Sunday, July 20, 2008

Values Based Decision Making

Decisions: we make them all the time.

Some are relatively straightforward and take little deliberation to arrive at an appropriate response.

As teachers: May I go to the bathroom? * Can I do the art project first? * Can Josh and I work together?

As directors: Can you buy this CD for my class? * Do I have to attend the workshop next week? *Can I have an extension on the due date for the report cards?

Others issues are more complex.

For teachers: Classroom behavioral issues that impede the learning process * Whether to take advantage of “the teachable moment” – and if so, how – or to stick with the planned lesson and objectives * How to balance individual student needs with the needs of the entire class

For directors: Instituting a new policy or procedure * Addressing school-wide (program-wide) behavioral issues * Allocation of scarce resources * Staffing decisions

When I was a school director, I was blessed to be able to work with a rabbi who was gifted in the use of values-based decision making for those “big questions.” Not only did he use that approach in guiding his own decision-making procedures, but he also taught me to intentionally use the same approach.

It becomes complicated since, in many cases, competing values are often involved. Frequently, the process gets short-circuited because we stop at the first value we consider -- the one that's most obvious to us. In a nutshell, the approach I learned from my rabbinic colleague works like this:
  1. Define the issue
  2. Get as much information as possible.
  3. List the values that are involved – as many as you can. If necessary, refresh your memory by looking at a list of Jewish values.
  4. Determine how each value will impact the outcome.
  5. Decide which values carry the most weight in this specific situation.
  6. Make your decision and share that decision with the individuals/constituency/community that the decision affects, acknowledging the process you engaged in to reach your decision.

I’ve found this very difficult to do in isolation. I need to be able to bounce ideas off a trusted colleague, co-worker, mentor, rabbi, or consultant – depending on the individual situation. These people, over time, have become my “kitchen cabinet” – my behind-the-scenes resources whose collective insights provide me with the wide range of perspectives necessary to make the best decision I can. I’ve learned to be grateful for the advice they provide – and to be willing to take the time to be part of their “kitchen cabinets.” It’s mutually sustaining and benefits the students and teachers we individually work with.

Many communities use VBDM in making communal decisions. Many Reconstructionist communities use it explicitly. When I typed “values based decision making” into the Yahoo search engine, there were only three Jewish references that appeared in the first 20 entries on the list that popped up. The first two are from the Chapel Hill Kehillah in North Carolina. Kol HaKavod (“All the Honor”) to Chapel Hill Kehillah and their leadership, some of whom I’ve had the privilege of working with on Jewish educational issues. For a clear example of the way they use their process, I urge you to check out their link on Values Based Decision Making.

(The other entry is from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, in an article entitled "A Chaplain's Guide to Values-Based Decision Making" by Rabbi David A. Tuetsch, which is also cited as a source by the CHK).

It's not an automatic, easy-to-use process when one first begins. If it was, we'd all be making decisions this way, wouldn't we? But the benefit is profound -- both to us as individuals and to those with whom we work.

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