Tamar is the Director of Education at Hidden Sparks, an organization that partners with Jewish day schools to increase their capacity to serve all learners. Previously, she was the Associate Principal of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls for 12 years. Tamar believes that communication and understanding one’s own areas of strength and opportunities for growth are crucial components of leadership development. Tamar was a member of the 2015-2016 YOU Lead (then YU Lead) cohort and then served on the editorial board of the Prizmah journal HaYidion. She also participated in the 2018 Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Summer Institute for Principals. Tamar has undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives with her husband and sons in Englewood, NJ.

Balancing Support with Supervision

How can administrators both supervise and support teachers? While there are times when school leaders need to take authoritative action, they can develop professional practices that harmonize the two.


For supervisors, creating supportive and trusting relationships with faculty begins with cultivating amiable connections with them. This means finding, even scheduling, times to walk around the building during the school day, enter teachers’ work spaces and gathering places, and talk. The subject is less important than the expression of genuine interest in friendly communication. These conversations can be light ones in the personal realm, about family or vacation plans or a book someone has enjoyed. Or they can be about school life, such as asking whoever is in the room for their opinion about a change under consideration for the school. This is a hugely effective way to give faculty a seat at the table for discussions that usually take place among only a select few people. 

Alternatively, supervisors can simply join conversations that are already underway, and while this may feel a little awkward (for everyone involved) the first time that happens, once it occurs with some frequency, it will likely be welcomed. When supervisors regularly initiate this kind of communication, whether schmoozy or substantive, they become approachable and trustworthy. And it’s not just about fostering a perception among faculty; in making this a regular practice, supervisors can develop habits of mind that are oriented toward partnership, even when they adopt a more authoritative stance.


Support is also about responsiveness, and the work of a supervisor brings with it significant opportunities to put this into action. One that presents itself frequently and often goes unfulfilled is responding in a timely manner to emails from faculty. Email is not just a primary mode of communication in the workplace; it is a key access point for teachers to reach administrators. When questions go unanswered and requests go unaddressed for days, the message is that teachers’ concerns are unimportant, which translates readily into the sentiment that they themselves are unimportant. Responding punctually can feel like a heavy lift in the context of everything else that is in an administrator’s purview at any given time. Nonetheless, making a priority of offering prompt replies—within a day or two to most questions, and sooner for ones that are more time-sensitive—is an essential way for a supervisor to convey support. 

Supervision can also be at odds with support when teachers are disappointed with the school’s response to student infractions of school or classroom standards. Particularly when an administrative decision is made to remediate rather than enact punitive measures, or to extend lighter consequences than teachers wish, faculty can feel unsupported. 
There are certainly times when faculty and their supervisors are aligned about appropriate reactions, and when teachers advocate for a more lenient approach than the school adopts. What I find interesting is that when the opposite is the case, teachers often feel unsupported regardless of whether the student’s actions have had a direct impact on them, such as classroom disruptions, or they do not—for example, cheating on tests. This resentment gets articulated in various ways, and salient among them is often the feeling that the misbehavior has happened to the teacher, which means that the school’s reaction is perceived as supportive or unsupportive of the teacher. (I am not referring here to disrespectful behaviors that students do directly toward teachers.) 

A key role of the administrator in these situations is to help teachers reframe the student’s behavior as reflective of something the child has not yet been able to do—exert self-control, or refrain from acting on anxiety in dishonest ways—rather than a sign of intentional disrespect. Here as in many other contexts, the language of supervision is important: feelings usually don’t change because of someone’s urging (“Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you”). A worthy goal is to shift the focus toward the student, while acknowledging that the behavior is challenging for the teacher.

Giving Feedback 

Perhaps the element of supervision that is most often likely to undermine a supportive stance is critical feedback. Even when we call it constructive, it can be as uncomfortable to give as it is distressing to receive. In addition to developing skills for sharing these kinds of comments with clarity and sensitivity, administrators can establish parameters for feedback that are intrinsically supportive, by creating cultures of ongoing and expected feedback. Supervisors should visit teachers’ classrooms regularly to observe them teaching and their students learning, and to follow up soon after with feedback. This is about proactively showing interest in a teacher’s craft, creativity, and classroom presence and offering praise for what has been observed as well as suggestions when relevant. 

The essential message here is that observations and feedback are what teachers deserve. If teachers find themselves in this type of school culture, then rather than receive such visits with anxiety about administrators’ seeking evidence for hearsay about the class, they will come to feel that their supervisors’ observations reflect a commitment to their professional growth.

Why does it matter that supervisors develop nurturing relationships with teachers? There should be other sources of support for faculty in a school, including guidance staff and the mutual support of colleagues, and the work of supervision is complex enough without adding the duty to support. I would submit that supervisors should nevertheless strive for integrating the two. Strong leadership is essential for schools to function well; so are teachers who feel invested in their work, and supportive supervisors help cultivate an atmosphere in which teachers feel valued, and therefore invested. 

Strong leadership also plays a large role in shaping school culture; supervisors who support their faculty encourage through their actions a generosity of spirit that benefits everyone in the building. Finally, and most fundamentally, we learn and teach that deracheha darchei no’am—living a life of Torah values means aspiring toward pleasantness. Supervision ideally is supportive, because it is a kinder way to lead.