May 2020

 Decision-Making from Head and Heart

May Blog

Research suggests that teachers make over 1,500 decisions each school day. I imagine leaders, parents and students probably make just as many.  

Those decisions come in all sizes, as small as what entree to order or whether to send one more email before shutting down for the day. Usually, those that need to be made on the drop of a dime are not the “big ones.” The big ones usually involve vision and values. They usually tug at your heart. They usually prompt you to ask: Who am I? What do I believe in? And, they usually have a longer lead time.  

I love studying decision-making; watching and learning how others engage in the decision-making process. I’ve learned we each engage in our own unique process during the time leading to a really tough decision:

  • Some mull it over. 

  • Others weigh the pros and cons. (I recently read that the birth of the pros and cons list is credited to Benjamin Franklin,)

  • Like TV game show contestants, some phone a friend for advice.

  • Some get stuck in paralysis analysis.

  • Millions more pick one of an endless number of processes to make a decision.

When I was a new supervisor many years ago, the assistant superintendent thought he was giving me good advice on the first day of my leadership journey when he said, “Always do what’s in the best interests of kids and you’ll do great.” I thought to myself then, and still do now:  What obvious advice. Of course! I would not have devoted myself to a helping profession, I would not have devoted myself to kids if they weren’t always my essential motivating force.  

While I’ve always kept his advice with me, I’ve also learned that advice alone is too simple to use as the sole component of my decision-making process.

I’m still perfecting my process. But, with colleagues who’ve mentored and coached me over the years, and still do, I’ve tried to incorporate some guiding decision-making practices.

  • I try to zoom in and out. I look at the problem from the inside view, the close-up, zoomed-in view. I gather the best information and zoom out. What are the optics to others? What are the implications and ramifications of the decision?
  • I try to widen my options and look for a third alternative. Nothing is ever simply right or wrong, black or white. Sometimes, the best decisions live in the gray.
  • I try to answer the question: If I am wrong, what’s the fall-out?

And, I hold up my decision against the essential question: What’s best for kids?

A colleague constantly reminds me never to underestimate that vision and values matter. She reminds me that decisions should always be filtered through what we value, how we live into those values, and how we operationalize them. (She throws in a bit of astrology too, but I’m not quite there yet.)

Daily, I ask the school district’s teachers and administrators to adopt a growth mindset. I’m trying to practice what I preach, particularly around my own decision-making. It’s not fair to ask for others’ patience during my decision-making process, yet still get annoyed when my wife takes 20 minutes to decide her restaurant order. I can’t turn up my nose at those who make the easy decision over the right one. If I did, my hypocrisy would shine through when I let my daughter watch her third PJ Masks episode just to get some quiet time to send a few more emails.

We’re all pencil sketches, not oil paintings. We’re all works in progress. 

I pledge to our school community not only to be thoughtful in the decisions that I make, but thoughtful in how I make them, too.

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