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Management-Kits Five key aspects to balance (manage, guide, enable effective, drive) decision-making as a middle leader in schools Blog

When working with leaders in education, we often see them struggle managing complex decision-making. School leaders frequently deal with multifaceted issues that require careful analysis and consideration, and involve a number of stakeholders. Often, these decisions involve finding a delicate balance between competing priorities and perspectives. In this blog post, we'll focus on 5 aspects to drive balanced decision-making in schools. We'll also address the challenges they face when outcomes don't align with stakeholder expectations and explore ways to foster a collaborative approach to decision-making.

The decision-making dilemma

As the world of education is continuously evolving, so is the complexity of decisions faced by school leaders. Balancing the student development, resource constraints, policy compliance, staffing, infrastructure and community expectations can quickly become complicated – as you can’t please everyone.

Senior leaders often take the final decision, they can make resource decisions, and judgements about which priorities the school should focus on. The middle leaders, even if they are consulted, have to live with the results of all those decisions. As a result, middle leaders advocating for one perspective may find themselves dissatisfied and negative when the final decision does not align with their vision. This can lead to a loss of belief in leadership and its priorities, causing discord within the school administration and staff.

To manage decision-making more effectively, consider the following five aspects:


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The five aspects to balanced decision-making

1. Acknowledging the gray areas

One of the realities of decision-making in education is that issues rarely present themselves in black and white. Take the example of timetabling – an essential aspect of school management. On one hand, we can consider a variety of learning principles, ensuring that students' needs are met optimally. On the other hand, operational concerns like coordinating arrival times for different age groups and managing operational challenges, such as lunchtimes and classroom cleaning, also come into play. Parents would like to have stable drop-off and pick-up times and teachers do not like to have their teaching too scattered through the day and week.

Thus, when looking at any given issue, it is crucial to provide understanding and compassion for all parties involved, as there is rarely the one clear solution that makes everybody happy.


2. Navigating the power struggle

It is not only essential to be aware of the complexity of issues themselves, but also of the decision-making process. For example, middle leaders need to understand that senior leaders must integrate a multitude of perspectives when forming decisions. The process involves weighing various priorities and finding a middle ground that may not satisfy everyone equally but is essential for the overall functioning of the school.

That being said, senior leaders must also understand that middle leaders often feel powerless during decision-making. They rarely feel that they get to influence, the decisions that affect them most, whether that includes future goals, procedures, resource allocation or professional development.


3. How to manage decisions as a senior leader

For senior leaders, effective communication therefore becomes even more crucial. As a senior leader, you need to proactively communicate the need for finding a balanced approach and set clear boundaries and priorities for decision-making. While explaining the rationale behind certain decisions, you must also consider the critical clashes that might occur and communicate the aspects that are non-negotiable.

This also entails engaging middle leaders in discussions and fostering an open environment, acknowledging that decisions might evolve over time based on evaluation and iteration. This way, team members feel more involved in deciding on goals, how to achieve them, what your part as senior leader is in this - and what theirs is.


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4. Balancing understanding and criticism as middle leader

As middle leaders, e.g. Heads of Departments (HoDs) play a critical role in the decision-making process. To navigate the complexities effectively as an HoD, you should always make an effort to understand the driving forces and constraints influencing decisions. This knowledge will help you enter discussions with a clear understanding of the boundaries and priorities.

We clearly encourage challenging superiors; but it should be done in the right forum to maintain the integrity and functionality of the school. HoDs should uphold the overall vision while expressing their concerns and ideas constructively. And when such a decision is final, there is a time to move on from the discussion and everyone shares responsibility to fully implement what has been decided.


5. Promoting Collaborative Decision-Making

To find the best solutions, all leaders can involve their team members in the decision-making process. By explaining the rationale behind a decision and collecting their input, you will ensure that the multitude of perspectives is understood. This approach builds a sense of ownership as it fosters the understanding that decisions are made collectively and considering all perspectives; not just of one specific department.

Be transparent early one that, often, it might not be possible to fully reflect all interest in the final decision. Furthermore, establishing a timeline for review and iteration allows for continuous improvement, keeping everyone motivated towards achieving common goals. It also helps to give a proactive indication that specific interests cannot be fully satisfied in an upcoming decision.



All in all, decision-making in education involves navigating through the complex areas of competing priorities and perspectives. Both middle and senior leaders play a crucial role in advocating for specific viewpoints, while also finding a collaborative balance in decision-making. By promoting open communication, setting clear boundaries, and embracing collaborative approaches, we can foster a culture of understanding and unity within the school community.

As we strive for continuous improvement, let us remember that decisions may not always be perfect, but the collective effort to find balance will pave the way for success in the long run.


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