Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Competition Pitfall in Discernment vs Decision-Making

Whew!  Didn't expect two months between posts :-)  The good news is I slowed down at work, turned my phone to mute on weekends and actually took some time off this summer.  New faculty/staff orientation is next week, classes start August 11th and today is a day for blogging!

I work in a private school which accepts students from all over the Indianapolis area.  8th grade students and families have a wide array of strong options for public and private schooling in our community.  My own family traveled the path of educational choice when our eldest was an 8th grader.  It was a wild ride for my husband and I since we were raised in much smaller communities with one choice - the local public high school.  I recognize the arguments for choice in education - but choice does add a sense of competition among our schools.  For me, competition is a pitfall of discernment.  It interrupts the process discussed in my previous post and places barriers to the open exploration of ideas.

Discernment vs Decision-Making

In a brief, over-simplistic nutshell, decision making occurs when context understanding and reflection is over-looked.  Decision-making happens quickly.  Discernment takes time.  Decision-making is often from above, by those with little to no relationship with the people affected.  Discernment is relational - it takes place in dialogue with those affected.  Decision-making occurs without reflection (I personally use the term prayer but am using reflection for the secular audience).  Discernment occurs in time spent in reflection, reviewing feelings toward options and sitting with feelings of a choice made.  Decision-makings assumes a good choice and a bad choice.  Discernment assumes all choices are good but one may better lead to growth. And ultimately discernment is about growth toward a deeper relationship with God/Truth/Students. Discernment is about fulfillment. Competition leads to decision-making.  Collaboration leads to discernment.

How Competition Creates Barriers

In Phase One, competition taints the context setting process.  Ideally, discernment begins in a balanced understanding of the needs of an individual or in this case school community.  "Well, High School West is doing it so we have to in order to attract students" is not context.  Context is the social, racial, emotional, historical, economic, gender, mission-focused foundation of the unique school community.  The moment a school cannot identify their context - their unique place in the educational system - discernment fails and decision-making occurs.  Competition assumes comparison to defeat the other - not movement toward fulfillment of personal gifts.

In Phases Two and Three, the main threat of competition is its influence on experiences via fear of failure.  A school will not consider all options open if competition is fierce - whatever the prize.  Educators complain that students will not take risks for fear of a lower grade but how many of us administrators do not try innovative approaches for fear of market rejection?   Administrators will second-guess themselves for days - eventually putting off any forward movement because of doubt.  Paralyzing the process of discernment.


Collaboration encourages sharing to strengthen the larger community as opposed to defeating the other.  Collaboration assumes all in community can and should grow.  Collaboration hopes for individual strengths to contribute to improvement for all.  I would agree collaboration across schools supports discernment in all areas mentioned above: by taking time, occurring in dialogue, attention to emotions and assumption of good.  An example of school community collaboration landed in my email this morning.  A neighboring (and to be honest - main competitor for enrollment) asked several of us if we would like to collaborate in a professional development opportunity.  They wanted to commission a well known, national speaker on tough conversations and wondered if we would all like to split the cost and learn together.  The resounding YES was cried by all.  Here is a great first step in discernment via collaboration.  We all have unique context - but are willing to work together for an experience that may (or may not) meet a need felt throughout our schools.

To wrap up my afternoon wandering thoughts...

As this new school year begins, keep asking yourself if you are decision-making via competition or discerning via collaboration.  Sometimes decision-making is called for but visioning and leading requires much more time in discernment.  I mentioned on Twitter today that innovation happens in times of reflection and quiet.  We administrators don't get a lot of that kind of time... but we must find ways to make time for discernment if we want our schools to move forward in support of our students and families.