CLINICAL SUPERVISION: MUCH MORE
THAN THE OBSERVATION OF THE TEACHER
IN THE CLASSROOM
By Annick M. Brennen
In the world of school, several activities take place at the same time. Some of these activities are focused on learning specific subjects while others are based on student and staff involvement in extra curricular activities. The school community is centered on teachers and students who, throughout the school day, are thrown together in the practical world of teaching and learning.
A teacher’s main duty is to preside over classroom activities and ensure that learning takes place in accordance with the aims and objectives of the lesson. While it is believed that teachers in general do an excellent job, continued supervision is necessary to not only maintain standards, but also to ensure that students continue to be exposed to improved teacher instruction.
The success of a school depends on supervision, which according to Glickman et al (1998), "is the function in schools that draws together the discrete elements of instructional effectiveness into whole-school action" (p. 6). This whole-school action must, therefore, involve the principal who is expected to take the lead in providing the kind of collegial atmosphere which makes for good governance and ultimately, good teacher instruction.
The principal, as facilitator, must be seen as the enlightened manager who believes in teachers and is willing to employ capable personnel who are serious about supervision and who will provide expert guidance in this area. The vision of any school is to provide effective instruction for students. To ensure that this takes place on a consistent basis, supervisors must work with teachers, in a non-threatening way, to move instruction from what it is (ineffective), to what it should be (effective).
Supervisors, working with teachers in a collaborative way, and providing expert direct assistance to teachers (with the view to improving instruction), use what is known as clinical supervision. Morris Cogan, cited in Acheson and Gall (1977) defines this model for conducting the observation of a teacher as "the rationale and practice designed to improve the teacher’s classroom performance" (p. 9). As the father of clinical supervision, Cogan believed that for this to be effective, data had to be collected from the teacher in the classroom, and that both the supervisor and teacher involved would then collaborate to plan programs, procedures and strategies aimed at improving the teacher’s classroom behavior, specifically instruction techniques.
Acheson and Gall (1977) also quote and agree with Sergiovanni and Starratt who refer to clinical supervision as the "face-to-face contact with teachers with the intent of improving instruction and increasing professional growth" (p. 304).
There are five phases in clinical supervision. The first is the planning conference or pre-conference, involving the supervisor and teacher. This session focuses on:
The second phase of the clinical supervision cycle is the actual observation of the teacher in the classroom. During this time, data is collected based on what the supervisor decided he/she would observe. Once the data is collected, analyses and interpretations are made. This is the third phase, which also involves deciding what approaches are to be used in Phase 4; this is, post-conferencing.
The fourth phase focuses on reviewing the results of the observation session and formulating plans which will aid in improving future teacher instruction. In addition, this exercise is intended to train the teacher in self-supervision techniques.
In the final stage of the cycle, post-conferencing critique takes place. Both the supervisor and teacher analyze the first four phases of clinical supervision, and make adjustments where necessary, before the cycle begins again. This conference, though not necessarily a formal one, examines questions such as, what was valuable in what we did? What changes in strategies can be made?
In addition, the supervisor’s own skills and techniques come under the microscope, as the observation exercise is a learning experience for not only the teacher but the supervisor as well. The supervisor must constantly revise or change strategies when dealing with professional teachers. Interpersonal skills have to be renewed and reviewed if the observation exercise is to be productive.
After the entire cycle of clinical supervision has been completed, the teacher, in collaboration with the supervisor, is expected to put a plan of action into place to continue the process of improvement of instruction and personal development
The Benefits of Clinical Supervision
The ultimate goal of the supervisor is to improve teachers’ classroom instruction. Clinical supervision, therefore, allows for objective feedback, which if given in a timely manner, will lead to improved results. Clinical supervision helps to diagnose instructional problems and provides valuable information which can lead to solving such problems. As a result, teachers are able to clearly see differences in what they are doing in reality, and what they think they are doing.
Where necessary, improvements in instruction are highlighted and teachers, through clinical supervision, are able to develop new skills and strategies which will be replicated as needed. As teacher instruction improves, students will become more motivated, classroom management will be improved and a better atmosphere for promoting learning will exist.
Not only does clinical supervision aid the teacher in improving classroom instruction, it also aids the teacher in improving his/her chances for promotion and/or "taking on" other responsibilities as he/she grows professionally. One such responsibility could be to provide direct assistance to a colleague. If clinical supervision is perceived in a positive light, then the teacher will become self-motivated and will seek further professional development even when his is not a requirement of the job per se.
Role of the Supervisor
The primary goal of the supervisor in clinical supervision is to improve instruction, by observing, analyzing and providing feedback to the teacher. An effective supervisor who links both interpersonal as well as technical skills, will be successful in improving instruction. The onus is on the supervisor to enhance the collaborative effort by building the teacher’s self-acceptance, morale trust, and rapport between the parties. A clinical supervisor is also a facilitator–one who works with the teacher to meet the goal of the observation exercise, which is to improve teacher instruction. Effective supervision results when a supervisor, for example, clearly sets out the criteria to be used in the evaluative process and ensures that even if the final assessment is a negative one, the teacher benefits from the exercise and leaves with his/her self-esteem intact.
Limitations of Clinical Supervision
Whereas the supervisor recognizes that teachers have emotional as well as other personal needs, and, bearing in mind that the teacher may be experiencing personal problems that may affect the success of a particular instructional session, the supervisor should not delve too deeply into the role of counselor.
As with counseling, the supervisor should not extend his/her portfolio to include curriculum policy making and implementation, to such a degree that the actual act of clinical supervision becomes null and void. The focus must be on the teaching act, rather than matters affecting the teacher with are beyond the confines of the classroom itself.
Providing direct assistance (using the clinical supervision model) can take various forms. For example, peer coaching is a useful means of improving instruction. Principals or supervisors who are strapped for time, may find that it is just as effective to use experienced colleagues, familiar with the clinical supervision process, to observe fellow teachers.
Other forms of direct assistance are demonstration teaching, co-teaching, assisting with resources and materials, assisting with student assessment and problem solving. Clinical supervision, with its focus on direct assistance to teachers, is based on providing the best possible teacher instruction, given human and other resources constraints. The case study that follows illustrates how a supervisor uses clinical supervision to improve a teacher’s classroom management.
Group 1 - Case Study
teacher, Miss Jane Brown, is having serious problems with her classroom
As the days and weeks go by, classroom management worsens, and the teacher gradually loses control of her classes.
Because the teacher has difficulty controlling her classes, she begins to arrive late. The students pay little attention to her. Some students complain to parents that they are not getting any class work assignments, while other teachers complain that their classes are constantly being disturbed.
Constraints of the Problem
In addition to large class sizes, there is no established system of supervision which would aid Miss Brown in developing her teaching skills. Also, Miss Brown, realizing her incompetence, has isolated herself from colleagues to whom she could turn for support.
Having been asked to aid Miss Brown in developing and improving her teaching skills, design a clinical supervision program which will achieve these goals.
The goal of Miss Brown’s clinical supervision is to improve her classroom management techniques. Any other factors contributing to her ineffectiveness will need to be addressed as they are discovered during observation. Because of the severity of the problem, more than one observation will be needed.
The pre-conference, the first step in the clinical supervision cycle, will be used to determine: (1) the purpose of Miss Brown’s observation, (2) the focus of her observation, (3) the method and form of observation to be used, (4) the time of observation, and (5) the time for the post-conference. The pre-conference with Miss Brown is critical and will set the stage for the remaining phases of the clinical supervision cycle. The supervisor will seek to win Miss Brown’s trust and confidence during the pre-conference.
Before the pre-conference can be arranged, the supervisor needs to determine the supervisory approach best suited to Miss Brown’s developmental level, expertise, and commitment. A review of Miss Brown’s background reveals that, although she is a trained biologist, she has absolutely no formal teacher training. Furthermore, reports from other teachers indicate that Miss Brown does not associate with her colleagues. However, some students attest to the fact that Miss Brown knows the subject matter very well. The supervisor, therefore, concludes that a directive informational supervisory approach will produce the best results during the pre-conference. As Glickman et al (1998) point out, this approach is most suitable because the expertise, confidence, and credibility of the supervisor clearly outweigh Miss Brown’s own information, experience, and capabilities. During the clinical supervision process, the supervisor will be the main source of information, will articulate the goals, and will suggest the corrective measures to be adopted.
Having determined the supervisory approach, the supervisor is now ready to engage Miss Brown in the pre-conference. During the pre-conference, the supervisor will display behaviors associated with the directive informational approach. After identifying and presenting the problem to Miss Brown–poor classroom management--and having obtained her input into the situation, the supervisor determines that classroom observation is necessary to provide further assistance to her. She communicates to Miss Brown that the purpose of the observation will be to observe her classroom management techniques. The focus of the observation will be on her verbal and nonverbal behavior, her interactions with students, and the students’ on-task and off-task behavior. To facilitate the recording of pertinent data, the supervisor recommends three methods of observation: (1) categorical frequencies, (2) visual diagramming, and (3) videotaping.
Miss Brown is fully persuaded that these methods will yield the best results and agrees that the time of observation will be the following Monday at 8 a.m.. They also agree that the supervisor will arrive before the students so that she may be able to observe the entire range of students’ and teacher’s behavior and interaction. They schedule the post-conference for the Wednesday (at 10 a.m.), following the observation.
Miss Brown’s observation will create opportunities for the supervisor to help her test reality, the reality of her own perceptions and judgments about her teaching. Acheson and Gall (1997) agree that the selection of an observation instrument will help sharpen the teacher’s thinking about instruction.
A tailored observation instrument was used to observe Miss Brown’s verbal and non-verbal behavior and her interaction with students.
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Damien (1977). Techniques in the clinical supervision of teachers:
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Glickman, Carl D., Gordon Stephen
P., Ross-Gordon, Jovita M. (1998). Supervision of instruction: A
developmental approach (4th ed.)
Goldhammer, Robert, Anderson, Robert H., Krajewski, Robert J. (1993). Clinical supervision: Special methods for the supervision of teachers (3rd ed.). Stout, Rinehart and Winston Inc.
Sergiovanni, Thomas J. (1991). The
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Collection of Articles
© by Annick M. Brennen