ERIC Identifier: ED368034
Publication Date: 1994-03-00
Author: Liontos, Lynn Balster
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Educational Management Eugene OR.
Shared Decision-Making. ERIC Digest, Number 87.
Shared decision-making (SDM) seems destined to be one of the major reforms of
the '90s. With organizations such as the American Association of School
Administrators and the National Education Association pushing for adoption of
SDM and the mandating of SDM by some states or school districts educators need
to learn as much as possible about SDM's complexities. One of the first steps to
success with SDM is understanding what it is.
WHAT ARE THE PREMISES AND GOALS OF SDM?
SDM is an elusive
concept to grasp, say Lew Allen and Carl Glickman (1992). It involves
fundamental changes in the way schools are managed, and alterations in the roles
and relationships of everyone in the school community. SDM is a process of
making educational decisions in a collaborative manner at the school level. This
process is an ongoing one; SDM "cannot be done once and then forgotten," says
B.J. Meadows (1990).
While SDM takes many forms, it emphasizes several common beliefs or premises,
according to Scott Bauer (1992): First, those closest to the children and "where
the action is" will make the best decisions about the children's education.
Second, teachers, parents, and school staff should have more say about policies
and programs affecting their schools and children. Third, those responsible for
carrying out decisions should have a voice in determining those decisions.
Finally, change is most likely to be effective and lasting when those who
implement it feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the process.
The purpose of SDM is to improve school effectiveness and student learning by
increasing staff commitment and ensuring that schools are more responsive to the
needs of their students and community (Bauer; John Lange 1993). "Student success
and achievement must be kept in the forefront of our thinking as the reason to
implement site-based, shared decision making," says Lange. Using SDM as a means
to shift accountability or abolish a "top-heavy central office staff" will
simply make SDM another buzzword, Lange cautions. Everyone who helps make
decisions must be held accountable for their results.
DO THE BENEFITS OF SDM OUTWEIGH ITS DISADVANTAGES?
the potential to improve the quality of decisions; increase a decision's
acceptance and implementation; strengthen staff morale, commitment, and
teamwork; build trust; help staff and administrators acquire new skills; and
increase school effectiveness (Lynn Balster Liontos 1993).
A larger number of alternatives can be generated and analyzed when more
people are involved, often resulting in innovative approaches to issues. In a
fifteen-month study of six schools that switched to SDM, Lange found that as
autonomy was achieved, better decisions were made than would have been under
centralized school management. Trust also increased as staff gained
understanding of management complexities and principals learned to respect
However, SDM brings challenges as well. It places new demands on teachers and
administrators. All participants must contend with a heavier workload and the
frustrations that accompany a slower group process. Increased demands on
participants' time may pose the greatest barrier to implementing and maintaining
In an SDM environment, teachers, who typically work in isolation from other
adults in the "egg-crate organization of schools," must "engage other adults,
negotiate, resolve differences, and come to decisions" concerning issues that
have not traditionally fallen within the scope of their duties (Carol Weiss,
Joseph Cambone, and Alexander Wyeth 1992). To do this effectively, say these
authors, teachers have to "extend themselves into new arenas of expertise."
HOW IS THE PRINCIPAL'S ROLE CHANGED IN SDM?
SDM does not
replace the principal as a decision-maker on all issues, Bauer emphasizes.
Instead, the principal becomes "part of a team of decision makers" and will
likely make decisions on issues outside the scope of the SDM group or
committees. The principal plays a critical role in establishing and maintaining
David Stine (1993) describes the principal's new role as an organizer,
adviser, and consensus builder, who takes advantage of the group's thinking.
Bauer calls principals who utilize SDM "internal consultants" who provide the
staff with current research and advice. Others emphasize the facilitative
aspects, such as finding space and time for staff to meet, helping groups work
effectively together, and minimizing distractions and obstacles for SDM
participants. The principal helps a school become ready for SDM by promoting a
noncompetitive, trusting climate, creating opportunities for staff to express
ideas, and placing a priority on professional development.
WHAT FACTORS ARE IMPORTANT FOR SDM'S SUCCESSFUL
Several important guidelines have been suggested by SDM
* Start small, go slowly. Evidence on the adoption of innovations, say Gene
Hall and Gary Galluzzo (1991), suggests that SDM will be most successful if
carried out in small steps rather than "wholesale changes" foreign to your
school and participants. Analyze your school's needs, then adapt selected
processes that meet your local situation; additional components can be added
when the staff is ready.
* Agree on specifics at the outset. There is no single "right" way to do SDM;
it depends on what you want from it. Many schools develop one decision-making
team or council; others use several groups or committees. Unless mandated,
decide who will be involved (Will you include students, parents, community
members, and outside consultants?), the size of the group (Stine suggests nine
to seventeen members), and how to ensure that the group will be representative.
Determine how decisions will be made (majority vote or consensus) and who will
make the final decisions on issues.
* Be clear about procedures, roles, and expectations. Lack of clarity leads
to lack of progress with SDM. Staff members need to understand what steps and
procedures are to be followed before decisions are made. Allen and Glickman
learned that "unclear processes created confusion that fragmented people's
actions," while clear processes empowered participants. Groups also need to
understand whether they are a decision-making body or an advisory one; it is
demoralizing for groups to think they are making decisions only to have their
decisions vetoed. At both her schools, Meadows found it useful to spell out the
SDM process in writing.
* Give everyone a chance to get involved. Decisions made by administrative
appointees as opposed to elected or volunteer representatives may be perceived
as top-down decisions. Volunteer positions or task forces give people the
opportunity to participate as much or as little as they want. "The more
accessible the process was to all teachers," say Allen and Glickman, "the more
positive feeling they had for the process."
* Build trust and support. If mistrust and apprehension exist between
administrators and teachers, SDM is not easily accepted. Don't push solutions on
the group or override decisions delegated to SDM teams. Lack of hierarchical
support can also lead to failure. "If the culture outside the school does not
change," say Hall and Galluzzo, "those inside the school will find it difficult
to take charge of decision making."
WHICH ISSUES SHOULD SDM GROUPS FOCUS ON?
One of the most
difficult areas for many schools is not who should be involved in SDM and how,
but what areas should be addressed. Allen and Glickman encourage schools to pick
a single, uncomplicated issue, then slowly build on the number and complexity of
issues. Many schools get bogged down in what Allen and Glickman term "zero-impact" issues, such as lunchroom supervision or bus duties topics that
may affect teachers' lives but don't have significant educational impact.
Peggy Kirby (1992) suggests that SDM teams will be more likely to focus on
issues of greater significance when minor faculty concerns are resolved first.
Knowledge plays a part, too, as Kirby found that groups who "risk resolving
school-wide instructional concerns" are more successful when they thoroughly
investigate alternatives, disseminate this information to others, and analyze
consequences before making decisions.
SDM is neither a panacea for all of America's educational problems nor a
"quick fix." Lange emphasizes that this "valuable resource" must be viewed in
the context of restructuring, as a piece of the larger puzzle that hopefully
will produce change in our schools.
Allen, Lew, and Carl D. Glickman. "School
Improvement: The Elusive Faces of Shared Governance." NASSP BULLETIN 76, 542
(March 1992): 80-87. EJ 441 161.
Bauer, Scott C. "Myth, Consensus, and Change." EXECUTIVE EDUCATOR 14, 7 (July
1992): 26-28. EJ 447 135.
Bradley, Ann. "'Strong Democracy' Yields Improvement in Chicago Reforms."
EDUCATION WEEK 12, 39 (July 14, 1993).
Hall, Gene, and Gary Galluzzo. CHANGING POLICY INTO PRACTICE: SCHOOL-BASED
DECISIONMAKING. Charleston, West Virginia: Appalachia Educational Laboratory,
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Kirby, Peggy C. "Shared Decision Making: Moving From Concerns About Restrooms
to Concerns About Classrooms." JOURNAL OF SCHOOL LEADERSHIP 2, 3 (July 1992):
330-44. EJ 447 131.
Lange, John T. "Site-Based, Shared Decision Making: A Resource for
Restructuring." NASSP BULLETIN 76, 549 (January 1993): 98-107. EJ 457 259.
Liontos, Lynn Balster. SHARED DECISION-MAKING. Eugene, Oregon: Oregon School
Study Council, University of Oregon, October 1993. OSSC Bulletin Series. 42
Meadows, B.J. "The Rewards and Risks of Shared Leadership." PHI DELTA KAPPAN
71, 7 (March 1990): 545-48. EJ 403 811.
Stine, David O. "How to Build a Leadership Team for Effective Decision
Making." TIPS FOR PRINCIPALS. Reston, Virginia: National Association of
Secondary School Principals (September 1993).
Weiss, Carol H., Joseph Cambone, and Alexander Wyeth. "Trouble in Paradise:
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QUARTERLY 28, 3 (August 1992): 350-67. EJ 447 157.