An alternative collaborative supervision practice between university-based teachers and school-based teachers
Annfrid R. Steele
UiT-The Arctic University of Norway
There is an increased focus in teacher education on research-based teaching as a means to develop a more research-based professional knowledge. However, research from several Western countries shows that neither school-based nor university-based teachers are familiar with how to integrate research-based knowledge in professional teacher practice. Third-space collaborative partnership models between university-based and school-based teachers, who share responsibility for student teachers' learning, have been promising. However, research shows the implications of partnerships as being unbalanced; the university retains control over the definition and delivery of knowledge, and most activities take place on campus. This action research study focuses on how adaptive joint supervision between school-based and university-based teachers is carried out with regard to student teachers' action learning projects. This process initiated mutual learning and understanding of research-based knowledge between the participants in a non-hierarchal, authentic partnership. The present study shows how this can become a supervision model for developing partnerships and mutual understanding of research-based knowledge between universities and schools, in respect of student teachers' professional development.
Model 1: Bachelor year for student teachers 1-7 and 5-10
UiT-The Arctic University of Norway, Institute for Teacher Education and Pedagogy, Department of Education
From the end of August until December, the student teacher is introduced to different research strategies (step 1). The focus is on action research and action learning. During the first semester, and right before the first school practice, a meeting is arranged to clarify all the practical aspects concerned with accomplishing the bachelor project (2). Step 3 illustrates the first dialogue seminar, which thematically focuses on action learning and research partnerships. Step 4 points to the student teachers' first school practice, where they should find possible options for their projects. When the student teachers return to campus, lectures and seminars on research and research ethics are held (5). The second dialogue seminar (6) is arranged just before the second school practice; this takes place in the second semester, which runs from January to mid-June. In this dialogue seminar (6), the supervisory teachers, both university- and school-based, are teamed with student teachers. The student-teachers' project is approved by both supervisors (7) before the second school practice, in which the action learning is to be carried out (8). When student teachers return to campus, supervision of their thesis by university-based teachers continues (9).
However, Mtika et al.'s (2014) critical review of various partnership models in higher education showed the implications of unbalanced partnerships: the university retains control over the definition and delivery of knowledge, and most activities take place on campus. They emphasised that effective collaborative partnership approaches value the joint sharing of understanding between university-based and school-based teachers; and they suggested that bringing school- and university-based teachers more closely together in non-hierarchical authentic partnerships has the potential to narrow the perceived disconnect between school and university, whilst directly supporting student teaching (Mtika et al., 2014, p. 67). Similarly, Hesjedal, Hetland and Iversen's (2015) research, which addressed facilitators for successful inter-professional collaboration between social workers and teachers, found that good communication, based on mutual language and common understanding, respect for each other's knowledge, and agreement on the mutual work process are important factors for success (Hesjedal et al,. 2015). Others have focused on collaborations where student teachers are involved in partnerships with teacher educators (Smith & Sela, 2005; Mtika et al., 2014) and, even more specifically, 'third-space' collaborative processes (Zeichner, 2010; Arhar et al., 2013; Taylor, Klein & Abrams, 2014).
However, Korthagen, Loughran and Russell (2006) pointed to the complexity and relational nature of collaboration in the third space, by suggesting that teacher educators working in this space must face simultaneous perspectives: "The perspective of the individual learning to teach, the perspective of the teacher in a school, and the perspective of the teacher educator in the university setting" (Korthagen et al., 2006 p. 1034). Taylor et al. (2014) explored the role of supervisors in a third space context to better understand how the universities could support teacher educators in these contexts. It is not enough to turn to the school-based teachers and announce that they are now teacher educators and are to act as supervisors. Many are frustrated by the lack of instruction from the faculty, wanting clearer roles, more defined and discrete tasks, and top-down professional development (Taylor et al., 2014, p. 6).
The idea of a 'third space' in this study refers to a process based on closer collaboration between school-based- university-based- and student teachers in a research partnership, with regard to supervising the student teachers' integration of research-based knowledge into their school practice. However, in any supervision practice there is a fine line between giving room for the student teachers' idea and not intervening too much. Early clarification of the student teachers being in charge of leading the research, and adaptivity in supervision towards their project, became important for student teachers' research autonomy.
In the present study, an adaptive supervision model was developed to follow up the student teachers' process of archiving their bachelor theses. The process also gave an opportunity for student teachers to develop research-based knowledge. Adaptive supervision involves supervisors not always being prepared with the correct 'answers' for the student teachers in the moment of supervision, since, as adaptive supervisors, they act together with the student teachers in the situation. This, unarguably, gives student teachers an authentic picture of what fieldwork is all about in research. As researchers, we do not necessarily have all the answers right there and then in the situation.
Based on the discussion of partnerships in third space collaboration practices and of supervision processes, the goal for this study is to explore collaborative relationships between schools and universities. The three research questions are:
In the dialogue seminars and supervision meetings, I had a dual role as a researcher and university-based teacher representing pedagogy. This involved supervising student teachers in their bachelor projects. At the beginning of the group sessions, I presented the research idea and explained the purpose of participating in the group. The double role as researcher and university-based teacher was important for gaining entry into the field.
In the second dialogue seminar (Model 1), after the student teachers had elaborated on the project and developed a new project design, we isolated strategic meeting points for supervision for the student teachers' project. In this study, a variant of lesson study, which is a form of teacher-led professional development (Danielsen, 2013; Puchner & Taylor, 2006), starting to become well-known in teacher education, was carried out within schools and in the classroom linked to the joint supervision. A model of how the supervision meetings were conducted can be illustrated thus:
Model 2: Model 2: Joint supervision of Bachelor thesis meetings inspired by lesson study
UiT-The Arctic University of Norway, Institute for Teacher Education and Pedagogy, Department of Education
Inspired by how lesson study is organised (Munthe, Helgevold & Bjuland, 2015), there was a pre-meeting (see Model 2) ahead of the planned action, in which student teachers explained to the supervisors their step-by-step plans for the lesson. It is important to mention that, ahead of this pre-meeting, student teachers had already emailed the planned lesson in the supervision document, which will be described in more detail in the section entitled "The supervision document". In the next step (Model 2), the university-based and school-based teachers observed the action learning based lesson; the lesson was then carefully discussed, and, based on reflections from the pre- and post-meetings, student teachers planned the next action learning lesson. After the lesson, a meeting was held (Model 2) to plan the next step in the project, in order to repeat the process. As previously mentioned, an important feature in the project was what we chose to name the 'supervision document'.
|A description of the lesson linked to the national curriculum, assessment goals, and general goals for the lesson.||Student teachers' reflection on the particular lesson.||Supervisors' feedback on how the lesson went.|
The document is structured in three categories, primarily for the student teacher to plan a classroom activity, but it also includes sections for reflection after the planned activity and for feedback from the school-based teacher on the content. In this study, two of the same documents were held; only one, which is of importance for this study, focused on the Bachelor project. This document was presented and discussed at the pre-meeting before the lesson (Model 2). Student teachers did not need to update supervisors or reiterate the research idea, since supervisors had already received a copy of the document in an email, ahead of the meeting. While supervisors were observing the planned actions in the classroom, they were participating as researchers for the student teachers' project. In the post-supervision meeting, we all shared observation notes and reflected together on the next step in the student teachers' project.
A risk of being this closely involved arises if supervisors are not aware of the power structure (Mtika et al., 2014); supervisors might interfere too much and take over the student teachers' project. As mentioned in the introduction, the idea of adaptive supervision is to adjust the approach to the needs of individual students (Anderson et al., 2006). However, there is a fine line in any supervision practice between not intervening too much and giving advice from your own preference, rather than following the student's ideas. To avoid this, the school-based teacher and I discussed the matter thoroughly in smaller group sessions at the first dialogue seminar and agreed that student teachers were responsible for leading the project. Our role as supervisors would be to be part of the research team, when it came to observation in the classroom actions, and to join in the reflection, but student teachers had to be the ones advancing the action learning project. As student teachers were also developing their projects in the supervision documents, it was reassuring for us that they took the responsibility, since they made their own conclusions about the project as it was developing. It is important to add that, as supervisors, we only had partial access to the main document, since we concentrated the supervision on the lessons the student teachers had planned ahead and sent to us; this was also intentional, in order that the student teachers should have the main responsibility for the project.
You cannot expect the school-based teachers to know what a bachelor project is. The bachelor projects are larger [have more credits] than the teacher exams that these teachers took 20 years ago, if they actually had a teacher exam then, and most school-based teachers are used to focusing on the practical aspects when the students are there. Now more is expected from them: you [the university] are expecting a higher reflection level.Another school-based teacher explicitly asked in the first dialogue seminar (Model 1): "What is going to be my role as a supervisor when the students are doing research?" This could reflect a feeling of insecurity about her role as a supervisor of the student teachers' research projects, as she did not identify her role as a supervisor with regard to research.
Later, after participating in the joint supervision project, the same school-based teacher, who stated she was unsure of her role as a supervisor, expressed in a conversation:
For me, this project became reinforced supervision. The student teachers experienced the two arenas [university/school] seeing the same thing and [school-based teacher and university-based teacher/author] giving supervision in the same language.This could be interpreted as meaning that, before, when supervising, she experienced conflicting messages from university-based teachers and in respect of what her interpretation of the student teachers' supervision should be, and now, in the joint supervision project, we experienced the same thing and thereby could give student teachers clearer and united feedback. However, the statement can also be viewed as an expression of her confidence in her role as supervisor, since she claimed the supervision was reinforced. Further, she expressed her curiosity about what became of students' projects: "Before, I always wondered what became of the supervision I had given them when they were in my classroom." Similarly to Mtika's et al, (2014) study, this could be taken to mean that the joint supervision practice gave the school-based teacher an opportunity to feel that the partnership was more balanced and less something initiated by the university, and in which the university retained control over the definition and delivery of knowledge (Mtika et al., 2014).
The last joint supervision meeting was arranged at the campus, where the school-based teacher also gave feedback on the students' theses. She stressed this to be a good thing and, in a conversation after the meeting, stated:
[when supervising on the students' project draft] Now I could talk to them [student teachers] from my experience as a teacher, and you [the university-based teacher/author] could talk to them from your experience on how to structure a thesis and about theory. We complemented each other and could ask them different questions. They also got to see that practice reflects theory.This can be interpreted to mean that the supervision practice gave an opportunity for the school-based teacher to act in a non-hieratical relationship (Mtika et al., 2014), since both perspectives were presented to the student teachers in the final stage of the bachelor process. The school-based teacher acted as supervisor, not partly but throughout the process, although the university-based teacher and an external censor performed the final assessment.
Compared to the others [student teachers] in our class, we are ahead [in the bachelor project], since we are writing the documents to you [supervisors]. It is hard to write the document as we have to describe and explain absolutely everything, but it will become easier when we start the writing process because we have the supervision documents.This could mean that, instead of traditionally waiting until they return to campus, student teachers actually started gradually composing and revising their theses from day one in the first dialogue seminar (Model 1). The document was simultaneously supervised, which I interpret as making the process more effective for both supervisors and student teachers (de Kleijn et al., 2015).
For my part, it is - we have had to write several papers but never a paper where we have actually been doing research. To know how to do it when so much is coming from your own reflection and you do not have sources other than yourself, how are you going to do it?This can be interpreted as frustration and a feeling of lacking competence in how to perform research. Student teachers are not thoroughly introduced to a subject-enhanced method course before the fourth year of the program, which could explain the frustration.
Later, in one supervision meeting, the question arose as to whether student teachers thought joint supervision differed from their previous supervising experience; the topic of research came up again - "Now the focus is more on doing research than writing a good thesis" was how one student teacher expressed it. She further explained, "We cannot hide when you [university-based teacher/author] are here [participating]." She clarified this by explaining that she had worried at the beginning that, if their plans for the project did not go as expected:
You [university-based teacher/author] would know. I was worried that, since you knew what went wrong in the project, it would be reflected in my grade. Now I understand that having a research approach to the project also means writing and focusing on what did not go as planned [in the project].As a supervisor participating in the student teachers' projects, I knew their projects 'inside out', not only the polished version; this gave me an opportunity to act as a supervisor there and then, when obstacles occurred, and to clarify, as in the project the student teacher referred to, that sometimes things going 'wrong' is not necessarily bad in connection with research.
In one joint supervision meeting, the question arose as to how participating in the joint supervision project differed from 'normal' supervising. One student teacher stated:
[when participating in the supervision project] You definitely have to think more about what you have done and then you also have to show more than before how it is connected to the curriculum at the university, this simultaneously while you are in your school practice.This could be understood to mean that, when involved in the joint supervision project, the relation between theory and practice was more visual and maybe easier to discover than in other supervision experiences. As a university-based teacher, my contribution in the supervision was often to question whether they could see a parallel with or contrast to the curriculum. The ongoing work with the supervision document forced students simultaneously to reflect on both perspectives, curriculum or theory, and what they experienced in practice. Another student teacher added "You learn new things about what you did - things that you did not know while you were going!" This could be viewed as the student teacher's explanation of the idea of theorising practical experience.
In the introductory section, adaptive teacher competence was mentioned as a way to adjust supervision so that each individual student teacher has favourable conditions for learning and understanding (Wang, 1992; de Kleijn et al., 2015). In the joint supervision project, the adaption was accomplished for student teachers, with the use of the supervision document. As previously mentioned, the student teachers were responsible for advancing the research project by framing the plan for each lesson with regard to the action learning project and emailing this ahead of the lesson to the supervisors. In connection with the third research question, this meant that student teachers maintained their autonomy. This also made the supervision more effective and, at the same time, made the accomplishment of the bachelor project more effective for student teachers (Zeichner, 2010).
Regarding the second research question, the solution and different perspectives for analysing the action were introduced collaboratively in the joint supervision meeting after the lesson. The flexible approach to supervision could explain why student teachers now expressed a deeper understanding of the research process. An explanation could be that student teachers discovered that supervisors' approach to research gave an exploratory character to a problem in the adaptive joint supervision practice (Bronkhorst et al., 2013).
Joint supervision practices with a focus on research can provide the possibility for both theory and practice to be exemplified simultaneously for the student teacher. Since the action learning projects were all strongly connected to the classroom, school-based teachers' knowledge about the pupils, the framework in that particular school, as well as theoretical- and experience-based knowledge, became important for a deeper understanding of the action learning project, as well as for understanding research. Traditionally, this process of conceptualising happens after the student teachers' school practice, maybe in a writing process linked to an examination, reflecting on what happened in the practical placement term (Grossmann et al., 2009). In joint supervision, with supervisors as fellow researchers, the process might happen simultaneously.
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|Author: Annfrid R. Steele is currently completing a PhD in pedagogy. Her research areas are peer learning, research and development, professional development, and learning in organisations. She currently holds a position as an associate professor in pedagogy in the Department of Education, UIT-The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway.|
Please cite as: Steele, A. R. (2017). An alternative collaborative supervision practice between university-based teachers and school-based teachers. Issues in Educational Research, 27(3), 582-599. http://www.iier.org.au/iier27/steele.html