HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Teacher Supervision? Professional Development? Or Both?

by Benjamin Mann and Steven Lorch Issue: Taking Measure

Description

A teacher and an administrator sit at a table. After they briefly exchange pleasantries, the administrator opens the meeting by asking, “How’s it going?” The teacher responds at length, referring several times to a self-assessment she had completed and submitted in preparation for the meeting. She reflects on the successes and challenges in her work, areas of satisfaction and accomplishment and other areas of unease and struggle. Referring to the self-assessment as well, the administrator interjects periodically with probing questions geared to prompting the teacher to think more deeply, or in a different way, about an issue, or a success, or a challenge that she raised, or to encouraging her to reflect and give an update on an issue that they had discussed previously but she hadn’t mentioned.

Along the way, the administrator commends the teacher for her successes and offers encouragement, perspective and an occasional suggestion regarding challenges. After a while, the teacher turns to a different part of her self-assessment and presents three goals that she is proposing for her professional development over the coming weeks and months and, for each, an action plan consisting of a series of steps geared toward achieving it. The teacher and administrator discuss the goals and action steps and work on sharpening and refining them. As the meeting ends, each participant thanks the other: the administrator for the teacher’s contributions to the school, her students, her colleagues and the school community, and the teacher for the administrator’s support.

Classification

What is this? Because it is a meeting between a teacher and a supervisor, it seems like a supervisory conference. But it’s not a typical supervisory conference because it isn’t based on a lesson observation, it doesn’t feel hierarchical, and it doesn’t result in a “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” rating. It explores the teacher’s insights into her own practices and leads to goals and action steps, and so it seems like a professional development experience. But it also has elements in common with a supervisory process: evaluation is central to this meeting, both in the teacher’s self-assessment and in the supervisor’s guided questioning and feedback. Moreover, the meeting is memorialized in a written summary, signed by the administrator and by the teacher, just like a formal supervisory document. So what is it?

It’s both, actually: a form of supervision that revolves around professional growth, and a form of professional development that is informed by a performance evaluation. At the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, by limiting administrators' supervisory loads to 10-15 teachers, we ensure that a meeting of this kind takes place once or twice yearly for each teacher. We call it goal-setting and professional development.

What It Is

This model of teacher supervision and professional growth is founded on five assumptions about the optimal conditions for teacher learning.

Teacher-directed. Since the 1970s, two of the most widely replicated findings in studies of adult learning have been that adult learners prefer self-directed learning, and that they learn best when they are self-directed (Knowles). In the goal-setting and professional development process, teachers direct their own evaluation process in two key ways: they complete a self-assessment before the supervisory meeting, including setting their own goals; and they do most of the talking and thinking during the meeting, while the supervisor supports the process by offering commendations, asking clarifying and probing questions, making suggestions and taking notes.

Growth mindset. Carol Dweck popularized the insight that both adults and children learn better and accomplish more when they adopt a growth mindset, a belief that abilities can be developed and are not fixed. In this system of teacher supervision and professional development, all faculty, veteran teachers, novice teachers and seasoned administrators alike, engage in a process of continuous improvement. Each practitioner is in ongoing dialogue with a supervisor, focused on progress towards goals, additional and revised action steps, and new challenges that arise.

Reflective practice. A key to professional learning is reflective practice (Schon). This model of professional development and teacher supervision incorporates what Schon terms “reflection-on-action.” The teacher completes a self-assessment, which becomes the starting point for a conversation between the teacher and the supervisor in which they together explore the teacher’s actions and ideas, trying to understand them deeply through inquiry and probing.

Trust and honesty. Schools in which relationships among adults are characterized by trust promote improvement by lowering teachers’ vulnerability and facilitating problem-solving (Bryk and Schneider). The goal-setting and professional development process helps teachers feel safe and supported, empowering them to present a balanced perspective of their performance and to share areas of successful and improved practice, as well as those that remain in need of improvement. Supervisors celebrate successes and address challenges collaboratively with teachers, seeking shared understanding and commitment and developing plans for improvement.

  • . Strong collegial relationships in schools, particularly when they are institutionalized in practices that promote teamwork among teachers, are associated with teachers’ professional development and growth and with improvements in classroom practice (McLaughlin and Talbert). In this supervisory and professional development approach, it is hard to discern hierarchy in the relationship. The supervisor and teacher work together over time on the teacher’s practice, and the supervisor supports the teacher in developing goals and action plans for improvement.

By adopting research-based strategies for promoting adult and professional learning, our school’s goal-setting and professional development process maximizes the opportunity, motivation and support for teachers to improve their practice throughout their careers.

What It Isn’t

The goal-setting and professional development process is similar in some ways to traditional teacher supervision approaches, such as formal observation and feedback, but differs in other ways.

It’s not a system of quality control. Teachers are not separated into categories, with underperforming teachers sorted out and adequate teachers sorted in. Systems of quality control have proven ineffective in providing guidance to teachers regarding their developmental needs or support for professional improvement. Moreover, they fail even on their own terms, resulting implausibly in 99% of teachers being rated satisfactory and only 1% unsatisfactory (Weisberg et al.).

It isn’t based on the observation and in-depth analysis of a single teaching episode. Observation-based supervisory systems put both teachers and supervisors in situations that are contrived, unrepresentative, unreliable, and overly narrow in the scope of skills and dispositions assessed (Tucker and Stronge). But that’s not to say that the goal-setting and professional development process ignores observable teacher behaviors. To the contrary, at Schechter Manhattan the supervisor is a frequent (at least weekly, and sometimes daily) visitor to each teacher’s classroom, usually for a few minutes, sometimes for an extended (15-minute or longer) stay. The observations and impressions gleaned from frequent sampling of teachers’ practice produce deep insights and intuitions that form the backdrop and context of the goal-setting meeting.

It’s not an infrequent professional conversation between the teacher and the supervisor. Supervisors and teachers have weekly or biweekly interaction over issues of curriculum, teaching and student progress, and the goal-setting and professional development meeting is just one of many forums in which these discussions take place. The regularity of this contact ensures that teachers are growing continuously; as well, it enhances the effectiveness of this teacher supervision and professional development model, making it more trusting, genuine and collaborative.

It’s not the sole approach to supervision and professional growth used by the school. A different system is used with beginning teachers in their first year in the school, one which is more didactic and directive, while still being growth-oriented and collegial. And yet another system, called corrective action, is used with teachers whose challenges are sufficient to raise questions about their continued employment. Because goal-setting and professional development is a very different process from corrective action, the transition from one to the other, and back to the former for teachers who successfully address their supervisors’ concerns, is unmistakable.

It’s not the sole approach to professional development or to evaluation used by the school. While the goal-setting and professional development process is the primary system set up to ensure individual teachers’ growth, many other practices and processes contribute to professional growth, including co-teaching and other forms of teacher collaboration, regularly scheduled grade-level team meetings, meetings with subject coaches and child support teams, teacher-led professional development working groups, departmental and divisional meetings, schoolwide workshops and financial support for graduate study and participation in conferences and workshops. Similarly, evaluation is not limited to goal-setting and professional development meetings. The school conducts parent surveys, student surveys, faculty surveys and alumni surveys, reviews and analyzes standardized test performance and alumni academic performance, undergoes accreditation and strategic priority reviews and invites academic research.

Conclusion

Teacher supervision presents Jewish day school leaders with a challenge and an opportunity. While avoiding the pitfalls of ineffective systems of supervision and evaluation that are in widespread use, these leaders can create systems that strengthen their schools’ culture and values, the quality of teaching and learning in their classrooms and the satisfaction and loyalty of their parent customers, teacher employees and student charges. Goal-setting and professional development is one such system that works.

To Learn More

Bryk, A. and B. Schneider. Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement.

Dweck, C. S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Knowles, M. S. Self-directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers.

McLaughlin, M. W. and J. E. Talbert. Professional Communities and the Work of High School Teaching.

Schon, D. A. The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action.

Tucker, P. and J. Stronge. Linking Teacher Evaluation and Student Learning.

Weisberg, D., S. Sexton, J. Mulhern, and D. Keeling. The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge or Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness.

 

Benjamin Mann is the head of school, and Dr. Steven Lorch was the founding head of school and is senior advisor to school leadership, of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan. stevenlorch@sssm.orgbenjaminmann@sssm.org

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Taking Measure

Assessment is a critical function at all levels of day schools. From the classroom to the boardroom, the faculty to the head, every stakeholder and every aspect of school operations stand to benefit from evaluation. Nonetheless, thinking about assessment, and the vehicles for achieving it, are changing in many ways parallel to other aspects of school design. This issue offers reflections about assessment, various and novel ways of achieving it, and discussion of outcomes that can result from successful measurement.

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