Wednesday, 29 January 2014

instructional knowledge for school scholars

A recent report by the OECD claims that Finnish education is the best in the world (Guardian Unlimited, Dec. 7, 2004) based on a survey of 15-year olds in 41 countries in reading, math and science. Among other factors, two were sighted as explanations for this success in Finland, namely teacher preparation and flexibility in the curriculum. Teacher preparation in this country is very high, requiring, in most cases, a Masters degree. This does not pertain to small States in the Caribbean, but the lesson to be learned here is that the professional development of teachers is of utmost importance if we are to enhance education in this nation. It is clearly impossible at this time to demand that all teachers obtain University training as a requirement for teaching in our schools. However, it is crucial that educational leaders focus on providing in-service training for all teachers regardless of qualifications; one of the ways to accomplish this is through clinical supervision of teaching.

The need for clinical supervision was highlighted in the 1950s when students in a Master of Arts program at Harvard University criticised their supervisors for not providing a rewarding and informative experience in the schools (Wilhelms, 1973). Supervisors then began to concentrate on the analysis of teaching based on data collected by observation in the classroom; while technical information was considered, more substantive factors such as the teacher’s working environment, personality, knowledge base, preparation for teaching were examined in detail. Since this time considerable efforts were made to improve teaching in classrooms using clinical supervision.

Defining Clinical Supervision
General supervision of teaching occurs when all aspects of teaching are examined outside the classroom such as curriculum development, teacher involvement in extra-curricular activities, punctuality, adherence to regulations etc.
Clinical supervision is involved with activities in the classroom primarily while a teacher is conducting a lesson – what is being taught and how it is being taught. The term “clinical” conjures images of pathology, requiring medical procedures involving diagnosis and prescription usually in a clinic! Other ideas from the clinical (medical) path are used to define the clinical aspects of supervision such as face-to-face up close examination, collection of information (data), focus on professional practice – what the teacher does and the reaction of the students. The intent of clinical supervision here is to increase a teacher’s desire for improvement and movement towards self-supervision, autonomy, analysis and critique of professional practice. 

Too often supervisory behaviour is mutually punitive because it has been random, residual, archaic and negatively eclectic; supervision has been seen as sanctions such as performance rating, promotion, tenure, and firing. This is the domain of summative evaluation, not clinical supervision; instead clinical supervision may be seen as formative evaluation where the emphasis is on improvement of instruction and increasing learning and not as an instrument for career enhancement. It is important that teachers are aware of this so as to allay fears of being evaluated.

The supervisor is obligated to conduct supervision in an ethical manner. This means that the supervisor must conduct supervisory activities without prejudgment of teacher performance, must not allow personality traits to bias data collection, approach the supervisory function with a mindset to improve instruction and exercise empathetic understanding.

Mosher and Purpel (1972) define clinical supervision as “the improvement of instruction” (p.78). They go on to indicate what is meant by this general statement : “planning for, observation, analysis and treatment of the teacher’s classroom performance”. Clinical supervision is systematic, analytical and direct – it addresses the practice of teaching. The basic cycle of clinical supervision then includes systematic planning, observation and critical analysis.

For our purposes we will define clinical supervision as: the professional activity of improving instruction by analyzing data collected through observation in the classroom; analysis should be done empathically, in most part collaboratively with the teacher, taking into consideration the teacher’s professional developmental level and the conditions of teaching. Supervision should be supportive, and constructive not punitive.

Who Should Supervise?
Since the domain of clinical supervision is “disseminating and implementing new practices and improving teacher performance” (Cogan, 1973. p.3.), it is imperative that supervisors be persons with commitment to the improvement of education. If supervisors see their responsibilities as merely a “job”, teachers become aware of this and will have no respect for the supervisor or what he/she may have to say. The exercise of clinical supervision is then futile, and a waste of time and resources (the supervisor should find employment elsewhere!).

In small Caribbean States persons who normally supervise teaching are Education Officers, Principals, Assistant Principals, Department Heads, Subject Co-ordinators, Master Teachers Consultants and Specialist Teachers. These are all persons who are charged with this responsibility because of status and sometimes not because of expertise. Qualifications of the supervisor include:
(a)  Certification in pedagogy and academic subject
(b)  Several years of experience at that level and in that subject area
(c)  A demonstrated commitment to teaching (e.g. participation in professional development)
(d)  Must be empathetic towards teachers
(e)  Must be fair and just in professional judgement
(f)  Generally seen by colleagues as an exemplary educator
(g)  Should have training in clinical supervision
This list is not exhaustive and each of the above can be expanded or modified to fit the conditions of education in your community. Clinical supervision of teaching is labour intensive, complex and sometimes messy; for successful implementation it requires adequate funding, concentrated energy, and expertise focused on the improvement of instruction.

General Considerations
(1) Clinical supervision must be sustainable; sporadic visits do not help teachers to develop their expertise. Scattershot supervision only tinkers with the process hoping that something positive will hit the target.
(2)  Clinical supervision must be a mutually supportive partnership; it is an interaction of peers
 and colleagues – it is not unilateral action.
(3) Clinical supervision must be seen as authoritative assistance not authoritarian directives.
(4) Clinical supervision assists teachers to reach specified levels of performance and as such may be perceived as attempts to maintain quality control.
(5) Supervisors must be clear about the goals of education and communicate these to teachers so that there is no misunderstanding about what is acceptable practice.

One of the major purposes of schooling is to transfer the accumulated wisdom of a society to the young; equally important is the creation of new knowledge for the survival of citizens. These two goals can only be accomplished by committed leadership that is visionary and practical at the same time. Yet schooling is not the soul preserve of schools because civil society is created by many stakeholders, hence leadership in all aspects of progressive society must play their part to humanize our bureaucratic systems – especially schooling and government.

Schooling cannot be improved or be effective unless we provide inter alia adequate training for our teachers. The Principals in schools must see themselves as educational leaders first and managers second. Hence the Principals must shoulder the responsibility of providing professional development of teachers through clinical supervision and other relevant in-service activities.

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