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Times are uncertain--but school leaders have guidance to help them as they are faced with important decisions in a changing world

4 pathways to help school leaders make critical decisions


Times are uncertain--but school leaders have guidance to help them as they are faced with important decisions in a changing world

The U.S. is grappling with a global health pandemic, economic uncertainties, increased awareness of racial and social injustice, divisive politics, and natural disasters–all in 2020. School leaders are at the helm of an education system that can produce students who work as activists in an effort to create a better world, and the decisions these leaders make will have a drastic impact on students’ future.

Times are challenging, to say the least.

Seeking to understand how school leaders make curriculum selection decisions, a team of researchers at the Clayton Christensen Institute interviewed leaders using its Jobs to Be Done methodology. From those interviews, four clear decision-making pathways emerged. These pathways explain why and how school leaders and districts buy curriculum.

Related content: How school leaders make real and lasting change

While curriculum may not be the topmost item on anyone’s list in light of the challenges outlined above, the decision-making paths researchers uncovered aligned closely with the paths school leaders actually took as they confronted present-day challenges.

That research offers emerging theories about how school leaders make tough decisions–and it offers insight into how they can continue to face challenges in the months and years to come.

Job 1: Overhaul

School leaders find themselves in a job researchers call Overhaul when a sense of crisis hands them a mandate to urgently make changes. For curriculum decisions, the crisis was often an urgent demand from the district’s board, executive cabinet, and other key stakeholders to fix persistently low student achievement. In the current context, the crisis often comes from district leaders’ drive to keep students on track with learning in spite of closed buildings, restrictive health guidelines, and looming budget cuts.

In an Overhaul job, leaders look for progress through bold and decisive moves. In the context of COVID-19, the Overhaul job pushes leaders to find creative new ways to deliver instruction.

Job 2: Build Consensus

The Build Consensus job usually arises in times that do not call for drastic change. Instead, leaders find themselves in this job when circumstances call for steady, incremental progress while maintaining compliance and collective buy-in.

When it came to curriculum decisions, leaders with this job decided to change their curriculum in order to stay on track with state or district adoption timelines, and they paid close attention to following the processes for selection dictated by policy, tradition, and collective bargaining agreements.

Job 3: Update

The Update job sits between the two jobs already mentioned. Similar to the Overhaul job, leaders find themselves in this job when a problem arises
that calls for action. Yet unlike with the Overhaul job, district leaders in this job do not believe that solving their problem requires drastic organizational changes. Instead, they believe their problem can be solved by simply updating their resources.

Once they specify their required updates, they make their decision following the same compliance- and consensus-oriented approach used by those with a Build Consensus job.

Job 4: Influence

The last job that surfaced in our research is Influence. District leaders find themselves in this job when they perceive themselves as being ahead of
their peers and seek to leverage that position to have broader impact on the field.

In the researchers’ curriculum selection examples, these were districts that typically had higher student achievement than comparable districts in their states or regions and were receiving positive recognition for their success.

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Laura Ascione

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