Thoughts on Feiman-Nemser's Paper - From Preparation to Practice: Designing a Continuum to Strengthen and Sustain Teaching

Feiman-Nemser, S. (2001): From preparation to practice: Designing a continuum to strengthen and sustain teaching.

This paper was particularly helpful for three reasons. First, I appreciated the tone and format of the paper, and I felt like I could relate her use of voice and stance to my dissertation proposal. At present, I felt as if I have kept my voice out of the paper, and listening to how she keeps her voice present in her arguments was helpful. It also made me realize that I need to take a stand in my proposal. I do have beliefs about supervision, supervisor learning, professional development, and professional development schools. I have kept my voice hidden behind those of the researchers who know more and therefore have more of a reputation to say something about these fields. What I took from this paper is that I need to use those researchers to support my voice, but my voice meaning my thoughts need to be heard. Second, this paper gave me some resources and some insights into professional learning with regard to teachers and teacher candidates. In this paper, Feiman-Nemser talks about teacher development and how professional development needs to be aware of and attend to it, something that has been lacking at present. Third, there were many passages that I felt I could relate to supervisor learning. It is this last learning on which I would prefer to elaborate. 

A Knowledge Base for Supervisors:

The author talks about Shulman's work regarding teachers' knowledge base. Teachers must have, "... (a) knowledge of central facts, concepts, theories, and procedures within a given field; (b) knowledge of explanatory frameworks that organize and connect ideas; and (c) knowledge of the rules of evidence and proof (Shulman, 1986) p. 6 in doc). Reading this material and reviewing my proposal outline made me think about the knowledge base for supervisors. What research is out there on the knowledge base of supervisors? What knowledge do they need? How could these areas of teacher knowledge be applied to supervisor knowledge? She also mentions that teachers need to know about child development and culture. I think the same is true for supervisors. They need to have a knowledge base about adult learning and teacher development (hence the reason for one of my comp questions - thx Bern) since they will be working with teacher candidates. Not only do they need to understand how adults learn, but they need to be aware of the research on how teachers develop since their students are specific to the teaching context.


Engaging in Supervision - the Context for Practicum

The author mentions that while teacher education lays the foundation of and for knowledge, real teaching begins with experience. I am wondering if the same could be true for supervision. One of the requirements of supervision is experience as a teacher. Could that act as the foundation for supervision? There are obviously more skills and knowledge needed, but by requiring teaching experience for supervisors is one statement of the knowledge base for supervisors. I am also thinking that, at least in my experience, I learned and am still learning supervision through experience. While it would be very easy to prescribe a curriculum for supervisors, I think such an act would only result in what we have seen in the teacher preparatory curriculum - a disconnect between theory and practice. Supervisor learning, then, would need to be more organic in nature. It would need to occur in a certain learning environment that possesses a culture of inquiry. This disposition towards problematizing the practice could be related to this next quotation. The author states, " Charged with the same responsibilities as their more experienced colleagues, beginning teachers are expected to perform and to be effective. Yet most aspects of the teaching environment are unfamiliar---students, curriculum, administrative policies and procedures, testing requirements, professional norms, the larger community. While novices deserve relevant information in a timely fashion and easy access to answers as questions arise, much of what they need to understand cannot be explained once and for all (p. 19 of doc)." Although this quotation is about teachers' knowledge, I think it is highly applicable to supervisors since they must have this same knowledge with regard to not only the schools and districts in which they will be supervising. In order to support their students' (who are teacher candidates) learning, supervisors must have this kind of contextual knowledge.


Supervisory Relationships:

This next point stood out to me because of all of the conversations I have been having with key individuals regarding feedback and relationships between supervisors and teachers or teacher candidates. The author talks about how teacher candidates struggle with the construction of their professional identity. They are unsure of how to be both authoritative and friendly. From conversations, I am thinking that the same could be true for supervisors. They struggle with figuring out how to be their teachers while at the same time relating to students who are adults. For some, especially those who were elementary teachers, they know how to relate to kids but adults are different.


Professional Discourse as a Mechanism for Supporting Supervisor Learning

The author uses the following definition for professional discourse: " Professional discourse involves rich descriptions of practice, attention to evidence, examination of alternative interpretations, and possibilities (p. 36 in doc)." She mentions how her vision of reform-oriented professional development would be focused around this idea. I think that the same could be said for supervisor learning, and really in my experiences, this is how I learned and continue to learn. Learning is social by nature so it seems strange that we would not include this aspect in teacher preparation. I think then when I eventually start to write about the professional development of supervisors, I need to talk about professional discourse as a mechanism for learning.


Opportunities for Supervisor Learning:

In this next quotation, I suggest substituting the word "supervisor" for "teacher." "Opportunities for teacher (supervisor) learning are situated in the tasks of teaching (supervision)--planning, enacting instruction, assessing student understanding, reflecting on teaching (how are these different from the tasks of supervision - did Sergiovanni & Starratt talk about this concept - the tasks of supervision)--and in samples of student work. When teachers undertake these tasks together and study these materials, they clarify their goals and beliefs, gain new knowledge, and learn from the ideas and experience of others (p. 38 in doc)." So, I am wondering if it would be safe to say that professional learning for supervisors occurs in the integrated nature of the tasks of supervision and the student products. Hmmm.... I think I need to think about this part more...