Reflections on Sergiovanni & Starratt Chapter 3: Supervision and the Learning Community

Reflections on Chapter 3:

            In this chapter the authors focus on how the supervisor's role involves building, supporting, and sustaining the learning community both with regard to its presence in the curriculum and as a component of the building climate. The learning community removes former inauthentic practices of professional development, which used a deficit approach to learning, and instead places the teachers' learning at the heart of professional development experiences. The supervisor's role is to (1) understand the importance and need for such a learning community and (2) create that community both for teachers and for students. In order to create the learning community, the supervisor must be aware of the types of reflective practice that happen in order for learning to occur.

            The two types cited are primary and secondary reflective practice. Primary reflective practice occurs in the moment; secondary reflective practice occurs outside the moment. Regardless of the when the reflection occurs, both of these practices are introspective meaning that they are done by the teacher to him or herself. Primary reflective practice has limitatsions in that the teacher as the primary reflector is limited by his/her knowledge and reflective abilities. The same could also be true for secondary reflective practice if it too occurs independently. However, secondary reflective practice can occur collegially. When such a practice occurs, the limitations exceed that of the individual and become the limitation of the group's knowledge and reflective abilities.

Sergiovanni & Starratt show that these reflective practices are filtered through the teacher's lens even when they engage in collegial secondary practices. When teachers engage in collegial secondary reflective practices, they bring the issues and concerns to their peers, but they still are the primary witnesses and the filter through which the data is brought to the group. Having this taint on the data is unavoidable when no third party is present in the moment to gather data and then engage in secondary reflective practices. Supervision can act as that neutralizing force of data gathering for secondary reflection.

The lens so far has been focused on teacher learning, but I want to adjust it more to focus on supervisor learning. It is very possible for a supervisor to engage in both primary and secondary reflective practice. When a supervisor is engaging supervisory practices, she can analyze, reflect, and adjust her supervisory practices. She can also engage in secondary reflective practice independently or by bringing her struggles and questions to a group. Our PDA meetings would be one example of a structure that supports collegial secondary reflection. These reflective practices contribute to the supervisor's learning. (Note to self: By learning I also could mean growth and development.)

So far it has been argued that primary and secondary reflective practices are introspective processes that promote either teacher or supervisor learning, but I am wondering if there isn't a third level of reflection that occurs through observation. In this case, the reflection is not introspective - it is not done by the teacher engaged in the process - but rather it is done by the observer, a parallel party to the experience. During observation, the observer is constantly analyzing and reflecting on the practice. Right or wrong, she is essentially passing judgment on what she sees reorganizing the experience through her lens. Whether or not those evaluations are made public to the teacher are not the point of this paragraph, although I would argue that such statements are detrimental to the supervisory process for true supervision allows the teacher to derive her own conclusions, evaluations, and judgments about her own practice based on data. The supervisor's role in that case is to act as a neutral object gathering data. Regardless of all attempts to be neutral, it is impossible to eliminate all judgment from the observer's mind. (Side note: I think there's a connection her to my study with Jim on supervisor decision-making). Therefore by watching another individual's practice, analyzing it in the moment, and reflecting on it, is the supervisor engaging in primary reflection? I think I would argue no as I have defined primary reflective practice to be done by the active party. The observer is not the actor; she is the observer, witness to the practice, but nonetheless she is engaging in reflective practice. If these thoughts stand true, could there then be such a construct of tertiary reflective practice meaning the reflective practice that occurs when one observes another? Hybrids have mentioned this. They talk about observing other teachers and taking ideas back with them. This "taking of ideas" is a pseudonym for reflecting on another's practice. When watching someone else teach whether it is a peer or an intern, the hybrid decides for herself if she likes the practice enough to incorporate it into her repertoire. She is therefore evaluating and placing judgment on what she sees as being effective or ineffective; she is engaging in tertiary reflective practices.

If such a concept exists, I think it has explanations for hybrid's learning and supervisor development. If these experiences become discrepant events or critical incidences, then they are indicators of transformational learning.

This chapter was devoted to the learning community and the supervisor's role in the learning community. The authors discuss this role as one of fostering and supporting the learning community, but they neglected a key component - the supervisor's learning in the learning community and the process through which the supervisor engages in reflective practice. Here opens an opportunity for me to contribute my thoughts on supervisor learning and supervisor reflective practice.

Some questions for further thought:

How does that reflection differ from evaluation? What would the defining differences be? Does reflection occur through evaluation? Could I argue that through observation and evaluation one is reflecting on the experience and deciding what works and doesn't work? However, you'd have to be aware of on what grounds these judgments are being made. Are they sound? Are then sound evaluations/judgments a product of reflective practice?)