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Tool: What is my philosophy and how does it relate to my platform and supervising approach?

Background information: Your platform is related to your philosophy. Not surprisingly, your actions as a leader are based on your beliefs and probably reflect your broader educational platform. The work of Johnson, Collins, Dupuis and Johansen, published more than 30 years ago as Foundations of American Education, has withstood the test of time and remains a great source for reexamining your educational platform and for encouraging faculty, including beginning teachers, to do the same.

See Glickman, Gordon and Ross-Gordon for enlightenment regarding three philosophies (often referred to as Super Philosophies) that currently dominate the educational landscape. To summarize, these include: essentialism (rational thinking, systematized feeding content to individuals); experimentalism (rational scientific thinking, no absolute truths, what one can do and prove today may not be probable tomorrow because a new situation and a different approach may alter yesterday’s reality); and existentialism (the individual is the source of all reality; there is no absolute knowledge).

Purpose of this tool: this tool will help you reflect on your philosophy based on your beliefs and how the “planks” for your platform are created.

How to use this tool: Circle the statements that most fit your beliefs. Plot them on the continuum (a key is provided). In the next several weeks, take some time to plot your efforts with beginning teachers on the continuum. Are they congruent with your philosophy? Circle any mismatches. Can you explain them? What do your discoveries mean about the way you will work the beginning teacher?

  1. I must be the expert on instruction.
  2. Schools and classrooms are viewed as laboratories for learning.
  3. All that exists in the world is the individual and his or her source of reality.
  4. Beginning teachers are totally free, not shaped by others or restricted by the flux of the times.
  5. Teachers must learn for themselves. The principal does not dispense knowledge.
  6. I, as the building leader, have major responsibility for curricular decision-making.
  7. Until teachers get tenure, their control over instructional improvement should not be considered.
  8. There’s a body of timeless knowledge that students need to master.
  9. Supervisors are not solely conveying age-old wisdom; they are both conveyors of rudimentary knowledge and guides for exploratory learning.
  10. Principals are expected to provide teachers with specific standards that are to be systematically passed down to students.
  11. Teachers are expected to modify and try new ideas, methods, etc.—always with an eye toward goals. 
Essentialist <------------------> Experimentalist <------------------> Existentialist

An example of considering a beginning teacher on the continuum:

I must be an expert on instruction. Realizing Jim is closer to an experimentalist and I am more of an essentialist, I listened closely so I could understand his rationale about how he planned to cover the benchmarks for Economics.


Essentialism – 1, 6, 7, 8, 10

Experimentalism—2, 9, 11

Existentialism—3, 4, 5

Don’t feel you need to get into the either/or mentality. The key is to be more aware of where you “stand” and begin to realize how it “feels” to compromise your values! Raising your consciousness about these matters will be tremendously helpful as you work with beginning teachers.

Encourage new teachers and others to complete this self-audit by answering the questions and also plotting where they fit. Rich conversations are inevitable!

The next step for you as the leader is to determine your “planks” for your platform. For example, do you think all participants in instructional improvement efforts can contribute or do you think it’s your job exclusively?  Do you think you should direct the inquiry or should it be a collaborative process?  Generate your list of “planks.”  Do your planks most closely align with Directive, Collaborative, or Non-directive Supervision?

Note: In general, essentialism aligns most closely with directive, experimentalism with collaborative and existentialism with non-directive. Just being aware of these alignments can serve as a guide for working with beginning teachers. For example, even if you both are predisposed toward existentialism, the beginner will probably not be ready for a non-directive approach immediately—and there will probably be movement across the approaches according to the issue.  


Johnson, J.A., Collins, H.W., Dupuis, V.L., & Johansen, J.H. (1973). Foundations of American education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Glickman, C.D., Gordon, S.P., & Ross-Gordon, J.M. (2001). Supervision and instructional leadership. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.