Agency in Teacher Supervision and Mentoring: Reinvigorating the Practice
reviewed by Jian Wang - April 15, 2021
Title: Agency in Teacher Supervision and Mentoring: Reinvigorating the Practice
Author(s): Alisa J. Bates & Marry D. Burbank
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415788218, Pages: 156, Year: 2019
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Agency in Teacher Supervision and Mentoring: Reinvigorating the Practice, by Alisa J. Bates and Marry D. Burbank, was published by Routledge, Taylor, and Francis Group in 2019 as one of the books in the Routledge Research in Teacher Education series. The book examines the changing role of preservice teacher supervision in teacher preparation programs.
Supervision has traditionally been one of the structured components of almost every university-based teacher preparation program, whereby supervisors from the program observe, offer feedback on, and assess preservice teachers learning to teach during their program practicum and student teaching experiences, repetitively, in the cycle (Burns, et al., 2016). However, scholarship-wise, this is the component of preservice teacher preparation programs that is under a careful and systematic empirical conceptualization (Cohen, et al., 2013). This book is developed to conceptualize the changing role of supervision in preparing preservice teachers learning to teach diverse students and analyzing the needs, challenges, and opportunities that teacher educators have as they are engaged in their changing role of supervisor.
In this review, I first present the results of my review of the book in four aspects: 1) discuss the reasons for the change in supervisor roles in supporting preservice teachers learning to teach; 2) analyze the models, knowledge, and support necessary to change tasks of supervision; 3) identify the challenges and opportunities of new supervision methods; and 4) indicate the extended role of supervision in addressing the other issues of school transformation. In the end, I discuss the benefits and issues emerging from the book that will be of interest to readers in the fields of preservice teacher preparation and supervision.
CHANGED PRESERVICE TEACHER SUPERVISION TASKS
The book devotes its introduction to arguing four specific aspects of role changes in traditional teacher supervision as suggested in the literature (Rust & Friedus, 2001). First, supervisors need to be effective negotiators to help develop a collaboration between different university programs and schools where preservice teachers are situated to help them learn to teach with their mentor teachers and create an environment that fosters their learning to teach diverse students effectively. They also need to help nurture and further develop trusting relationships between different preservice teachers and their mentor teachers, so that preservice teachers can learn to teach diverse students effectively through a mentoring relationship. Additionally, supervisors need to develop a deeper understanding of adult learning and use it to engage preservice teachers with different characteristics as they learn to teach diverse students effectively in the school contexts. Finally, they need to engage preservice teachers and their mentor teachers in enacting curriculum and instructional changes in their classrooms through critical reflection, contextualized inquiry, and continued learning to teach.
The authors articulate three reasons for the changing role of teacher supervision using the literature reviewed in Chapter 1. First, the traditional role of supervision fails to appropriately address different perceptions of quality teaching from teacher preparation programs, schools, preservice teachers, and their mentor teachers and how these perceptions shape how preservice teachers teaching quality is judged in the field. Thus, these perception and assessment differences make it central for supervision to build a professional relationship between preservice and mentor teachers that encourages all to use the reflections in dealing with the tensions that result from these perceptions and assessments, and develop a shared understanding of quality teaching that can guide preservice teachers learning to teach.
Second, traditional supervision does not consider the emerging contentions between the various programs with different curricula, varied instruction, and ways to structure field experiences to meet different market needs as suggested in the literature (Wilson, et al, 2011). Such a situation unavoidably makes it necessary for supervision to address and consolidate the impacts of these contentions into the explicit supports for preservice teachers learning to teach in the field, and make these supports effective in their classroom contexts.
Third, traditional supervision cannot appropriately address the influences of the emerging diverse student population in classrooms where preservice teachers are learning to teach. Such a diverse student population is underserved in the school system, and often is from social and cultural backgrounds different from those of the preservice and mentor teachers (Milner, 2005). This requires preservice teachers to learn to teach diverse student populations using culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2010) that mentor teachers and supervisors themselves may not be familiar with or can practice (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). Thus, supervisors need to use reflection as a tool to develop the relevant understanding central to offering explicit support for preservice teachers learning to teach diverse students well, and crucial for encouraging preservice teachers to use the same tool to develop collaborative inquiry in their teaching with mentor teachers.
MODELS, KNOWLEDGE, AND SUPPORT FOR NEW SUPERVISORS
The authors further identify in Chapter 2 useful models, knowledge bases, and approaches to support supervisors in their new role as change agent specifically based on synthesis of the relevant literature. They offer three models whereby supervisors can be engaged in their role as the agent of change. The clinical supervision model features 1) supervisorpreservice teacher conference before observation, 2) observation of preservice teacher, 3) collaborative analysis of observation, 4) offering of feedback to preservice teachers, and 5) reflection on lesson-based analysis in supporting preservice teachers learning to teach (Goldhammer, 1969). This model is seen as useful in helping preservice teachers develop a contextualized understanding of effective practices for teaching diverse students in their field experience. The horizontal supervision model features the supervisor engaging with preservice teachers in reflecting on the relationship between their intentions and actual teaching practices so they can develop a deeper connection of theory to practice in their learning to teach (Gitlin, 1981). The developmental supervision model involves supervisors using different strategies to support preservice teachers in understanding connections between what they learned on the university campus and their field experiences so they can develop flexible connections between the two (Cohn & Gellman, 1988).
Two kinds of knowledge are proposed as necessary for supervisors to play their role of change agent effectively in supervision: 1) the knowledge of preservice teachers as adult learners, which includes an understanding of preservice teachers learning to teach as a problem-solving process shaped by their experience in real classroom contexts and features constant awareness and reflections on the experiences (Housel, 2020), and 2) an understanding of mentoring as support for preservice teachers learning to teach for teaching transformation (Orland-Barak & Wang, 2020). This specifically involves an understanding of how and when to notice, ignore, intervene, point, unpack, and process the important information from preservice teachers teaching (Knowles, 1972), how to integrate discipline-specific content with pedagogy central to teaching diverse students effectively (Burbank, et al., 2016), and how to use questioning in dialogues with preservice teachers learning to teach for transformation (Newell & Connors, 2011).
The authors further propose three approaches as important to helping supervisors develop the models and understandings central to their role of change agent. Professional development is the first approach, whereby supervisors work closely and regularly with each other to collaboratively reflect on and analyze their work with preservice and mentor teachers, and figure out how to support their learning to teach for transformation as the shared goal of supervision (Owens, 2010). Book clubs engage supervisors in different places to examine works relevant to supervision, and develop their initial collaboration into a sense of community necessary for sustaining the professional learning community (George, 2002). Critical friends engage supervisors in a close relationship with preservice and mentor teachers to collaboratively observe, analyze, and reflect on cases of teaching practices and student learning from their classrooms (Norman, et al., 2005).
CHALLENGES TO AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT OF NEW SUPERVISION
In Chapters 3 and 4 the authors, based on their synthesis of the relevant literature, identify two groups of important factors that challenge and offer opportunities for supervision to be an effective change agent. The first group of factors is directly related to supervisors themselves, and when these factors match the needs of new supervision, supervision work can either be much better facilitated or seriously compromised. This group of factors includes 1) the differing personal and professional experiences and backgrounds of supervisors (Jacobs, et al., 2017), 2) different stances that supervisors hold with respect to their supervision work (Bates, et al., 2011), 3) different understandings that supervisors develop regarding the nature of their relationship with preservice and mentor teachers (Bullough & Draper, 2004), and 4) different understandings that they develop about content areas that preservice teachers are teaching in the field (Burbank et al., 2016).
The second factor is directly related to the emerging integration of technology into teacher preparation and supervision, which is transforming the traditional forms, approaches, and communications of supervision and offers both challenges and the potential for developing more effective new supervision in several ways. Such technology integration offers the opportunity for supervisors to have preservice teacher teaching be examined by people beyond the face-to-face form, in particular school or classroom contexts, so that a comprehensive view of their teaching practice can be developed (Callahan, et al., 2015). However, supervisors are challenged to learn how to effectively use different communities and consolidate various reflections and reviews from them into focused, efficient, and useful sources of support to meet the needs of preservice teachers learning to teach (Florell, 2016).
The integration also allows preservice teachers teaching and mentor teachers mentoring practices to be examined by people with different expertise, understandings, and even responsibilities in shaping preservice teachers learning to teach and mentoring practices (Coggshall, et al., 2008). Nevertheless, supervisors are challenged to manage the power relationship from different sources of messages so that focused, efficient, and useful sources of support can be developed to positively influence the work of individual preservice teachers and mentor teachers (Ledwell & Oyler, 2016). It further exposes them to comments and suggestions with different intentions, tones, and forms that may not all be appropriately personalized for a deeper and sophisticated understanding of their teaching practice (Callahan et al., 2015). Consequently, supervisors are challenged to know how to help preservice and mentor teachers understand the nature and characteristics of these different comments and suggestions, and synthesize them into positive and motivational sources of support for deeper reflection and continued inquiry into their teaching and mentoring practices (Marzano, et al., 2011). Finally, it opens the door for various kinds of assessments of preservice teachers teaching practices and their student learning outcomes, and helps create effective ways to store and share assessment information that will be useful for supervisors and preservice teachers to develop a more holistic picture of the effects and process of their teaching practices (Florell, 2016). However, supervisors are challenged to know how to help preservice teachers appropriately understand the nature and characteristics of different assessment information, and synthesize all into useful sources of information to their continuous efforts to learn to teach for transformation (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009).
EXTENDED ROLE OF SUPERVISION IN SCHOOL TRANSFORMATION
In Chapters 5 and 6, the authors discuss three additional directions in which supervision as a change agent can be extended beyond support for preservice teachers learning to teach diverse student populations as informed by the literature. First, such supervisors are in a good position to engage in school and teaching transformation, as they help produce teacher leaders and teaching practice cases in mentor teachers classrooms through their innovative work with preservice teachers (DiPaola & Wagner, 2018). These teacher leaders and contextualized cases of teaching are valuable sources for school teaching transformation (Lumpkin, 2016).
Second, they are useful in supporting school leadership to develop its understanding and approaches to lead the transformation of school teaching cultures and practices (Sudarjat, et al., 2015). The authors suggest that it is possible, as supervisors enact their new role of change agent, to negotiate and collaborate with school leadership in developing nurturing school and classroom environments for preservice teachers learning to teach for transformation (Tulowitzki, 2019), through which they can also positively affect school leadership.
Third, by helping mentor teachers develop effective mentoring for preservice teachers learning to teach in the school contexts, supervisors are in a good position to develop the understanding and strategies necessary to address the emotional trauma and stress that many students and teachers in the school context are experiencing. These traumas, stresses, and frustrations negatively impact the resilience of students from diverse backgrounds and their ability to learn effectively in the school context (Terrasi & De Galarce, 2017), as well as that of teachers in sustaining their teaching career (Mansfield, et al., 2016).
The authors conclude the book in Chapters 7 and 8. In Chapter 7, they highlight the central arguments developed in the book and how they are developed in the previous chapters. In Chapter 8, they briefly summarize the different chapters of the book.
As one of the few books directly examining teacher supervision in the market, the authors did a nice job in bringing together the conceptual and empirical literature directly related to supervision work in order to articulate and conceptualize the new role of supervision in teacher preparation. Such an effort is especially valuable considering that limited conceptual and empirical studies have been done directly on supervision in the field of teacher preparation, and the relevant conceptions and empirical works are scattered in different fields and areas such as teacher mentoring, technology application, school leadership, and student diversity.
However, the book does have several limitations in addressing successfully the issues that it set out to address. First, many of the arguments developed in the book are more of what needs to be done based upon inferences from the related conceptual work instead of what is possible and how it can be done based on supervision documented empirically. As a result, this book needs to be read as more of inspiration for conceptual and empirical inquiry into supervision than a handbook that practitioners can use to guide their supervision practice specifically.
Second, in practice, mentor teachers and supervisors are often two different groups of people representing quite different expectations, with potentially different knowledge and experience in supporting preservice teachers learning to teach in the classroom. However, the authors in this book often fail to differentiate the two in their discussion of knowledge and skills for the changing role of supervision and the factors shaping such role change. Such differentiation is quite necessary for a contextualized understanding of the role of supervision as a change agent. Even if the intention here is to merge supervision and mentoring, it is useful for readers to understand what it takes for each party to change their traditional role.
Finally, some of the ideas developed in the book, including some of the ideas synthesized here, are often implied in the description of different places in a particular chapter instead of directly made based on a focused discussion in one place. Thus, in reading the book, the readers must make similar connections across different sections to develop their understanding.
Nevertheless, this book is very much useful for those researchers, program directors, teacher educators, school administrators, and mentor teachers who are interested in teacher supervision and developing their initial understanding of the scope of scholarship work and issues related to teacher supervision. It is also useful to help them think deeply about what we are facing as we change teacher preparation and supervision for teaching transformation in increasingly diverse school contexts.
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