The Truth About Supervision: Coaching, Teamwork, Interviewing, Appraisals, 360 Degree Assessments, and Recognition
reviewed by Norman Norris - 2004
Title: The Truth About Supervision: Coaching, Teamwork, Interviewing, Appraisals, 360 Degree Assessments, and Recognition
Author(s): Anne O'Brien Carelli
Publisher: Charles C. Thomas Publisher Ltd., Springfield
ISBN: 0398074704, Pages: 189, Year: 2004
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In the current push for appropriate materials to use in the training of leaders, a plethora of textbooks, programs, and methods has emerged. There is a body of information that is accepted by those in the profession as necessary to efficient and effective training in supervision and leadership. Most such materials and programs are based around this body of information.
In view of the most common elements of most texts and programs, Carelli's book is quite refreshing. The most consistent point of view is that which is expressed in the title - truth. It is said that a theory can be "beautiful" but still possess attributes that are not particularly "pretty." While most professionals do enjoy their work, virtually no one can assert there is nothing about their work they don't like. Carelli is very frank in her approach to seeing that her narratives move beyond many of the "half truths" that we tend to see in the social sciences. The bottom line of her perspective is that all aspects of supervision are a continuum of cognitive processes, not a prescriptive list (or checklist) of desired behaviors and/or actions.
Carelli makes some excellent points concerning the verbiage and actual work of coaching (Chapter 1). We tend to associate the terminology with athletics, dance, and so forth, but in actuality it is a leadership practice anywhere that work is done in teams. The text makes some excellent points about the rights and wrongs of coaching and how frequently the effective leader engages in the act of coaching without the decided choice to do so.
As I read the chapter on Teaming (Chapter 2) I was reminded of the old adage "teaching yourself out of a job." The idea here is that when subordinates are well prepared, the job of the leader is less demanding, less necessary, and generally more effective. The penultimate of true teaming is to reach a point where no oversight or supervision is needed. It is an unfortunate reality that most of us, both in and out of school settings, can recall "team assignments" where agendas and outcomes were predetermined with no input from those who must bring those agendas and outcomes to fruition.
One additional aspect of the narrative showed Carelli's true understanding of the social and behavioral sciences. Carelli asserts that teams can actually fail for a number of reasons that certainly include factors and influence beyond the scope of the team. In the social sciences, particularly in teaching, there seems to exist a mindset that when teams fail, the team simply did things "wrong."
The chapter on Interviewing (Chapter 3) brings a refreshing perspective to a necessary, but often grueling and laborious process, and one that certainly will never please everyone. As Carelli discusses models and practices of the interview process, one point does stand out - the question of the interviews being "fair." She is clear in her narrative that while interviewers or teams of interviewers may do and ask all the right questions, no interview or selection will ever be perfect with absolutely no influence from other sources. It is through an awareness of this phenomenon that the phenomenon may be avoided.
The chapters on Performance Assessment (Chapter 4) and 360 Degree Assessment (Chapter 5) bring about some refreshing perspectives on the topics and certainly call to question some commonly accepted "truths" about compiling and interpreting performance data. Carelli asserts a much less common perspective that performance assessments can be something that to which members look forward. She makes an interesting point concerning the phenomenon of most members being evaluated favorably - "Everyone is Excellent" (p. 120). There exists a mindset that if all members of an organization are evaluated favorably then the assessments or leadership perspectives are skewed, but this might not be the case at all. Equally questionable is the idea – frequently seen in the social sciences - that every performance assessment must include areas of weakness.
In general, these chapters provide an excellent perspective on a sensitive, seldom discussed, and probably less often implemented idea. Another excellent point is that any performance assessment, or 360 degree assessment, must be highly individualized. Programs or approaches that are "canned" are far less likely to provide useful information that will actually lead to improvement. For example, a frequent part of a school principal's overall evaluation will include the results of a "school climate survey." Such surveys are typically administered in some sort of stratified random sample and are therefore suspect from the outset. Additionally, much of the data gathered through such surveys are far outside the control of the school principal. A more individualized effort will produce far more useful information.
The chapter on Delegating (Chapter 6) is very straightforward about how effective leaders delegate, and what delegating means and does not mean. Carelli clarifies some commonly misunderstood ideas about making choices surrounding what to delegate and to whom.
There is another underlying tenet of Carelli's text that is often missed in other texts. An old folk adage says "we can have change without improvement but we cannot have improvement without change." As such, those who must make decisions to be implemented tend to forget two things. First, change takes time. Effective change is a process of growth and improvement. Seldom does an organization go from "bad" to "good" in a comparatively short time. Second, leadership in any form is not an exact science that can be approached logically, worked out systematically, and result in no loose ends. Again it is refreshing to see an author like Carelli reaffirm that leadership in any regard is a very imperfect process.
While this book is less about teaching and more about leadership and management in general, it will prove particularly useful in the training of school leaders because of the pure social science aspects and perspectives presented by the author. With the current push for standards and accountability, it is critical that leaders have both academic and practitioner backgrounds and perspectives for making decisions.