Friday, February 7, 2014

From Supervised to Supervision: It's Creativity, Relationships, Knowledge, and Mentoring

This semester, I have the privilege of visiting six schools in Connecticut to oversee the student teaching of graduate students and undergraduates. This is one of the perks of my job as it provides a window in the divergent ways schools design curriculum, support students and teachers, and establish an atmosphere for learning. With student teachers, it is like being a marriage therapist who helps hosts and student teachers negotiate on what works best for all parties, especially as the two parties provide instruction to improve the literacies of all youth.

My mentor, Sue McV, who I student taught with, introduced the marriage metaphor and helped me to realize there is no learning without a relationship. That is why I've grown to see a supervisor's roll as a negotiator, listener, coach, teacher, and friend. As another mentor, Kelly Chandler Olcott, patiently advised me throughout my dissertation work, "If this work was easy, everyone would be doing it."

The transition from theory towards classroom practice is never as easy as one assumes. Instead, new skill-sets are born, epiphanies (with frustrations) arrive, and the exhaustion of the profession reveals itself. This, of course, causes the sleeplessness.

In Connecticut, however, it is eye-opening to move from district to district to witness practice in the field and how much it varies as a result of school cultures, norms, populations, expectations, and traditions. My biases are severe, as I worked in heterogeneous classrooms with no tracking, high standards, and a strong sense of investing in each and every student. The language I use to uphold the potential of young learners is borne out of the shared values and mission statement from my time in the classroom. This is VERY different from the habitus of other schools and helps me to see the institutional changes that need to be made. I feel fortunate to have worked in an environment that worked (although it too had flaws).

The profession of teaching is complex and even after 18 years knee-deep in the occupation, I'm still working to realize what works best for all types of kids, especially with a vision to assure success in a world that is always changing. Yet, it always comes back to relationships. We learn from others and although variables alter, people needing people remains a constant. That is why I love supervising. It's work that matters because it is work between people trying to make sense of what it means to educate and be educated.

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