Levine Features and strategies of supervisor professional community as a means of improving the supervision of preservice teachers.

Levine, T. H. (2011). Features and strategies of supervisor professional community as a means of improving the supervision of preservice teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 930-941.


Summary: The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine the features of professional learning communities as a structure for supporting supervisor professional learning. The study used interviews of 19 supervisors, observations of meetings, and field notes of those meetings to derive key features. Those features include norms promoting collaboration, trust and familiarity among supervisors, activities deprivatizing practice, shared expectations and information about the role, and regular time to collaborate.

Research Questions: What do supervisors say that they want or need in order to improve their work? Could supervisors’ self-identified needs be met through more collaborative professional communities?

Methodology: Qualitative case study

Methods: Interviews, field notes, observations

Participants: 19 supervisors

Data Analysis: Not identified


Key Quotes/Findings:

  • Professional learning communities are a critical structure for supporting supervisor professional learning.
  • These PLCs need:

    • Norms promoting collaboration
    • Trust and familiarity among supervisors
    • Activities deprivatizing practice
    • Shared expectations and information about the role
    • Regular time to collaborate
  • Nurturing this collegial space also requires sustained effort and attention.
  • With regard to relationships, social events were an important routine for building community.
  • First year supervisors need more support with logistical information regarding expectations about their role.
  • Supervisors want time to talk with other supervisors and they want to talk about:

    • Promoting reflection
    • Observation
    • Leading/facilitating small group discussions among PSTs
    • Leading midterm conferences with CTs and PSTs
    • Videoing preservice teachers
    • Post observation conferencing
    • Writing contracts and PSTs individual goal setting documents
  • Supervisors desire collegial relationships.
  • Building interpersonal support and familiarity with other supervisors is important. Something as simple as knowing the other supervisors’ names is key.
  • “This suggests that supervisors employ a number of practices in common, even if they’re often left to develop these practices on their own; supervisors themselves saw that these practices could be developed in the company of colleagues” (p. 936).
  • “In sum, data from supervisors suggest that supervisors’ needs, collegial relationships, and joint activities can be sufficiently intense that professional community can exist” (p. 936).
  • The same is true for supervisors: “Without active efforts to promote collaboration and mutual responsibility for improving practice, teachers are often left on their own to develop their practice” (p. 937).
  • “In sum, data suggest that teacher education programs interested in strengthening supervisor professional communities can and should intentionally develop norms promoting collaboration and collective responsibility for improving supervisory practice” (p. 937).
  • Routines and rituals are important features of building relationships: “Perhaps the most powerful way to shift norms, however, would go beyond just saying what shared rules should guide supervisors work together; choosing and supporting activities that instantiate desired norms could sustain or alter such norms” (p. 937).
  • Professional learning communities need to have joint activity that is focused on practice: “In other words, they will need both colleagues and activity structures that help them to see taken-for-granted practices, beliefs, or knowledge, to question these, and to unlearn whatever is unproductive” (p. 937).
  • Trust and interpersonal familiarity are important characteristics for building and sustaining relationships. It is possible that these characteristics are not necessarily precursors but may be the result of collaboration. “Trust and interpersonal familiarity can be resources that grow out of such collaboration rather than preconditions to it” (p. 938).
  • “Finally, data suggest that building trust and familiarity should be an ongoing process…without continuing attention, this feature can weaken” (p. 938).
  • “Where supervisors know and trust each other, they will probably be more willing to develop norms of collaborating with colleagues, assuming responsibility for colleagues’ professional growth, and taking risks that accompany deprivatized practice and critique of colleagues’ work” (p. 937).
  • “Carefully selecting and sequencing increasingly challenging opportunities for supervisor reflection, discussion, and inquiry may also engender trust (see Young, 2007)” (p. 937).
  • A common problem in supervision: “In most nations, agreed-upon standards or statements regarding best practice, required outcomes, or ethical conduct do not guide supervisors in preservice teacher education programs” (p. 938).
  • “Groups of supervisors will need time to develop shared objectives, trust, and new capacity for engaging in collaborative work” (p. 938).
  • “With intentional effort, the perspectives, practices, and forms of discourse of marginalized group members may be harnessed to create hybrid practices and discourses. Such new forms of understanding, talk, and action could inform and improve the work of all supervisors” (p. 938).
  • “Supervisors could actually engage in aspects of a shared practice, such as taking observation notes or debriefing an observation with a student teacher” (p. 939).