The Three Circles of Decision-Making
By William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director, Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)
We have a new addition to our family. Tom is our new son-in-law, and one of his quick observations of our family is that we have trouble making decisions. We cannot decide where to go for dinner or what time to meet. He is constantly asking, “Would someone just make a decision?”
Difficulty making decisions is not uncommon for families, but it can also be troublesome for businesses, schools, and organizations. While decisions about dinner plans are relatively trivial, decision-making for bigger concerns is complex and carries higher stakes.
Whether you are a classroom leader, building leader, school system leader or organizational leader, you have to make decisions on a daily basis that might affect hundreds or thousands of students. Today, districts need to make decisions about closing schools or consolidating, as in Evanston, Illinois. Schools are considering community and business partnerships, as in Reading, Massachusetts. And there are always decisions to be made about students, as in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Many times you have to be the one that makes the final decision. Because of the number of students your decision might affect, you might hesitate to make a decision. A principal has to consider teacher input and parent preferences. A superintendent has to compare school building requirements with the school budget. A teacher has to balance student, parent, and school needs.
Today, more than ever, educational leaders need to clarify or frame their discussions, comments, and eventual decisions. As an educational leader, what should you consider when making these bold decisions? I recommend a three-circle model of decision-making that I have found helpful. My three circles of decision-making are education, finances, and politics, and these circles interconnect in the fashion of a Venn diagram.
First the educational circle. Is the decision that has to be made educationally oriented, educationally sound, or educationally appropriate? If so, it fits in the first circle. Can the decision be made on its educational merits only? I would suggest probably not.
The second circle is finances. Is the decision that has to be made financially oriented, financially sound, or financially appropriate? If so, it fits into the second circle. Can the decision be made on its financial merits only? I would suggest probably not.
The final circle is the political circle. Is the decision that has to be made politically oriented, politically sound, or politically appropriate? If so, it fits into the third circle. Can the decision be made on its political merits only? Again, probably not.
Can a decision be educationally, financially, and politically sound? Maybe. A decision that fits at the intersection of all three circles is extraordinary, but it is likely the best.
As I have worked with educational leaders, I have found it critical to identify which of the three circles any particular decision is slanted to. Teachers, students, and parents appreciate knowing that some of my decisions are more educationally-oriented, some are financially-oriented, while others are politically-oriented. Being honest with those around me about the three circles of decision-making helps me focus on the values that I find important as an educational leader.
Try using the three circles of decision making in your school or district, but consider adjusting them for use at home, on the ball field, in the gym, or in your professional organization. You might be surprised how effective they are.
Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.
Image by Elecbullet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
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The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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