At Thursday's Chartered College of Teaching Inaugural Conference the issue of the relationship between teacher intuition/instinct and evidence-based practice was briefly discussed. In this post, I will consider the role of professional intuition in evidence-based decision-making, and under what circumstances that intuition can be trusted. To help us get to grips with this issue I will be turning to the work of (Kahneman and Klein, 2009) and (Kahneman and Klein, 2010) who represent two quite different schools of thought on decision-making – naturalistic decision-making and heuristics and biases – but nevertheless have reached a number of areas of agreement. As such the rest of this section will:
- define what is meant by skilled intuition;
- describe the circumstances which may contribute to the quality of an intuitive judgment;
- determine whether the circumstances which support the development of skilled intuition exist in a school environment;
- consider the implications of for school leaders of fractionation – having genuine expertise in some but not all aspects of a role.
- consider the implications for evidence-based school leaders
What is skilled intuition?
Both Kahneman and Klein agree on Simon’s (1992) definition of skilled intuition as
“The situation has provided a cue: This cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition” (p. 155).
Kahneman and Klein note that this definition is extremely helpful in that it helps clarify what is meant by intuition, as it makes clear that intuition is not some mystical process but is just a process of pattern recognition
Under what circumstances is skilled intuition developed?
The determination of whether an intuitive judgment can be trusted is a function of both the environment is which the judgment is made – does the environment provide valid cues as to the issue or issues faced – and do decision-makers have the opportunity to learn the various cues. Kahneman and Klein argue that medicine and firefighting take place in fairly ‘high validity’ environments, in that there are relatively stable relationships between the observed cues and the results of a range of decisions. However, there are other environments such as financial and political forecasting which take place in what Kahneman and Klein describe as zero-validity environments.
Do schools provide an appropriate environment to develop skill intuition?
Schools are likely to be a both a highly valid and uncertain environment. By this I mean that a teacher may develop the skill to identify the most likely strategies to work with particular students, but that does not mean that it will work every time. Head of departments and headteachers may have the skills and knowledge of what to do in trying to ‘turnaround’ an under-performing department or school, but that does not mean that this will lead to success on all occasions. In these situations, the uncertainty is a function of the wide range of developments that can happen in any one class or school at any one time.
What are the problems with fractionation?
Kahneman and Klein state one of the challenges for decision-makers is that the fractionation of skill may lead to over-confidence. School leaders more often than not have a number of different tasks, not all of which will they be as equally skilled. A school leader may have risen through the ranks of the school by being an expert teacher. However, this may lead to them in their new role having to make judgment in areas in which they have no real knowledge and skills. However, just because a school-leader has developed skills, for example in intuitively judging the academic success of a particular year group, that does not mean that those skills will transfer across to other areas such as staffing or financial decisions. However, there is a real risk that the individual’ successes in other aspects of their role will lead to overconfidence – by both themselves and others – in their decision-making abilities, leading subsequently to poor decision-making.
- On a day to day basis in the classroom - intuition and pattern recognition is going to be an important part of the teacher's decision-making process
- However, when making less time-pressured and more deliberative decisions, professional intuition should not be trusted on its’ own. Intuition should be seen as the starting point, and evidence which disconfirms your ‘gut’ feeling should be actively sought.
- Make sure that a systematic search strategy for multiple sources of evidence is developed early in the decision-making process
- Beware of over-confidence in your decision-making abilities, just because you have been able to make ‘good’ intuitive judgments in one part of your role, that does not mean you will be able to make such judgments in an area in which you are less skilled.
- Ensure conditions are created where the evidence informing the decision can be genuinely and openly challenged, and where constructive dissent is rewarded rather than discouraged or punished.
- Avoid jumping to conclusions and actively seek to defer judgment until all the evidence has been made available and appraised.
KAHNEMAN, D. & KLEIN, G. 2009. Conditions for intuitive expertise: a failure to disagree. American Psychologist, 64, 515.
KAHNEMAN, D. & KLEIN, G. 2010. Strategic decisions: When can you trust your gut. McKinsey Quarterly, 13, 1-10.
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