'Virtual Supervision' Model Tips the Scales in Favor of Instructional Leadership

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The perennial lament of many principals is not having enough time to fulfill what is perhaps their most important responsibility: teacher evaluations. In the ongoing struggle to maintain a balance between the role of manager and instructional leader, building-level administrators often find the scales tipping toward managerial responsibilities. Following up on behavioral incidents on the bus, a call from an angry parent or an immediate directive from the central office takes precedence over a scheduled teacher observation. In the absence of a human resource solution to this problem, technology offers an opportunity to tip the scales in the direction of instructional leadership through a medium we refer to as "virtual supervision."

Through the utilization of Internet Protocol - or IP-based videoconferencing equipment - supervisors can be empowered with the ability to make observations in any room that has a network or Internet connection. IP refers to a network protocol that is used in the delivery of data. This is the foundational protocol used in delivering most e-mail and Web pages.

With several formats currently available, videoconferencing has not yet been standardized. However, IP is the preferred video format for this type of project due to its flexibility and cost. With IP video, there is no need for proprietary video lines, costly equipment or a high degree of technical skill. In addition, the size, price and quality of IP cameras vary a great deal and, like most evolving technologies, are always changing.

While some less expensive models require a computer, higher-end models such as the Polycom FX or Tandberg units often plug directly into the network. Selecting the appropriate camera depends on the situation and observation environment, with most cameras able to be concealed or unobtrusively placed in the room in order to provide the most natural environment for students.

There are also several software titles that currently let supervisors stream this video to a password-protected Web site, allowing multiple supervisors or teacher mentors and interns to view the video simultaneously. The IP video market is quickly growing, and new software and hardware solutions are becoming available daily. This supervisory application of technology offers several advantages:

  • First and foremost, it provides a viable alternative to cancelling a scheduled observation when something unexpected comes up that necessitates a principal's immediate attention. The technology enables the observation to occur as scheduled and archives it for subsequent review by the principal at another time.
  • A valid assessment of teacher and student performances is often compromised by the presence of an observer in the classroom. So, while we are not advocating this approach for every observation, the technology certainly offers an interesting option to address this issue.
  • Finally, the teacher can view the archived observation prior to or during a post-observation conference. The ability to zoom in on a particular teaching episode will enrich the conversation about best instructional practice as it relates to improved student performance.

In this latest phase of the reform movement in education, there is a consensus that what happens in a classroom can positively or negatively impact student performance. It is clear that it is time to extend classroom application of technology to another level by giving principals the tools that will enable them to perform their most important charge, which is the assessment of classroom performance. Virtual supervision provides a viable alternative for addressing issues that often compromise effective supervision. This proposal is just the beginning of a dialogue that deserves more attention from those involved in the education community.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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