Science & Environment

Why strong decision-making matters in education

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School leaders, including principals and school trustees, navigate through complex and challenging situations on a daily basis. Now add the current pandemic context to the mix and it highlights how strong leadership and decision-making abilities are vital in dealing with the uncertainty and constant adaptation that schools must face. How can these leaders be better equipped to resolve such issues?

To learn more, we spoke with Stephanie Chitpin, Professor of Educational Leadership in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, founder of the Equitable Leadership Network, and author of a new book on decision-making in an educational context.

Can you describe your work in the field of educational leadership? What’s the importance of that concept in a school setting?

“Ken Leithwood, an Emeritus Professor at the University of Toronto, said that leadership in schools is second only to instruction in importance. Therefore, it is a vital aspect of education. Educational leadership takes many forms. Some scholars speak of educational leaders in terms of traits, styles, functions and responsibilities, to name but a few. One of the more popular ways of describing educational leaders is in terms of leadership styles such as transactional leadership, transformational leadership, distributed leadership, integrated/shared leadership, etc.”

“School management is a brand of educational leadership but is more concerned with running schools than with leading schools. I am a professor of leadership. I research topics important to educators in areas of educational leadership. Those topics may include, decision-making, problem solving, organizational behaviour, critical rationalism, fallibility, achievement gaps, and other matters in a similar vein.”

How important is strong leadership and decision-making during the pandemic?

“These are very challenging times for educational leaders, and they need all the information that is available to them in order to make the best possible decisions given their own context. Clearly educational decision-making is not a one-size fits all decision. The leader must take his or her context into consideration when making decisions so that the positive effects of the decisions made outweigh the negative properties that created the issue(s) in the first place. Therefore, good educational leadership depends on high quality decision-making.”

You recently published a book entitled Understanding Decision-Making in Educational Contexts: A Case Study Approach. Can you tell us what is it about?

“The book is about how decisions are made in educational contexts and how these decisions can be made better through becoming critical in terms of error elimination. It is developed in terms of a case study approach. I use real cases rather than hypothetical scenarios.”

Could you give us an example of a case study discussed in the book?

“For example, one case study deals with the challenges associated with school leaders having to deal with a group of Muslim students who miss classes due to prayer time. This is interesting and pertinent to leaders who have a similar situation in their schools.”

Why is this book important to you?

“This book is important because it is not only about learned strategies regarding decision-making, it is also a product about my own experiential learning. The book takes novel and unusual circumstances, as well as more pedestrian issues in order to develop a panoramic view concerning educational leadership.”

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