• Allan J. Mucerino

THE LIGHTHOUSE EFFECT

Tapping into the intuitive expertise of teachers. In practice, rational and intuitive processes are intertwined and mutually influence each other.


During a class discussion, an interesting deviation tangentially sprung from an exercise in identifying attributes of culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP). With its emphasis on the affective and cognitive aspects of teaching and learning, a hallmark of CRP, the tangent we found ourselves organically pivoting on was how teaching approaches affect rational and intuitive data collection practices.

This course is about data collection and its use as a tool to measure and subsequently drive school improvement. And what we are primarily measuring is the impact instructional and other school practices and processes have on student achievement.

The Education Leadership program at California State University, Fullerton, aims to promote leadership that supports just, equitable and inclusive education. We emphasize theory-to-practice and tend to study problems of practice through a social justice lens. While we place a great emphasis on data, we also value teacher judgment. Teacher judgment has a significant impact on the educational trajectories of students, especially related to transition decisions that sort or track students into educational tracks that become pipelines to good and not-so-good outcomes.

The context for the emerging dialogue on a perfectly gray and drizzly Saturday morning in a classroom with plenty of windows to mercifully remind us we were not missing out, was a school’s (and teacher’s) instructional decision-making process, its alignment with the identified needs of students, and ultimately its impact on students’ trajectories. Scholars have long studied judgment and decision-making. Among them, Kenneth R. Hammond, the developer of social judgment theory and cognitive continuum theory, who pioneered the use of Egon Brunswik’s lens model as a framework for studying how individuals use information from the task environment to make clinical judgments, considered to be the precursor to judgment analysis research. Hammond’s work highlighted the dichotomy between theories of correspondence and coherence. His work informs educators interested in understanding informed intuition since it is generally accepted as the primary basis of teacher judgement and gatekeeping behaviors. As it relates to data collection, the question is how to incorporate intuitive data – in recognition that it is an important and often untapped aspect of teacher expertise – with other forms of data.

Since this doctoral-level course is focused on leadership, we study leadership behaviors that support just, equitable and inclusive education. In practice, that requires building capacity for continuous improvement.

As it relates to data collection, building capacity amounts to an effective school improvement process. The general model includes a process cycle consisting of four elements: planning, doing, studying, and acting. The planning cycle centers on identifying student needs. Identifying student needs is where our Saturday morning discussion went a tither, given the obligation my students sense to contribute to our cause. I asked, “What role the intuitive expertise of teachers (and within the group experienced v. inexperienced teachers) should play in the data collection and subsequent instructional decision-making process? We agreed it should play a primary role, but disagreed as to the degree it should play due primarily to the question of confirmation bias.

There is widespread agreement that the disadvantage of intuitive data is that it can lead to confirmation bias when teachers focus their attention on what they expect to see, and as a result may miss important data that questions their assumptions. The advantages, however, far outweigh the disadvantages. Valuing the intuitive expertise of teachers by examining their beliefs has a lighthouse effect on a school. This observed signal has the potential to change the beliefs of teachers who predominantly or solely use data intuitively.


A rational system enables teachers to collect and process data deliberately while the intuitive system involves a more spontaneous data gathering and processing. Together they are a powerful tool in identifying student needs and doing something about it.