Written by Glen Dawursk, Jr., April 13, 2007
As students seeking knowledge in supervision and evaluation, it is essential that we be offered an unbiased, realistic understanding of the role of the principal and the role of the teacher. One significant source of this understanding is the textbook. In this article, Ulrich C. Reitzug, an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, suggests that most textbooks portray “the principal as expert and superior, the teacher as deficient and voiceless, the teaching as fixed technology, and supervision as discrete intervention.” (Reitzug, 2) He came to this conclusion through a thorough study of ten supervision textbooks copyrighted from 1985 to 1995. In addition, he suggested that aspects of this textbook bias are in direct contrast to current research.
Reitzug states that according to the textbooks, school improvement is done primarily through a superior-subordinate hierarchical and nonreciprocal approach: “top-down, one-to-one relationship between the principal and the individual teacher.” (2) He suggests that a principal’s expertise is only conditioned by their status. This principal-teacher dyad isolates teachers and “severely restricts opportunities for educative discourse.” (9) He argues that the interpretation of what is in the best interest of a student and what is the appropriate developmental stage of a teacher are often inappropriate. “Frequently those in power (e.g., principals, supervisors) position their interpretation of reality as the correct interpretation, and alternative interpretations are viewed as inappropriate, counterproductive, or wrong.” (2) He further suggests that this textbook image equates to professional teachers being “pawns in achieving instructional goals.” (2) He uses the Latin derivative for supervision to demonstrate that the term’s negative origins (“a process or scanning a text for errors or deviations from the original text”) are still being focused on by most textbooks today. (3) He contends that supervision textbooks focus on teacher’s deficiencies and that the principal’s role as a dictorial expert. He states that teaching is not shown as a “complex endeavor that requires continual study” or that teachers can work in collaboration with the principal toward improvement. (3) Instead, he suggests that supervisory textbooks portray teachers as clueless robots who are given little or no voice in their growth, over-all school plan, or improved school instruction. They are simply conditioned by the principal.
Next, the author states that supervisory textbooks assume that teaching is a “fixed technology” which comes primarily from process-product research where “teaching is understood as a linear activity in which particular teacher actions (such as direct instruction, higher-order questions, or responses to misbehavior) produce particular pupil responses (high standardized test scores or ‘appropriate’ classroom behavior).” (5) It is an applied science. Therefore, problems are fixed by the principal in a linear or causal approach. Reitzug strongly disagrees with the fixed-technology approach and contends that current research is in contradiction as well.
The final image Reitzug purports is prevalent in supervisory textbooks is that supervision is an “intervention with a specific beginning and ending time that is imposed upon teachers.” (6) He states that most textbooks contradict themselves by suggesting that supervision is a service to the teachers, but equating teachers to “sinners who must be saved.” (6) He suggests that the clinical method of supervision is an example of how supervision is bound in time rather than process and how it is only the opinion of the administrator that “serves the teacher.”
Needless-to-say, Reitzug has approached a sensitive area. As a student seeking to know the truths about being an effective principal, it is clear that their really are no absolute truths in supervision. His debate demonstrates that just as the pendulum of education swings from one trend to another, recycling the same ideas in new packages every few years, supervision is also evolving. What he may have perceived as a bias, I often considered simply a tension in the swing of the pendulum. I strongly agree with his assessment about how images are limiting. If a teacher is portrayed as simply being a puppet, manipulated by the administration, new principals may justify and approach their role as the dictator boss rather than the collaborative team leader. Having written my masters thesis on media’s influence on youth, I understand how the images (visual and figualtively) can influence a person. Reitzug’s discussion about current research conducted by Judith Warren Little offered credible arguments toward textbook images which encouraged increased collaboration between administration and staff, encouragement for school-based professional communities, an understanding that “educating (teaching) is problematic and professional development (supervision) as sustained and ongoing.” (9) Finally, I appreciated Reitzug’s comment that even principal’s need to be open to improvement. He suggested that “collaboration for principals means not only working with teachers in critiquing teaching theories but also subjecting their own principal leadership practice to critique.” (8) After all, no one is perfect.
While a difficult read due to the significant coverage of material from multiple sources, it offers important considerations for any new or existing principal. Too often we simply accept what we read or are taught. Reitzug not only is bringing that into contention, but more importantly he is allowing for discourse, discussion and debate. He is promoting the need for considering more than one perspective. Just as there are multiple modalities for learning, there are also multiple means of supervision and evaluation. Our task as students of principalship is to find the method which works best in our individual situations and then tweak them toward the greatest potential for excellence amongst our administrators, teachers, and most importantly our students. That is the greater role of the principal.