Article Analysis 3- Educational Research

Article Analysis # 3


Carefully read “High School Department Chairs: Perspectives on Instructional Supervision” from The High School Journal by Zepeda and Kruskamp. Then, provide succinct answers to the following questions.


1. What was/were the research questions(s)?





2. What was the unit of analysis?





3. What sources of data were used?





4. Describe how the data were analyzed.





5. What major themes in the data did the researcher identify?





6. What was/were the major finding(s)?





7. Were any limitations described in the study?

44 © 2007 The University of North Carolina Press

A case study approach was used to examine the perspectives of three high school depart- ment chairs and their work at providing instructional supervision to the teachers in their departments: math, science, and social studies. We sought to discover the beliefs and practices of three department chairs in one high school, located in a southeastern state. From interview data, three primary findings emerged: 1) The high school department chairs experienced role conflict and ambiguity relative to providing instructional supervision; 2) The meaning of instructional supervision for the department chairs was intuitive and reflected in differentiated approaches; and 3) The constraints of instructional supervision include time and lack of emphasis. The find- ings indicate that the department chairs were not prepared for the practice of instructional supervision in that the participants received little instruction to enact the role of instruc- tional supervisor, and the participants were compelled to create their own roles given the lack of direction by the principal. The partici- pants indicated instructional supervision was not a “priority” of either system or local school administrators. The participants did evidence some important knowledge concerning instructional supervision, albeit intuitively concluded rather than formally learned.

The position of the high school department chair emerged with the growth of the American high school (Fenske, 1997; Marsh & Codding, 1999). As student populations outgrew one- room schoolhouses, “principal teachers” became responsible for managing the facilities and the supervision of the teaching staff (Orris, 1988). High school “departments were con- ceived when principals realized that they need- ed help in supervising instruction and attend- ing to certain administrative details associated with instruction” (Verchota, 1971, p. 128). To date, studies regarding high school department chairs have focused broadly on instructional leadership with little emphasis on the supervi- sion of teaching (Mayers & Zepeda, 2002; Wettersten, 1992, 1993). In light of accountabil- ity movements, department chairs’ perspectives

-High School Department Chairs— Perspectives on Instructional


Sally J. Zepeda, Ph.D. University of Georgia,

Bill Kruskamp, Ed.D. Creekland Middle School


and efforts related to instructional supervision are important to understand.

This study examines the perspectives of three high school department chairs and their work at providing instructional supervision to the teachers within their departments: math, sci- ence, and social studies. With the chair’s preva- lence in the American high school, it is logical to examine specifically the high school depart- ment chair’s role as instructional leader related to instructional supervision. Past research indi- cates that the department chair’s role lies some- where between a teacher and an administrator or what Wettersten (1992) refers to as “neither fish nor fowl.”

The Work and Role of High School Department Chairs A dominant theme in the high school depart- ment chair literature is the misunderstood role that is often exacerbated by an ill-defined job description (Weller & Weller, 2002). An 1948 study by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) produced a list of tasks and responsibilities for department chairs ranging from selecting textbooks to req- uisitioning instructional supplies. Other tasks include overseeing the budget (Engroff, Shanklin, & Shea, 1976), allocating resources and communicating with teachers and adminis- trators (Anderson, 1987), writing reports, secur- ing substitute teachers, and completing work as assigned by the administration (Mayers & Zepeda, 2002).

Across quantitative and qualitative research about the high school department chair, role conflict and ambiguity are common findings (Mayers & Zepeda, 2002; Weller, 2001; Weller & Weller, 2002). Adduci, Woods-Houston, and Webb (1990) identify six factors contributing to role ambiguity for high school department chairs, namely,

• Equivocal job descriptions; • Conflicting functions; • Vague goals; • Ineffective staff development; • Lack of agreement by principals and central

administrators; and, • Inadequate resources. (p. 16)

Role theory describes an individual’s behavior within a group or an organization (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Huse (1980) reports, “Each individual within an organization has a unique set of char- acteristics, and the role filled by the individual provides the building block, or link, between the individual and the organization” (pp. 52- 53). The individual’s ability to satisfy his or her role determines how much role conflict or role ambiguity is experienced (Huse, 1980; Katz & Kahn, 1978). Role ambiguity “occurs when the individual has insufficient knowledge of the expectations,” (Huse, 1980, p. 53) or when there is “uncertainty about what the occupant of a particular office is supposed to do” (Katz & Kahn, 1978, p. 206).

The account of the department chair in the American high school contains several refer- ences to the supervisory role of the department chair, with the function of supervision listed as a primary reason for the existence of this posi- tion (Fenske, 1997; Marsh & Codding, 1999; Orris, 1988). However, research about instruc- tional supervision required of high school department chairs is absent in the literature. A comprehensive source of research and thought in the field of instructional supervision is the Handbook of Instructional Supervision (Firth & Pajak, 1998). Although the Handbook details the work of many people—assistant principals, curriculum coordinators, and middle school lead teachers—the book does not include any research on the high school department chair related to instructional supervision.

Instructional supervision is often coupled with teacher evaluation. Though supervision and evaluation are certainly associated processes, they do not share the same intents (Sullivan & Glanz, 2000; Zepeda, 2003). The intents of instructional supervision promote teacher development and growth. The intents of teacher evaluation serve different purposes, namely promotion, retention, and making personnel decisions (Zepeda, 2007). High school depart- ment chairs “in the middle” of teachers and administrators could, by the nature of their job descriptions, get caught in the conflict of being either a “coach” or a “judge” as a result of the roles they assume to fulfill job expectations.

Perspectives on Instructional Supervision


supervision (Silverman, 1993, p. 10). In addi- tion to interview data, artifacts such as the sys- tem policies concerning supervision, the job description for high school department chairs, and fieldnotes were analyzed.

Data analysis was ongoing and began after the initial interview to bring order, structure, and interpretation to the data. Independently, we read transcripts to categorize, tabulate, and develop codes to represent meanings; together we repeated the same process to ensure consis- tency. Where inconsistencies existed, we re- examined the data until agreement was reached. The themes uncovered while analyz- ing the data set for each department chair were compared through cross case analysis (Glaser, 1978). As theories were developed, we present- ed them to the participants and asked them to validate the findings to minimize distortions (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984).

We remind the reader that this is a case study, and the findings are situated in the context of one high school; thus, generalizablity is not appropriate. However, our findings do shed light on the work of high school department chairs and their perspectives about their efforts to provide instructional supervision. The propositions drawn from the findings of this study include:

1. The high school department chairs experi- enced role conflict and ambiguity relative to providing instructional supervision;

2. The meaning of instructional supervision for the department chairs was intuitive and reflected differentiated approaches;

3 Constraints, namely time and lack of empha- sis, created obstacles for the department chairs.

Before examining these propositions, we offer the reader information about the context of the school, Lincoln North High School (LNHS); the participants: Connie Williams, David Smith, and Nick Taylor; and the policies and proce- dures for teacher supervision and evaluation in Junction County Public Schools (JCPS). Pseudonyms were used to keep the confiden- tiality we promised to the system and partici- pants at the onset of our study.

Given the close proximity of department chairs to the teachers in their departments, they are in ideal positions to provide support, guidance, and encouragement. By virtue of their subject area expertise, department chairs are in posi- tions to make classroom observations to support the instructional program. However, supervi- sion for the department chair can be complex, especially in school systems where the chair is recognized as an administrator who has full authority to evaluate teachers while simultane- ously expected to coach and nurture the teach- ers in their departments. With the emphasis for accountability measured through high-stakes performance on tests, both students and teach- ers feel the pressure to perform. Thus, there is a need to examine the perspectives of high school department chairs related to instructional supervision in key content areas: math, science, and social studies.

Methodology The researchers were familiar with the school system through prior research studies regarding block scheduling and the work of the adminis- trative team at this site. It was natural to return to Lincoln North High School to explore leader- ship, this time focusing on the work of the department chairs. Using a case study approach, we sought to discover the beliefs and practices of the department chairs related to instructional supervision. The sampling approach was that of convenience in that we had entrée into the site and familiarity with the context of Lincoln North High School.

Given the lack of research on high school department chairs and instructional supervi- sion, we sought to answer the following ques- tions:

1. What does instructional supervision mean to the department chairs?

2 What does instructional supervision look like in practice?

3 What organizational constraints get in the way of department chairs supervising teachers?

Three open-ended interviews were conducted with three department chairs in a single school to gain an “authentic understanding” of their perspectives and experiences with instructional

The High School Journal – April/May 2007


The Context Junction County Public Schools (JCPS) is a mostly suburban system located in a southeast- ern state. Serving over 120,000 students, JCPS ranks as one of the largest school systems in the U.S. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2004) and includes 84 school sites—52 elemen- tary schools, 16 middle schools, 13 comprehen- sive high schools, 1 alternative high school, and 2 high schools serving non-traditional students.

Lincoln North High School Lincoln North High School (LNHS) serves over 2000 students in grades 9-12. LNHS has experi- enced a change in demographics over the past 10 years moving from nearly 70% white, 25% African-American, and 5% students from vari- ous ethnic backgrounds to its present ethnic representation that includes 60% white, 31% African-American, 5% Hispanic, 3% Asian stu- dents, and other groups completing the total school enrollment. The change in demograph- ics at LNHS can be in part attributed to the geo- graphical location of Junction County Public Schools and specifically the location of LNHS. Junction County Public Schools is located adja- cent to a large metropolitan center with LNHS resting against the boundary of another county with a school system composed largely of minority students. Lincoln North High School’s strong academic record has served as an attrac- tion for many families to relocate just across county lines to move their children into the attendance zone of Junction County Public Schools.

High School Department Chairs at Lincoln North High School LNHS has 11 subject area department chairs (see Table 1). Each department has between 8 and 19 certified teachers who are supervised by the chairs. The department chairs at Lincoln North High School are selected through an interview process directed by a committee con- sisting of the assistant principal assigned to the department, the outgoing department chair (if available), a department chair selected by the principal, and at least one member of the department in which there is the vacant posi- tion.

Two years prior to the present study, four department chairs were replaced at LNHS. The reasons for replacing these department chairs include a transfer to a new Junction County high school and the opportunity to start a wrestling program, a promotion to an adminis- trative position, a retirement, and the death of a former chair. Although the department chair positions could potentially be filled by appli- cants not currently on staff at LNHS, these four positions were filled by teachers currently on staff and serving in the respective departments.

The department chairs at Lincoln North High School serve in leadership roles both within their respective departments and in the context of the Leadership Team that has evolved as a shared-decision making body. Department chairs at Lincoln North High School, serving in a leadership capacity and by virtue of the JCPS

Perspectives on Instructional Supervision

Fine Foreign Language Math Media PE ROTC Science Social Special Technical

Arts Languages Arts Center Studies Education Education

Certified 9 9 19 18 2 11 2 15 17 18 8


8 Years 2 6 7 9 2 0 1 5 6 3 0

or more


Table 1 Departments at Lincoln North High School


Nick Taylor, Math Department Chair, taught for 15 years, 7 at Lincoln North High School, serv- ing as chair since beginning at LNHS. Mr. Taylor supervises 17 teachers, and he had no leadership experience before assuming the chair position. Nick Taylor earned a Doctor of Education Degree.

Supervision and Evaluation of Teachers in Junction County Public Schools By school board policy in Junction County Public Schools (JCPS), the “supervision of teachers is the responsibility of the principal or designee (e.g., assistant principal or department chair).” The department chair job description indicates the chief function is to “Supervise the day-to-day operation of the department;” how- ever, specific policies or procedures outlining what was meant by supervision or the steps to be followed did not exist.

The JCPS Board of Education’s policies and pro- cedures include a lengthy description of the evaluation of personnel. New teachers are to be evaluated by trained evaluators using the state approved evaluation instruments and proce- dures. Teachers with more than three years of experience are evaluated through a single class- room observation. However, JCPS requires each school site to create, on an annual basis, an Annual Plan of Improvement (API). Teachers are required to create Individual Goals’ Plans that support the school’s API. On examination of the Individual Goals’ Plans for the members of the three department chairs under study, not a single teacher requested a classroom observa- tion; these teachers requested to be evaluated by the self-reported attainment of the goals they set for 2003-2004. Because the scope of the present study was limited to the examination of the per- spectives of the high school department chairs who were interviewed, the researchers did not interview teachers to follow up on this finding. However, this finding is important and relates at least casually to the lack of a direct supervi- sory role of the department chairs that do not appear to spend much time observing teachers in their classrooms.

Department Chair Job Description, are responsi- ble for the direct supervision of the teachers within their respective departments. The JCPS Department Chair Job Description specifies that department chairs must

• ensure that teachers adequately cover the JCPS curriculum,

• use appropriate instructional strategies, • follow board approved pacing guides, and • communicate with parents and guardians

about student academic achievement.

The department chair is also expected to build teacher schedules within the context of the master schedule, guaranteeing that teachers are certified in the areas in which they are sched- uled to teach.

Participant Profiles Traditionally, high-stakes subject areas include math, science, social studies, and language arts. With this notion of high stakes subject areas, seven departments were eliminated from the pool, leaving four department chairs to choose from as a group of participants. From this num- ber, we made a purposeful decision to drop one chair due to her inexperience as a department chair; she had just been appointed as the lan- guage arts chair as we were negotiating the study with the LNHS principal. The depart- ment chairs whose subject areas included social studies, science, and math, all areas that includ- ed high-stakes tests and assessments, were included in the study.

Connie Williams, Science Department Chair, taught for 24 years, 7 at Lincoln North High School, serving as chair for 4 years. Ms. Williams supervises 14 teachers, and she had no leadership experience before assuming the chair position. Ms. Williams earned a Master’s Degree in Education two years before this study.

David Smith, Social Studies Department Chair, taught for 17 years, 10 at Lincoln North High School, serving as chair since beginning at LNHS. Mr. Smith supervises 16 teachers, and he had previous leadership experience as a head master in an American school in Mexico. Mr. Smith earned a Specialist in Education Degree.

The High School Journal – April/May 2007


Findings The propositions, discussion, and the relation- ship to the literature used to frame this study are presented.

Proposition 1: The high school department chairs experienced role conflict and ambiguity relative to providing instructional supervision.

The three participants described their involve- ment with instructional supervision as part of fulfilling their roles as department chairs. Nick Taylor stated, “One of my primary responsibili- ties is to ensure that each of the teachers in the Math Department is doing the best teaching that they can do.” David Smith (social studies) explained, “Although the position of depart- ment chair has never really been explained to me, I believe that it includes the responsibility to act as the instructional supervisor of my department.” Describing the role of instruction- al supervisor depended on the department chair’s definition of instructional supervision. Smith explained, “As department chair, my job is to make sure the teachers know what to teach, know how to teach, and to make sure they teach it.” Connie Williams (science) believes that instructional supervision is, “anything I do to support the teachers.” Williams continued, “My role as instructional supervisor is to support the teachers so that they provide the best education possible for the students.”

The participants were not given specific guide- lines or procedures for instructional supervi- sion; yet, they believed supervision was part of their role as department chairs. The role of instructional supervisor was present even though they had not been asked specifically to supervise teachers by the administrative team. The origin of their expectations to fulfill the role of instructional supervisor seems to be through tradition and modeling of former department chairs. For example, Williams explained, “I had a very helpful department chair when I first began teaching. She offered me lots of help, advice, and most of all she made me feel com- fortable as a teacher.” Williams added, “Previous to my assuming the department chair position, I saw my chair do lots of things for teachers, so I just sort of copied what I saw her

do.” Taylor had a particular insight concerning his role as an instructional supervisor, stating, “What has impacted me most is the relationship I had with my first department chair. She was available before and after school, she would talk to me anytime I needed a question answered.”

The participants, finding their positions some- where between teachers and administrators, created roles based on what they believed were expectations from teachers and administrators through indirect communication. None of the department chairs reported that they were told directly by the principal what they were expect- ed to do. There was a board approved job description, but the chairs never received a copy nor sought it. Instructional supervision was a role the department chairs assumed. Although LNHS has an assistant principal for instruction, the department chairs failed to ref- erence the position in their discussions of instructional supervision.

Katz and Kahn (1978) reported all persons ful- fill roles, and a person is known by others through these roles. Huse (1980) described role behavior as the combination of an individual’s expectations as well as the expectations of those associated with that person. The department chair role for the participants was not unique; their roles were the summation of their own expectations coupled with those held by the principal and teachers within their respective departments. The individual’s ability to satisfy the expectations placed on him or her by the senders of expectations determines how much role conflict or role ambiguity the individual experiences. In the present study, the role-set that the high school department chairs were to satisfy came from two groups, teachers and administrators, as well as their own expecta- tions of the role of department chair and more specifically, the role of instructional supervisor. The department chairs voiced concern “that there wasn’t enough time” to fulfill the tasks they were expected to complete. Taylor explained, “The reality is that because of all the things I have to do as department chair, there just isn’t much time for instructional supervi- sion.” Continuing, Taylor reported, “My biggest

Perspectives on Instructional Supervision


classroom instruction, providing feedback, and engaging in conversation about teaching and learning—as found in the literature and research about instructional supervision (Sullivan & Glanz, 2000; Zepeda, 2007). For example, Smith stated, “From my point-of- view, instructional supervision is trying to give the teacher the tools and the support to do a good job.” Smith used terms like “listening in,” “hovering about,” “observing,” and “talking” to illustrate what instructional supervision looked like to him. Smith emphasized that a “good relationship” was essential for effective instruc- tional supervision. Taylor shared what instruc- tional supervision meant to him: “As a depart- ment chair, instructional supervision means being involved with people’s teaching.” Similarly, Taylor’s discussion of instructional supervision was sprinkled with terms such as “visiting classrooms,” “dialoguing,” “being available,” and “taking time.” Connie Williams used terms such as “formative” and “not evalu- ative” to describe instructional supervision. Williams stated, “Instructional supervision is not evaluative. Instructional supervision is formative… assisting teachers in their profes- sional growth and development. It’s helping them become better teachers.”

The participants reported meeting with indi- vidual teachers was important. Nick Taylor stat- ed, “Observing teachers in action creates good discussion later. I can ask things like, ‘Do you always do it that way?’ [or] ‘Have you ever thought of doing it differently?’” Smith explained, “You visit with the teachers as much as you can. You talk to them; you find out what their concerns are; [and] what’s worrying them.”

The department chairs reported one goal of their instructional supervision was to “improve student learning.” Williams explained, “Bottom line, we’re all about students, and we’re here for them. I want my teachers to be the best they can be so that the students get the best education possible.” Taylor emphasized, “One goal is bringing a teacher from where they are at and improving them.”

The need to build trusting relationships was a recurrent need expressed by the participants. David Smith indicated, “My practice begins

frustration is that I don’t have enough time to get it all done.” Any constraint impeding the department chairs from completing the tasks they choose to do is a source of role conflict. These department chairs reported that they had to spend a disproportionate amount of time attending to other duties that prevented them from spending time in classrooms. These sources of conflict will be related more fully in the third proposition.

The participants also experienced role ambigu- ity because they were not fully aware of the expectations held by others. Connie Williams’ insight explains this role ambiguity, “I was never given a list of responsibilities and tasks; I just perceived instructional supervision to be one of the more important parts of my job.” Although Williams experienced ambiguity with the defined role of department chair, she was clear based on her 24 years in education—7 at LNHS with 4 of those years as department chair—that instructional supervision was important especially for “new teachers” with “different forms for” experienced teachers. As Williams described her role, she was left to dis- cover that instructional supervision was a criti- cal aspect in her routine. Williams was the only participant who had taken a graduate-level course in instructional supervision while she completed an administrative certificate. Through the interviews, the department chairs reminded the researchers that they had not received an official job description; and more- over, instructional supervision was not outlined as a job responsibility by the principal.

Proposition 2: The meaning of instructional supervision for the department chairs was intu- itive and reflected in differentiated approaches.

When asked to share the meaning of instruc- tional supervision, the participants shared a variety of meanings. Two of the department chairs, David Smith and Nick Taylor gave intu- itive meanings to the construct of instructional supervision; their definitions of instructional supervision were not as formalized as the defi- nitions found in textbooks on instructional supervision (Sullivan & Glanz, 2000; Zepeda, 2007). Although mostly intuitive, the meanings of instructional supervision mirror best super- visory practices—building trust, observing

The High School Journal – April/May 2007


with establishing a personal relationship with each of my teachers. I think winning the trust of the people you supervise is extremely impor- tant.” Connie Williams explained, “I set a tone that I care. Instructional supervision must be non-threatening to be effective.” The partici- pants believed instructional supervision had to be a trust-building process. They also believed that instructional supervision had the potential to improve instruction, a primary purpose and intent reported throughout the history of instructional supervision (Sullivan & Glanz, 2000).

The department chairs were careful to explain that their instructional supervisory practices were modified to fit the teacher being super- vised. This finding is consistent with the research on instructional supervision—supervi- sion should be developmental and differentiat- ed based on the needs of the teacher (Glatthorn, 1997; Glickman, 1981; Sullivan & Glanz, 2000; Zepeda, 2007). In fact, three categories of teach- ers emerged in the discussions with the partici- pants: beginning teachers, veteran teachers, and teachers with issues [marginal teachers]. Smith explained, “It’s important to me to have a feel for all of my teachers [so that] I know what they need, even how they feel about their jobs.” Nick Taylor reported, “A beginning teacher and a struggling teacher are similar … they need increased attention. They aren’t going to respond in the same way so I use what I have learned about them to assist them.” Commenting on her practices with veteran teachers, Williams reported, “Even a 20 year veteran still has things they can do to improve. The trick is finding a way to get them to listen.”

Proposition 3: The constraints of instructional supervision include time and lack of emphasis.

The participants agreed the major constraints to their practices were time and a lack of empha- sis on the supervisory role. Time as a constraint was defined three ways. The department chairs 1) did not have enough time to carry out all the tasks of the position, 2) the time allotted for the position was filled with too many tasks, and 3) time was not assigned for instructional supervi- sory work. Illustrating the lack of time, Nick Taylor reported, “The reality is that there just isn’t much time for effective instructional

supervision.” Connie Williams, complaining of all the tasks she was responsible reported, “All of the other duties, paperwork, collecting things from the teachers, ordering materials, all of the nit-picky things keep you from giving the kind of time to instructional supervision that is real- ly needed.” The participants reported supervi- sion was conducted in “abbreviated” fashion and involved “walking about,” and “checking on” teachers on a needs only basis.

Connie Williams stated, “I’m not sure that any- body on the administrative team, or anyone at all, ever talked to me about instructional super- vision, or that I should provide instructional supervision to my department.” Echoing the same sentiment, Nick Taylor explained, “I have never heard instructional supervision being dis- cussed in a leadership meeting. In that sense, it is not a priority of this administration.” However, the board adopted job description for department chairs in Junction County Public Schools posits that department chairs will have “Expertise in subject area, excellent human relations skills; and demonstrated leadership/and instructional supervision skills.”

The participants reported that they were often prevented from working directly with teachers for the most part because they had to attend to other duties such as preparing departmental budgets, securing substitute teachers or subbing for absent teachers, securing textbooks for teachers, and completing reports for the princi- pal. The department chairs collectively report- ed that keeping an accurate inventory of instructional materials, books, and equipment and the maintenance of equipment was equally important as monitoring the instructional pro- gram by reporting data about student achieve- ment on standardized testing.

With the expansion of high-stakes testing and the need to demonstrate improved performance on standardized tests, the department chairs found it necessary to monitor results on high- stakes tests. For example, Taylor indicated the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is a test his math teachers must pay attention in order to increase school-wide test score averages. Taylor explained, “The SAT is something we have interest in and concern over because that is

Perspectives on Instructional Supervision


departmental budgets, and trouble-shooting departmental issues. Instructional supervision was not included in the principal’s articulated expectations and given other duties that needed “immediate attention,” supervision was often put on the “back burner” out of necessity to ful- fill these other duties. The department chairs experienced conflict because they recognized that supervision was important, and that they needed to differentiate supervision based on the needs of individual teachers. Failing to direct the department chairs concerning instructional supervision, the principal left the chairs to define their own roles as they pertained to being instructional supervisors, perhaps furthering the uncertainty that often accompanies role ambiguity. Essentially, this principal let on-the- job experiences shape the work the department chairs did with instructional supervision.

The participants in this study, with the excep- tion of the Science Department Chair, indicated no training or professional development oppor- tunities were available that were designed to support their practices of instructional supervi- sion. The findings of this study suggest that it is necessary to provide professional learning opportunities that clearly focus and instruct department chairs in the meanings and the practices of instructional supervision. Such an emphasis on preparation and growth might make instructional supervision a higher priori- ty in systems like JCPS. Without such learning opportunities, nothing of substance is likely to change in the work of department chairs related to instructional supervision. Nick Taylor’s words were prophetic: “The reality is that because of all the things I have to do as depart- ment chair, there just isn’t much time for instructional supervision.” In other words, instructional supervision as a task and function of the high school department chair must be ele- vated to the same importance as managerial tasks; otherwise, department chairs will not be able to emerge as instructional leaders within their departments. We were reminded of Verchota’s (1971) account of why the high school department chair evolved: “…when principals realized that they needed help in supervising instruction and attending to certain administrative details associated with instruc-

something by which our school and department will be judged.” Smith and Williams pointed to the JCPS Performance Assessment and the State High School Tests as creating scrutiny of the work in their departments. Williams stated, “I think the department chair’s job is important in initiating and maintaining the changes required of science teachers for students to succeed on the Performance Assessment.” With time already a limited “resource,” the addition of high-stakes testing has placed increased pres- sure on the department chair to “get it all done.” The department chairs indicated that working individually with teachers was critically impor- tant. However, given the nature of the testing program, they were spending more time work- ing with teachers in large groups to examine instructional strategies rather than working with individual teachers in their classrooms as instructional supervisors.

Discussion The purpose of this study was to examine the perspectives of three high school department chairs relative to instructional supervision. What did we learn about the work of these pro- fessionals at Lincoln North High School? The findings indicate that these high school depart- ment chairs were not formally prepared by the system in which they were worked for the prac- tice of instructional supervision. Only one of the department chairs had sustained a course in instructional supervision as part of her admin- istrative certificate. Although the Junction County Public School Board of Education pub- lished a job description for high school depart- ment chairs listing supervision of teachers as a function of the position, none of the partici- pants of this study received a job description. Moreover, they indicated that instructional supervision was never articulated as a priority of the position or an expectation held by the principal.

The participants received no direction by the principal to enact the role of instructional supervisor; thus, they created their own roles. Each individual department chair’s framework for instructional supervision was very different. The principal expected the day-to-day work of running a high school department to be accom- plished, i.e., handling paperwork, formulating

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tion” (p. 128). Given the emphasis on testing and the high stakes environments in which teachers teach, supervision that includes fre- quent formal and informal classroom observa- tions could provide the department chairs with a more accurate view of instruction. With this view of instruction and the use of post-observa- tion conferences, there would be more opportu- nity to engage teachers in discussion and reflec- tion about their classroom practices.

In the high school context, department chairs are in solid positions to support teaching and learning. Department chairs are expected to be content area experts as well as “master” teach- ers. With the increased focus on high-stakes testing and accountability per legislation passed by both federal and state governments, the high school department chair’s role is critical in sup- porting the work teachers do to enhance student achievement. If high schools are to continuous- ly improve in the current climate, the depart- ment chair’s role and work might be best sup- ported with training and resources, including time to focus on instructional supervision.

Although the literature reviewed did not address time as a specific constraint in the role of the department chair or as a resource required for performing the tasks of the depart- ment chair, a case could be made that time is a resource, similar to textbooks, classroom sup- plies, and support from the administration. The participants noted time as a constraint on their roles as department chairs, and instructional supervision often took a back seat to adminis- trative tasks. Already lacking solid foundations of formal knowledge and training for their roles as instructional supervisors, the participants struggled to find time to supervise teachers.

The participants in this study did evidence some important knowledge concerning instruc- tional supervision, albeit intuitively concluded rather than formally learned. Nonetheless, according to Zepeda (2007) and Sullivan and Glanz (2000), supervision is a formative process that leads to professional growth. The depart- ment chairs were concerned with improving teacher instructional practices to improve stu- dent learning. Additionally, this study’s find- ings indicated that instructional supervision

was to a degree differentiated to support teacher development. Thus, knowing teachers as indi- viduals allowed them to structure their supervi- sory practices according to the needs of the teacher being supervised.

Given the structure of the typical high school and the centrality of the work of the high school department chair, more studies are warranted to understand, support, and nurture the work of these professionals. Instructional supervision as a tool to assist in the important work of schools needs to be further examined in the contexts in which department chairs work.

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The High School Journal – April/May 2007

Article Analysis 3 Rubric


Element Points Possible Points Earned
Research questions/Focus Correctly Identified   10
Unit of Analysis identified   10
Sources of Data   20
Data analysis techniques identified   10
Themes Identified   10
Major findings   20
Limitations   10
Mechanics   10
TOTALS   100




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