Lopez-Real, Stimpson, & Bunton Supervisor conferences: An exploration of some difficult topics.

Lopez-Real, F., Stimpson, P., & Bunton, D. (2001). Supervisor conferences: An exploration of some difficult topics. Journal of Education for Teaching: International Research and Pedagogy, 27(2), 161-173.


Summary: This qualitative study examined how supervisors discuss difficult topics with their student teachers in Hong Kong. They found that having trust relationships is critical to the success of how supervisors and student teachers discuss difficult issues. The authors also argue that the most important features for handling this discussion include the ability to clearly identify the nature of the problem, have an understanding of the context and background of the situation, provide support and encouragement, include suggestions, reference concrete incidents from the observation, create and sustain a trusting relationship, be sensitive and use an indirect approach (sugar coating).

Research Questions: What are the perceptions of student teachers and supervisors as to how difficult areas should be dealt with in post-observation conferences? To what extent do these perceptions diverge or converge? What are the implications for supervision?


Methodology: Not clearly identified, Stimulated recall

Methods: Questionnaires (open ended and a topic rating), semi structured interviews

Participants:  200 student teachers and 28 supervisors (questionnaires), 27 student teachers and 27 supervisors (interviews)


Key Quotes/Findings:

  • Supervisors frequently comment on enthusiasm and commitment in their conversations with student teachers. However, it is difficult to identify reasons for a deficit in these areas. This is considered an “inherent personal failing” (p. 166).
  • Supervisors and student teachers struggle to identify solutions to lack of enthusiasm and lack of commitment.
  • Supervisors also identified lack of presence as an issue. Presence is related to image, “to a broad range of parameters including physical appearance, use of spoken language, use of body language, professional conduct, discipline, and relationships with pupils” (p. 167).
  • Having an open and trusting relationship facilitates the process of discussing difficult topics.
  • Forming relationships takes time and occurs within the university and school contexts. “Clearly such a relationship has to be formed over a period of time, both within the context of the taught programme in the university or training institution and within the context of a series of teaching practice observation visits” (p. 170).

As a starting point for discussing difficult topics, supervisors should “use objective facts” from the lesson. Then, once they have identified the problem, they can offer alternative strategies (p. 171).