matter and the structure of the discipline being taught); foundational knowledge (knowledge of learning, development, and human exceptionalities); and an understanding of the principles of effective practice (knowledge of pedagogy, instructional technologies, motivational strategies, management techniques, and assessment methods). This body of knowledge forms the basis of the information from which available alternatives for the decision questions are formulated.
These alternatives are then judged (or sifted) on the basis of specific criteria. As Brubaker and Simon have noted, "values are at the core of the decision-making process," (1993, p.12) and serve as important criteria through which information from the knowledge base is "sifted" before the final decision choice is made. The Benedictine values of concern for community; respect for all persons; and balancing mind, body, and spirit (de Waal. 1984) are cornerstones of our program. They guide our emphasis on meeting the needs of all learners through accommodating individual differences; embracing student diversity; and developing a safe, welcoming classroom community where students are participants in the classroom decision-making process and where they can develop as whole persons, not just cognitively, but emotionally, socially, aesthetically, physically, and spiritually as well. These values form an important component of the filter through which decision options should be judged.
The Benedictine ideals of openness to change and recognition of the necessity for lifelong learning (de Waal, 1984) provide additional criteria against which teaching decisions must be evaluated. With the rapid evolution of instructional technologies, changing student demographics, and the emergence of new, cutting-edge pedagogies, it is essential that tomorrow’s teachers keep current and make decisions that reflect the latest instructional innovations and are in the best interest of all students.
Values, however, are not the only criteria against which alternative choices are examined. Professional standards of the teaching profession must also be considered. These include established professional ethics as well as state and school district curriculum standards. Another important professional consideration is one’s philosophy of teaching. We agree with Smith that decisions must be made with careful consideration of one’s philosophy so that the teacher feels comfortable with the actions taken.
Finally, as Brubaker and Simon have noted (1992), constraints must also be considered as they may limit the number of practical options within one’s current situation. These include such factors as time, availability of resources, the collaborative nature of many teaching decisions, and the realities of district and community politics.
To complete the decision-making process, we have added what we believe is a crucial fifth step, reflection. Like Cooper (1999), we feel that "reflection is the decision-making system’s way of correcting itself" (p. 8) in that it adds to one’s body of knowledge for use in future decisions. Reflection occurs primarily after the decision is implemented and away from the hustle and bustle of classroom interactions. It involves self-evaluation through a critical analysis of the decisions and their outcomes to determine how effectively each of the three teaching functions (planning, implementing, and evaluating) were handled (Cooper, 1999). However, as Valli (1990) has noted, reflection must not only involve technical and content-related considerations, but must also include moral and ethical reflection to ensure that the decisions were in the students’ best interests.
We realize that in actual practice the decision-making steps and domains may not always be as clear-cut as described above. However, we believe that having an understanding of the decision-making process, the criteria that influence decisions, and the decision-making domains will result in better choices and, therefore, more effective teaching.
Barbour, Nita (1986). Teachers can make decisions. Childhood Education, May/June, pp. 322-324.
Brubaker, Dale L. and Simon, Lawrence H. (1993). Teacher as decision-maker. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, Inc.
Cooper, James M. (1999). "The teacher as a decision-maker." In Classroom teaching skills( 6th Ed.). James M. Cooper (editor) pp. 1-19. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
de Waal, Esther (1984). Seeking god: The way of St. Benedict. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
Shedd, Joseph B. (1986). "Teachers as decision-makers." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (San Francisco, CA, April 16-20).
Smith, Carl B. (1992). Teacher as decision-maker. Bloomington, Indiana: Grayson Bernard Publishers.
Valli, Linda (1990, November). "Teaching as moral reflection: Thoughts on the Liberal Preparation of Teachers." Proceedings of the National Forum of the Association of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges for Teacher Education, Milwaukee, 4-14 to 4-29.