Manal Zeineddine is a Global Education Consultant, quality management expert, and the founder of O.R.B.I.T.S. Development Code, a transdisciplinary approach for creating conscious leaders and communities. She is a professional development expert, who has long been experiencing, implementing, evaluating, and enhancing a view, that education exceeds teaching and learning. Manal has trained hundreds of leaders and teachers and is a certified quality education and STEM evaluator. She has designed indicators to measure performance TransKPI Track, Climate and Culture, and ORBIT MODE, along with other programs. Manal is also Chief of Education for Professional International Network for wellbeing.
Amid the walls of school campuses, and recently, amid the digital windows of virtual schools, the same marathon continues, as school communities, particularly leaders, go throughout their days. A myriad of daily curriculum, instruction, and assessment observations, practices, and agendas are the bullet points that leaders attend to every day. As part of their professional prowess, that is a familiar, clear, and visible stream. However, behind the curtains of their minds, both conscious and subconscious, lies another stream, that is not familiar, not clear, and not visible.
Having been a leader for 13 years, witnessing challenges, obstacles, and even pressures, I found myself asking serious questions about others, and mostly about myself. Any person who cannot leave details of process and conduct unnoticed will eventually ask questions, as he/she navigates the world of problem-solving and decision-making – two core aspects of leadership. That is why metacognition, a type of reflection, is crucial.
Thus, a significant question arises: Do leaders safeguard themselves against their own thinking fallacies, the way they do against external dangers, and recently COVID-19 “new normal” schools?
Thinking that adults are always conscious of the rational process is not always right and thinking that professional educators are always cautious is not always wise. Although rationalization is by nature scientific, convincing, and therefore, more accepted, it remains to be shrouded by assumptions. Moreover, it is governed by a host of factors, that can either be easily noticed or hidden. Defining the problem, identifying, and weighing success criteria, brainstorming suggestions, and selecting the best suggestion are steps that professional leaders usually follow to reach a solution. While this is a constructive, positive method, it might not lead to SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely), which are expected to lead to smart solutions. The reason behind that is not the “faulty” rational decision-making steps because most of the time, competent thought leaders are using data analysis to navigate towards their solutions, and if not fully, they resort to their intuition, the experiences spectrum, to solve some complex situations.
Whether within the range of objectivity and evidence-based spectrum, or within the range of subjectivity and experience-based spectrum, there are questions that reverberate biases and fallacies, which have been the subject of many experimental psychology literature because they are part of human nature. These cognitive biases are basically flaws, that occur during the processing of information, leading to erroneous decisions.
Three of the various main biases that occur in schools are domain dependence, action bias, and halo effect. Complaints about non-academic school owners interfering with the educational school system or leaders handling more than their areas of expertise, unfairness in evaluation reviews and recruitment have been recurring in most educational communities.
Domain dependence is an effect resulting from the failure to transfer knowledge and insights from a sphere to another. This might involve any leader in the school community, whether this leader is an investor, owner, principal, director, head of academic or non-academic department, or subject coordinator. Due to the need in some schools to downsize or to start with a small staff, two or three positions are sometimes entitled to one person. A leader might be driven by excitement and enthusiasm to handle more than one position and supervise more than one area. Others might be driven by overconfidence, which was shown in Robyn Dawes’ research, as the simple perceptual judgement vs the intellectual judgment, the latter being more vulnerable to overconfidence since it involves general knowledge, testimonies, abstraction, and reasoned differentiation. There are obviously other reasons for this phenomenon, but the core concern is that mastery in one domain does not lead to the mastery of another, and it is only with the proper training that this could be avoided. This is similar to the phenomenon of Out-of-field OOF or Teaching Across Specializations TAS, which has been a common problem in many schools around the world because it has been happening without the ample training and development. Expertise, disciplines, backgrounds, both educational and social-emotional, will remain to intervene. That is why conscious leaders need to observe themselves and others as they consider the domains and disciplines in their schools.
Action bias is the pushing tendency to act no matter what the result would be, just to avoid being inactive. It is the fight or flight, but not freeze. This is more common in emerging and unclear situations, when leaders tend to take action, as this is what leaders are expected to do – another example of Kahneman & Miller’s norm theory. In other words, the norm is to act. However, in certain situations, leaders would better neglect the norm, temporarily until the matters are clear. Evading other people’s judgments for inactivity or delay of action, concealing one’s lack of courage or uncertainty, and ignoring the need to wait and reflect can lead to impulsive, vehement acts, and consequently, unpleasant results. Some actions are even disguised as intervention, while in reality, they are a type of control, that is often ineffective and impotent. Others are disguised as self-defense, when in the field they are a strategy to “win” the situation or the conflict. Given their nature, control and winning are two aspects that can easily be twinged by ego. Ego-based decisions are known to deviate a person from collective goals and community achievements, placing needs for attention, appreciation, and sometimes glory at the forefront of the person’s thinking.
Halo effect is the blinding first impression taken from one outstanding trait or feature and building an everlasting same impression regardless of what follows. This is one cognitive bias that heavily strikes reasoning, as leaders are driven by early judgements. Leaders, thus, find themselves compromising on fundamental matters, discriminating in recruitment, general conduct, and evaluation of their staff, or implementing appealing programs and activities without prior study plans. The overall impact is social and economic disproportions, the core factors of unhealthy climate and culture in schools.
Conscious leadership is not only about integrity, accountability, motivation, and achievement. It is also about self-awareness and metacognition. Although this is not always controllable given the complexity, uncertainty, and volatility of life, leadership must be linked to wisdom – wise decisions, because the wellbeing of a school community relies on effective leadership. By observing thoughts, interpretations, behaviors, and attitudes of oneself and others, leaders can save themselves from running the risk of distorting their clear decisiveness, empowering efforts, and good intentions.