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Joe Oettinger, Ed.M.

Biology, Chemistry, Science, Technology Teacher | Instructional Supervisor | PSAT, SAT, ACT, ASVAB, Math, Test Prep Tutor | Publisher | Webmaster | North Jersey, Bergen County, NJ, New Jersey

Instructional Supervision

My Supervisory Platform

I believe that instructional supervision is characterized by the development or improvement of an effective learning environment for all students, and by the effective management and support of adult teacher-learners. To be successful, a supervisor must know what works for students, for adults, and for oneself, and must adapt to the variety of individuals and situations that he encounters, providing differentiated support and guidance to meet each individual’s needs.

The role of instructional supervisor is not for every person. Being an experienced teacher is a good starting point. But being an effective teacher is even better. As a guide to instructional activities, a supervisor must be familiar with best practices, so that he knows what good teaching looks like, even if he was never completely experienced at it himself. In this case, one who is book smart can be as effective a supervisor as one who has not had extensive real-life experience, as long as reliable evidence or experience is utilized to guide action.

I subscribe to Glickman’s (2009) notion of developmental supervision, and that “the ultimate aim of supervision should be reflective, autonomous teachers facilitated by nondirective supervision” (Glickman, Gordon & Ross-Gordon, 2009, p. 111). To do this, a supervisor must understand the characteristics of adult learners, and must skillfully navigate a myriad of backgrounds, styles, opinions, and personalities that teachers bring to the table. A supervisor must believe that all teachers have the ability and desire to practice what they preach. Just as curricula, standards, and expectations change, one must believe that teachers can learn, adapt, and adopt new knowledge and skills into their repertoires.

Ideally, the supervisor works with each teacher as an individual to implement guiding action collaboratively, in a nondirective approach. Fairness and collegiality will initially help a supervisor build trusting relationships with his teachers. To sustain this relationship, a supervisor must have strong interpersonal skills, the ability to listen, to collaborate, and to skillfully solve problems.

Right now, instructional supervisors are in a unique position to advocate for change. Standards, curricula, and assessments are currently in a state of flux. Over the next several years, supervisors can be an important liaison between classroom reality and administrative mandate. By accumulating and documenting issues related to pacing or curricula, for example, a supervisor can be an effective link in the feedback loop between teachers and those making decisions that affect teachers. This level of action takes problem-solving beyond the classroom, toward a much greater level of influence than one’s own school building. Supervisors must have vision beyond their school buildings in order to solve problems or enact change.

Some (perhaps many) problems are generated by factors which are beyond the control of a supervisor, like the new teacher evaluation system implemented in New Jersey. Nevertheless, a supervisor must work within the established criteria to implement said mandate. An effective supervisor must be creative in crafting solutions, or working within the confines of mandates beyond his control.

Regarding teacher evaluations, I think that a supervisor can transform a typically stressful activity for the teacher into an effective growth strategy. It seems that, too often, supervisors provide empty feedback to teachers with little to no discussion about how to meet expectations. Though an evaluation instrument may appear to address all teachers on a level playing field, the supervisor should utilize the instrument in conjunction with realistic expectations about what is probable to craft differentiated solutions in collaboration with each teacher.

Instructional supervision requires a multidimensional, multidisciplinary approach to be successful. One must be skilled in effective teaching, problem-solving, professional interpersonal relationships, curricula, and child/adult learning theory, among others. One must embrace flexibility and sound judgment with a goal of enhancing education and motivating teachers to meet expectations.



Glickman, C. D., Gordon, S. P., & Ross-Gordon, J. M. (2009). The basic guide to supervision and instructional leadership. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.


Metaphor for Supervision

The role of an instructional supervisor can be compared to the performance of a magician.

Magician as metaphor for instructional supervision.A traditional depiction of the magician is that of a well-dressed man, often with a cunning visage. A magician is one who commands respect because of his seeming ability to do the impossible, or simply to turn an ordinary situation into a delightful one. When a magician challenges our view of reality, he inspires us to delve deeper into our perceptions of the people and the world around us. An instructional supervisor should inspire confidence by his proven ability to be dependable–to be the person one turns to when a situation needs to be transformed into something fresh or new. A supervisor must offer a perspective that challenges us to look deeper into something and to discover what is needed to lead us on a new path.

The magician and the instructional supervisor share some behaviors identified by Glickman (2009). There are times when both the magician and supervisor are presenting to a person or audience, or directing an action to be taken. Often this is associated with encouraging or reinforcing behaviors to inspire those involved to have confidence and to continue along a particular path.

Neither the magician nor the instructional supervisor act alone. There are times when each must engage others to act. Through listening and clarifying, each can connect with their audience, drawing them into a trusting and genuine interaction.

Both the magician and the instructional supervisor must be prepared with a bag of tricks. To the supervisor, it means the interpersonal approaches that one uses to tailor supervision to the situation or to the individual’s needs. To the magician, it means the props, misdirection, and sleight of hand used to provide the particular effect. Both professionals must be prepared to negotiate a variety of individuals and audiences with diverse needs, and to provide the most skilled response.

Finally, both must anticipate the actions of his audience and critics, redirecting attention, when necessary, to the things that matter.


Glickman, C. D., Gordon, S. P., & Ross-Gordon, J. M. (2009). The basic guide to supervision and instructional leadership. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.


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