Review: Language Teacher Supervision – Kathleen M. Bailey

You’ll have to forgive me – it’s been a minute since I’ve put out a review. I’ve been rather busy with the MAPDLE, the academy and some other things, and so the blog has been largely put on hold. BUT, I have found time to get this review out to you all (and I have more coming soon, hopefully!).

Bailey’s Language Teacher Supervision is a book that I read from cover to cover about a year ago, but I’ve been dipping into to it for a few years now as it really is one of the best ‘go-tos’ for understanding the what, why and how of observation. What follows here is my very much delayed review, detailing my takeaways, what I liked and didn’t like, and who I think should be reading this.

Three-sentence summary

Kathleen Bailey’s Language Teacher Supervision is what some might call the Bible of observation as it really does provide a significant amount of overview regarding the what, why and how of observation. The reader can expect to look at the roles and skills involved in supervision, how awareness and attitudes come into play, different data collection tools (and their pros and cons), as well as plenty of advice on how to observe/supervise certain types of teachers. The book is aimed at teacher educators, or those involved in supervision (e.g., academic managers that might not have the ‘teacher educator’ defined role) – but even if you have little experience in language teacher supervision, the book will provide you with plenty of guidance of where to start (and if you do have some experience, then the book will clarify many points!).

Three takeaways

Again, this is one of those books that I’ve written all over, posted post-its, written tons of notes, and as such three takeaways doesn’t cover anywhere near all the goodness that I got out of the book. But, for the sake of brevity, we will keep it to three, although I’ll probably cheat a little and expand on some of them (those of you that read my reviews often are probably already used to this!).

“Teachers’ awareness and attitudes are central to their professional development. But supervisors awareness and attitudes are also significant , because they are part of the chemistry – or perhaps the alchemy – in relationships between teachers and supervisors.”

Bailey, 2006, p.34
  • Awareness and attitude are two very important concepts that supervisors need to understand: As the quote above mentions, awareness and attitudes are important in teachers’ development, and I think that this is something that teacher educators around the world can recognise. Let’s look at these in a little more detail:
    • Awareness: In defining awareness, Bailey draws on two very famous models: Freeman’s (1989) KASA framework and Luft and Ingram’s (1969) Johari Window. In both of these models, awareness of one’s behaviour (and how it may not reflect a desired state) is required for action to be taken. Whilst much the responsibility rest on the teacher’s shoulders (there are many implicit and explicit processes they may go through that allow them to be aware of what is occurring), supervisors can help activate these noticing and awareness processes in teachers by “[providing] information to teachers about what [they] notice during observations” (Bailey, 2006, p.37).
      • Johari Window: So, I thought we’d use one of the models Bailey wrote about and talk about how awareness can be raised. The Johari Window has four quadrants, as seen in the diagrams below. The open self are things that are known to both the person and others (e.g., Patrick uses TBLT in his classes), and the secret self are things that the teacher knows about themself, but others do not (e.g., Patrick feels nervous when teaching teens, but doesn’t let that show). The blind self are things that the teacher does but is not aware of (e.g., Patrick is not aware of the fact that he only corrects grammatical errors, even when there are important lexical errors that should be corrected to help learners complete their task), while the hidden self are things that the teacher is not aware of – and neither is anybody else (e.g., certain feelings or abilities that are unknown yet). As supervisors, we can work with teachers in a number of different ways:
        • Open self: “We can work with teachers on the open self in two ways: by encouraging teachers to share their success with colleagues and by addressing areas for improvement with the individual teachers, if they agree that some development is needed” (Bailey, 2006, p.39).
        • Blind self: “We can help teachers discover information about the blind self through awareness building” (Bailey, 2006, p.39), and this may include things like bringing in data from the observation (e.g., Did you know that you only corrected grammatical mistakes) or using things like stimulated recall.
        • Secret and Hidden selves: “We can provide a climate for self-reflection and risk taking that allows teachers to uncover features of the hidden self or to share concerns related to the secret self” (Bailey, 2006, p.39). One important point here is risk taking – sharing these concerns or being open is such a face threatening manner can be scary to many teachers, especially if observation is tied directly to rehiring or disciplinary measures.
  • And now let’s continue with:
    • Attitudes: Within the ‘attitudes’ section of the book, Bailey explains that there is a difference between beliefs and attitudes. In short, beliefs are ideas that we have towards something, whilst attitudes are “clusters of individual beliefs” (Daresh, 2001, p.31). What’s important to note is that both teachers and supervisors hold certain beliefs and clusters of beliefs (attitudes) that influence not only how they teach/train, but the feedback that occurs, what they prioritise, etc. So what happens what the teacher’s attitudes and beliefs are different to those of the supervisor? Well, as you can imagine (and have probably experienced, if you’ve been involved with observation) we run into problems. So, what’s the way around this? Taking time to uncover teachers’ attitudes and beliefs (and this may in fact require work on their awareness), and taking effort to establish their concerns, priorities, etc. before the observation. I recently spoke to a manager who mentioned that in their context there are no pre-observation chats and the teachers are not told about the observation – if this is going to be the case (which I disagree with, by the way), then there needs to be significant work on establishing what teachers’ beliefs and attitudes are, what their development foci are prior ot the observation taking place, otherwise I foresee a whole lot of negativity. Two books that look at this idea of uncovering beliefs in a very detailed and easy-to-understand manner are Wright and Bolitho’s Trainer Development and Roberts’ Language Teacher Education.

“Supervision is often both inherently judgemental and assumed by teachers to be judgemental, but the use of videotapes (or audio tapes) as data to inform supervisory discussions can help overcome this problems.”

Bailey, 2006, p.128
  • Evidence is key, but so is how we use it: I can remember back to many time that I was observed as a teacher, and how little evidence was presented in these post-observation conferences. I can also remember a sense of being judged unfairly at times as my understanding of the lesson and what occurred was different to the observers, but as they were in the position of power, my words, thoughts, etc. were considered less important. Now, I’ll admit, I don’t think my observers were out there with some sinister objective to make my life difficult – on the contrary, they did help me improve significantly. But, this examples highlights some of the issues surrounding observation – namely evidence (or lack thereof) and shared understandings. Let’s take a look at these in more detail:
    • Evidence: As Bailey quotes highlights, one way we can actually help teachers get over the ‘being judged’ hurdle is to present them with evidence, and there are many ways that this can occur. We have transcripts of the lesson (or parts), video recordings, audio recordings, observer commentary, observation schemes with observer notes, etc. Bailey notes that each of these have their pros and cons, but what is important is that there is something in place that allows the observer to record their observations and use these in the follow up discussion.
    • Shared understanding: One important aspect about observation is the idea of co-constructing a shared understanding. Bailey (2006) mentions that this can be done through various means, although one that is common is through using the observer commentary. What I was surprised about, when I read this, was how detailed Bailey recommends writing the commentary – and since then I’ve started being much more detailed, using my own acronyms, etc. But, what can we do with this? Well, we need to provide it to the teacher, who can then read over the commentary and see if their perception of the lesson is the same as your own. Bailey does mention some points, however. One, we need to make our notes teacher-friendly, which means taking our notes and then re-writing them in a way that is understandable to the teacher. Two, we need to beware of what are low-inference and high-inference observations, with the former referring to actual things or events within the class (e.g., two learners arrived late) and the latter referring to the observer’s subjective interpretation of events (e.g., you seemed tired). The way we communicate these is important.

“Teachers can also devise their own observation system. This option is very time-consuming, but the process generates important discussions about teaching values. Creating an observation system may also promote “buy in” among the teachers.”

Bailey, 2006, p.113
  • Teacher-generated criteria is something we should aim for: Whilst Bailey doesn’t say that teacher-generated criteria is the only thing supervisors should use, she does mention the strong bottom-up focus that this takes, thereby empowering teachers, promoting buy in, and ensuring that discussions about teaching values and what constitutes the ‘standard’ come to light. This is something that I truly believe also, and so this prompted me some time ago to implement a teacher-generated observation criteria scheme. You can read more about it here!

What I liked

  • Very clearly written: This book is by no means short – it’s 380+ pages long, and contains a whole lot of information. This being said, Bailey writes in a way that is easily understandable, and takes efforts to fully explain concepts and her rationale behind her thoughts.
  • Uses case analysis: Perhaps one of the most amazing parts of this book is the opening to every chapter. Bailey includes a case analysis (basically as story of something that happened in or around observations) and this really helps situate the reader in the topic at hand (e.g., awareness and attitudes).
  • Plenty of follow up, reflective and exploratory tasks: Those of you that read my reviews know that I’m fairly critical of books that advocate a reflective approach to teaching, yet fail to include any reflective tasks, questions, etc. in the book. Bailey has given me no room at all to include this criticism here. Each chapter comes with PLENTY of reflective questions, exploratory tasks, etc. that allow the reader to not only process the information from the chapter in more detail, but also to connect to your own practice. What’s more, the KASA framework and Johari Window are used throughout the entirety of the book so rather than just having an ‘understanding’ of the them, you actually get to put them into practice.

“No matter who you are supervising – preservice or in-service language teachers, native or non-native speakers, full-time or part-time employees – one of the trickiest parts of the job is the post-observation conference. This event can be awkward because supervisors must sometimes give negative feedback to teachers.”

Bailey, 2006, p.140
  • Excellent chapters on the post-observation conference: The oral feedback session, the post-observation conference, the ‘chat’ – no matter what you call it, it often strikes fear into the heart of early career teacher educators, managers and, of course, teachers. Bailey’s includes two chapters on this event, and breaks down the post-observation conference, highlighting some of the more important elements. Let’s cover some of them here (see, I’m cheating 🙂 ):
    • The importance of pre- and post-observation conferences: “Observations are more effective if they are preceded and followed by discussions with the teacher, bot those communications don’t always occur” (Bailey, 2006, p.146). One thing that Bailey emphasises many times throughout the book is the need for these conferences and plenty of discussion between teacher and observer. If we fail to include these, then we run the risk of not understanding each other, and this them raises barriers to learning and development. It also leaves a bad taste in teachers’ mouths, potentially stigmatising observation in that context.
    • Formal authority is not effective as a strategy on its own: There are, of course, role expectations regarding supervision. That is, the teacher expects the supervisor to have ‘power’ and understands that their role is to provide feedback. On the other hand, the supervisors expects that the teacher will be open to feedback, etc. Now, we know from research (e.g., Blase and Blase, 1995) and common sense that relying only on formal authority isn’t going to be effective in creating the conditions for development, awareness raising, etc. “In less successful conferences, verbal agreements between participants [seem] forced and contrived, and they often [evolve] into brief indications of agreement” (Bailey, 2006, p.148) – sound familiar? So, how do we get around this. Well, we should be relying on using participants personal orientations and using conversational congruence, which in short means building shared meanings, shared assumptions, and bringing to the discussion professional expertise (Blase & Blase, 1995). If you’re interested in looking an alternatives to the standard “Take this” approach to observations feedback, you should check out Gebhard’s (1984) Models of Supervision: Choices (which Bailey references within her book).
    • Mitigation is important, but can kill your message if too strong: Mitigation is “the linguistic means by which a speaker deliberately hedges what the / she is saying by taking into account the reactions of the hearer” (Wajnryb, 1995, p.71). In effect, this is where we are delivering negative feedback and we know it’s going to be negative, and we are expecting that the teacher is going to react negatively (or maybe we’re unsure about how they will react), and so we reduce the directness of what we are saying. The problem here is that we sometime mitigate so much that our message is lost, and this is such an important element of the post-observation conference that Bailey dedicate a WHOLE CHAPTER to it. Whilst I won’t go into all the details, we as observers need to be aware of the affective elements of the conference, whilst at the same time understanding how to communicate our message in a way that is not seen as face threatening, but also delivers the impact we are hoping. This is, as many of my teacher educators out there can attest to, is easier said than done. (I also wrote about some of Bailey’s other work that speaks about this here)
  • Provides an idea on how to observe different teachers: One really interesting aspect of this book is that Bailey goes into detail about how one might change their supervision practices depending on the type of teacher. One of the more important classifications I think is looking working with NNESTs and how, if language proficiency issues are present, can be broached.

What I didn’t like

  • No focus on written feedback: I know that Bailey writes about documenting the observation process, but she does so primarily from a during-observation perspective. I felt that the only thing missing from this book was that of writing and delivering written feedback, which is a major part of the observation process, in my mind. I would have loved to have read about how written feedback is dealt with in different context, or how it should be written and what should be contained. Definitely not a deal breaker (there is so much value in this book), but an oversight in my mind.

Who should read this book?

  • Teacher educators: This is the obvious choice, but I think it’s vital that teacher educators DO read this book as many of us move into our positions without any formal education on how to observe teachers – rather we rely on our previous experience of being observed to guide as (very much like teachers do when they start teaching). Even if you are an experienced observer, I think you’ll find value in this book!
  • Managers: So, my managers out there have many responsibilities, and often observation is one them. I understand that DoSes, for example, have loads of things on their plate, but considering how important observations are in both development and quality assurance, managers should have a good understanding of good observation practice.
  • Trainer trainers: Those involved in training trainers will definitely be able to utilise a lot of the information in this book. In fact, if you’re in a position of training trainers, you’ve probably already read this book, but if you haven’t then I’d recommend taking a look 🙂

Applying to practice

So, as I’ve been reading this book on and off for the last few years, I’ve already been applying some of things the book advocates. Here are two of the main ones:

  1. Detailed and evidence commentary: So, after reading the chapter on data collection, I actually reviewed some of my observation notes. Apart from them being no more than mere scribbles, they didn’t really provide as much detail as they needed to. So, I developed my own little system of acronyms to help me write more detail during the observation without spending too much time writing. Now, I’m happy to say, my observation commentaries are much more detailed and provide a much clearer understanding of how I viewed the lesson. I also include observer comments/thoughts. But, one of the most important elements comes after the observation when I rewrite my notes so that they are teacher-friendly. I find that this give me another opportunity to ‘live’ the observation, and as 95% of our observations in my context are filmed, I’m able to link my comments to parts of the video, critical incidents, etc. I will say, though, that this process take a long time, and if you have five observations in a week, then you have a lot of late nights.
  2. Teacher-generated observation criteria: I’ve written elsewhere about this, so I won’t go into detail, but at the start of the year, we have a ‘good lesson’ workshop in which teachers get together and define the ‘standards’ of a good lesson. We then integrate these into the observation criteria, and the results have been great – very few misunderstandings, and everyone is very clear on what is needed in every lesson.

Final notes

Bailey’s Language Teacher Supervision is a must-have for those involved in observing / supervising teachers, no matter what your context is. Given that the book comes with many tasks and case analyses, this may take you some time to get through, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Also, taking a group reading approach to those would be quite beneficial to those working together; that is, why not read the book and complete the tasks as a management / teacher education team? No matter how you choose to engage with this book, I’m sure you’ll learn something of use.

Book details

Book title: Language Teacher Supervision

Author: Kathleen M. Bailey

Pages: 384

ISBN: 978052154751


Blase, J. & Blase, J. (1995). The micropolitics of successful supervisor-teacher interaction. in instructional conferences. In Discourse and power in educational organisations, p.55-70. Cresskill: Hampton Press.

Dareesh, J.C. (2001). Supervision as proactive leadership (3rd Edition). Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.

Freeman, D. (1989). Teacher training, development and decision making:A model of teaching and related strategies for language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 23/1, 27-45.

Gebhard, J. (1984). Models of supervision: Choices. IN Second Language Teacher Education, p.156-166. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Luft, J. & Ingram, H. (1969). Of human interaction. New York: National Press Books.

Wajnryb, R. (1995). Teachers’ perceptions of mitigation in supervisory discourse: A report of a pilot study. South Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 23/1, 71-82.

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