Historical Perspectives on Supervision


The 1700's to 1850's

Approx. January 1700 - January 1799

Supervision has a Medieval Latin origin. The origins of the word "Supervision" liken it to a process of scanning for errors or deviations. The early influence of the punitive nature of supervision is prevalent in early supervision where the primary goal was corrective, supervisors were expected to tell you what you did wrong and this constituted an evaluation.
"The inspectors were often ministers, selectmen, schoolmasters, and other distinguished citizens. Their methods of supervision stressed strict control and close inspection of school facilities. " (Sullivan, 8)
The goal was the "maintaining of existing standards of instruction, rather than on the idea of improving them." (Sullivan, 9)

Late 1800's Industrial Revolution

1850 - 1899

American schooling, in general, during the better part of the 19th century was rural, unbureaucratic, and in the hands of local authorities. The prototypical 19th century school was a small, one-room schoolhouse. Teachers were “young, poorly paid, and rarely educated beyond the elementary subjects”; teachers were “hired and supervised largely by local lay trustees, they were not members of a self-regulating profession” (Tyack & Hansot, 1982, p. 17). These local lay trustees (called ward boards) who supervised schools were not professionally trained or very much interested in the improvement of instruction (Button, 1961). (Sullivan, 9)

Specialists in Supervision

1880 - 1900

"In the battle that ensued to reorganize the nation’s schools, sources of authority and responsibility in education were permanently transformed (Tyack, 1974). By the end of the 19th century, reformers concerned with undermining inefficiency and corruption transformed schools into streamlined, central administrative bureaucracies with superintendents as supervisors in charge. Supervision, during this struggle, became an important tool by which the superintendent legitimized his existence in the school system (Glanz, 1991). "
(Sullivan, 9)
Supervisors using inspectional practices did not view favorably the competency of most teachers. For instance, Balliet (1894), a superintendent from Massachusetts, insisted that there were only two types of teachers: the efficient and the inefficient. The only way to reform the schools, thought Balliet, was to “secure a competent superintendent; second, to let him ‘reform’ all the teachers who are incompetent and can be ‘reformed’; thirdly, to bury the dead” (pp. 437–438). (Sullivan, 10)

The Emerging Complexity of Education

1900 - 1920

In the early "20th century. In addition to the building principal, a new cadre of administrative officers emerged to assume major responsibility for day-to-day classroom supervision. Two specific groups of supervisors were commonly found in schools in the early 20th century...First, a special supervisor, most often female, was chosen by the building principal to help assist less experienced teachers in subject matter mastery. Special supervisors were relieved of some teaching responsibilities to allow time for these tasks, but no formal training was required. Larger schools, for example, had a number of special supervisors in each major subject area. Second, a general supervisor, usually male, was selected not only to deal with more general subjects such as mathematics and science but also to “assist” the principal in the more administrative, logistical operations of a school. The general supervisor, subsequently called vice principal or assistant principal, prepared attendance reports, collected data for evaluation purposes, and coordinated special school programs, among other administrative duties.
Special supervisors also probably gained more acceptance by teachers, most of whom were female, because they too were female. General supervisors were almost exclusively male and perhaps were perceived differently as a result. Frank Spaulding (1955), in his analysis of this period of time, concurred and stated that general supervisors “were quite generally looked upon, not as helpers, but as critics bent on the discovery and revelation of teachers’ weaknesses and failures . . . they were dubbed Snoopervisors” (p. 130). " (Sullivan, 11)

Supervision as Social Efficiency

1931 - 1939

Franklin Bobbitt (1913), a professor at the University of Chicago, tried to apply the ideas that Taylor espoused to the “problems of educational management and supervision” (p. 8). Bobbitt’s work, particularly his discussion of supervision, is significant because his ideas shaped the character and nature of supervision for many years.
(Sullivan, 12)
Supervisors believed, as did Bobbitt, that “the way to eliminate the personal element from administration and supervision is to introduce impersonal methods of scientific administration and supervision” (p. 7). This was often translated into rating schemes. In a short time, supervision became synonymous with teacher rating.
(Sullivan, 13)

The Science of Supervision

1940 - 1959

Supervisors must have the ability to analyze teaching situations and to locate the probable causes for poor work with a certain degree of expertness; they must have the ability to use an array of data-gathering devices peculiar to the field of supervision itself; they must possess cer- tain constructive skills for the development of new means, methods, and materials of instruction; they must know how teachers learn to teach; they must have the ability to teach teachers how to teach; and they must be able to evaluate. In short, they must possess training in both the science of instructing pupils and the science of instructing teachers. Both are included in the science of supervision. (pp. x, xi)
Barr (1931) said the supervisor should first formulate objectives, followed by measurement surveys to determine the instructional status of schools. Then, probable causes of poor work should be explored through the use of tests, rating scales, and observational instruments. The results of supervision, continued Barr, must be measured. Most important, according to Barr, the methods of science should be applied to the study and practice of supervision.
(Sullivan, 15)

Supervision as Leadership

1960 - 1979

The work most representative of the 1960s was undoubtedly the anthology of articles that originally appeared in Educational Leadership, compiled by then- editor and associate director of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Robert R. Leeper (1969). Leeper and the authors of this anthology maintained that supervisors must extend “democracy in their relationships with teachers” (p. 69). The way to accomplish this was to promulgate supervision as a leadership function.
(Sullivan, 16)
The principal focus of supervision during this time was a concerted effort by those engaged in supervision to provide leadership in five ways: (1) developing mutually acceptable goals, (2) extending cooperative and democratic methods of supervision, (3) improving classroom instruction, (4) promoting research into educational problems, and (5) promoting professional leadership.
(Sullivan, 17)
This would have been the type of supervision that my own teachers were participants in. Though by and large supervisory visits occurred once a year. The building principal rarely if ever observed teaching in the classroom. The supervisor was likely a member of district staff as they were a "stranger" to all of us. Further, the supervisor did not talk with or interact with the students in any way.
"Supervision to improve instruction and promote pupil learning, instructional leadership, and democratic practices remained as prominent goals throughout the 1970's."
(Sullivan, 18)

Supervision as Transformation

1980 - 1999

With the change in perspective came a change to "terms such as instructional leadership and instructional leader. The transition that Glickman and the authors of this comprehensive account of supervision envisioned was one that valued collegiality. Supervision, in the words of Sergiovanni (1992), was viewed as “professional and moral.” (Sullivan, 19)
"Pressure to improve the quality of American education by articulating concrete standards for performance increased. Consequently, a spate of national and state reports continued through the 1980s, each advocating fundamental educational change. Commitment to democratic ideals and the influence of public education was reinforced once again in 1986 with the publication of the report, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986), and the Holmes Group (1986) report."
(Sullivan, 20)

Supervision in the Era of Accountability

2000 - Present

"President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Legislation of 1965. The purpose of the new legislation was to redefine the federal role in K–12 education and to help raise student achievement, especially for disadvantaged and minority students. Four basic principles were evident: (1) stronger accountability for results, (2) increased flexibility and local control, (3) expanded options for parents, and (4) an emphasis on teaching methods that presumably have been proven to work.
Principals and assistant principals are more accountable than ever for addressing prescribed core curriculum standards, promoting teaching to the standards, and ensuring higher student academic performance on standardized tests." (Sullivan, 20)

"Supervisory practices are more constrained and inspectional than ever, at least since the early 20th century. Efforts to reform supervision of instruction along the lines we advocate in Supervision That Improves Teaching and Learning appear more tenuous and arduous than in the past. The directive and inspectional practices in supervising instruction once again find likely justification within this neo-liberal movement to disenfranchise education from educators and institute a rigid system of accountability that stifles teacher creativity and student learning that is enjoyable and meaningful." (Sullivan, 22)

The era of walk-through inspections have characterized most of my teaching career. My experience has been remarkably positive largely due to the administration. They have engaged in reflective practice and have insured that they balance their observations between what is positive and suggestions that can help you achieve professional goals you have established.