Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Issue #23, November 15, 2002. © by CJEAP and the author(s).
Why Teachers Participate in Decision-making and The Third Continuum
The question of why management, or administrative leaders, share decision-making has found answers in a combination of factors. These factors range from attempts to co-op workers into better compliance to a genuine desire to reach higher productivity through a more informed and wiser decision-making process as a result of empowered workers. The question of why workers, or in this case, teachers, participate in decision-making is more problematic. This article explores two parts of this question. First, the literature on shared decision-making from a historical perspective identifying ‘factors’ affecting teacher participation in decision-making. Second, these factors are discussed as ‘continuums’ of decision-making of which a third continuum is seen to involve greater influence by teachers as leaders in schools. In this regard I attempt to provide a better answer the question of why teachers participate in decision-making in schools.
Further to this was a shift to better understand the motivations of teachers as raised by Benson and Malone (1987) in their discussion of “alienation” and a teacher's sense of his/her ability to act on decisions, or efficacy. The aim was to motivate teachers, mostly at the bequest of administrators, to achieve organisational imperatives. That teachers shaped organisations as active participants while sometimes acknowledged was not overly apparent.
More recent assertions in the shared decision-making literature suggested that teachers must do more than simply participate. Teachers provide leadership. Thus it seemed obvious that teachers need to be empowered to do this (Taylor and Tashakkori, 1997). The evidence suggested that teachers, acting as leaders, had a greater commitment to change (Leithwood, Jantzi, and Steinbach, 1998). Shared decision-making was seen as a means for teachers to lead in the school and beyond the classroom. Such extended influence and involvement enhanced commitment to systematic change as it enabled a more empowered and efficacious teachers (Smylie; 1992, 1995). Thus, sharing or participating in decision-making in its historical context had shifted its focus to empowering teachers to lead, not simply co-opting them into becoming better followers. For school administrators and teachers, this had implications. As Schlechty (1990) pointed out, school administrators in the future must see themselves as “leaders of leaders.”
While teacher leadership, in the context of shared decision-making, can be related to the factors affecting decision-making and can be shaped into a discussion of three related continuums. These continuums are related to teacher leadership and participation in decision-making in schools and are illustrated in Figures 1 and 2.
Figure 1: The Two-Axis Continuum
Teachers feeling they were decisionaly deprived reported lower satisfaction levels. Saturated and equilibrium teachers were more satisfied but not necessarily willing to increase their participation. Therefore, to simply increase participation in decision-making in absolute terms may be counter-productive. Belasco and Alutto (1972) argued "the data suggest the necessity for a management strategy which recognizes that a similar decisional participation approach will have a varying impact on satisfaction levels" (p. 56). Allowing teacher participation in decision-making purports to result in a more satisfied teacher with greater commitment to organizational goals. This assumed a ready desire on the part of teachers to participate.
In the second continuum, teachers' desire to participate was considered. Kunz and Hoy (1976) discussed teacher zone of interest in decision-making. They defined the "zone of acceptance" in decision-making the "willingness of a subordinate to hold his own criteria for making decisions and to comply with orders from superiors" (p. 49). In this regard, a teacher may not necessarily be indifferent as implied by Bridges (1967) use of the term zone of indifference. There existed limits, or a range of acceptability from "clearly unacceptable to those that are unquestionably acceptable" (p. 49). Conley (1991) added to this discussion by describing teachers' interest areas. She described what could be seen as a changing decisional buffer zone, between what could be classed as traditional teacher decisional areas and the traditional administrative realm, as "contested ground". The issue of whose decisions are whose, what decisions to make, and who decides, needs careful consideration. Conley (1991) stated "more research is needed regarding contested decisions (as) increasing teacher participation in the intermediate may engender conflict" (p. 242).
In trying to better understand a teachers' desire to participate in decision-making Taylor and Tashakkori (1997) used four categories of teacher involvement in decision-making; empowered (those that were involved and desired to be involved), disenfranchised (those that were not involved but desired involvement), involved (those that were involved but did not desire it), and disengaged (those that were neither involved nor desired to be). The study attempted to resolve what was seen as a lack of understanding of the nature of teacher participation dimensions. They claimed "several studies note that teachers prefer involvement in some areas over others" (p. 612). Taylor and Tashakkori (1997) found that the best discriminator between high participation and low participation groups was principal leadership followed by job satisfaction. In addition, they found that the variable most likely to discriminate among teachers as to their desire to participate in decision-making was a teacher’s sense of efficacy (as confident they can teach effectively).
The issue of teacher disengagement and having low efficacy may be important in improving classroom instruction, as they are “disengaged teacher (low desire/low participation). A weak sense of efficacy likely translates into a preoccupation about professional adequacy (needs) opportunities to collaborate in lesson planning with peers who appear more successful may open the chance to learn more effective techniques or get advice” (p. 624). This may also relate to earlier concerns about worker alienation raised by Benson and Malone (1987) in accepting or rejecting one's ability to influence student achievement or commit to change. Teacher desire, or lack of desire, can be related to a teacher's commitment to change. The low impact teacher (disengaged or disenfranchised), while not necessarily complacent, may be unwilling, or see themselves as unable to act on change initiatives whether they view them as worthwhile or not.
The success of teachers in influencing decisions and the substance of these decisions may be crucial in having teachers actually become leaders in schools. Influencing the decision-making process shifts their participation in the direction of teacher leadership. Benson and Malone (1987) argued "teachers experiencing a high degree of powerlessness often develop a high degree of alienation which predisposes them to locate the source of student learning difficulties in the students themselves, or their home background rather than school methodology" (p. 244). Benson and Malone (1987) believed that research asking about teacher participation in decision-making could be improved by asking teachers "about their influence in decision-making, rather than involvement in decision-making" (p. 245). While teachers participate in decision-making their actual influence may be low, or high, i.e., there is a qualitative difference in participation, which may affect their sense of efficacy, empowerment or alienation. Benson and Malone (1987) concluded "from this sample, it appears that perceived influence on decision-making is more closely related to alienation than deprivation" (p. 250). Duke, Showers, and Imber (1980) raised the same concern writing "of the teachers interviewed, experience has taught these teachers that, most often, shared decision-making does not mean shared influence" (p. 104). Teachers' perception of their actual influence may affect their desire to participate in decision-making as well as to be leaders.
The evolution of leadership through shared decision-making spans the last hundred years. Teachers have evolved from what Murphy (1993) called the “junior partners” (p. 3) of the first half of the twentieth century. As teachers gain recognition and become more recognised as professionals, the “authority paradox” becomes more apparent creating a need for change to more distributed forms of leadership (Blase, 1993). Wheatley (1994) discussed new forms of leadership, pointed out a maintenance crew chief, a sergeant, but not the base commander, decide whether a particular aircraft will fly, or not. There are parallels in education. As teachers gain professional status and more specialized training, they gain authority, particularly in their areas of expertise. Leadership perceptions must reflect this. Teacher leaders are highly involved in decision-making.
As schools seem less influenced by seemingly more remote school districts and teacher associations, there are changing expectations on teachers as leaders. They can expect to have more decision-making avenues in some areas and will be expected to take a larger role in school-based decision-making. However, in the context of control through accountability and the actual reduction in resources means that teacher leadership is often aimed to enhance student outcomes with less. In this way the district, school, and association have been encouraging greater leadership in a climate that has sometimes been volatile. A note of caution then, in that while much has been said about the benefits of greater teacher participation in decision-making and teacher leadership in schools, there are very real constraints. These consist of lack of time, lack of training and support, isolation, lack of expertise, lack of confidence in teachers' own ability, politesse, role ambiguity, resistance by administrators, lack of change skills, lack of real formal authority, losses in collegiality, uncertainty about excellence, innovation overload, information and decision-making overload (Anderson & Jacka, 1994; Bascia, 1996; Griffin, 1995; Leithwood et al., 1998; Hart, 1994, 1995; Conway & Calzi, 1996). Also noted, the “time taken for work outside the classroom likely interferes with the time needed for students ... (the lack of) training and funding for leadership roles ... Cultures of isolationism ... lack of role definition ... requiring them to take on responsibilities outside their expertise” (Leithwood, et al., 1998, p. 4). Despite these constraints, it appears that there is a consensus that all teachers should participate in decision-making. Quite simply, a truly meaningful shared decision-making process that encourages teachers, not just in participation but to lead, can overcome these obstacles and enhance teacher leadership opportunities and its benefits.
Alutto, J. A. & Belasco, J. A. (1972). A typology for participation in organisational decision-making, Administrative Science Quarterly, 9(1), 27-41.
Anderson, S. & Jacka, N. (1995). St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School: A case study. Canadian Education Association, Toronto.
Bascia, N. (1996). Teacher leadership: Contending with adversity. Canadian Journal of Education, 21(2), 155-169.
Belasco, J. A. & Alutto, J. A. (1972). Decisional participation and teacher satisfaction. Educational Administration Quarterly, 8(1), 44-58.
Benson, N. & Malone, P. (1987). Teachers' beliefs about shared decision-making and work alienation. Education. 107, 244-251.
Blase, J. (1993). The micropolitics of effective school-based leadership: Teachers' perspectives. Educational Leadership Quarterly, 29(2), 142-163.
Bridges, E. (1967). A model for shared decision-making in the school principalship. Educational Administration Quarterly, 3, 49-61.
Conley, S. (1991). Teacher participation. Review of Research in Education, 17, 225-266.
Conway, J. & Calzi, C. (1996). The dark side of shared leadership. Educational Leadership, 53(4), 45-49.
Duke, D., Showers, B. & Imber. M. (1980). Teachers and shared decision-making: The costs and benefits of involvement. Educational Administration Quarterly, 16(1), 93-106.
Griffin, G. (1995). Influences of shared decision-making on school and classroom activity. The Elementary School Journal, 96 (1), 29-45.
Hart, A. W. (1994). Creating teacher leadership roles. Educational Leadership Quarterly, 30(4), 472-497.
Hart, A. W. (1995). Reconceiving school leadership: Emergent views. The Elementary School Journal, 96(1), 9-27.
Kunz, D. & Hoy, W. (1976). Leadership style of principals and the professional zone of acceptance of teachers. Educational Administration Quarterly, 12(3), 49-64.
Leithwood, K. & Jantzi, D. (1997). Explaining variations in teachers' perceptions of principals' leadership. Journal of Educational Leadership, 35(4), 312-331.
K., Jantzi, D. & Steinbach R. (1998). Changing leadership for changing
times. Toronto: Draft Version.
Murphy, J. (1993). Reconnecting teaching and school administration: A call for a unified profession. Paper presented at the annual meeting of AERA, Montreal, April 1999.
Schlechty, P. (1990). Schools for the 21st century. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Smylie, M. (1992). Teacher participation in school decision-making: Assessing willingness to participate. Educational Evaluation and Policy, 14(1), 53-67.
Smylie, M. (1995). New perspectives on teacher leadership. The Elementary School Journal, 96(1), 5 9.
Taylor, D. & Tashakkori, A. (1997). Toward an understanding of teachers desire for participation in decision-making. Journal of School Leadership, 7(Nov), 609-628.
Wheatley, M. (1994). Leadership and the new science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler