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Teaching Teachers Self-Supervision

A review of Teacher Self-Supervision: Why Teacher Evaluation Has Failed and What We Can Do About It, by William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell
By Nick Bowley
Teaching Teachers  Self-Supervision

Something over four decades ago, the present reviewer was a student teacher anxiously practicing his craft in an east London school. One day, owing to an administrative malfunction, he found two supervisors sitting in on his late afternoon ninth-grade lesson, clipboards and pencils at the ready. So far so bad. What followed was worse. Summoned to the respective tutors’ offices one week later, he was presented with two conflicting verdicts. His lesson had been either a total failure or else an outstanding success: take your pick. For the sake of self-esteem, your reviewer chose the latter judgment, but later he reflected that neither had been helpful. This was his initiation into the nefarious world of teacher evaluation.
William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell have written an important contribution to the teaching profession’s often conflicting efforts to resolve the two questions: what is the purpose of teacher evaluation and how should we go about it? In their latest publication, Teacher Self-Supervision: Why Teacher Evaluation Has Failed and What We Can Do About It, the authors draw upon their internationally acknowledged expertise to propose a model of teacher self-supervision (note the word self) that is predicated upon the need for teachers to be given, and to accept, responsibility for their students’ learning and their own. Teachers who develop the internal motivation and the skills to monitor, assess, and improve their professional competence are those who will empower their students to become internally motivated, self-directed learners.
It sounds simple, but of course it’s not. The strength of this book, therefore, lies in its compelling description of a self-sustaining school-based process for teacher growth that is effective, low-cost, and—this may be a “first”—enjoyable for all concerned. The process is rooted in the proven capacity of the Cognitive Coaching model to enable the teacher to self-address the three key questions that guide an upwards spiral of professional growth: Where do I want to be? Where am I now? And how can I close the gap?
The book is intriguingly structured around eight “It’s all about...” statements, starting, as it should, with “It’s all about learning,” and ending with, “It’s all about reclaiming our profession.” The logic of the structure is consistent with what we know about student and adult learning, and the research base is solid and comprehensive. The Powell’s prose style is unusual for a book of such academic respectability. Its richness conveys the authors’ intense passion for sharing their world of learning; many a paragraph merits a second reading in order to fully comprehend the density of its meaning, while others tell stories in beguilingly simple prose that draws the reader in and activates her memory.
Quibbles? Perhaps just two. First, while accepting the authors’ assertion that the teacher should own the content of the coaching conversation, our research into what is effective in supporting student achievement has come such a long way in the past two decades that the inclusion of a chapter titled “It’s all about what we now know works best…” could usefully be interwoven into the constructivist approach to professional growth.
Secondly, the authors are unduly antagonistic towards the external forces that they perceive as ranged against the professional integrity of the teaching profession: the press, big business, and politicians. Education serves all of society and we should embrace our critics, however painful that may be, based upon the positive presupposition that they, too, have honorable intentions for our children’s learning.
Where now for the Powells and their model of teacher self-supervision? It is an approach that will justifiably attract widespread attention. I suggest that their book should serve as a springboard for the development of a training protocol designed to meet the demand that will undoubtedly follow for a deeper understanding of the theory and skills necessary to put their proposal for teacher self-supervision into action in schools around the world.
Teacher Self-Supervision: Why Teacher Evaluation Has Failed and What We Can Do About It, by William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell, published by John Catt Educational Ltd (December 2, 2015).

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