All school communities face decisions and trade-offs related to priorities, programming, budget, curriculum, and other questions.
Collaborative decision-making builds cooperation, which is essential for sustainable communities.
This approach enables the full range of "stakeholders" to be included in the process, increasing the likelihood of success. The best decisions usually involve everyone who might be affected—teachers, administrators, students, staff, or other community members. When everyone has participated in making the decision, they're more apt to support it.
When adults model collaboration and involve students in meaningful decision-making, they affirm students as individuals while helping them recognize their responsibilities to others. By observing and participating in this process, young people learn about cooperation, tolerance, empathy, caretaking, and supporting others.
Collaboration is not always easy. It often takes more time and effort than a top-down approach. It requires skillful, flexible leadership It may mean extra work for teachers — like joint planning or learning new material — as well as giving up autonomy or control. But teachers and students report great satisfaction from the experience.
Michael K. Stone is senior editor at the Center for Ecoliteracy (www.ecoliteracy.org) and the primary author of the Center's book, Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability (Watershed Media, 2009) and Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World (Sierra Club Books, 2005). Prior to coming to the Center, Michael was managing editor of Whole Earth magazine and the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; he has also written for the Toronto Star and The New York Times, among other publications.