The beauty and sometimes the beast of systemic thinking in school improvement is that while we can speak to Senge’s 5 Disciplines and explore them pretty deeply, doing so, is also often misleading.

Sometimes I wish there were a “Sixth” Discipline because then I can use the metaphor of the Rubik’s Cube. I will anyway, even though we’ve yet to invent that sixth side. By Rubik’s Cube I mean to suggest that solving that puzzle means twisting and turning those colors and sides on three axes in all sorts of combinations quickly leads the puzzle solver to realize that if you twist one side often ALL the other sides are affected by your actions. It gets pretty complicated pretty quickly.

In the same way whilst we can describe each of Senge’s five disciplines it is as important to realize that these variables are not nearly so discreet as you may have originally thought. In other words, they do intersect, overlap, and blur together very readily. So even as I wax poetic to common shared vision amongst the supervisors I described in the previous post it is equally important that having a sense of shared vision is only one side of the cube.

If we mean to improve instructional practices systemically we also mean to engage in the other disciplines and in this post’s case, particularly that of Team Learning. Team Learning is about assuring that all participants are able to engage each other in effective dialogue towards  meaningful purpose. It is also about having common language and terms that can serve as an effective baseline for this dialogue. It’s about making sure that it is true that “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

In this case I am referring to the “data” of supervision. The bottom line is that the supervisor and the teacher need to be able to understand the actions and practices of the lesson observed in order to distill and identify the lesson’s plusses and deficits.

At least two steps are involved in doing this systemically. The first is that all participants, supervisors and teachers, are schooled in common rubrics about effective instruction.

The second step falls primarily to the supervisor to have effective data gathering means to capture the lesson’s activities and components so that the post conference collaboration can point the way to continuous improvement.

What will follow in this description is not particularly earth shaking. What it does do is affirm research based practices and suggestions that should characterize an effective supervisory system.

1. Observer and teacher should have pre-agreed on which components of the lesson that they felt were priority.

2. Observer should script the lesson and steer the bulk of the script toward the pre-agreed observation foci.

3. Observer should record what the students do AND what the teacher does!

4. Observer should use a range of artifacts as concrete evidence to substantiate principles for analysis and assessment in the post observation.

The next posts will elaborate on these practices. But I’d daresay that while there is nothing you may not have already known about effective clinical supervision you need to take your own school or school district’s pulse to decide the extent to which these suggestions are the rule rather than the exception.