Our self-study explores the developing pedagogies of a novice field supervisor and a novice professional development school coordinator as we worked together to support TCs completing their student teaching internships during emergency remote teaching (ERT) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We draw on Cuenca’s (2010b) notion of university supervisors as teacher pedagogues, rather than evaluators or administrators. Our findings show that increased communication between PDS coordinator and supervisor resulted in greater transparency of each others’ pedagogy, which facilitated deeper pedagogical reflection and creative problem-solving about how to support teacher candidates during ERT. Other findings include the benefit of written feedback for teacher candidate development and the importance of responsiveness to the emotional as well as pedagogical needs of teacher candidates. We believe that our practices during ERT can inform the development of structures and supports that improve the practices and pedagogies of PDS coordinators and supervisors in general.
Context of the study
While field experiences (teacher practicums; student teaching) are a valuable and integral component of practice-based teacher education (e.g., Darling-Hammond et al., 2005), there continues to be a lack of research on the preparation and experiences of teacher educators who work closely with teacher candidates (TCs) in the field: in particular, research on field supervisors and professional development school (PDS) coordinators (McCormack et al., 2019; Simmons, 1999). Our self-study explores the developing pedagogies of two novice teacher educators (the authors) as we worked together to support TCs completing their student teaching internships during emergency remote teaching (ERT; Hodges et al., 2020) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of our reflection and analysis is Mike’s (the second author’s) experiences as he adapted to his role of secondary mathematics supervisor amidst ERT, but we also incorporate insights about Monica’s (the first author’s) experience as PDS coordinator during this time.
Although many institutions of higher education treat teacher education as a “self-evident activity” (Zeichner, 2005, p. 118), the transition from K-12 teacher to teacher educator is fraught with anxiety (Murray & Male, 2005). The novice teacher educators interviewed in Murray and Male (2005) describe their transition from teacher to teacher educator as a “slow, uncertain process” (p. 130). The uncertainty of the process can be exacerbated by conflicting messages from the institution of higher education, especially when institutions position scholarly research above “ground-level practice,” such as the supervision of TCs (Dinkelman et al., 2006, p. 14). Thus, graduate student teacher educators, like those examined in our study, often receive more support and opportunities to hone their research skills than to develop their pedagogy of teacher education.
As a result of a lack of teacher educator preparation, Monica, a first-year PDS coordinator and doctoral candidate during ERT, experienced the complex challenges of the role compounded by a lack of recognition for her work (Dismuke et al., 2018; Simmons et al., 1999). Likewise, as a novice field supervisor and first-year doctoral student at the same institution, the second author, Mike, felt underprepared for the responsibilities of his role (Cuenca, 2010b; McCormack et al., 2019). In fact, because Mike is a non-traditionally certified secondary mathematics teacher, he was also unable to draw from an apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975) as it relates to supervision and traditional educator preparation programs. Other than a two-hour Zoom presentation largely focused on the administrative and evaluative responsibilities of supervision, his only understanding of his role came from a handful of discussions with his supervising PDS coordinator, Monica, and two other field supervisors at the beginning of the semester. Furthemore, both Mike and Monica experienced uncertainty about how to perform their roles as the educator preparation program continued to adapt to challenges presented by ERT.
The role of field supervisor is often perceived as primarily administrative and evaluative, which is perhaps why most supervisors do not receive substantial training for how to enact their role (Cuenca, 2010b; McCormack et al., 2019; Zeichner, 2005). Rather than focus on the administrative or evaluative responsibilities of supervisor or PDS coordinator (Fayne, 2017; Koerner et al., 2002; Simmons, 1999), our study adds to the literature on teacher education pedagogies. Specifically, our work builds on Cuenca’s (2010b) description of supervisor as teacher pedagogue, the pedagogical relationship between supervisor and TC, and how novice supervisors transition from teacher to teacher educator. Cuenca (2010b) chronicles his journey as a novice field supervisor, describing a transition from “teacher technician” (p. 38) to pedagogue. Ultimately, by engaging in self-study, Cuenca was able to move beyond sharing “this is what worked for me” (Murray & Male, 2005, p. 131) to creating meaningful learning experiences that problematize teaching and support TCs in applying theory to practice (Blanton et al., 2001; Loughran & Menter, 2019). One outcome of our self-study is to extend the concept of teacher pedagogue to the role of PDS coordinator and how they support the development of supervisors as teacher educators.
In alignment with the Castle Conference 14 theme of “Pausing at the Threshold,” we utilize self-study research to reflect on our experiences as supervisor and PDS coordinator during ERT and to apply these reflections to position, reposition, reframe, and reimagine these roles by addressing the following questions:
- How did the PDS coordinator support the development of the supervisor as a teacher educator?
- How did ERT shape the way the supervisor supported TCs during their field experiences?
During the 2020-2021 academic year, we were both graduate students at the same large mid-Atlantic university. Monica served as the PDS coordinator for secondary mathematics at the university. As PDS coordinator, she oversaw all aspects of the student-teaching internship, including matching TCs with their mentor teachers, supporting the supervisors who observed each TC, and meeting with TCs weekly in a seminar course. This was her first year in the role of PDS coordinator. For the previous four years she served as university supervisor for undergraduate and master’s degree secondary mathematics TCs.
Mike was a first year doctoral student assigned to supervise three TCs in the secondary mathematics master’s certification program. This was his first time serving in a supervisory teacher education role. Prior to entering the doctoral program, he taught mathematics in an urban public high school, entering the profession through an alternative certification program. In that capacity, he had engaged in limited teacher education as a district professional development coordinator and mathematics department chair.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, the authors developed a critical friendship around professional practice (Stolle & Fambaugh-Kritzer, 2022), as Monica supported Mike in discovering and refining his pedagogy of supervision. Our critical friendship evolved naturally as we worked together to support TCs in their field experiences. When we decided to conduct a retrospective self-study on our practice, we engaged in a research-focused critical friendship (Stolle & Fambaugh-Kritzer, 2022), reflecting critically on our practices and interactions as we analyzed our data. Data consisted of 62 email correspondence chains between the authors, as well as our meeting notes, from August 2020 to May 2021. These emails contained detailed information on Mike’s practice as a supervisor. We supplemented this correspondence data by journaling about our reflections throughout the research process. To help ensure the fidelity of our methods, we shared our analysis and analytic memos with teacher education researchers who practice self-study.
The conditions of ERT caused most of our communication to occur electronically. One recurrent type of communication are debrief emails between Mike, the TC, and their mentor teachers, in which he also included Monica. These debrief emails contain data collected using observation protocols, detailed synopses of post-observation conferences between TC, mentor teacher, and supervisor, and additional thoughts and suggestions about how to improve. Another common email type was Mike reflecting on his practice and seeking feedback from Monica on how to support TCs in meeting programmatic requirements. After the TCs’ quarterly performance-based assessments, Monica would also review these assessments and proactively email suggestions about areas for Mike to focus on next with his TCs.
Analysis of the emails and journal entries began with open-coding (Saldaña, 2016) to create a codebook, which led to categorizing the various email threads into seven broad types of support: logistic, programmatic, technological, mathematics pedagogy, teacher education pedagogy, teaching as a profession, and personal/rapport-building (subsequently renamed “emotional support”). These categories captured both how Mike supported his TCs and how Monica provided support to Mike. To address our second research question, within each category we tagged elements that were ERT-specific, such as navigating technologies for online instruction. Once we defined these categories, we made a second pass of open coding, focused on naming the specific supports and mechanisms of the mathematics pedagogy, teacher education pedagogy, and emotional support categories. The sub-themes that branched from mathematics pedagogy were explanation, building relationships with students, questioning, and student participation. Those that branched from teacher education pedagogy were supervisor experience, specific suggested actions, mentor expertise, and PDS coordinator expertise. We also refined our conceptual understanding of emotional support into elements related to personal life, emotional support and encouragement, and transparency between Mike and the TCs. Anthony and Krell (2022) explores many of these sub-themes in detail. Our goal throughout these analytical cycles was to find specific evidence that both motivated and confirmed the reflections that surfaced during our numerous post-hoc critical conversations and journaling exercises.
Our findings show that increased communication between PDS coordinator and supervisor resulted in transparency of each others’ pedagogy. This transparency facilitated reflection between both teacher educators and enabled us to engage in creative problem-solving around how to support TCs to meet the programmatic requirements during ERT. We believe that our practices during ERT can inform the development of structures and support to improve the practices and pedagogies of PDS coordinators and supervisors, regardless of context.
PDS Coordinator Supporting the Supervisor During ERT
To address the question of how the PDS coordinator supported the development of the supervisor as a teacher educator, we began by examining how Monica herself was supported when she was a university field supervisor. As a novice PDS coordinator, she relied heavily on her experiences as a former mentor teacher and field supervisor. When reflecting on practice during data analysis she wrote:
I crafted and piece-mealed together my practices and policies based on what I had experienced as a supervisor working under the direction of four different [secondary mathematics] PDS coordinators during my time at [this institution], as well as leveraging the relationships that I had built with PDS coordinators from other content areas. These relationships began when I was a practicing teacher in [the local district] and then evolved further as I became more involved in supervisor training. At the initial meeting with my three supervisors, I basically showed them how I liked to do things as a supervisor, and requested that they do the same (journal entry, July 6, 2021).
In refining her teacher education pedagogy as a PDS coordinator, Monica made a conscious effort to support supervisors in ways she wished she had been supported as a supervisor. The notion of “leading by non-example” finds a counterpart in Mike’s reflection, who stated “I [modeled] a lot of my own supervision philosophy around making sure my teacher candidates’ first experiences with teaching were as different from my own as possible” (journal entry, July 6, 2021). This common desire to do things differently perhaps laid the initial groundwork for the ethos of pedagogical care we describe in the discussion section below.
In regards to programmatic support, one support that Monica wished she had when supervising TCs was guidance on assessing TCs’ performance. To address this, she co-created a “look fors” document to guide supervisors across content areas in gathering evidence for performance-based assessment items, given the circumstances of ERT. The purpose of this document was to address the question: how do I know if TCs are meeting the benchmarks? For example, one of the “meets expectations” benchmarks for the performance assessment states, “The teacher candidate has clearly established, efficient classroom routines and procedures resulting in minimal to no loss of instructional time.” The potential evidence for this benchmark in the guide document includes:
The teacher candidate communicates explicit instructions for how students should participate during synchronous and/or asynchronous instructional time. During synchronous instruction, the teacher candidate moves between activities with little to no loss of instructional time. Asynchronous components, like the online course space, are organized and user friendly (i.e., students know where and how to access the course materials).
We see in our correspondence data that Mike utilized this evidence document as a guide for what to look for during virtual observations as well as in assessing whether TCs had met programmatic benchmarks. In addition, Monica would review the performance-based assessments and provide supervisors with her thoughts on TCs’ areas of growth. Mike utilized these reviews to inform the structure and content of goal-setting meetings with TCs, as corroborated by the content of his post-evaluation conference correspondence with TCs and conversations with Monica. Each of these supports and scaffolds Monica provided were coded as PDS coordinator expertise and programmatic support. These supports form our basis for extending the concept of teacher pedagogue to the role of PDS coordinator by demonstrating how these coordinators can support the development of supervisors as teacher educators.
Mike included Monica in all of his correspondence with TCs, giving her a level of access to his pedagogy that she did not have with other supervisors. This extensive communication helped Monica to monitor and promote the developing pedagogies of both Mike and his TCs. Our consistent communication also resulted in developing rapport and friendship that extended beyond our roles, enabling us to minimize any power dynamics between coordinator and supervisor that may have impeded candor and honesty. Mike noted this rapport in his end-of-year journaling: “My conversations with Monica . . . had also made it clear that we saw eye-to-eye on most things as far as the job was concerned, and that she would be a net positive as I made things up as I went along” (journal entry, July 6, 2021). These interactions were among those coded as “emotional support.”
Supervisor Support for TCs During ERT
Monica’s emphasis on the expectations of the educator preparation program’s performance-based assessment pushed Mike to think critically and creatively about these expectations. In particular, he considered how TCs could authentically meet these programmatic requirements during the altered circumstances of ERT. For example, by substituting asynchronous projects and reflections about, classroom elements that were impossible to practice (or observe) during ERT, such as designing and maintaining classroom routines and procedures, Mike attempted to “prime” TCs for the in-person work they would need to undertake when ERT ended.
Beyond the context of ERT, conversations and exchanges with Monica around programmatic expectations developed Mike’s understanding of what counts when preparing TCs and to what degree. For example, Monica’s suggestion to send emails recapping what was said during post-observation conferences was initially intended as a way to document TCs’ progress toward meeting programmatic expectations. However, the level of detail, analysis, and concrete suggestions in these emails transformed them into resources for TCs as they prepared their lessons and collected evidence for their portfolios. TCs’ application of feedback led Mike to refine his ideas of how to use feedback to effectively coach TCs both during ERT and in general. Mike’s reflections confirm that these emails would likely not have taken the shape they did under non-ERT circumstances, where he would have had the alternate channel of face-to-face communication. Thus, what had initially developed as a support for meeting programmatic expectations during ERT, evolved into an important tool for developing TCs’ mathematics pedagogy.
Interestingly, the conditions of ERT appear to have significantly shaped the emotional support, honesty, and transparency between Mike and his TCs. Throughout our data, we found consistent evidence of Mike’s transparency with TCs regarding his own limitations–a transparency “reciprocated by TCs, and which evolved into a sense of solidarity in teaching and learning during ERT” (Anthony & Krell, 2022, p. 27). Furthermore, we found numerous occasions in which Mike devoted time and energy to directly bolstering TCs’ confidence in their own teaching. For example, worried he would be unable to provide a TC with feedback in a timely manner, Mike wrote: “You’ve shown evidence of very good teacher instincts, so I’m confident you’ll do great with or without my input” (email, November 3, 2020, as cited in Anthony & Krell, 2022, p. 27). Although it is impossible to know whether Mike would have supported TCs’ similarly under non-ERT conditions, it seems likely that the global sentiments of uncertainty and anxiety permeating life during ERT informed how purposefully and deliberately Mike cared for the emotional wellbeing of his TCs. We also suspect that the degree to which Mike evidenced care for his TCs heightened the impact of his pedagogical guidance and feedback.
The Role of Written Correspondence
Remote supervision during ERT resulted in an abundance of written documents and correspondence, in turn creating a large volume of communication and feedback between TCs and supervisor that may not have existed under other circumstances. The importance of this correspondence for Mike’s support of TCs during ERT is a holistic finding, present in almost every code category.
As previously noted, Monica requested that supervisors not only debrief on camera with TCs and mentor teachers, but also send an email with notes taken during the observation along with notes from the meeting. These notes were to include the TC’s strengths, areas for improvement, and long-term goals. Our data shows that TCs perceived Mike’s detailed records as a useful support both in meeting programmatic expectations and in improving their craft more generally. For example, one TC’s lesson plans included a section at the bottom of the plan containing excerpts from Mike’s debrief emails that they found particularly helpful to use as a reminder during planning and teaching. Another TC directly communicated the usefulness of this written feedback:
Thank you for the detailed feedback (as always)! Part of the reason I've been able to come so far is because you've been very descriptive with your statements and given me plenty of examples when it comes to personal strengths and focus areas. That's been a huge help to me so thank you again (email, December 4, 2020).
Likewise, the note accompanying a TC’s end-of-the-year thank-you gift to Mike mentioned that they would “miss your detailed and lengthy emails” (May 21, 2021).
While correspondence between supervisor, TCs, and PDS coordinator serves as the data for our study, these email chains also functioned as coaching and mentoring tools, supporting the developing pedagogies of both the supervisor and TCs during ERT. Since Mike consistently included Monica on these email chains, she was able to monitor both the progress of the TCs and how Mike provided feedback to TCs about their mathematics pedagogy. Monica periodically replied to Mike’s debrief emails to validate his feedback to TCs with comments like, “I totally agree with the suggestions you made to [TC]” (December 5, 2020) and “As always, beautiful, detailed notes! I like what I am seeing in the ‘strengths’ section and I totally agree with the focus areas” (February 1, 2021). These emails, in turn, reinforced various aspects of Mike’s own teacher education pedagogy, again demonstrating how PDS coordinators can play a pedagogical role. In addition to the benefits of creating a written record described above, Mike found that he was able to be more complete in his feedback to TCs about strengths and more targeted in his feedback about areas for improvement. Composing these emails after a period of reflection enabled Mike to go into more detail about, and provide more examples of, ideas and suggestions that he may only have touched on briefly during post-observation conferences. Thus, although this “supervision paper trail” was a product of the circumstances of ERT, its value extends beyond that specific set of conditions.
Discussion and Significance
The findings discussed above document how our pedagogies as novice teacher educators developed during ERT as the PDS coordinator provided guidance to the supervisor and as the supervisor, in turn, supported TCs in their year-long internships. During our retroactive self-study and reflection, we encountered Cuenca’s (2010a) framework of supervision, which has made a profound impact on how we understand and describe our actions as teacher educators. In this framework, Cuenca draws from van Manen (1991) and Noddings (1992, 2003) to develop a way of understanding supervision as a pedagogical activity rooted in care, thoughtfulness, and tact. Both of us saw significant parallels between this framework and Mike’s approach to supervision. Although we did not utilize Cuenca’s (2010a) framework in our original data analysis, we have considered how this framework can be used to reframe and reposition our work as teacher pedagogues (Anthony & Krell, 2022) and are currently reanalyzing our original data in light of it. The purpose of revisiting our data is to operationalize how supervisors can enact this framework in practice. By linking Mike’s actions to the framework, we hope to connect Cuenca’s theories to concrete actions, thereby supporting supervisors in putting these pedagogical orientations into practice and alleviating some of the uncertainty of becoming a teacher educator (Murray & Male, 2005).
Mike has not supervised since 2020-21 but plans to do so again. In the meantime, he is teaching a math foundations course for undergraduate elementary education majors. Two ways in which the research and reflections above have helped him improve his practice as a teacher educator are an increased attention to the nature and delivery channel of feedback, and a more proactive and conscious cultivation of pedagogical care and tact (Cuenca, 2010a). As discussed above, Mike discovered the pedagogical power of written feedback during his experience supervising during ERT. The durability of such feedback appears to increase its impact substantially. Rather than strain to remember what their supervisor said at such-and-such time and place–feedback that will of necessity be filtered through TCs’ own reconstruction of events (Jordan & Henderson, 1995)–written feedback gives TCs the time and space to digest it at their own pace, and preserves the unfiltered version of this feedback for such digestion. When coupled with a perspective on feedback that centers security and pedagogical love (van Manen, 1991), decenters supervisor experience, and responds to a TC’s own specific circumstance (Cuenca, 2010a), this type of feedback has wide applicability to other situations of adult education, such as undergraduate foundations and methods courses.
Monica is no longer a PDS coordinator but continues to supervise TCs in their field experiences. Engaging in this self-study helped her to decompose her pedagogies as a supervisor and confront which of her actions were rooted in an apprenticeship of observation and which were rooted in research and theory. Similar to Mike, Monica recognizes the importance of pedagogical tact (Cuenca, 2010a) in providing verbal and written feedback to TCs, and in communicating that feedback in a way that will be “taken up” by the TC. In addition, being privy to Mike’s email correspondence with TCs reinforced for Monica the importance of developing rapport and caring relationships with TCs. Without these personal connections, the supervisor cannot transition from evaluator to pedagogue as envisioned by Cuenca (2010b).
This experience helped us conceptualize and name important aspects of our practice. Throughout the findings above, we see a theme of empathizing with and supporting both each other and the TCs in our care. Although we came to it belatedly, Cuenca’s (2010a) framework of care, thoughtfulness, and tact for supervision allowed us to name some of the most powerful common threads in our experience as teacher educators during ERT. Now, not only can we describe, track, and evaluate these elements in our practice but, looking forward, we will also engage in a more formal (non-post hoc) self-study aimed at analyzing and developing our orientation of care towards aspiring teachers, and its twin manifestations of pedagogical thoughtfulness and tact as described in his framework. Furthermore, we feel that this is a proper and fitting place to end the current study, in keeping with the theme of pausing at the threshold.
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