As a child, I used to think ‘I’ll be glad when I grow up and not always have to do what adults tell me.’ Somehow, life didn’t turn out that way! It doesn’t matter who you are – even the Prime Minister is answerable to others. Indeed, it might be argued that the higher you climb in your profession, the more accountable you become.
As new teachers, it might at first seem annoying to be subject to supervision by other staff, but again, that is the way our world works. In a good school, where the education of students is seen as the primary reason for our work, supervision is a positive experience, a way to enhance what occurs in a classroom. It is a way that a professional educator learns more about becoming an even better teacher.
Not everyone, of course, has that attitude towards being supervised. Perhaps you have some unpleasant memories of your supervisors from university coming into your classroom while you were on practicum. If your experiences there were unfortunate, you might well have negative attitudes towards having another adult in the classroom with you. On the other hand, if your prac experiences were pleasant ones, you might already be comfortable with the idea that your principal or someone else on the leadership team will be visiting your regularly to see how you are getting along.
These visits, which should be supportive, not punitive, are part of the overall of accountability that underpins all modern public service. It is one way in which a system can determine that the education being offered is of a high quality. It is, however, something more than that.
Supervision (which must be distinguished from snoopervision, the attempts by some insecure administrators to exercise power over hapless subordinates) is a means by which young teachers can learn to perform better and at the same time offer some tips of their own. Our profession grows only to the extent that all participants play a role in the on-going development of ideas – recent graduates have a lot to teach those of us who have been in schools for years.
Of course, the supervision must also be a high quality provision. A teacher being supervised – and this is true of experienced teachers as well as newly graduated ones – can reasonably expect three qualities in their supervision: it should be regular, meaningful and constructive.
Regular supervision means that there should exist some timetable known to both parties. A knock on the classroom door and an announcement that ‘I had a few minutes up my sleeve and I’m here to see how you are going’ are not signs of a planned supervision program. It is no use pretending that supervision is a professional development exercise if the supervisor lacks the organisational skill to plan ahead.
Having said that, there will be occasions when the supervision does not occur as planned. Just as a supervisor is leaving the office to visit your classroom, a crisis might develop and the decision might be made that dealing with the crisis is more important than visiting your room. If this occurs, treat it as an inevitable consequence of living in a school – our environment is never fully predictable.
Meaningful supervision is a process with a stated aim. Your supervisor might come to see how well you prepare lessons, or maintain discipline, or question your students. The emphasis might be on higher order thinking or on clear sequencing in your presentation or on classroom atmosphere. The important thing is that you know what is being assessed. If someone says ‘I’ll just drop by to see how you are going’ this is unhelpful – and can be nerve-wracking.
Finally, supervision should be constructive. This occurs when the feedback considers successes as well as weaknesses. Any supervisor can tell you about things that went wrong (if they do go wrong) but a worthwhile supervision period should also include observations about things that demonstrate professional growth on your part. If your supervisor previously alerted you to discipline issues and now says there has been a marked improvement in your latest lesson, this positive feedback is more likely to have a lasting effect.
No matter how proficient your supervisor is, the exercise will be successful only if you have a positive attitude towards it. I am not suggesting you won’t be a bit nervous (being nervous indicates you are alive) but you should still view it as part of your on-going professional growth. I will have more to say in the next article about professional development, but at this stage I would venture to say that properly conducted supervision in a school can be some of the richest professional development you will ever experience. View it that way, and you will become a more professional teacher.