Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Teachers and Decision-Making Processes: An Italian Exploratory Study on Individual and Collaborative Decisions

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Teachers and Decision-Making Processes: An Italian Exploratory Study on Individual and Collaborative Decisions

Article excerpt


Decision-making processes have been studied in many fields: medical, legal, economic, military, in everyday life, factories, and service industries (Clemen & Reilly, 2001; Hastie & Dawes 2001). The theme of decision-making at school has been dealt with in several international studies, some focus on school effectiveness and the relationships between administrators and principals (David, 1994; Glasman & Fuller, 1992; Griffin, 1995; Hayes, 1996; Jenkins, Schrag, Rude, & Stowitschek, 1994; Kannapel, Moore, Coe, & Aagaard, 1995; Kreiner, 1976), and others focus on the teachers' instructional decisions that enhance the activities in the classroom (Maloch et al. 2003; McMillan, 2003; Nevo, 1995; Penso & Shoham 2003). Unfortunately, those important issues were not studied in Italy. For this reason, we carried out a survey aimed at highlighting the decision-making processes of the Italian teachers. In particular, we have focused on the individual decisions--which are developed when the teachers work in the classroom with the students--and on the collaborative ones, when the teachers debate among themselves during meetings. The context of the Italian schools is complex because an educational institution is composed of three distinct school levels, in which different kinds of teachers work. Furthermore, teachers of the different levels have to attend several meetings, where they debate mutual issues and questions concerning the educational life of the institution. So, it has been important to outline what kind of individual decisions are made in the classroom and, in parallel, the collaborative decision-making processes.

This study is located within the area of pedagogy, namely the processes that inform teachers' decisions when they are planning, carrying out, and evaluating their lessons. Kohler, Henning, and Usma-Wilches (2008) suggest that:

Decisions during teaching might focus on whether students are learning or the types of adjustments that are needed, and judgments made after teaching could determine the types of feedback or grades that students should receive or the need for follow-up activities. All of these decisions are influenced by the ongoing classroom context, as well as a teacher's experiences, values, and knowledge of content, pedagogy, and individual students. (Kohler et al., 2008, p. 2108)

In addition, the individual decision-making processes are closely connected to those of the group of teachers and other actors who work or are linked with the school environment. According to Huber (2003), decision-making develops through modalities that arise from individuals and groups. A school is formed by professionals who operate autonomously (principals and teachers) but individual decisions are linked with decisions developed in groups, either formally or informally. For these reasons, teachers need to take cognisance of their own decisions as well as those of their colleagues and others involved (students, parents, administrative staff, etc.). Equally within the profession, teachers cannot be considered simply as managers of standardised processes but as reflective practitioners (Schon, 1983) who can decide and choose meaningful educational paths because the decision-making process is oriented to the improvement and the growth of students' learning.

Theoretical framework

Individual decisions

This study is informed by two main theories: 'prospect theory' (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979) and 'bounded rationality' (Simon, 1955). Prospect theory refers to the decision-making processes that result from the observation of the actual chosen behavior patterns. Prospect theory explains the 'framing effect'; that is, the same problem can determine different decisions if it is described in different ways (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981; Tversky & Kahneman, 1986). The framing effect can be defined as a mental structure that simplifies and leads to the understanding of a complex reality, forcing the individual to observe the situation from a particular perspective. …

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