Effective Practices : Governance
Pedagogical Decision Making
Governance Section 2
1. One very large area of responsibility and decision making that is often delegated by the Board is that of pedagogical decision making. If this responsibility has been delegated to a group or individual at your school, please describe the group or person to which this authority has been given. Outline the extent of the group’s responsibility, what decision making authority it possesses, and any specific limitations that have been placed on the exercise of authority in the area of pedagogy.
2. How many members are there on the pedagogical decision making body at the school? How are these members selected?
3. Do members of the pedagogical decision making body have a term of office, or do appointments to this body have an open-ended tenure?
4. Does the pedagogical decision making body at the school have any committees, task or work groups which it has delegated to do work on its behalf? List these groups and describe briefly the authority and decision making responsibility these groups possess.
5. What is your school’s philosophy with regard to its pedagogical decision making body? What are the guiding lights that illuminate and inform the way in which this group works?
6. What is working particularly well at your school with regard to your pedagogical decision making body?
7. If there were something that you could change with regard to your pedagogical decision making body, what would it be and why?
One very large area of responsibility and decision making that is often delegated by the Board is that of pedagogical decision making. If this responsibility has been delegated to a group or individual at your school, please describe the group or person to which this authority has been given. Outline the extent of the group’s responsibility, what decision making authority it possesses, and any specific limitations that have been placed on the exercise of authority in the area of pedagogy.
In each of the schools we studied the responsibility for pedagogical decision making has been delegated to the faculty. Each of the schools has a smaller group of teachers and staff members which carries responsibility for the major pedagogical decisions that will have long term implications for the school. These groups are known by a variety of names — College of Teachers, Collegium, or the Leadership Circle. For simplicity we will refer to this inner group of senior colleagues as the College of Teachers.
Minor decisions are often made in section meetings (lower school, high school, middle school, early childhood, and special subjects) in larger schools or in the general faculty meeting in smaller schools. The College of Teachers has an obligation to make decisions in a way that is transparent to the Board of Trustees; the Board does not make any pedagogical decisions except to approve any requests for increases in the pedagogical budget due to program expansion or other needs.
In general it is the College of Teachers that approves all hiring and termination decisions for teachers, either directly or through its mandated committees. It handles severe discipline issues, organizes the study for the school, manages the calendar, makes decisions regarding changes to the program, and oversees the budget in the pedagogical area. In some schools the College also oversees the festivals while in others this responsibility is delegated to the general faculty, the section meetings or to a festival committee.
The general faculty meetings tend to be focused around events such as the various assemblies, information sharing and artistic work and study. The section meetings are the place where the work of the various sections is coordinated, and minor pedagogical operating decisions are made. These decisions are focused on the issues that arise in the teachers’ daily work with the students.
How many members are there on the pedagogical decision making body at the school? How are these members selected?
The College of Teachers varies in size from school to school, ranging from as few as a dozen members to as many as 25. Members of the faculty and staff may join the College if they meet several conditions:
- They have been at the school for a minimum period of time (typically one or two years),
- Their classroom or administrative work is in good order so that others view them with confidence,
- Have a long-term commitment to Waldorf education and the school, and
- Have a commitment to working out of anthroposophy and/or are on a meditative path.
In some cases the College will reach out to faculty and staff members that it feels are ready to join, and in other cases the individual will make a request of the College regarding membership. A few members of the College may be asked to meet with the candidate and tell them a little about the work of the College, the inner work, and answer any questions the person may have. The College members will report on the conversation to the full circle, and the College will make a decision regarding the person’s application. Usually the candidate is accepted with joy, and invited in with full consensus. New members are celebrated with flowers and refreshments.
Do members of the pedagogical decision making body have a term of office, or do appointments to this body have an open-ended tenure?
There is no term of office for members of the College of Teachers. The hope is that a member will be a carrying member of the group for an extended period as the work is best held when there is significant consistency in the membership from year to year. In cases where a person is placed on probation or is having difficulty in his job the College will ask that person to step down and to place the priority on his teaching or staff work. People do also take leaves of absence from the College from time to time due to personal issues, or during more demanding times such as when teaching in 1st or 8th grade.
Does the pedagogical decision making body at the school have any committees, task or work groups which it has delegated to do work on its behalf? List these groups and describe briefly the authority and decision making responsibility these groups possess.
It is quite common for the College of Teachers to have several committees. Only one school in our study indicated that their College operates without any permanent committees, but stated that it does form short term ad hoc committees from time to time.
In general the Colleges report using a formal mandate process, and have written mandates for every mandated group. The mandate lists the work of the group and describes its decision making authority and who needs to be informed when the group makes a decision. (See: AWSNA Mandate Forms for blank templates of mandates for Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Task Groups).
The most common College committees include:
Evaluation Committee facilitates the evaluation of all colleagues. They organize and gather the different elements of the evaluation — observation, self evaluation, and input from parents and colleagues — and will bring these to the person who is being evaluated. Any concerns will be passed on to the professional development committee and serious concerns and/or red flags will be brought to the College. In some schools the Evaluation Committee is also responsible for ensuring that program assessment takes place in addition to the assessment of individual teachers.
Professional Development is responsible for follow up on recommendations from evaluation, planning of the professional development days (in-service days), for supporting teachers in deciding on summer intensives, and the general care for the health of the faculty and staff. It is also the responsibility of this group to ensure that each teacher has a mentor or peer speaking partner.
Human Resources handles search and employment contract development for the school. The committee will perform the teacher search effort, do interviews, check references, conduct interviews, arrange sample teaching opportunities, make recommendations to the College of Teachers, and then extend offers as approved by the College.
Other committees reported by the various Colleges of Teachers include a Discipline Committee, a Community Committee to hold the social fabric of the school, and a Policy Committee that researches, develops and formulates policies and procedures for all aspects of the school.
What is your school’s philosophy with regard to its pedagogical decision making body? What are the guiding lights that illuminate and inform the way in which this group works?
The primary question we ask when making a pedagogical decision is, “Does this meet the developmental needs of the children?”
Our decisions are informed by our study and understanding of anthroposophy. The College’s connection with the third hierarchy is very enriching, and informs the way in which we work.
Working collaboratively is at the heart of everything that has to do with pedagogical governance. The College imagination is the vision that inspires the way we work together in all things. (See: College Imagination). We work with the idea of consensus. It is important to listen to each other clearly, rather than relying on hierarchy to expedite decisions.
We have four values that live strongly in our community:
- Quality over quantity
- Ongoing dialog and communication
- Transparency and accountability
- Social and financial health of the school
We trust groups of people to do work on behalf of the school. We allow them to do this work and appreciate their efforts. While mistakes do sometimes get made, the spreading out of decision making throughout the school has greatly improved the College’s ability to work on the core issues.
The Republican Academy approach to committees has lead to a strengthening of the College. The College is no longer consumed by the minutiae it dealt with in the past, and committee members appreciate being given the trust and freedom to do work on behalf of their colleagues.
What is working particularly well at your school with regard to your pedagogical decision making body?
We experience a living reality that everyone is responsible for the school and is serving it. We encourage individual initiative and responsibility balanced by active listening to and respect of the whole organism of the school.
Overall, there is a positive mood of working together and open communication. We say what is on our hearts (but in a professional way).
Our weekly anthroposophical faculty studies, child studies and curriculum studies are alive and artistic, and are carried by all. We try to make them alive, rather than something that we do out of habit.
The creation of a Management Team to address the majority of operating and practical decisions in the school has saved a tremendous amount of time for the College. As a result we can now study together for an hour each week, and then work together on philosophical and curriculum issues for another 1-1/2 hours.
The level meetings are particularly fructified by the spiritual deepening work of the College and the practical body of the management team. Our faculty is held spiritually and practically.
We find great value in our group study of pedagogy and administrative issues. This shared experience helps us all understand each others’ work and be supportive of it.
We have come to a clear picture of what our tasks are for the year, and receive reports on a regular basis on those issues.
We are taking up issues more deeply and try to really wrestle with them. Having the accreditation work on a cyclical basis has been a tremendous value. It has brought our review of the curriculum and our pedagogical goals into our regular, annual consciousness.
Our appreciation for each other and the gratitude for what people are doing are deep. We feel blessed that we can work together well and have such confidence in the work of others. It permeates the school. Getting into each other’s classrooms also encourages the respect we feel for others. This builds trust and confidence in the quality of teaching at the school.
We have an incredibly strong faculty, a strong College, a strong administration and a strong Board. No one group is dominating, and there is an allowance for leadership.
Our College meetings are very efficient. We start at 3:30 and end at 6. It is a rare exception when we go longer. We responsibly manage our affairs in a reasonable period of time.
There are excellent relationships between the Board and the College.
If there were something that you could change with regard to your pedagogical decision making body, what would it be and why?
Communicating to the parent body about the work of the College still needs work. We continue to work to demystify our process.
We continue to work to help the broader community understand who makes decisions in particular areas.
From time to time we ask colleagues to come and share something from their work or their research with us at a College meeting. This experience is so rich, and we just don’t have the time to share with each other the depth of what we are doing in the classrooms on a regular basis.
We have good policies and processes. We need to keep them alive in our daily work. We sometimes forget we have these forms and fail to take advantage of them
We could benefit from more in-depth review at the end of the year, and for this review to come at a time we are not rushed and tired.
We are looking at cultivating the future leadership of the school in a way that frees capacities without making people feel burdened. We are looking at the difference in the way people work from a generational perspective. Young people seem drawn to collaboration. We need to make room for new ways of working that make young colleagues excited to take on responsibility for the whole school and that will free their initiative.
We are learning to find ways to encourage faculty members to take on little chunks of responsibility without them feeling overwhelmed and without the need to approach an issue through a form created by someone else in a prior time.
Decisions can still take a very long time to be made. There can be times when the conversations keep circling but don’t go anywhere. The College works best when a specific proposal is presented to the group for consideration and the circle is asked to reflect on that proposal. The College does not work well when it tries to create ideas or pictures in the moment. It can be effective when it is engaged in a brainstorming activity or when members are asked to share the values and leading thoughts that should inform a policy. These conversations can be rich, and provide good guidance to someone who will take the thoughts of the group away and use them to bring a more formed proposal for consideration.