Literature Review Chapter: Perceptions of Elementary Teachers in Tennessee Schools in Regard to Preferred Shared Decision-Making Roles

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Perceptions of Elementary Teachers in Tennessee Schools in Regard to Preferred Shared Decision-Making Roles

People want and need to have their voices heard in virtually any type of workplace setting, and many private and public organizations have sought to empower their employees by providing them with the opportunity to actively participate in the decision-making process as it relates to the allocation of resources in recent years. It is reasonable to suggest, though, that not everyone wants and needs the same level of responsibility for formulating important decisions concerning the allocation of resources which by definition are scarce. These issues are particularly important in the public schools where the stakeholders are legion and positive academic outcomes are essential. To gain some additional insights into how teachers typically perceived a shared decision-making role in elementary schools in general and in the State of Tennessee in particular, this chapter provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature, including an analysis of Albert Bandura's self-efficacy theory as the foundational theory for school-based decision making, the relevance of Otto Scharmer's Theory U, and the background of school-based decision making. A discussion concerning the benefits of school-based decision making in elementary schools and some of the problems and pitfalls that are associated with school-based decision making in elementary schools is followed by a summary of the research and important findings.

Bandura's Self-Efficacy Theory as the Foundational Theory for School-Based Decision Making

Bandura describes self-efficacy as being an integral component of effecting changes in human as well as a primary construct in social cognitive theory (Valois, Umsttatd, Zullig & Paxton, 2008, p. 321). Self-efficacy work is concerned with the level of confidence people have in their abilities to perform various tasks (Valois et al., 2008). Self-efficacy beliefs are defined as being an individual's beliefs concerning their capabilities to successfully perform a given course of action and such beliefs influence their decision about what types of activities they should use for these purposes (Valois et al., 2008). In addition, Bandura maintains that an individual's self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations (e.g., the outcomes an individual believes are closely associated with a given behavior), outcome values (e.g., the value an individual places on these behaviors), and self-reactive, self-regulatory strategies that are employed to initiate and sustain a given behavior all represent essential factors that are required to effect changes in behavior (Valois et al., 2008).

Relevance of Otto Scharmer's Theory U

In order to become effective decision makers, teachers must be able to see the "big picture," an attribute that is not always possible and perhaps even desirable for some stressed-out educators who are already confronted with overcrowded classrooms and increasing pressure to produce positive academic outcomes. In some ways, then, teachers are like "frogs in a well," as the Chinese proverb goes, able to see only the small patch of blue sky immediately above them unless they make the effort to become knowledgeable about the legislative and administrative processes that affect the teaching profession and the delivery of educational services in the United States.

The waves of reform efforts that have shaped the nation's schools in recent years have also resulted in increased accountability for teachers and administrators, a trend that is reflective of Sharmer's perspective as articulated in his recent book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, "We live in an era of intense conflict and massive institutional failures, a time of painful endings and hopeful beginnings. It is a time that feels as if something profound is shifting and dying while something else wants to be born" (2007, p. 1). Following the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, this observation is certainly applicable to the situation faced by many of the nation's public schools that continue to underperform and run the risk of closure or consolidation with the concomitant loss of employment that may accompany such drastic measures. As Sharmer points out, "Today, many things indicate that we are going through a transitional period, when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if something were crumbling, decaying, and exhausting itself -- while something else, still indistinct, were rising from the rubble" (2007, p. 1).

The transitional period described by Sharmer is likewise applicable to recent trends in school-based decision making, where teachers are being provided with the opportunity to more actively participate in determining how, where and why scarce resources will be allocated. In order to accomplish this decision-making function effectively, though, educators must "pull themselves out of the well" to see the "big picture." In this regard, Sharmer suggests that his Theory U can be applied to the process by eliminating blind spots that might prevent effective decision making. For instance, according to a review by Mallette (2009), in this book, Sharmer "introduces the concept of presencing (presence + sensing), that is, operating from the future as it emerges. Part I shows us that we have a blind spot, that invisible dimension from which all our actions originate. In Part II, Scharmer develops his U. process, forming the left part of the U. with co-initiating, descending to co-sensing, and bottoming out with co-presencing. The U. is completed by rising to co-creating and rising again to co-evolving" (para. 2). Moreover, Scharmer's framework also provides a new approach to educational leadership that can provide principals and administrators with new insights concerning how teachers can actively participate in the decision making process (Cowart, 2009).

This is an especially important step in creating an environment that is conducive to shared decision making. In this regard, Kelley, Thornton and Daugherty report that, "The data from the current study indicates that principals' perceptions of their leadership styles are not consistent with their teachers' perceptions. The old adage that 'perception becomes reality' needs to be considered; teachers' perceptions of principal effectiveness are authentic" (2005, p. 17). The blind spot described by Sharmer is reflective of how the Johari Window (see Figure 1 below) is used to graphically depict the relationships between an individual's known self and the individual's unknown self.

Figure 1. Example of Jahori Window

Source: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/johari_window.PNG

The study by Kelley and his associates (2005) demonstrated that the blind quadrant, in other words, those things that are known to others but are unknown to the individual. According to Kelley et al., "For principals, blind spots can occur in many areas: e.g. inconsistent discipline procedures, pet projects, or lack of communication skills. For example, a principal could be quick-tempered, boisterous, and scheming, but unaware of these characteristics and teachers will not tell him/her for a variety of reasons" (2005, p. 18). These types of blind spots in educators, then, can adversely affect the school-based decision-making process from the outset, making the consideration of Sharmer's concepts an important starting point for developing improved shared decision-making processes in the nation's schools, the background of which is discussed further below.

Background of School-Based Decision Making

Current efforts to improve the level of decision making by teachers is a continuation of various educational reform initiatives that have taken place in the United States since the early 1980s (Leech & Fulton, 2008). The first wave of such reforms followed the publication of a Nation at Risk by the National Commission on Educational Excellence in 1983 which called for increased accountability, and a second wave sought to restructure schools based on an increased commitment to school-based management (Leech & Fulton, 2008). The latest wave of reform efforts have been focused on the increased need for participation of school staff in the decision making process and teacher empowerment through a participatory style of leadership (Leech & Fulton, 2008). According to Pankratz and Petrosko, "School-based decision making gave teachers at the school level direct control of the key variables in the learning environment, such as the characteristics of the staff, the use of teacher and student time, classroom management techniques, assignment of students, curriculum and learning materials, and the use of equipment and space" (2000, p. 59).

This type of empowerment represents an important step forward in creating more efficient schools that can provide young learners with the educational services they need to effectively compete in the 21st century, but it also represents a significant change -- and most people -- including teachers -- hate change because it takes them out of their comfort zone. As Pankratz and Petrosko point out, "These changes directly affected the roles of central office staff who previously had been responsible for many of the things now delegated to the local school. The role of the school principal also was dramatically changed, from that of administrator to that of collaborator and instructional leader" (2000, p. 63). These trends in promoting shared decision-making at the school level are clearly a dual-edged sword that requires careful implementation and administration to remain effective, and these issues are discussed further below as they apply to school-based decision-making in Tennessee's elementary schools.

School-Based Decisions Making in Tennessee's Elementary Schools

The State of Tennessee… [END OF PREVIEW]

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