Clinical supervision of teachers is a term used to describe the process of coaching inexperienced teachers. In this lesson, we will be looking at the stages in the clinical cycle, and the role of the mentor and mentee teachers during this cycle.

The Origins of Clinical Supervision of Teachers

Clinical supervision of teachers is a concept born in the 1960s at Harvard, and continued later on at the University of Pittsburgh. It originated in the frustration that Morris Cogan and Robert Goldhammer felt while trying to improve the instructional practices of beginning teachers. The term was borrowed from the medical profession and has since become what is used to describe the practice of experienced teachers coaching younger, inexperienced teachers, to improve their ability to teach in a classroom setting.

Depending on the school district and university involved, this could take on a variety of appearances. It might be a seasoned teacher working with a student teacher assigned to them by the university and their principal. However, it could also take the form of an experienced teacher, called a mentor, coaching a first-year teacher in their school, referred to as a mentee. The coaching can involve observations, or any other work the pair do together to improve the teaching practices of the mentee.

In either case, the model of clinical supervision uses experienced teachers as trusted colleagues rather than their evaluator. Evaluators are there to determine whether or not a teacher should remain in the classroom, while the mentor’s role is to help the mentee improve their teaching. By leaving the experienced teachers out of the student teacher’s or new teacher’s evaluation, it gives them an opportunity to bond with colleagues in a trusting relationship. This bond of mentor to mentee is intended in this model to nurture and coach the new teachers to success in their classrooms.

Mentor-Mentee Relationship
Mentor Mentee Relationship

Phase One: The Pre-Conference and Lesson Observation

The clinical supervision model, while it has variations, tends to follow the same pattern. First, the experienced teacher and their mentee, or student teacher, meet for a pre-observation conference. For the student teacher or new teacher, it gives them a chance to talk through their lesson. In this conversation, they can explore the purpose of the lesson, the strategies they will use to teach it, and how they will assess what they want students to learn.

The next step is for the mentor teacher to observe the new teacher teaching the lesson. In this step, the mentor teacher is just an observer meant to help the teacher, later on, reflect on what happened during the lesson. There are a variety of ways a mentor teacher can record their observations. In some cases, they may record a transcript of everything that happens during the lesson. If the new teacher is working on something specific, such as classroom management, the mentor teacher may create a frequency chart of specific events that happen during the lesson, such as students shouting out without raising their hand.

Purpose of Pre-Conference
Purpose of Pre-Conference

Phase Two: Data Analysis

Next, comes the hard part, data analysis. Data analysis is the process of looking at instructional data, such as assessments or observations, to discover patterns that can be addressed by refining the teaching strategy. A first approach is a guided approach, whereby the mentor leads the mentee to patterns in the data. In this strategy, the mentor teacher needs to sit with their mentee and walk them through the process of analyzing data from the lesson.

Another approach is to present the mentee with the data, and gently guide them to any patterns that may exist. For some mentees, they will immediately see the patterns, and understand the areas they need to address in their teaching practice. Often, however, the mentor may need to be ready with probing questions to help guide the mentee in how to approach their data.

Another type of data analysis may involve the mentee going through the transcript of their teaching, and annotating the transcript to identify patterns such as effective or ineffective classroom management. This can involve having the mentee come up with a marking system they can use to annotate their transcript, just like a student would annotate text. This will help the mentee recognize any patterns in the data.

In either case, the goal of working with a new teacher on data analysis is to help them develop a critical eye for their teaching style, and how that in turn impacts student learning.

Data Analysis Stage
Data Analysis Stage

Phase Three: Reflection

After the conference, both mentor and mentee reflect on the outcomes. For the mentee, this means thinking about the lesson and its outcomes and planning the next instructional steps. This may mean changing strategies if the data showed they were ineffective or refining the strategies that were used to have a stronger positive impact on student learning. For the mentor, it means reflecting on not just their mentee, but how they perform in the clinical cycle. What strategies worked well with the mentee, and which ones didn’t? And just like the mentee, the mentor needs to decide the next steps they should take to continue to improve their teaching practices.

Lesson Summary

Clinical supervision of teachers was a concept formed in the 1960s and followed the model used by doctors and other medical professionals. In this model, there is a mentor teacher who is experienced and has proven themselves to be successful in the classroom. They are paired with a student teacher, or inexperienced teacher, who will be their mentee. The mentor and mentee work through the clinical cycle together throughout the year to improve their teaching practice. This begins with a pre-conference before the mentor observes the mentee teaching a class. While conducting the observation, the mentor will record data in the form of a transcript or other notes about what plays out in the course of the lesson. Next, the mentor will meet with the mentee and guide them through the process of data analysis. Finally, both the mentor and mentee will reflect on the clinical cycle and determine the next steps regarding teaching and coaching respectively.