Decision-making generally takes place in one of two ways. The two ways are the reflective system and the reactive system. The reflective system is the analytical way of making decisions and is often characterized as methodical and logical. Although the thought process is carefully laid out when using the reflective system, the downside is that reflecting is much slower than reacting. Therefore although often viewed as superior, the reflective system is not always the optimal choice.
The reactive system is intuitive and relies more on emotions when compared to the reflective system. Although much faster than the reflective system, the reactive system is much less accurate and or careful. As such, the benefit of reactive is when spending is needed, and the complexity of the problem is not significant. Children tend to rely more on the reactive system as they lack the cognitive ability and experience to ponder reflectively.
The system that people use often depends on their emotional states. When people are calm, and at peace, they are more likely to use the reflective system. However, if people are angry, sad, happy, etc., they may use the reactive system. We have all been in situations where our emotions control us when dealing with students. This may be an example of the reactive system taking over reasonably. The choice of which system is also associated with personality as some prefer one style over another regardless of their emotional state.
Different decisions can rely on different systems. If a teacher faces a routine decision, they may choose to use the reactive system to make a fast decision. If the situation is novel and unusual, the teacher may adopt a reflective approach. This is one reason why experienced teachers can work faster. The speed is based on using prior knowledge to make a quick, insightful decision that reactively while a new teacher has to reflect on every single experience because they are all so novel.
Types of Decisions
Decisions that are repeated frequently and based on rules are called programmed decisions. These can include things such as when to take a break, how much time to give for a test, etc. The ability to autopilot these decisions comes from experience.
Non-programmed decisions are decisions in a context in which clear criteria are not available. Examples of non-programmed decisions in the classroom may include equipment breakdowns, accepting new students, etc. This implies that reflection will be necessary to decide in this unclear situation.
The point here was not to try and make a case that one form of decision-making is superior to the other. Each system has its pros and cons and what really determines what’s best is the context in which the decision needs to be made. There is little time for reflecting if there is a fire in the class. In addition, it is equally harmful to determine students’ grades reactively.