Differentiated Supervision: Growing Teachers and Getting Results
By Ann Mausbach and Kim Morrison
By Siyi Gao and Kara Mac Donald
As a school administrator, program manager or department supervisor, some responsibilities these senior educators have is to supervise their personnel, guide their professional development and conduct performance evaluations. Teacher supervision styles and processes are informed by personal approaches to leadership and schools’ evaluation systems. However, some factors that inform how leaders consider, or should consider, in supervising individuals is to account for their differences in the personal/professional goals and needs, readiness, and level of support required. Differentiated Supervision, Growing Teachers and Getting Results
offers a model for supervision, understanding that schools are complex dynamic places, with many interconnected stakeholders, that is a comprehensive approach to effectively supporting teachers.
The Introduction: the authors share their experiences in how they struggled with effectively supervising teachers in the span of their leadership careers, putting in an extensive amount of time and work but resulting in little benefit for both teachers and themselves as supervisors. They share how this leads them to rethink the supervisory paradigm to arrive at differentiated supervision for each employee.
Chapter one, Differentiated Supervision 101
, starts with defining what is supervision and the tasks associated with it: appraisal, affirmation, improvement, housecleaning, and quality assurance. The difficulty in performing these tasks is that supervisors often have too many individuals and these individuals are most often highly diverse in their expertise and experiences. To better mitigate these challenges, the authors introduce the components for differentiated supervision, founded on two principles: focus and assessment. These two principles serve as the axes for the model, where at the center is Feedback
. From this center point is the horizontal axis of Assessment
, extending to the right with a focus on Summative
assessment and to the left with a focus on Formative
assessment. On the vertical axis extending from the center is Focus
, with Building Level Focus
extending upwards and Classroom Level Focus
descending downwards. This framework of differentiated instruction permits supervisors to improve the dynamic school system while attending to individual needs. The building, as well as the classroom, are addressed through both summative and formative assessment processes. This model is driven by feedback, and the tools and frequency of collecting feedback are done approximately weekly, monthly, bi-annually, and annually. The feedback is collected from various levels within the school, referred to as Elements
: Universal Support Qualitative Feedback, Individual/Small Group Qualitative Feedback, Individual Quantitative Feedback, and Universal Support Quantitative Feedback. All these different forms of feedback work in unison to result in positive outcomes for students. The remainder of the chapter is rich in descriptions on how to connect supervision to the school system, processes for school improvement, creating feedback cycles, and aligning school improvement processes. Each section of the chapter provides graphic images, charts, and tables to depict the descriptions and processes connected to differentiated supervision. The chapter closes with an equity check consideration.
Chapter two, Element I: Universal Support with Qualitative Feedback
, starts with a metaphor that a gardener is disappointed when only a few plants come to produce, and a school leader should also be dissatisfied when only a small number of teachers excel. The Focus
(i.e., on the model’s axes) of this first element is to understand how the school is performing in general through a walkthrough. This general walkthrough consists of four components: focus, look & talk, reflection, and feedback. The authors describe the steps and process of each of these components, highlighting to stay away from checklists and to rather look for particulars. A table is provided contrasting the difference between what a checklist looks for and what Look fors
are. For Assessment
(i.e., on the model’s axes), the lens is on Formative
. The sources of feedback for this is narrative in nature from both individual teachers and the school as a whole, guided by collectively determined Look fors
. As is customary, the authors provide an example chart of what feedback from a general walkthrough could look like, making the descriptions of the walkthrough more tangible for readers. Again, there is a description of guidelines for developing effective Look fors
, accompanied by a chart with examples of well-crafted and poorly crafted Look fors
. The authors move to a discussion of how to develop instructional leadership through effective team use, where teachers select a topic of interest to them to work as part of a group with other teachers on the same issue to address goals for the school in that area. They next move to how to establish a layered professional development (PD) plan for teachers, consisting of two goals: teacher outcomes and a long-range plan. The reader is taken step by step through the components of the PD plan: teacher outcomes, long-range plan, guiding questions for Look fors
and feedback journal. As before, there are various charts and tables as supporting examples of the practices discussed. The chapter closes with an equity check consideration.
Chapter three, Element II: Individual/Small Group Support with Qualitative Feedback
, is where most of a leader’s time is dedicated as it has the biggest direct impact on the classroom and student learning. The gardener metaphor is used again, stating that a plant thrives when it is attended to regularly and monitored, which is also true for teachers and students. Qualitative feedback in large amounts is needed from both individual teachers and small teacher focus groups (i.e., professional learning communities, PLCs). PLCs also offer opportunities for learning and collaboration, and they are logical venues that contribute to supervision processes. Additionally, feedback from PLCs offers rich data and information relevant to day-to-day classroom instruction, the Focus (i.e., on the model’s axes) of this second element is the classroom and for Assessment, is it Formative. Additionally, data obtained from the PLCs, or the general walkthrough, discussed in chapter two, can be complimented, or followed up on through a focused walkthrough, which focuses on observing classroom instruction for an extended period or over time. The specific objective/s of focused walkthroughs can also be informed by issues individual teachers are struggling with. The assessment of Element II is formative and requires qualitative and narrative feedback to small groups and individual teachers, focusing on three components: reinforcement, refinement, and reflection. The authors provide a chart defining the three components and showing specific feedback examples for each. Later in the chapter, Elements I and II are compared in terms of their different purposes. The use of student evidence during PLCs is identified as a critical component in providing the best formative data to teachers and leaders for analyzing and improving practices. The authors also emphasize the importance of building and improving team collaboration to enhance collective teacher efficacy and its impact on outcomes. A table outlining the structure for learning teams is provided. To connect building professional development to team learning, a recursive team action planning process with five steps is explained, including developing shared meaning, self-assessment, identifying team PD focus, implementing action, and reflecting. The authors also highlight the importance of focusing on how teachers' attention to their levels of implementation affects students and the need for differentiated instruction and supports. An example of an unpacking Look fors
organizer is provided. As with previous chapters, this chapter concludes with an equity check.
In chapter four, Element III: Universal Support with Quantitative Feedback
, the focus is on achieving quality assurance through focused execution in schools. The chapter begins with a metaphor that emphasizes the importance of interactions between different components to create a harmonious and successful system, comparing it to the symbiotic relationship between plants, soil, and sunlight in gardens. The primary method used in this element is the implementation study, which measures the process of executing strategies in the school improvement plan by gathering quantitative data. A table of five processes in the implementation study is presented, which shows how support can be provided to measure the progress of the school in implementing the plan. The feedback given in this element summarizes the progress made in the implementation levels, but it is used formatively to guide future improvements. A checklist is provided to identify the presence or absence of certain elements in classrooms. The main focus of the work in this element of the differentiated supervision model is driven by an evaluative mindframe,which effective leaders have to possess in order to develop positive school cultures. Quality implementation also requires educators to focus on decisional capital by having a clear sense of what works and what does not, and how to improve. To make this happen, it is essential to build a connective system by creating a schedule to help principals manage their time to support the main function of the school and learner needs. An observation schedule is provided as an example. Leaders are advised to use both impact (i.e., Reading benchmark data) and implementation data (i.e., Walkthrough data)to identify the underlying causes of results, which should guide the use of other supervision processes such as the focused walkthrough. Tables with examples of SIP implementation and impact data, as well as implementation study data analysis questions, are also included. At the equity check, the author highlights the importance of leaders supporting teachers to raise their expectations of themselves and their students. This can enhance students' self-efficacy and belief in their own learning abilities. During the quality control process, it’s also very important to include the voice from the faculty and staff.
Chapter five of this book focuses on Element IV: Individual Support with Quantitative Feedback
, which aims to maximize the formal evaluation process by integrating it with other systems. The chapter starts with a garden metaphor / analogy and prompts reflection on the success and growth of the garden, emphasizing the importance of individual feedback for teachers to enhance their teaching skills and intellectual growth. The authors provide a table to compare traditional and differentiated supervision models, outlining the phases of formal evaluation such as goal-setting, preconference, observation, and post-conference. The assessment of this element is summative, and leaders are expected to provide differentiated feedback with Cognitive Coaching stances based on a teacher’s need for improvement. Three types of feedback were presented in a table: task, process, and self-regulation, along with corresponding coaching stances, opening sentences, and specific examples. The authors emphasize that all three types of feedback should not be compartmentalized, and coaching stances should be adjusted during the conversation to align with teachers’ needs. This helps to strengthen the relationship and trust between teachers and leaders within the established collaboration culture and system for everyone to learn and grow together, while supporting student performance improvement. Also, formative and summative assessment data from classroom practices, students, teachers, and leaders should be connected and used to inform good decisions. The authors also referred to research which showed that regular feedback is preferred by teachers, positive feedback builds confidence, and constructive feedback supports lessons learned and further improvement. By interconnecting the processes across all four elements, and engaging in ongoing feedback throughout the year, the annual performance review becomes meaningful and not a superficial compliance check. The authors also point out that utilizing tools from other elements in the differentiated supervision model can make the evaluation process more efficient. As supervision conversation plays an important role in shaping the dialogue and inquiry between teachers and leaders, a structure is needed to make the post-observation conference effective. A table with a supervision conference framework is provided, followed by A Teacher map to monitor individual teacher actions and progress for reflections and improvements. The chapter ends with an equity check and key takeaways to summarize the main points.
Chapter six, Leading the Differentiated Supervision Model
, begins with a garden analogy emphasizing the need for leaders to persist like a gardener, as the practices in the model can sow seeds of excellence and drive positive changes when skillfully applied to support individual and systemic growth. The authors then present two cases of principals who applied the same processes but displayed distinct leadership behaviors; one had a superficial, "check the box" approach, while the other employed the "recursive cycle of diagnose, intervene, implement, and evaluate (DIIE)" (Mausbach & Morrison, 2023, p. 99) model. A table comparing the two leadership behaviors based on the DIIE model is presented, featuring specific actions and examples. The authors go on to define the DIIE model and explain how leaders' behaviors, skills, and experiences align with the four elements of the differentiated supervision model. They also provide a "DO THIS, NOT THAT" table with suggestions for each element. The authors also emphasize that it is crucial for leadership to incorporate the differentiated supervision model into their practice, as it is powerful and leverages professional capital to guarantee an optimal return on investment in the form of enhanced student achievement.
It is recommended that readers begin with a self-inventory of their practices and integrate them into the comprehensive model in a cohesive manner. The chapter concludes by referring to the children's book, The Little Gardener
(Hughes, 2015), connecting the joy, frustrations, and experiences of the little boy to the leaders who may implement the differentiated supervision model. This will inspire teachers and leaders to work together to support and care for the schools and their students.
The text offers a view of how to improve teacher performance by addressing the whole system, while supporting the development of individual teachers. With student learning as the center focus, the reader gains clear guidance for effective supervision, accompanied by useful templates and practical examples. As teachers, differentiating instruction is commonplace to support individual learners succeed, so it is certainly logical to differentiate supervision to support teachers to be successful as well.
Hughes, E. (2015). The Little Gardener. London
, England: Flying Eye Books.
Mausbach, A. T., & Morrison, K. (2023). Differentiated supervision: Growing teachers and getting results
. Corwin, a SAGE Company.