Teacher Supervision

Teacher supervision is an educational practice which focuses on the interactions between supervisors (school principals, department chairs and other supervisory professionals) and teachers aimed at improving school performance and enhancing teachers' professional skills and abilities.

Supervision of instruction began as an external inspection of both teachers and students in colonial New England and emerged as a formal activity in the late 1830s after the establishment of common schools. Initially, superintendents were appointed to inspect whether teachers were teaching the prescribed curriculum and whether students were learning their lessons. As school systems grew more complex, the role of superintendents was delegated to the school principal.

In the early 20th century the movement toward scientific management in public administration influenced school practices, which together with the development of curriculums, focused on experience and students' needs, widened the gap between supervision as a rigid, scientific approach to teaching and as a flexible dialogue between supervisors and teachers. In the latter part of the 20th century clinical supervision, developed by Harvard University professors Morris Cogan and Robert Anderson, was the prevailing supervisory method combining objective observation of classroom performance with collegial coaching, planning and inquiry-based study of students' results.

In the second half of the 20th century the supervisory process was influenced by curriculum reforms, inspired by the 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite and the increased educational focus on science and math. Research on the psychology of learning also influenced educational theories and practice, resulting in the effective teaching model of American educator Madeline Hunter, which was widely adopted throughout US schools in the 1980s and 1990s.

However, clinical supervision proved a time-consuming and work-intensive process leading to the idea of Thomas Sergiovanni and Robert Starratt for a complex supervisory system, which gives a formal teacher's evaluation once in three to five years and in-between monitoring of teacher's professional growth. In their book "Supervision: A Redefinition" Sergiovanni and Starratt view supervision as a moral endeavor and suggest a more organic school management where professionals decide how to promote learning instead of the old bureaucratic and hierarchic model.

In the 21st century supervisors have various roles, including cluster coordinators, mentors and project heads, depending on the type of the educational facility and the focus of supervisory work. Supervisors are responsible for a number of tasks including the introduction of novice teachers into the profession, assisting the development of teachers' competences, improving student learning, planning and adjusting local curriculums to meet both national standards and local needs.

In general, the school principal plays the major role in school administration and supervision. School principals are in charge of professional staffing, instructional management, curriculum development, student services, resource procurement and budgeting. The performing of nearly all these tasks involves the principal's interaction with teachers, staff members and students. The effective school leader is able to create an anxiety-free work climate by listening to and understanding the needs and concerns of staff members and facilitating the problem-solving and overall learning process.

Research has studied four leadership styles: authoritarian, consultative, consensus and laissez-faire with the first three being applied in school administration and supervision. In the authoritarian approach the school leader makes decisions alone, while in the consultative or participative approach the principal makes decisions after gathering and examining other staff members' opinions and ideas. In the consensus approach the principal is one of the staff members working out common objectives. In the consensus approach the school climate is one of trust and open communication. In contrast, the authoritarian school climate includes inspection-centered supervisory practices, creating feelings of dependence and mistrust in teachers and students. The authoritarian approach uses restricted data flow and tight external controls, while the consensus approach allows for free communication and open expression of disagreement and involves minimum external controls with frequent conferences with teachers to redefine common goals and address difficulties.

The successful supervisor is also a person with knowledge on human psychology and organizational behavior with good communication and relationship-building skills providing adequate feedback to teachers to boost classroom results.

While the power gap still exists in the traditional supervisor-teacher relationship as the term supervision implies formal authority to judge and inspect, modern approaches to supervision tend to stress collaboration, mutual respect and trust, as well as on sharing and teaming in the teaching/learning process. Thus, new names for supervision away from bureaucratic authority and oversight and close to collaboration and reflection such as collegial and peer observation appear more appropriate. Goldsberry (1980) calls supervision "colleague consultation," while Glickman (1992) suggests "instructional leadership," as a subtler term capturing the modern reality where learning is not confined to classroom but is the goal of all gifted educators who are viewed as instructional leaders.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Teacher Supervision That Works: A Guide for University Supervisors
Debra J. Anderson; Robert L. Major; Richard R. Mitchell.
Praeger Publishers, 1992
Supportive Supervision in Schools
Raymond C. Garubo; Stanley William Rothstein.
Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "The Supervisory Process and Organizational Change"
Paradigm Debates in Curriculum and Supervision: Modern and Postmodern Perspectives
Jeffrey Glanz; Linda S. Behar-Horenstein.
Bergin & Garvey, 2000
Honoring Diverse Teaching Styles: A Guide for Supervisors
Edward Pajak.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2003
Clinical Supervision in a Standards-Based Environment
Pajak, Edward.
Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 52, No. 3, May 2001
Let's Cancel the Dog-and-Pony Show: Improve Teacher Assessment by Replacing the Announced, Long-From Evaluation Visit with as Many as 10 Shorter, Unannounced Visits Fortified with Timely, Valuable, Face-to-Face Feedback
Marshall, Kim.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 94, No. 3, November 2012
It's Time to Rethink Teacher Supervision and Evaluation
Marshall, Kim.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 86, No. 10, June 2005
Transforming Supervision: Using Video Elicitation to Support Preservice Teacher-Directed Reflective Conversations
Sewall, Marcia.
Issues in Teacher Education, Vol. 18, No. 2, Fall 2009
Effective Student Teacher Supervision in the Era of No Child Left Behind
Bates, Alisa J.; Burbank, Mary D.
The Professional Educator, Vol. 32, No. 2, Fall 2008
Clinical Supervision in Teacher Evaluation: A Pivotal Factor in the Quality Management of Education
Van Der Linde, Ch.
Education, Vol. 119, No. 2, Winter 1998
Professors, and the Practicum: Involvement of University Faculty in Preservice Practicum Supervision
Beck, Clive; Kosnik, Clare.
Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, No. 1, January-February 2002
Examining the Mismatch between Learner-Centered Teaching and Teacher-Centered Supervision
Paris, Cynthia; Gespass, Suzanne.
Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 52, No. 5, November-December 2001
Techniques in the Supervision of Teachers: Preservice and Inservice Applications
Lunenburg, Fred C.
Education, Vol. 118, No. 4, Summer 1998
Developing a Positive Relationship: The Most Significant Role of the Supervising Teacher
Shantz, Doreen; Brown, Milka.
Education, Vol. 119, No. 4, Summer 1999
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