Examining Instructional Supervision

EAD 808


By Matt Block, Scot Korth, and Matt Lefebvre



The supervisory behavioral continuum is vital to interaction occurring between administrators and teachers.  It is an effective model for displaying behaviors used in a decision-making process.  These decisions can be made at any type of organization, whether it is a school or business.  Skillful and effective use of these behaviors can save time, money, and prevent unneeded friction between staff members.  The continuum gives the supervisor a method to deal effectively with everyday issues that occur at the workplace, and to come up with a workable solution that makes everyone happy.  This is the key to the continuum.


            The continuum consists of 10 separate behaviors, all of which play a role in the decision-making process.  These behaviors are: listening, clarifying, encouraging, reflecting, presenting, problem solving, negotiating, directing, standardizing, and reinforcing.  Each behavior is clustered into important subgroups.  These subgroups are: nondirective, collaborative, directive informational, and directive control


Nondirective Supervision


            There are occasions when nondirective supervision is the option available to administrators that best fits the scenario.  In the case of supervising the teaching staff based on nondirective supervision strategies, administrators have important decision-making tools at their disposal.


            The nondirective supervision method is based on the assumption that an individual teacher knows best what instructional changes need to be made and has the ability to think and act for his or herself (p. 183).  Using this strategy of leadership, the administrator understands that in this case, the teacher knows best, and it is up to the administrator to guide the teacher through the critical thinking process so that the teacher makes the decision on his or her own.  The supervisor does not interject his or her own ideas into the discussion unless specifically asked.  All verbalizations by the supervisor are intended as feedback or to extend the teacheršs thinking; they do not influence the actual design of the decision (p. 183).  In this case, the administrator or supervisor is acting as a guide; asking leading questions, probing the teacher for in-depth thought and analysis, and, ultimately, offering very little, if any, of his own ideas or answers.


            Similar to the strategies used between an administrator and an individual teacher, the use of the nondirective approach can be a vital tool when used in a group setting.  Again, while the administratoršs role is to lead the group in the critical thinking and/or decision-making process, he does not offer his own ideas or suggestions to the group unless he is asked directly to do so.  In a group setting similar to the one mentioned above, the administrator would begin by:


listening to group members discuss their perceptions of the group issue.  The [administrator] would encourage all the members to express themselves and would constantly clarify and reflect on what they were saying.  Once the problem had been discussed, the [administrator] would ask the group to problem solve by asking each member to propose possible new actions.  (189)


In a setting where an administrator is part of a small group of teachers, his job is to listen, keep the group focused, clarify and reflect, and ultimately, supervise as the group solves the problem or makes a decision on their own.  As with using this strategy with individual teachers, the end result within the group setting is to place the role of improving instruction back with the teachers.


            Unfortunately, the nondirective approach does not always work as planned.  In many cases, teachers and/or groups may be perfectly capable of making sound decisions on their own, but for a variety of reasons do not respond well to the nondirective approach.  In this case, it is up to the administrator to explain his use of such an approach, discuss its significance, and describe what is expected.  In certain cases, it may be up to the administrator to offer additional support, work on buildingtrust, and continue to work with the individual or group in an attempt to build the trust and teacher self-confidence that is necessary for teacher-driven instructional improvement.


Collaborative Supervision


            Collaborative approaches play an integral part in supervision.  These techniques consist of: problem solving, negotiating, and directing, and are used in combination with the opinions of both the teachers and the administrator in order to come up with ideas on how to solve organizational problems.


            Negotiations come in to play when possible solutions to a problem can be identified.  By asking the question, where do we agree with each other? teachers and administrators can use negotiations explore the consequences of proposed actions and narrow down available options.


            Negotiations take place after problem solving.  The main goal of problem solving is to list all possible solutions to the problem at hand.  During problem solving, the administrator takes the initiative in deciding upon solutions.


            Directing is the third approach to the collaborative process.  While using the directing approach, an administrator lets the teacher know what options are available.  The administrator may also ask the teacher which option makes the most sense before that administrator makes a decision on which action is to be taken.


            These three tactics, problem solving, negotiating, and directing, are all part of the supervisory behavior continuum.  Each are used in an attempt to tackle a problem as efficiently as possible.


            Collaborative approaches are important for dealing with both individuals and groups in classroom and organizational settings.  Behaviors with individuals should involve frank, open, exchanges of ideas.  During a discussion between an administrator and a teacher, disagreement is encouraged so that a mutual concession can take place.  A mutual decision is very important for a course of action that is to be taken.  As always, a collaborative approach requires a great deal of negotiating.  During the process, the administrator should clarify the problem and listen to the teacheršs perception of the problem as well.  The administrator should also restate what the teacher has said so as to verify it, and then the administrator should state his or her opinion of the situation.  Next, the two individuals can discuss the options that can be negotiated to find a solution.  These are important collaborative approaches to use with individuals.


            Group approaches are slightly different than individual approaches.  Whereas in a situation with a single teacher and an administrator, consensus is often easier to achieve, it is more difficult within a group setting.  Lack of consensus in a group environment can be remedied through the use of majority vote.  The chief difference between interaction with individuals and interaction with groups is that more time must be given to discuss everyonešs view of the problem and to discuss everyonešs suggestions for solutions.


            When collaborating, it is important that each person is treated equally, thus ensuring that people feel more comfortable sharing opinions in front of the group.  Another key to collaboration is to make sure that ideas are weighed according to their merits and not based on the power of any individual.  The administrator must make sure that a teacher is not purposefully giving in to administrative pressures or power.  If this occurs, the administrator should make it known to the teacher that this can harm the collaborative effort.


Directive Informational Supervision


            Directive informational supervision is used to direct teachers to consider and choose from clearly defined alternative actions.  The supervisor still acts as the information source, but asks for and considers teacher feedback.  Supervisors are also careful to allow for several alternative actions for improvement to be implemented by the teacher that fall within a set of criteria established by both parties.

It is important to understand that the establishment of alternative choices to correct actions is the distinguishing difference between directive control and directive informational supervision.  These alternatives can be defined by both parties through interaction and feedback.  The administrator is still the source of defining the goals and suggesting the practices, but the teacher is asked to make a final decision on which practices would derive the most benefit.  It is important that the teacher is allowed to exercise some control in this process.


As with the directive control approach, administrators establish themselves as the people with the expertise to solve the problem.  Both parties must share confidence in the knowledge being assimilated in order to solve the issue.  If the suggestions agreed to fail to make a difference in accomplishing a goal, it may be easy for the teacher to fault the knowledge base of the supervisor.  Therefore, it is necessary for precise language to be used.  While allowing for teacher feedback when deciding the best course of action, an administrator must be clear on not only the plan of action but also the necessary procedural steps that need to be taken in order to accomplish the joint goal.


            This approach can be taken when a teacher is functioning at a low level and an administrator feels he/she has adequate knowledge to help a teacher with a lesser understanding about an issue, or when time constraints demand concrete action is taken.  Administrators must be willing to take responsibility for what the teacher attempts.  This, after all, is a problem that they helped define.  Certainly, this approach is best when the person in authority is thought to have credible knowledge to solve the problem, and has the trust of the teacher as a reasonable person to take advice from in the situation.


Directive Control Supervision


Directive control supervision is used to clearly transmit supervisor expectations to teachers.  Using this method is necessary when a supervisor feels the need to be forthright with an employee, overcome opposing authority issues, or has pressing time considerations.


This approach is important and necessary when dealing with difficult personnel situations.  It is usually used when the supervisor feels he/she has greater knowledge and expertise than the other party.  It places an emphasis on the authority and weight a supervisor carries in their role.  By using this approach, leaders are convinced they have a solution to an issue, but it also places a great deal of pressure on them to support their decisions.  The responsibility to follow through falls squarely on the supervisor if the expectation level is not meet by the employee.


This supervision behavior should be used in limited situations by an administrator in a school setting.  First, it should be used when teachers are functioning at low levels or lack an awareness to act on an issue of importance to students, school, or community.  Second, it may be used when there is little desire for teacher involvement.  These issues may include budgeting or scheduling.  Third, it can be used when the administrator will be immediately held accountable for an action.  For example, if a fire marshal orders that specific actions be taken to improve the safety of a school, then the directive control approach is necessary.  Fourth, it should be used during an emergency situation, such as a threat of violence, when an administrator does not have the time to meet with others.


Directive control behavior can be risky if it becomes overused. It places a great deal of responsibility on the decisions made by the supervisor and the expertise of one person.  Overuse may also lead to the development of adversarial relationships among the administrator and staff members.  Instead, a supervisor should attempt to use this approach only when circumstances warrant little choice.


In Summary


            A nondirective approach allows the teacher to take control and come up with his or her own solution to a problem.  The administrator actively probes to get the teacher to come up with interesting and effective ideas.


            A collaborative approach is effective for garnering a decision supported by all.  During a collaborative approach, all parties are encouraged to share their opinions of the problem and how to solve it.  The goal is to reach a decision by treating everyone as equals.


A directive informational approach allows the teacher to choose from a couple of different options.  The administrator tells the teacher what his or her options are and then allows the teacher to pick one from the list.  Then the administrator gives the teacher a time frame in which the task is to be completed.


A directive control approach occurs when the administrator takes a primary responsibility for a decision.  The decision is made by the administrator, who then gives the teacher a time frame in which the task is to be completed.


Understanding and utilizing the supervisory behavioral continuum allows an administrator to both motivate teachers to improve instruction, and to provide choices to teachers in an effort to help them motivate themselves.  As with any organizational setting, in schools it is important for administrators to be able to match the various supervisory strategies with differing teacher characteristics.  Ultimately, it is the use of the strategies outlined within the supervisory behavioral continuum that allow an administrator to decide the most appropriate interpersonal approaches to use with his or her staff in an attempt to drive the decision-making process, deal with the everyday issues occurring at the workplace, and ensure that solutions are reached within the organization.