Gimbert & Nolan The influence of the professional development school context on supervisory practice: A university supervisor’s and interns’ perspectives.

Gimbert, B., & Nolan, J. F., (2003). The influence of the professional development school context on supervisory practice: A university supervisor’s and interns’ perspectives. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 18(4), 353-379.


Summary: This qualitative case study examined supervisors’ and interns’ perspectives of supervision in a professional development school context. They found that relationships were critical for establishing readiness for other aspects of supervision such as observation and analysis of practice. The supervisors built relationships with interns, mentors, and students in order to build that readiness. Relationships with children, knowledge of the classroom context, and deep understanding of interns’ beliefs enabled the supervisors to ask deeper questions about pedagogy and student learning.

Research Question: What role does context play? Given a different context, do the process of supervision and the role of the university supervisor change?


Methodology: Qualitative case study


Methods: participant observation, extensive field notes, six semi-structured interviews with interns, supervisor journal entries, notes from meetings and informal conversations, observation notes, and conference notes


Participants: Two university supervisors, six interns in a PDS context


Data Analysis Technique: qualitative, document analysis, NVIVO coding


Key Quotes/Findings:

  • “The intern-PDA supervisory relationship became a means of professional growth for both the teacher candidates and the university supervisor” (p. 353).
  • Relationships set the readiness for supervision. “First, interns stated  that the process of relationship building with their respective PDA greatly supported readiness for supervision” (p. 363).
  • “In the PDS context under study, the interns’ portrayal of supervision acknowledged that a hierarchy of power exists – this will always be the case because the supervisor is ultimately responsible for the allocation of coursework grades and has overriding teaching experiences. However, the PDS interns highlighted mutual respect and professional camaraderie as important elements of the intern-PDA relationships” (p. 364).
  • “When trust was the founding ingredient of this relationship, prevailing struggles over who had the most power seemed to fade into mutual synergism that supported the intern’s professional growth” (p. 364).
  • Understanding the preservice teachers as learners and the context as a learning environment prior to beginning any observations was critical for establishing a readiness for engaging in other tasks of supervision. “During this first month of school, Nolan (supervisor) was in classrooms getting to know the mentor, the intern, and the children. He worked with individual children and small groups of learners and occasionally cotaught lessons with the mentor teacher and the inter. Consequently, he became an accepted member of the classroom by all the participants and had a much clearer picture of the context” (p. 365).
  • Vulnerability is an important characteristic for relationship building, especially on the part of the supervisor. “As he (the supervisor) worked with the children in the classroom, interns and mentors quickly realized that he did not have all the answers” (p. 365).
  • “Nolan believed that these opportunities helped to establish both the importance of reflection as well as the mutual vulnerability and sense of humility that are critical components of reflective supervision. Thus, when the cycles of observation and conferencing began, some important groundwork had been laid” (p. 366).
  • “When the intern and the PDA were united in their efforts to support children’s conceptual learning, they felt comfortable sharing conversations about children at unplanned times” (p. 371).
  • Relationships with children permitted more and deeper questions about students and student learning to be asked. “Within the PDS context, Nolan’s questions tended to be quite different. He was now familiar with all the children he was observing. He had some sense of their general personality characteristics, their learning styles, and their strengths and weaknesses as learners. Thus, he was able to focus the interns’ attention not only on the impact of their behavior on children in general but also very specifically on individual children” (p. 372).