Decisions, Decisions

By Joan Flora and Pattie Sloan

Decision-making is exhausting, and teachers do it continually—researchers claim teachers make 800 to 1,500 decisions daily in their classrooms, which doesn’t include all the anticipated decisions we make while scoring, planning, and working to best serve all of our students everyday.

Under the weight of the sheer volume of expected and unexpected decisions, we understand why some teachers decide to move in a straight line, never deviating from a prescribed well-worn path developed fourteen years ago.  It’s a survival strategy.  But it’s also deadening:

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 7.29.54 AMSource:  Everyone at the Table, Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform

We believe there’s a better answer than dreading work:  Frontal Lobe, meet Basal Ganglia.


When we are in heavy decision-making mode, our frontal lobes are getting a work out—it’s cognitively demanding.  That’s good, except when routine work limits our creativity and inspired thinking.  We propose that teachers internalize a few moves to ease daily decision-making, which means we’ve got to create habits—automatic behaviors—that free up our frontal lobes for more nourishing quests.

How do we stay on our A-game and make good decisions? How do we invite serendipity into our classrooms and create new paths for learning?  Stay with us here because we’re going to sound a bit radical:  improvise.  Learn structures (because that’s what improvisation really it—it’s not “winging it” or flying blind) that transform our classroom pathways from teacher-as-heavy-lifter to students-as-thinkers.  Check out Stephen Hurley’s post, Teaching as Improvisation.

Here’s one discourse structure that we’ve taken to heart: Talk Moves.  Cathy O’Connor, of Boston University, suggests seven categories of Talk Moves, which are now routine in our classrooms because they invite our students into critical thinking.   When students learn to use Talk Moves, our loads lighten, and students take on learning.

Teachers as Leaders

Leadership in the classroom requires vision, and that vision cannot be based on the current this-needs-to-be-covered-today-checklist.  Your leadership is based on the learning needs of your students.  When a path arises that will take the classroom into deeper thinking and authentic questioning, take it.  That’s a no-brainer, but it’s work getting to that point.  Did we mention Talk Moves?

Make the vital decision to take a step off of the well-worn path and onto this new path filled with adventure. In our experience, it’s a moment when students’ lives can be forever changed by questioning what they care about; it’s a moment when your curriculum will develop relevance, as it takes on meaning in their lives; it’s a moment when you will be satisfied when the bell rings and students don’t just pile out, but stay to pursue the learning.  Read “Are Teachers Really Leaders in Disguise?  We believe teachers are leaders.

Have a great week!

Joan and Pattie


About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
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One Response to Decisions, Decisions

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