How to Help School Leaders Make Better Decisions

How to Help School Leaders Make Better Decisions

Cynthia CoburnCynthia CoburnSchool district leaders want to use the best information available to make good decisions, but they are often dealing with complex issues and conflicting priorities in unstable settings, School of Education and Social Policy researcher Cynthia Coburn said during her keynote speech at the annual conference of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education.  

“Policymakers and researchers need to go beyond an emphasis on fostering access to research,” Coburn said. “While access is necessary, it’s not a sufficient condition for research use.”

Coburn, a professor of education and social policy, stressed the importance of cultivating new roles for researchers, including helping them interact directly with district leaders and creating new spaces and new routines.

She also argued that the environment plays a key role in whether new ideas are embraced or rejected. “We need to create conditions that encourage school leaders to engage with new ideas and each other in ways that cause them to question and rethink their assumptions about the nature of the problem,” Coburn said.

Her research suggests that leaders are more receptive when deliberation involved:

  • individuals with diverse points of view
  • enough safety for individuals to be able to voice their point of views
  • enough time and staffing to reach out and investigate new ideas and spend time discussing them with one another
  • time to engage with research outside of a high stakes decision context

“I realize that this is a tall order,” Coburn said. “Not all of these ideas will be realistic all of the time or in all contexts, but my colleagues and I hope that our work will lead to a more informed discussion about how to improve decision making in public education.”

Coburn studies the relationship between instructional policy and teachers’ classroom practices in urban schools, and the role of research and how to best use research to inform decision making.

Her keynote speech is summarized in a two-part series. The first article discussed the traditional way school leaders use research to help them make decisions.

The second outlines alternative ways to use research to help make decisions.

Photo by Steve Drey

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 3/7/18