Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Clinical Supervision in a Standards-Based Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Clinical Supervision in a Standards-Based Environment

Article excerpt


Classroom observation and feedback have been mainstays in the clinical supervision of both preservice and in-service teaching for many years and are likely to continue to play an important part in the ongoing quest to further the professional growth of beginning and experienced teachers. The context in which clinical supervision occurs may be different than it was in the past, however, as standards increasingly define the parameters of performance for both students and teachers, as schools and universities share responsibility for preparing new teachers, and as more attention is paid to ensuring the successful induction of novices into the teaching profession. These developments raise important questions about how clinical supervision is being implemented and even whether clinical supervision is compatible with the logic and principles of standards-based reform.

Current views on education reform stress the need for systemic change. Fragmented change, or change that affects only one level of education and not others, is unlikely to bring about large-scale and long-term results. Instead of focusing solely on what happens between teachers and students in classrooms--as if teachers, students, and classrooms existed independent of outside influences--recent efforts to improve teacher preparation, teaching, and student achievement acknowledge an interconnectedness of classroom events to the larger educational enterprise and broader social/political context (Boyd & Kerchner, 1987; Fuhrman, 1993; National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996). Systemic change or systemic renewal, as it is sometimes called, attempts to simultaneously influence multiple elements and processes both inside and outside the classroom over extended periods of time. Systemic educational renewal implies the transformation of the larger educational system from preschool through postsecondary education so that all students are able to achieve at higher levels. If this ambitious effort is to succeed, tremendous sustained personal commitment and persistent cooperative effort will be required from educators at all levels (Clark & Lacey, 1997) to overcome the inherent tendency of educational systems to maintain their current structural patterns and processes. Whether or not a systemic approach to change eventually transforms education, the immediate implications for curriculum, teaching, teacher education, and clinical supervision are already apparent and gaining momentum in many school districts, universities, and entire states.


In contrast to calls for systemic change, education in the United States has long been characterized by loose coupling. Loose coupling is a term used to describe the weakness or relative lack of control, coordination, influence, and interaction among events or components within a system. The strength of a relationship or the degree of interaction between two elements or subsystems depends on the number of variables that the two subsystems share, the strength of the shared variables relative to other variables that influence the organization, the frequency or length of time for which the two subsystems are linked, and the degree of direct control one subsystem has over the other. Rather than well-integrated organizations with highly interrelated components, conventional schools and the classrooms within them may be more accurately thought of as resembling independent building blocks (Weick, 1976).

Although tight coupling may be found under some circumstances, such as team teaching, loose coupling is more prevalent in schools. Organization theorists have known for some time that a consistent and rational system of interconnections among the elements, goals, processes, and procedures of educational systems cannot be taken for granted. In fact, for almost 25 years, schools and universities have been described as loosely coupled systems (March & Cohen, 1986; Weick, 1976). …

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