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Tool: Is developmental supervision working?

The principal, in his or her supervisory function, must be prepared to 1) use a collaborative approach, 2) provide direct information, or, in rare cases, 3) exert direct control. In order to move towards non-directive supervision, the school leader needs to choose initial supervisory behaviors that are appropriate for the new teacher in question and then move over time towards ones that are less directive.

Purpose of this tool: This tool provides you with a list of supervisory behaviors and descriptions of what these behaviors can look like in practice. The list includes non-directive actions, collaborative behaviors and increasingly directive and controlling actions. The tool can be used to help you reflect on your own supervisory behaviors as well as those of grade-team leaders, department chairs and other administrators at your school. One purpose of the tool is to help you remind teacher leaders and administrators that supervision is a developmental function. While the text in the rows runs toward increasing control or power, the meaning of the text in each row is likely to vary with the characteristics of persons, groups and circumstances.

With regard to beginning teachers who are ready for non-directive supervision, the supervisory behaviors at the top of the list would be appropriate (e.g., listening, clarifying, encouraging, reflecting, etc.). For those novices who would benefit from a more collaborative approach, school leaders can choose from the behaviors in the middle of the list (e.g., presenting, problem solving and negotiating). And for new teachers in need of direct control, administrators could consider those behaviors at the bottom of the list (e.g., directing, standardizing and reinforcing).

How to use this tool: Generally, developmental supervision is introduced in phases by choosing the best entry-level supervisory approach, applying the chosen approach and fostering teacher development while gradually increasing teacher choice and decision-making responsibility.

Periodically, review the list of supervisory behaviors below. As time allows, track your interactions with a beginning teacher. Keep anecdotal records to estimate whether you are providing her or him with as much initial choice as s/he is ready to assume. Ask yourself,

  • Am I fostering his or her decision making capacity and expanding choice over time?
  • How am I fostering the beginning teacher’s expertise? Commitment?

As you move along the continuum from listening to reinforcing, responsibilities shift. Ask yourself,

  • When do I as the supervisor need to take major responsibility?
  • When can I share responsibility?
  • When and where can I take minimal responsibility?


Supervisory approach
What it looks like in practice


Give eye contact to speaker and by body language show understanding.


Ask questions of the speaker.


Provide feedback and acknowledgement responses that help the speaker continue.


Summarize and paraphrase the speaker's message.


Presents one's own ideas on the issue.

Problem Solving

Take initiative after a preliminary discussion.


Discussion moves from a possible to a probable solution by exploring the consequences of each proposed action.


The choices are established.


Expected criteria and time for the decision to be implemented are established.


The directive is strengthened and the criteria to be met are underscored.

Some cautions need to be made concerning the organizational relationship between the individual providing supervision and the beginning teacher or group receiving it. Usually, direct control supervision should be used only by supervisors in line relationships with teachers. Direct informational, collaborative and nondirective supervision should be used by those within the organization who have special expertise including principals in their functions as staff supervisors, mentors, lead teachers, departmental heads, etc.


  • Glickman, C.D., (1981). Developmental supervision: Alternative practices for helping teachers improve instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Wolfgang, C.H., & Glickman, C.D. (1980). Solving discipline problems: Alternative strategies for teachers. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.