The supervision of teachers has been a consistent expectation in schools across the country. The methods used and the goals achieved through supervision vary widely, including increasing teacher quality and autonomy, and improving professional development and school culture. Methods used by administrators in supervising teachers include observation, action research, walk-throughs, and various group development approaches. Effective supervision has the power to improve student outcomes, as well as improve other issues such as teacher retention and reducing teacher burnout.
Keywords Action Research; Clinical Supervision; Observation; Group Development; Instructional Leadership; Professional Development; Supervision; Teacher Autonomy; Teacher Quality; Teacher Supervision; Walk Through
The methods and policies used by administrators supervising teachers in schools vary widely, from the reasons why teachers are supervised, to the methods and policies that are used for supervision. The most basic reason for teacher supervising is to ensure the success of a school. School success criteria in the United States are not universally agreed upon; individual schools and districts define success in different ways, and engage in various methods to achieve their goals (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2004).
In the early history of American education, supervision of teachers was mostly performed by local authorities, and teachers often had a large amount of autonomy over their schools. In the late 19th century, schools became much more organized due to a call for education to meet the demands of a newly industrialized nation. By the end of the 19th century, one role of the superintendent encompassed teacher supervision. At this time, those who were in the teaching profession were largely seen as unskilled and needing someone to watch over them to ensure they did not fail (Sullivan & Glanz, 2004).
At the beginning of the 20th century, schools began to employ the use of individuals they called "special supervisors" to assist teachers in their lessons and subjects. A "general supervisor," the precursor to today's assistant principal or vice-principal, performed administrative duties and also helped evaluate teachers by collecting data during supervisory tasks (Sullivan & Glanz, 2004).
Goals for Teacher Supervision
The goals of supervising teachers have changed. Today's educational goals largely revolve around the improvement of teaching in order to improve student outcomes. The research and literature on teacher supervision today largely focuses on how to help teachers develop professionally, as well as solve problems and issues in the classroom and the school. Educational success in the United States today is increasingly measured through high-stakes testing, and students are expected to be on par with certain standards. Researchers largely agree that teacher quality is the foremost indicator of student success, regardless of other barriers (Darling-Hammond, 1998). Therefore, improving the quality of teaching is one of the foremost steps to help students from all backgrounds succeed. Furthermore, teacher accountability is seen as increasingly important, especially for schools that are failing to meet requirements for improvement. Schools may have differing mission statements or methods; however, teacher supervision occurs throughout most schools and teachers have some accountability in carrying out the learning goals of the institution, while also improving their skills as instructors.
Successful and valuable supervision today is usually charged with the task of helping teachers increase their effectiveness in instruction, and ensuring that all teachers are aligned in their instructional methods in meeting the school's goals, rather than finding fault. Research has shown that effective supervision in schools is crucial to other elements contributing to learning, including professional development, classroom management, and curriculum and instruction, and that effective supervision of teachers can help raise the academic outcomes of a school (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2004; Patty, 2007).
Teacher supervision today can be very simple or very complex. Supervision can be carried out directly through the administration, with the principal or assistant principal doing much of the direct supervising, or more indirectly, through approaches such as mentoring or action research, in which other, usually more experienced teachers may be involved in the supervision of newer teachers. Schools may also use hybrids of these techniques - using both direct and indirect supervision techniques. Policies on supervision of teachers may come from a more centralized authority, such as the school district or superintendent, or be left up to individual schools and their administrators.
Teacher supervising methods are diverse and dependent upon the school needs and school culture. Individual supervision includes methods such as observation and individual conferences with teachers. Other approaches include walk-throughs, mentoring and peer coaching programs, and action research.
Dudney (2002) describes a model of teacher supervision in American schools that is perhaps most familiar to the: the principal sits in the back of the classroom while a lesson is going on; the teacher has prepared a lesson beforehand; the principal provides a write up, perhaps makes some suggestions, and moves on to the next teacher.
Teaching has been traditionally an isolated career choice. Often the only observations or feedback that teachers receive are annual or bi-annual observations from their principals. These visits are usually announced, but at their simplest form, there is no pre-discussion and very little or no face-to-face follow up. These types of interactions have often produced atmospheres in schools in which observations are met with trepidation, discomfort, and ambiguity (Marshall, 2005; Dudney, 2002). However, while teacher observation is often seen as the most antiquated form of teacher supervising, and in some schools and districts still carries the stigma as a method of supervision that is constantly searching for mistakes that the teacher is making (Dudney, 2002), there are methods of observation that can be powerful tools for improving instruction, and empowering teachers to become actively engaged in their own learning process (Sullivan & Glanz, 2004).
Issues with Observation
There are many issues with using teacher observation as a form of supervision, especially if the goal is to provide teachers with concrete, useful feedback and create a culture of assessment and improvement. Principals can often only evaluate a tiny percentage of a teacher's classes per year, and these small subsets of evaluations often carry little weight. Furthermore, when teachers know they are being evaluated, they may prepare an elaborate lesson, or feel uncomfortable about the evaluation, giving the evaluator little insight into the true strengths and weaknesses of that teacher because the lesson observed is uncharacteristic. This is especially true if the teacher is uncertain about the expectations during the observation, or in their work (Marshall, 2005).
A Tool to Improve Instruction
However, observing teachers can also be a powerful tool for improving instruction. Teaching is a difficult skill that can be constantly refined. Observation from a supervisor can be beneficial to teachers and a school in many ways. Perhaps the most important factor is ensuring that a teacher does not see class observation as an opportunity to unfairly criticize or find mistakes. Rather, in an ideal situation, the teacher and supervisor will become partners in improvement through constructive criticism, goal-setting, and support. This approach may be more difficult than it sounds, because not all teachers may buy into or believe in the goals of the observation. Teachers who are resistant to the method, or find it hard to reveal their opinions to a supervisor may have had negative experiences with supervision in the past (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2004).
A Comprehensive Approach
Dudney (2002) encourages an approach to observation in which the teacher and supervisor engage in pre-observation discussions, conferring to determine the focus of the evaluation, and the methods by which information will be collected. During the evaluation, the supervisor will collect the data, focusing on the previously discussed and agreed upon focus. Afterwards, the teacher and supervisor meet and discuss the observation, the supervisor provides feedback, and together they set goals for further evaluations.
This method of evaluation is certainly more time-intensive and difficult than simply filling out a form with no face-to-face interaction; however, the rewards of this type of observation can be much more...
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