20 Apr “Super”vision: Expanding the Scope of Principal Supervision and Evaluation
The two most important people who work in education are teachers, and the individuals who support teachers. For many years, educational research has repeatedly identified “teacher effectiveness” as the most important factor in student learning. What teachers do everyday in their classrooms matter, and it only makes sense that our top priority as principals should be teacher development. Although supervision and evaluation have different outcomes, they definitely complement one another. Supervision is providing support and coaching to help build a teacher’s capacity. Evaluation is assigning merit to that performance.
Challenges to Supervision and Evaluation
It has been my experience that principals evaluate only a tiny amount of teaching. If we only experience one full lesson per year, that evaluation equates to only 0.1% of that teacher’s instruction. I’d be the first to admit that math is not my strength, but that’s not a lot of time. In fact, it’s a ridiculously thin amount of supervision time to spend in evaluating the school’s most important employees.
What adds to the challenge is knowing that these lessons are usually atypical. When teachers have advanced notice of a principal’s classroom visit, they can prepare and present a “special” lesson. While it might be reassuring to know that they are capable of elite instruction, it’s also discouraging to realize that this is not what the students experience everyday. The other side of that coin is also something we must consider—life happens. No matter how well prepared a teacher might be for a lesson, things sometimes go wrong. It’s truly a shame to base an annual evaluation on that one-and-only observation when the other 99.9% of the year is flawless.
Isolated lessons give us an incomplete picture of a teacher’s true capabilities. This is why “super”vision is needed. While there a dozens of other things or situations that need our attention every day, it’s important for principals to avoid HSPS Addiction (Hyperactive Superficial Principal Syndrome) and begin spending more time on mini observations, lesson plan reviews, showing the flag, conferences, learning walks, and ensuring SOTEL so that students can effectively learn what is being taught.
The bottom line: effective principals routinely visit teachers’ classrooms, and they are not shy about providing formative (or corrective) feedback to teachers. It is ludicrous to assume we can create a clear picture of teacher effectiveness by visiting a classroom (formally or informally) less than five times per year. Before we assign a label to a teacher’s performance, we must ensure that all of our educational resources have been devoted to the ongoing growth and improvement of teaching practices. It’s also important for teachers to understand that we are here to help guide them in their work with students. The key word here is “help.” If our teachers view us as judges of their work, or if they put up a wall of resistance to any constructive criticism, the whole dynamic of growth will be lost.
Crystal A. Smith
As the principal of Sts. Simon & Jude School in Huntington Beach, CA, Crystal Smith is deeply committed to leadership in the ministry of Catholic education. Crystal joined the faculty of SSJ in 1997, after completing 10 years of service as principal in the Diocese of San Bernardino. With 30 years of administrative experience, she brings a wealth of knowledge and practical insight to both the teaching and administrative profession.
In addition to working within the ministry of Catholic education, Crystal is also a Core Adjunct Professor for the SOE at National University. This is a position she has held since 2001, when her daughter began law school at USC. What began as a simple venture for helping her daughter with tuition, quickly transpired into a passion for being back in the classroom and supporting her graduate students at a whole new level. In addition to her teaching assignments, Crystal presently serves as a member of the Reading Program Committee for NU.