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Monograph Series Volume 5, Number 1

Executive Summary

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Issue Area One: The Impact of School Based Shared Decision-Making: What are the Benefits and Pitfalls?
Issue Area Two: Assessment of the Structures (policies, practices, procedures) Needed Within a School District to Implement School Based Shared Decision-Making: What Changes are Necessary?
Issue Area Three: Training Stakeholders to Participate in School Based Shared Decision-Making: What are the Roles and Responsibilities and What Skills are Needed?
Issue Area Four: Identification of Legal/Governance Issues Related to School Based Shared Decision-Making: What Needs to be Resolved?
Issue Area Five: Time to Plan, Implement and Institutionalize School Based Shared Decision-Making: Where Does it Come From and How Do We Use it Most Effectively

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Executive Summary
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 student achievement.

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, 1990).

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 school succeed.

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 discussion:

  1. The impact of school-based shared decision-making: What are the benefits and pitfalls?
  2. Assessment of the structures (policies, practices, procedures) needed within a school district to implement school-based shared decision-making: What changes are necessary?
  3. Training stakeholders to participate in school-based shared decision-making: What are the roles and responsibilities and what skills are needed?
  4. Identification of legal/governance issues related to school-based shared decision-making: What needs to be resolved?
  5. 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?

  • 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.
Assessment of the Structures (policies, practices, procedures) Needed Within A School District to Implement School-Based Shared Decision-Making: What Changes Are Necessary?
  • 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.
Training Stakeholders to Participate in School-Based Shared Decision-Making:What are the Roles and Responsibilities and What Skills Are Needed?
  • 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 values.
  • Provide and develop content, process, and research information to be used by decision-makers.
  • Establish mechanisms and procedures to initiate and sustain a shared decision-making process.
  • Provide skill acquisition through meaningful, real-life training opportunities for stakeholders.
  • 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.
Identification of Legal/Governance Issues Related to School-Based Shared Decision-Making: What Needs to be Resolved?
  • Focus attention on designing reward and recognition systems that strengthen new behaviors and diminish those not consistent with school-based shared decision-making.
  • Ensure that administrators and the board model genuine acceptance of a shared decision-making process and create a safe environment for the process to work.
  • Help participants develop a holistic understanding of the roles each must play.
  • 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.
Time to Plan, Implement and Institutionalize School-Based Shared Decision-Making: Where Does It Come From and How Do We Use It Most Effectively?
  • Gain understanding and acceptance among all stakeholders of the need to restructure time.
  • 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.
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.
Resource List
  • 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 Schools.

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