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Effective Supervision and Evaluation: The Self-Reflective Process

March 15, 2012

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I think what we should most strive for in any comprehensive and effective model of supervision and evaluation is to move teachers into a more reflective state of mind.  In his book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, Parker Palmer writes about teaching through a reflective voice.  For me, he speaks like the teacher I want to be.

Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.

If we want to grow as teachers — we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives — risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.

In these quotes, Parker writes about the personal dimension of teaching.  In the personal dimension, Parker calls for the teacher to take their journey towards mastery of the craft into a contemplative space.  Excellence comes from knowing oneself and understanding how teaching others changes the self and effects the lives of others.

In his article, Landscapes, Mindscapes, and Reflective Practice in Supervision, Thomas Sergiovanni writes:

Supervision will not improve very much by doing better that which we are now doing. (page 5)

If we want to use supervision to help teachers find a path towards mastery, we will likely have to do things differently than we have done with them in the past.  A different way of supervising teachers is to help them see the value of being a reflective practitioner.  Someone who is thinking about his or her practice from a perspective of a curious learner, asking questions like:

  • Why did I say that to this student?
  • Did my students receive my presentation of this idea openly?
  • How do I know my students learned what it is I taught them today?
  • How can I adjust my style to include the voices of all students in the learning process?
  • What is the inherent value of what I am teaching my students?
  • Are my students finding this work interesting and relevant, and how will I know?

Becoming a reflective teacher requires a mentor or supervisor who is also thinking reflectively about their role in the relationship.  If the relationship is about power, dominance, or instruction towards an overly prescribed path, then it is likely that the trust between supervisor and teacher will not be achieved and learning will not occur.  Openness to learning is dependent upon a teacher and learner being in a trusting relationship with each other.  Trust leads to success!

The self-reflective process in any good supervision and evaluation model needs guidance and an outline to follow.  Here are some things that I think the self-reflective process should include for any teacher.

  1. Creation of a teaching philosophy: each teacher should be asked to construct their philosophy.
  2. Goal-setting: (a) each teacher should be asked to identify a few personal or professional goals on which to work; (b) each teacher should be asked to identify goals that are measurable
  3. Within the school’s definition of what represents good teaching, each teacher should be asked to place him or herself in this landscape.  Where am I approaching mastery?  Where do I need further development?  How does my teaching philosophy fit within the landscape of my school’s sense of what good teaching is?
  4. Within the education profession’s sense of what good teaching looks like (for example, what does it mean to be a good teacher in the 21st Century), each teacher should be asked to place him or herself in this landscape.  As a science educator, do I practice “learning by doing” and ask my students to engage in the scientific method to understand their world?
  5. Each teacher should be asked to complete a professional development plan that ties to their goals.  What will they work on?  How will they know they have reached their goal?  How will they communicate to others where they are in reaching their goal?

Is a teacher expected to go through this self-reflective process every year?  If the process works and becomes part of a faculty culture, then it is happening all the time.  I was in a meeting yesterday with some teachers from Drew Charter School and a 2nd grade teacher shared a story from her classroom that day.  She noticed that on an assessment, almost all the students struggled with less than, greater than operations with fractions.  In thinking about it, she came to the conclusion that she did not do a good job teaching the concept. She threw out the questions and went back to the drawing board to reteach the concept.

I see this self-reflective process as an ongoing, generative process. The five parts of the process could easily be turned into a document for others to review.  If it is an annual process, it doesn’t mean that all parts of the process change every year, but certainly the goals, professional development plan, or other parts might be updated on a regular basis.  Finally, I think the self-reflective process and/or document should be shared in some fashion.

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