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The Role of Academic Leaders as Instructional Supervisors

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen presenting at conferences, I often start by saying I have been in a classroom for 65 years. Of course, that includes my own time as a student starting at age five. Although I have not been a “student” in the formal sense for many years, I continue to learn from the teachers and leaders I work with as well as from experiences and practices. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that while we can hope that all faculty we work with have the intrinsic motivation to never stop improving, sometimes they have to be guided, mentored, or supervised if we expect real results. This is particularly true when leading change in either professional job performance or institutional change. Establishing expectations without ongoing oversight often results in a failure to change. I came to higher education after working in the New York City Public Schools as deputy assistant superintendent. That experience taught me that there is a place and a purpose for active supervision of the instructional practice of teachers to ensure that there is effective and purposeful interaction between the student, instructor, and material and that meaningful learning is happening. This is also true in higher education and yet I have noticed a distinct lack of active supervision of college faculty’s instructional performance and their ability as pedagogues. Instead, deans and chairpersons rely heavily on student course evaluations, and sometimes peer review, as a means of assessing the competency of faculty as teachers. I recently served on a search committee to help identify a new dean. During the interviews, I asked the candidates what they thought was the role of chairs and the deans in terms of active supervision and assessment of the teaching practices of faculty. They responded universally that the faculty are expert in their fields and were reticent to say that they thought teaching needed to be supervised. A colleague on the committee later accosted me saying, “I am a PhD. I do not need to be supervised.” Five steps to promoting instructional growth Expertise in a field does not automatically transfer to effective teaching. Therefore, there is a role for the leaders of programs and departments to be active instructional supervisors of the faculty. This requires visiting classes and monitoring online instructional practices to assess the impact faculty members have on student outcomes, growth, and learning. To do so, the academic leader must: Chairs and deans should be instructional supervisors as well as academic leaders. If this kind of hands-on supervision is a new practice at your institution, there might be some resistance. However, if the faculty is involved in determining effective practices and if supervision is formative and not punitive, the practice can be transformative. Afterall, don’t we want faculty who are not only experts in their fields but also expert teachers? Dr. Alan Sebel is an associate professor of school leadership and administration in the Graduate School of Education at Touro College in New York City. He is a CAEP lead site visitor. Before joining Touro he was a deputy assistant superintendent in the New York City Public Schools.