|Dave Else, Director
Institute for Educational Leadership
Pressures to transform American schools continue to build. And school
leaders anxious to respond positively to these pressures seek approaches
to better meet expanding student needs while at the same time improving
School-based management through shared decision-making has been applauded
and criticized; met with exceptional success and disappointing failure,
been hailed as the new leadership paradigm to rescue schools and labeled
as one more desperate but poorly conceived attempt to resurrect America's
schools. These divergent views are, in part, a result of the degree of
preparation for moving from a highly centralized, system with lingering
strands of autocrated management to a decentralized, participatory system.
College and university preparation programs have been slow in responding
to the need for facilitating development of leadership skills essential
for school-based shared decision-making. For school principals and superintendents
to provide expertise and inspiration for bottom-up executive leadership
that encourages shared decision-making among staff members, district residents,
business people and other stakeholders, they need skills in collaboration,
team building, conflict mediation, data collection and analysis, instructional
improvement, and consensus building.
Equally important, the foundation for moving to a school-based shared
decision-making structure has to be laid with stakeholders. Lou Holtz,
coach at Notre Dame, said there are three questions every person asks another
in any human relationship: (a) Can I trust you? (b) Do you know what you
are talking about? and (c) Do you care about me personally? These questions
are asked in the school setting and if the answer to any of these questions
is no, there is, at best, a very minimal commitment to the relationship.
Trust is developed when people come to expect and predict the way others
will act. When a school commits the time and energy to involve stakeholders
in developing shared organizational values and people live out the shared
values on a day-to-day basis, conjecture and suspicion about actions are
dispelled (Senge, 1990). Bennis and Nanus (1985) said "Trust is the lubrication
that makes it possible for organizations to work. Trust implies accountability,
predictability, reliability ... The truth is we trust people who are predictable,
whose positions are known and who keep at it" (p. 43).
When people gain a systems perspective seeing underlying structures
and connections, they gain increased understanding of the problems and
pressures encountered in schools. Those in the school who understand underlying
structures that drive the system have more compassion and empathy for the
complexities of the system. They see that they and those in the organization
know what they are talking about and how they connect to one another (Senge,
School leaders who facilitate stakeholders in developing shared organizational
values, trust, and a systems perspective cast the footings for a strong
foundation on which school-based shared decision-making is built. When
they help stakeholders move sources of power, motivation, self-esteem and
humanness from their external world to their inner being, those within
the school community develop a broader and deeper sense of responsibility
to the work they share. And there is a strong commitment to seeing the
Without this foundation built on the establishment of a complete relationship
between individuals and the organization through development of a shared
commitment to ideas, issues, goals, and management processes school-based
shared decision-making will be positioned for failure or at the very best
ill-prepared to meet the demands of the future. And without resolution
of issues surrounding time to nurture and sustain this "Process and discipline
for empowering school-site stakeholders to participate in school improvement
planning and implementation" (p. 2), school-based shared decision-making
will be just one more poorly conceived transformation exercise.
In an effort to assist elementary and secondary school educators, administrator
preparation faculty and community leaders in initiating dialogue, building
understanding, and resolving critical issues surrounding school-based shared
decision-making, 54 administrators and teachers, college/university faculty
members, intermediate agency specialists, and state associations were invited
to a working conference on the University of Northern lowa campus. Individuals
were selected based on their interest in improving student achievement
through school-based shared decision-making, their skills as communicators,
and their enthusiasm for exploring issues in the interactive environment
characteristic of the working conference format.
Each conference participant selected 1 of 5 issue areas for in-depth
- The impact of school-based
shared decision-making: What are the benefits and pitfalls?
- Assessment of the
structures (policies, practices, procedures) needed within a school district
to implement school-based shared decision-making: What
changes are necessary?
- Training stakeholders
to participate in school-based shared decision-making: What are the roles
and responsibilities and what skills are needed?
- Identification of
legal/governance issues related to school-based shared decision-making:
What needs to be resolved?
- Time to plan, implement
and institutionalize school-based shared decision-making: Where does it
come from and how do we use it most effectively?
Upon selecting the area of greatest interest, each participant was invited
to write a position paper on the issue area. Papers were submitted prior
to the conference, copied and sent to participants in the same area. This
monograph is a compilation of the position papers in each issue area as
well as the consensus reports developed by the five groups during the three-day
conference and written by each group's facilitator(s). Because time constraint
prevented development of a conference report, these papers represent the
views of the participants within each issue area and are not necessarily
shared by all conference participants.
While the reader is encouraged to read the entire monograph to gain
detail and understanding, the following recommendations are presented to
highlight conference outcomes.
The Impact of School-based Shared Decision-making: What are the
Benefits and Pitfalls?
Assessment of the Structures (policies, practices, procedures)
Needed Within A School District to Implement School-Based Shared Decision-Making:
What Changes Are Necessary?
- Break the paradigm of the work calendar, prioritize the time available
and consider "planned abandonment."
- Through allocated resources provide ongoing staff development which emphasizes
skills in team building, conflict resolution, consensus building, communication,
problem solving, and understanding the change-process.
- Involve stakeholders in developing shared core values, beliefs, mission
and vision for the school district.
- Recognize and value the differences in individual belief systems and develop
a core of shared beliefs from individual beliefs.
- Develop joint resolutions of support, define new roles and responsibilities,
address authority and control issues, and define decision parameters.
Training Stakeholders to Participate in School-Based Shared
Decision-Making:What are the Roles and Responsibilities and What Skills
- Identify and implement clearly defined values, beliefs, vision, mission
and broad policies to affect the culture of the school system.
- Provide training and resources to develop shared decision-making skills
and cultivate role changes.
- Develop a research/data/knowledge base approach to decision-making.
Identification of Legal/Governance Issues Related to School-Based
Shared Decision-Making: What Needs to be Resolved?
- Create a collaborative culture valuing stakeholders as capable contributors
to the decision-making process.
- Support and assist administrators in transitioning from the traditional
power structure to implementation of a shared decision-making model.
- Initiate dialogue to establish congruence between personal values and organizational
- Provide and develop content, process, and research information to be used
- Establish mechanisms and procedures to initiate and sustain a shared decision-making
- Provide skill acquisition through meaningful, real-life training opportunities
- Offer training that includes opportunities for personal and organizational
reflection and celebration.
- Ensure training that includes an understanding of the importance of assessment
and awareness of the change process and tailored to the different types
of decisions that will need to be made.
Time to Plan, Implement and Institutionalize School-Based
Shared Decision-Making: Where Does It Come From and How Do We Use It Most
- Focus attention on designing reward and recognition systems that strengthen
new behaviors and diminish those not consistent with school-based shared
- Ensure that administrators and the board model genuine acceptance of a
shared decision-making process and create a safe environment for the process
- Help participants develop a holistic understanding of the roles each must
- Make creative use of freedoms currently available under the law.
- Seek legislation that minimizes individual liability for decisions made
as a part of a decision-making team.
- Strive to move away from an adversarial bargaining culture and ensure that
waivers are granted to school-based shared decision-making groups that
wish to proceed contrary to negotiated agreements.
- Provide clear communication relative to issues of responsibility and accountability
and offer protection to help vulnerable team members to feel comfort.
- Gain board of education commitment to school-based shared decision-making
and demonstrate the commitment through hiring supportive district leadership
and educating the community.
- Provide policy continuity by lobbying for school elections being held concurrently
with general elections director districts, runoffs, and methods for ensuring
high quality board candidates.
Jerry Patterson (1992) stated,
When power and control remain central values in organizational culture,
decision-making power lies at the top of the organizational chart, and
decisions trickle down the chart. In tomorrow's organizations, decision-making
gets turned upside down. (p. 53)
Shifting from top down to bottom up decision-making is fraught with
complexities. Schools can ill afford to make the transition without careful
planning that models shared decision-making. This monograph offers insight
that will facilitate those wishing to construct a solid foundation for
improving student performance through school-based shared decision-making.
- Gain understanding and acceptance among all stakeholders of the need to
- Include stakeholders in the planning required in providing quality time
necessary in school-based shared decision-making.
- Prioritize resources and seek alternative funding.
- Explore non-traditional approaches to using time including but not limited
to a four-day week, lengthened the school day, and year round school.
- Bennis, W., & Nanus. B. (1985). Leaders: The strategies for taking
charge. New York: Harper & Row.
- Patterson, J. (1992). Leaders for tomorrow's schools. Alexandria,
VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the
learning organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency.
- Wegenke, G. (1993). Focus on school-based management through shared
decision-making [Seventh in a series of papers relating to strategic planning
in the Des Moines Public Schools). Des Moines, IA: Des Moines Public
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