Teaching is Decision-Making
Teaching is a series of decisions we make to help students learn. Some decisions are made by the syllabus or school, but the majority are made by us, the teachers.
We make a huge number of decisions every day, with some researchers reporting that teachers make 0.7 decisions per minute during interactive teaching (Borko et al, 1990). Another study showed that elementary school teachers had 200–300 exchanges with students every hour, most of them unplanned and requiring decision-making (Jackson,1990).
We make decisions when we plan, teach and mark work after class.
No wonder we’re tired at the end of the day!
Newer vs. Experienced Teachers
Decision fatigue happens even more for newer teachers, as many decisions involve situations they haven’t encountered before. Before they can respond, they need to assess what’s happening, consider their options and the pros and cons of each.
Compared to more experienced teachers, who can respond immediately, it’s exhausting.
Experienced teachers don’t need to think. It sounds odd, but high performers use their memory rather than thinking, as the brain isn’t designed for complex thinking (Willingham, 2010). They receive input, recognise a behaviour pattern, and remember which decisions lead to which outcomes.
Remembering is faster than thinking, and they’ve turned basic decisions into rote habits. This is less tiring, less stressful. and frees up mental space to focus on students’ learning.
Thinking in the classroom should be about supporting, guiding and helping learners, not classroom management.
The good news is that we can get to this point faster if we reduce the number of decisions we make in the classroom.
We can start by using systems to manage simple decisions for you. A good example is a behaviour management system, which dictates when and how to respond to unwanted behaviour.
Let’s look at when we make decisions, and we’ll see the types of system we can use.