• Becoming a Field Placement Supervisor

You've been asked to become a field placement supervisor, but what exactly does that mean? The SWS project explores the dimensions of the supervisory role in the article Holly Becomes a Field Placement Supervisor.

• A Guide to Supervisor Intervention

Supervising students can be delightful, but sooner or later a problem will arise to challenge even the most experienced supervisor. How Do I Deal with...? explains the SWS project's Guide to Supervisor Intervention, a step-by-step process for working through difficult situations with students.

• Developmentally Appropriate Supervision

Just as our knowledge of child development guides us to experiences and responses that are appropriate for children, understanding general patterns of adult learning and development can enhance our ability to meet the unique needs of each practicum student.

Becoming a Field Placement Supervisor

You've been asked to become a field placement supervisor, but what exactly does that mean? The Supervising with Style project explores the dimensions of the supervisory role:

Holly Becomes a Field Placement Supervisor

My young friend Holly seemed uncharacteristically frazzled when I met her yesterday. The energetic, resilient child care professional who handles busy toddlers with charm and aplomb had been reduced to anxious confusion by her director's request that she supervise a field placement student. "I don't have any idea about how to be a supervisor, "she exclaimed. "I'm not even sure I know what they're supposed to do!"

Field placements, or practica, are an important component of Early Childhood Development training programs, allowing students to see theory in practice and to build their own skills in a supportive environment. In field placement, students usually work closely with an onsite supervisor while a College coordinator provides liaison and support.

The effectiveness of the on-site supervisor is arguably the most significant aspect of a successful practicum. However, supervisors are chosen mainly for their ability to model effective practice and have little or no training in supervision. They express a need for guidance in dealing with the difficult situations that arise in field placement, and frustration with the limited resources that are available to them.

For over two years, the Supervising with Style project worked with supervisors, students and experts throughout Northern Alberta to identify the training needs of supervisors and develop materials to guide them in their work with students. A thorough literature review, action research in four early childhood sites, a Delphi process, and a number of focus groups with supervisors and students produced a wealth of information about the role of the supervisor: the tasks involved; the skills, attitudes and knowledge required; the challenges; the supports needed; the roles of the various players; and the rewards of supervision. Hopefully this research, along with literature from the field, can help Holly know what it means to be a supervisor and decide if it's a role she wishes to undertake.

Supervisory Role: What the Literature Tells Us

The literature tells us what supervisors discover daily: that the supervisor's role is unique and complex. A supervisor is not only an observer and evaluator but also, as reflected in Balch and Balch (1987), a model caregiver/teacher, a planner, a conferencer, a counselor, a professional peer, and a friend.

Effective supervisors, while acting in the role of "model", create an ideal setting/program environment wherein they model quality instruction and child guidance strategies. Schuster and Stevens (1991) describe skills that an effective supervisor might model, such as managing a classroom effectively and working cooperatively with other professionals. At the same time as supervisors model skills, they explain and provide reasons for the teaching/caregiving behaviours that they model. Rudick (1997) believes supervisors can help students link theory to practice by understanding and articulating their own practice from a theoretical perspective.

Modelling and explaining effective practice is important, but research suggests that the relationship between supervisor and student may play a more important role in determining the success of the practicum. Doxey (1996) finds that a positive relationship has a profound impact on the successful outcome of a practicum and that students place greater emphasis on the personal qualities and relationship with their supervisor than on their supervisor's professional expertise. Likewise, Schwebel, et. al. (1992) believe that almost any problem that arrises in practicum can be overcome if a supportive student-supervisor bond has been established. Balch and Balch (1987) provide suggestions for building a positive relationship with students while Pelletier (1995), Machado & Botnarescue (1997) and Whealon and Whealon (1974) outline suggestions for the important first meeting with the student.

For supervision to be successful, roles must be clear. For example, Slick (1995) suggests the importance of separating the supervision and evaluation functions of the supervisor's activity so that different and distinct criteria are used for each and the student knows when the supervisor is acting in each capacity.

How might supervisors best approach their task? Katz (1995), Furlong & Maynard (1995), Cohn & Gellman (1998) and Caruso (2000) stress the developmental nature of student learning and provide guides for working with students at the various stages of their development. Looking at the developmental aspect of supervision from a student's perspective, Wood (1989) finds that students prefer supervisors to move from a directive approach to a more reflective, indirect mode as the practicum progresses. Rogers (1992, 1994) outlines a practicum-supervision process called "contextual supervision" wherein the supervisor matches their supervisory style to the student's level of confidence and competence.

The Supervising with Style (SWS)Findings

The SWS research confirms that when Holly agrees to supervise an Early Childhood student, she adds a whole range of tasks and responsibilities to her already overflowing work week. Not only will she be expected to model exemplary practice and maintain standards of care in her program, but she will also:

welcome, orient and integrate students into the program;
support students' learning by reviewing their planning, making suggestions, encouraging questions, answering questions, referring to practicum expectations and offering resources;
give consistent, useful short and long term feedback and provide written evaluations;
communicate with the College coordinator; and
act as a liaison between the student and the rest of the staff.

On the surface, the supervision of students appears to be an onerous responsibility on top of an already challenging job. However, Holly would also find rewards in her new role as supervisor. Students bring new ideas into a program, enriching the experience of children and stimulating staff. Supervisors mention that they welcome the opportunity to contribute to their profession and to share the rewards of working with children and young families. They enjoy watching students gain new skills and work toward their potential and, in a profession that is often undervalued, they gain an added sense of their own worth by being recognized as a model.

Contradicting Doxey's (1996) findings, SWS respondents believe that the most important thing that Holly will do as an effective supervisor is model ethical, competent practice. Beyond that, however, she will include students as part of her room team, give regular feedback in an effective manner, encourage students to question, reflect, discuss and observe, give clear directions when necessary, and let students take chances and learn from their mistakes. She will spend time with students, explain things that are happening in the room, and ensure that students have the time and opportunity to complete class projects and observations. We will see Holly supporting students by providing ideas and resources and showing appreciation for students' efforts and contributions.

What qualities will be helpful to Holly as she fulfills her supervisory responsibilities? The SWS respondents agree that Holly will need to be knowledgeable and well-organized as well as sensitive, approachable and encouraging. A sense of humour would be an asset, as would openness to new ideas.

It will be very important that Holly see her students as learners who need time to develop new skills and that she view practicum as a place for them to practice. She should be committed to the development of the early childhood profession and have a sincere desire to facilitate students' needs and support their learning.

Holly's communication and interpersonal skills will help her develop a positive relationship with her students. She will be able to give effective feedback, support students in being self-reflective, set limits and confront when necessary, problem-solve, and build a trusting, positive relationship. Her observation skills will also be important, enabling her to interpret behaviours, provide insights and explanations about daily activities, and document her students' progress. Holly's organizational skills will help her to integrate the demands of her new role. Professional skills will be evident in her modelling of appropriate practice.

In order to perform well in her role as a supervisor, Holly needs to have a clear understanding of all of the expectations for the student, the placement, and herself as supervisor. She must have both knowledge (particularly child development knowledge) and experience. Knowing something of her students' abilities, experience and goals will help her to understand their progress as learners, along with the expected outcomes for them. She requires a keen understanding of her own program philosophy along with knowledge of the College philosophy and teachings.

As a new supervisor, Holly is likely to face some challenges. The SWS research tells us that evaluating and giving feedback to students is the most common area of difficulty. New supervisors struggle to be firm and make their expectations known, and giving negative feedback can be hard. Time management is a second area of concern, and one that is understandable given the complexity of the supervisor's role. New supervisors find it challenging to recognize and accommodate different styles of learning, personalities and perspectives and to balance the individuality of students with program expectations. Remembering that students need encouragement but are responsible for their own goals can be difficult.

As Holly becomes more experienced, some of the challenges remain the same while others shift in importance. Now her most pressing concern may be with maintaining or encouraging the professional attributes of the student; for example, their commitment to learn, to ask questions etc. Lack of time will still be an issue. Meeting the individual needs of students while fulfilling the College's program expectations will still be a problem, especially given the different starting points of students who are at the same place in the program. Holly may still find it a challenge to step back and let the student take responsibility and initiative while staying on top of what the student is presenting in conjunction with how her program is being run.

Anticipating that giving feedback might be an area of difficulty for supervisors, the SWS Delphi asked respondents about "things to remember when giving feedback." The result was a valuable guide to the feedback process. In giving feedback, the respondents say, we are sharing the strengths that we have observed as well as the skills that were not demonstrated. The supervisor should be very specific about the changes that need to occur and how the student can go about making those changes. In doing this, the supervisor should use positive communication skills such as active listening, congruent verbal and non-verbal messages, and checking for agreement. Feedback needs to be given in a positive, constructive manner that communicates the student's potential for growth. The respondents agree that it should given on a regular basis and not just when there is a problem. Feedback must be timely; that is, given as soon as possible after a behaviour occurs. Ideally, there will be enough time for discussion. Feedback should be based on behavioural observations: be specific, descriptive and nonjudgmental. Our experts emphasize that feedback be given in such a way that it leaves the person's humanity and integrity in place. When she gives feedback, Holly must be honest, genuine and sincere, and demonstrate that she is trying to understand the student's perspective as well as her own.

One clear indication that students have understood feedback is that they act on it. Even if they haven't changed the questionable behaviour completely, they are beginning to do so. Students who have understood feedback will be able to restate it in a way that matches the supervisor's intention. Often they will engage the supervisor in conversation about the feedback and they may add to the feedback that was offered. Sometimes, supervisors find, students will come back to them later to tell them about their learning in the area that's been addressed by the feedback.

The supervisor is key in a successful field placement experience, but she or he is only one element in a dynamic situation. When we look at the factors that were identified as interfering most with a successful supervisory experience, we see that student characteristics such as lack of commitment or poor organization are considered to be of primary importance. Other barriers include lack of time, unclear expectations, negative attitudes of other staff toward the student, and a poor relationship between the staff and student.

Effective students, according to our respondents, are enthusiastic, committed to learning and to the profession, spontaneous, creative, responsible, energetic and sensitive to the needs of others. These students will be respectful of the needs of children, families and staff, respond well to feedback, take initiative, take initiative, share their thoughts and feelings, and use a proactive approach to achieve goals beyond what is necessary.

Holly's workmates can do a great deal to orient students and assist them in getting to know and feel comfortable with children, parents and staff. They can help create a supportive environment by treating the student as a learner rather than as a volunteer or employee. (Our experts emphasize that the student shouldn't be expected to do more cleaning than the staff does!) An agency which has a smoothly running team and a philosophy and practice similar to that of the College will provide a secure base for the students' growth.

The SWS respondents provide us with a profile of the characteristics, attitudes, skills and understandings that will make Holly an effective supervisor. They also alert us to the importance of other aspects of the supervisory dynamic, particularly the student and the agency. Out of this, they were able to identify supports that need to be provided for supervisors. There are implications in their recommendations for both the College and the agencies.

The respondents feel it is essential that a placement begin with an in-depth orientation session. This session would bring together all of the persons concerned with a placement, usually the College coordinator, the student, the supervisor and, sometimes, the director. Such sessions, when accompanied by clear written guidelines, ensure that everyone understands the expectations for the placement. They also lay the foundation for clear, open communication among the student, coordinator and supervisor. Although agencies might request an orientation session, it usually falls to the College coordinator to ensure that it happens. Beyond the orientation session, the College staff would be available to answer questions, role model and provide updates regarding new materials and trends. The College would facilitate supervisors in providing effective feedback: participants suggested a course, a process for sharing information and/or a format for evaluations. Mini-workshops around topics such as communication and stress relief were mentioned. Supervisors could also use information about the developmental needs of students.

Agencies can support the supervision process by making time available (other than breaks) for supervisors to meet with students on a regular basis. Students can play a role in creating a successful placement experience by fulfilling their plans, being proactive in acquiring the materials they need, and demonstrating commitment to the program.

Agency supervisors of early childhood students are volunteers who play an essential role in the training experience. There can be no doubt that it is in the best interests of students and training institutions to see that supervisors have the support they need to be effective and to find satisfaction in their role. The Supervising with Style project highlights the dimensions of the supervisory role and provides direction with regard to the resources that are needed to assist supervisors whether they are "old hands" or, like Holly, undertaking supervision for the first time.


Balch, P.M. & Balch, P.E. (1987) the cooperating teacher: A practical approach for the supervision of student teachers. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: University Press of America.

Caruso, J. (2000). Cooperating teacher and student teacher phases of development.
Young Children, January, 75-81.

Cohn, M. & Gellman, V. (1988). Supervision: A developmental approach for fostering inquiry in preservice teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 39(2), 2-8.

Doxey, I. (1996)
Preparing early childhood educators: Relationship theory and field experiences. Paper presented at the 6th annual conference of the European Early Childhood Education Research Association, Lisbon, Portugal.

Furlong, J. & Maynard, T. (1995). Mentoring student teachers: The growth of professional knowledge. New York: Routledge.

Katz, L. (1995).
Talks with teachers of youg children: A collection. New Jersey: Ablex.

Machado, J. & Botnarescue, H. (2001). Student teaching: Early childhood practicum guide. Albany: Delmar.

Pelletier, C. (1995).
A hanteachdbook of techniques and strategies for coaching student ers: A guide for cooperating teachers, mers, cntoollege supervisors, and teacher educators. Allyn Bacon.

Ralph, E. (1994). Helping beginning teachers improve via contextual supervision.
Journal of Teacher Education, 45(5) 354-363.

Ralph, E. (1992). Improving practicum supervision: A Canadian experience.
Action in Teacher Education, 14(4), 30-38.

Rudick, E. (1997). Connecting theory with practice: Critical inquiry into early childhood teacher supervision.
Canadian Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education, 6(2), 173-176.

Schuster, J. & Stevens, K. (1991). Supervising practicum students: Establishing competencies.
Teacher Education and Special Education, 14 (3), 169-176.

Schwebel, A. Et.all. (1992).
The student teacher's handbook. Mahwah, N.J.:Lawrence Erlbaum.

Slick, G. (1995).
Making the difference for teachers: The field experience in actual practice. Thousand Oaks, Calif.:Corwin.

Whealon, J & Whealon, T. (1974).
Using the initial conference as a needs assessment instrument. Professional development series for supervising teachers.

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Guide to Supervisor Intervention

The SWS project's Guide to Supervisor Intervention outlines steps for supervisors to follow in working through difficult situations with students.

How Do I Deal With...?

Supervising students can be delightful, but sooner or later a problem will arise to challenge even the most experienced supervisor. If it's not the student who's consistently late, it's the person who's very controlling with the children, or the one who has an unpleasant body odour. Dealing with these difficult issues may not be enjoyable, but it's a necessary part of the job and one that does provide opportunities for growth for student and supervisor alike.

The Supervising with Style project worked with supervisors to develop some guidelines for working through difficult situations. The resulting Guide to Supervisor Intervention outlines a process for working through a problematic issue with a student.

A. Setting the Stage

There are things you can do from the very beginning of placement that help to prevent difficulties and/or make it easier to deal with them when they arise:

Build a positive, open relationship
When there is a trusting relationship, it's much easier to address difficulties. The student knows, then, that you are being fair and are acting in their best interests. Creating this relationship begins with your very first contact with the student.
Set clear expectations
It's important that students be familiar with the expectations of the college as well as with room and agency routines and policies. When a problem occurs, it could mean that a student hasn't received a vital piece of information or hasn't understood it.
Model desirable behaviour
Students look to their supervisors and other room staff to see how they should be as caregivers. In a problematic situation, consider whether students might be copying behaviour they are seeing in staff.

B. Gaining Perspective

When you become aware of a problem, begin by exploring your own perspectives. Ask "Why is this an issue for me?" and "Do other people feel the same way?" Then deepen your understanding further by observing and documenting the student's behaviour with respect to the problem. If the situation is one where you have to respond right away, take time later to reflect and check with others so you'll be prepared the next time you encounter a similar issue.

Reflect/check with others

Ask yourself, "What do I bring from my personal and professional history that might influence my reaction to this situation?" For example, you may be concerned that your student, Shannon, spends too much time reading to children in the book corner. When you reflect on your own experience, you might become aware that, as an active person yourself, you place a lot of importance on gross motor activities and feel that child care staff should encourage children to be more active. Or you may recall that, as a student, you were encouraged to move to all areas of the room.

Talk with others to see what new perspectives they might bring to the situation. (Be aware of confidentiality issues as you do so.) When you mention your concern about Shannon to your co-worker, you may find that she's not concerned. She points out that Shannon has only been in the placement for a week and will probably move to other areas as she starts to feel more comfortable.
Observe and document the student's behaviour

You are observing and keeping some notes as part of your ongoing supervision, but when there is a concern, be sure to document behaviours relating to that particular situation. Notice how much time Shannon does spend in the book corner, what children are with her there, and what other activities she is involved with in the room.

C. Exploring the Problem with the Student

Now you've laid the groundwork for exploring the problem with the student. Your next step is to raise the issue in a way that opens up communication with your student and lets you see their perspective. Attentive listening is key. The last step in this stage is to let the student know the effect their behaviour is having; that is, why it is problematic.

Describe the behaviour

Now it's time to discuss the problem situation with the student. This is where your observations come in. Be direct and non-judgmental. "Shannon, I've noticed that you spend a lot of time reading with Rheine in the book corner. The two of you were there for almost an hour this afternoon and for about an hour and a half on Friday." Resist expressing your concerns at this point.

Your student's response will give you needed information about her motivation and understanding. If she says "Yes, she keeps asking me to read and I don't know how to refuse," you'll know that she's probably aware of the need to move to other areas and would welcome help with how to do that. A different response, such as "I've noticed Rheine isn't very comfortable with the other children so I thought the reading corner would feel like a safe place for her to be close to other people," will lead you in another direction. In either case, by leaving room for the student to reply, you've allowed her to have more control in the situation.

Gather information (e.g. ask an open-ended question)

Listen attentively to the student's response. Attentive listening includes both verbal and non-verbal ways of showing the student that you are focussing on them and what they are saying. Making eye contact, nodding, inviting them to expand ("Can you tell me more about that?"), paraphrasing and perception checking can all be a part of attentive listening.

Explain the impact of the behaviour

Tell the student your concerns about her behaviour. For example, you might tell Shannon, "It's lovely for the children to have someone to read to them, but I'm concerned that you might not have a chance to experience other areas in the room." Then listen attentively to her response.

D. Finding a Solution

You have spent time exploring the problem, so now you can move into working with the student to arrive at a possible solution.

Involve the student in generating possible solutions (might include strategies such as modelling, scaffolding)
Agree on the goal
Brainstorm possible solutions/strategies
Choose one or more solutions to try
Discuss how you will know if the solution is working and when you will review the situation
Implement the solution(s)
Review progress. This includes steps you used earlier: observing and documenting, describing what you have seen, gathering information and listening etc.
Problem solve again OR move on to the next step.

E. Using Consequences

With some problems and some students, you might try several rounds of problem-solving before you would move into consequences. In other situations, particularly where the student's behaviour is detrimental to the children, you would go to consequences more quickly.

Establish consequences and decide on time frame
Review to see if student has been successful
Follow through on consequences if student hasn't been successful.

The process is outlined in five stages, each with several steps. Although it is presented in a linear fashion, there are, in fact, possibilities for "looping back" to earlier stages. The most obvious example of this is in the "Finding Solutions" stage where you review the success of agreed-upon solutions by observing and documenting, describing behaviour to the student, gathering information, and perhaps explaining impact and/or generating more solutions.

It's possible to visualize other situations the would involve returning to previous stages. Perhaps while you are gathering information with the student you find that she doesn't understand the expectations. Maybe you need to describe the behaviour again at this point. Once you are comfortable with the overall process you will easily see where you need to deviate.

It would be difficult to overemphasize the role that attentive listening plays in the process. As mentioned above, attentive listening includes all of the passive and active listening skills. It supports a positive, trusting relationship and lets supervisors see when and how to intervene.

The supervisors who participated in developing the Guide to Supervisor Intervention found it to be an extremely useful tool. They recommended that agency staff become familiar with the guide by roleplaying some of the difficult situations they have encountered with students.

Difficult situations become less baffling and intimidating when there are strategies for dealing with them. The Guide to Supervisor Intervention provides support for supervisors in their job of helping students become effective professionals.

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Developmentally Appropriate Supervision

Just as our knowledge of child development guides us to experiences and responses that are appropriate for children, understanding general patterns of adult learning and development can enhance our ability to meet the unique needs of each practicum student.

Building Effective Student/Supervisor Relationships

A competent student academically, Aline nevertheless goes into her first early childhood field placement feeling very anxious about her lack of experience with children. Fortunately, her supervisor is a nurturing woman who listens to Aline, encourages her, and lets her know that she had a great deal to offer to children. Aline comes away from her placement feeling like a success.

Aline's second placement, in a busy toddler room, is another story. Having no experience with toddlers, Aline has many questions about the program and the children. She feels intimidated by the expectation to provide activities for this younger age group. When Aline's supervisor, Melanie, asks her to restrict her questions to their weekly meetings or times when they are away from the children, Aline becomes very anxious and complains to her College coordinator that the agency isn't providing the resources she needs for her learning. At the same time, Melanie comments that while Aline is very good with the children, she didn't seem able to take initiative and her many questions make it seem as if she is criticizing the program. Aline and Melanie, both capable and committed people, seem to be caught in a downward spiral of unmet expectations.

As Aline's supervisor, Melanie is confused and frustrated. It's difficult not to make comparisons with her last student who made the most of her placement and became a real part of the classroom team. Melanie struggles to stay open and helpful in the face of Aline's dissatisfaction. At this point, unfortunately, it's questionable whether Aline will actually complete her placement. Sound familiar? Anyone who has worked as a supervisor or coordinator of early childhood field placements can recall practicum situations that just didn't work. In some of these, the reasons for failure are clear. In other cases, disappointing and puzzling to everyone involved, the explanation is less clear. It's as if the components for success are all present but have been scrambled in some dysfunctional and incomprehensible way.

The Dynamics of the Practicum Relationship

Puzzling situations like Aline's serve to point up the complexity of the placement dynamic. As we work to find explanations and solutions, it's hard not to contrast Aline's anxious personality with her supervisor's relaxed, calm demeanor. Melanie takes life as it comes and describes herself as a doer, not a talker. Aline anticipates and worries. She learns by talking about ideas and asking questions. Perhaps their different personalities and learning styles are a factor in the difficulty that's arisen between them.

The busyness of the classroom may be significant as well. It must be hard for the two to find time to talk, especially since Melanie has to leave work promptly in order to pick her children up from their out-of-school program.

The two women are obviously at different points in their professional careers. Melaniehas worked in day care for a number of years and is firmly committed to the field. She feels that working with children allows her to make a positive difference in the world. Aline, however, is questioning her career choice. She wants to be with children but is appalled by the low pay in the field. With tips, she's already averaging twice the hourly day care wage in her part time job as a waitress. She argues that in a society where earnings are a measure of worth and childcare is not valued, it seems futile to invest time and money preparing to work with young children. Could these differing perspectives be detrimental to their placement relationship?

Personality, agency realities and career/life stages are just three factors in a complex placement dynamic which, as Ralph (1992, 1994) details, can operate from many levels: personal, interpersonal, institutional and societal. What happens in the placement situation, he believes, is influenced by these many factors acting alone or in combination. Caruso and Fawcett (1999) elaborate on the elements that converge in a supervisor/supervisee relationship. They explain that each individual

...brings to the encounter an accumulated set of experiences, perceptions, beliefs and values that make them who they are, shape their behavior, and influence supervisory outcomes. These include early childhood experiences, assumptions about people, and views about how individuals learn. (p. 56)

Where so many factors are coming together in a relationship, the self-awareness of the participants and their ability to communicate and share perspectives becomes key. Because the student is in a practicum situation as a learner, the onus for opening up communication and fostering awareness falls upon the practicum supervisor, with support from the college coordinator.

Patterns of Student Development

How can supervisors best meet the unique and changing needs of their students? Just as our knowledge of child development guides us to experiences and responses that are appropriate for children, understanding general patterns of adult learning and development can enhance our ability to meet the unique needs of each practicum student.

The literature is rich with descriptions of the different phases or stages that a student will pass through during the several weeks or months of practicum. Caruso (2000), Cohn & Gellman (1988), Slick (1995), Calder head (1987) and Furlong and Maynard (1995) are among those who identify stages of student development and discuss implications for supervision. All believe it is important that supervisors recognize the stage of a student's development and adjust their supervisory style to meet the needs of the student. Much of this work is oriented to practice in school settings, but findings from the recently completed Supervising with Style project (2000) suggest that they are also applicable to other early childhood settings.

Most theorists agree that students begin a practicum with feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, excitement and idealism. From there, they begin to feel comfortable, become familiar with the program, and come to focus on the needs of the children. Students start to acquire new skills and enhance their performance. Some may begin to have doubts about their chosen profession while others experience a surge of new awareness and enthusiasm. Towards the end of the practicum, students demonstrate more maturity and feel a stronger sense of confidence and accomplishment. They end with a sense of relief and perhaps also of loss–they may be sad about leaving the placement and/or not meeting their practicum goals.

Practical experiences are typically a sizable component of two-year early childhood training programs so each student completes several practicums in more than one setting. The theory is unclear as to whether students would experience the developmental progression mentioned above over each field placement or over the total set of placements, although Cohn and Gellman (1988) do identify discrete stages over a series of three student-teaching practice. Perhaps the most logical and useful explanation is that progress is, as Furlong and Maynard (1995) suggest, far from linear. The SWS findings indicate that while students progress in skills, confidence and understanding over the course of the training period, they also experience some initial anxiety at the beginning of each new practicum.

Supervisors are encouraged to adopt a style of supervision that reflects student's changing needs. In fact, studies have shown that students prefer that supervisors take a directive approach at the onset of practicum and then move to a more indirect, reflective mode towards the end (Wood, 1989). In the indirect mode, supervisors are fostering a sense of inquiry in the student, asking them their thoughts and ideas as opposed to simply telling the information. Students are encouraged to reflect on their own behaviour and practices and, with guidance from their supervisor, develop a plan for professional growth.

Ralph (1992, 1994) describes a practicum supervision process called "contextual supervision" which is based on the premise that students will have varying degrees of confidence and competence regarding a particular skill. It is then the responsibility of the supervisor to match their supervisory style to meet the student's level of confidence and competence. The supervisor would include provide support and encouragement ranging from low to high, as well as structure, directions and guidelines also on a scale from low to high. For example, if a student had a low level of competence and confidence in the area of child behaviour management (as determined by observing and talking with the student), the supervisor may provide a high level of guidance and direction by giving specific suggestions and perhaps modeling strategies.

Supervisors who understand the developmental characteristics that impact a student's practicum will be much better prepared to support the student in the field placement experience. For example, we can see that Aline's first supervisor, an older, very nurturing woman, responded to Aline's need for support and encouragement. Aline arrived at the second placement needing reassurance and advice, while Melanie expected more independence. Looking back, Melanie wonders if Aline would have been more successful in her placement had she taken more time to empathize with her concerns and provide guidance at the beginning, with the hope that she could gradually move toward being more self-directed.

Knowing that students tend to follow particular patterns in their development can help supervisors understand students' perspectives and respond accordingly. At the same time, it's useful for them to be aware of their own responses to their student's developmental phases.

Student Development/Supervisor Development

Caruso (2000) maps the progression of student development through the practicum, and the corresponding responses of cooperating teachers (supervisors). He presents each stage as a duality of experience, reflecting successful or unsuccessful resolution of practicum issues and tasks:

Phase One: Anticipating the practicum, students experience a mixture of anxiety and euphoria while supervisors feel anticipation and excitement.
Phase Two: As the practicum begins, students and supervisors experience feelings of clarity/confusion. Students are getting to know the classroom and the students. Supervisors are adjusting to their students and working to convey expectations.
Phase Three: Students experience feelings of competence and inadequacy as they meet with successes and difficulties. Meanwhile supervisors are "on stage," modeling for students, and "backstage," observing and rooting for them. They vary in their ability and willingness to give feedback to students, with some finding negative feedback difficult.
Phase Four: Students are becoming more confident and more evaluative, both of their own performance and that of supervisors (new awareness/renewed doubts), The supervisory dilemma hinges upon letting go/hanging on, as supervisors allow encourage students to accept more responsibility or work to keep them on track.
Phase Five: In a successful practicum, students and supervisors become partners. Where student performance is less satisfactory, however, this phase tends to be one where the supervisor endures and the student struggles with disappointment and frustration. The supervisor's phase is described as co-teacher/solo teacher while, for students, the stage is characterized by more confidence or greater inadequacy.
Phase Six: supervisors, like students, experience a mixture of loss and relief. They may feel rewarded by their students' successes or guilty and concerned if students haven't been successful.

The phases that Caruso identifies apply to a single practicum, but there is ample support for developmental patterns over the course of an early childhood career. Katz (1995), for example, delineates stages of teacher development ranging from the survival phase of beginning teachers through consolidation, renewal and maturity while Vender Ven (1988) outlines five stages in the development of early childhood practitioners: novice, initial, informed, complex and influential.

The SWS research suggests that there might be discernable patterns in the development of early childhood practicum supervisors. The supervisors who participated in the SWS research represented a range of supervisory experience. Some were beginning supervisors; others had worked with students for more than 20 years. When asked to identify the challenges they met in supervising students, both new and experienced supervisors said they have trouble finding time to work with students and balancing the needs of individual students against the expectations of the college program. New supervisors, however, seemed more concerned with the immediate tasks of placement: communicating expectations, giving feedback, and evaluating students. Long-time supervisors appeared to focus more on the student as learner, and look for ways to encourage professional attributes such as commitment to learn.

The differing concerns of new and experienced supervisors are reflected to some extent in Katz's (1995) stages of teacher development. Beginning supervisors may be more concerned with the day-to-day "survival" tasks around expectations, feedback and evaluation. Experienced supervisors, commensurate with Katz's phase of maturity, have more abstract concerns around helping students to be competent learners. In accordance with Furlong and Maynard, however, the stages are anything but discrete. Rather, researchers noted that experienced supervisors tend to revisit earlier issues, but with increasing depth and clarity.

Stages of supervisor development, both within a particular practicum and with overall experience, are a significant aspect in the supervision dynamic. While students are progressing through certain predictable stages in their learning, supervisors bring their own developmental issues to the supervision dynamic. Being able to recognize their responses in the theory supports their self-awareness around their supervision.

Aline's supervisor, Melanie, realizes that she is a relative newcomer to the tasks of supervision. Considering developmental theory helps her to recognize that she has been so concerned with how to provide feedback to Aline that she hasn't always stopped to listen to Aline's concerns and questions. "I can see now that she gets very anxious and needs a lot more support than I did as a student, " she comments. " I can't help worrying that she's not more independent by now, but when I see her wonderful interactions with children I think that it's worth the time it takes to try to help her."

Supporting the Supervisory Relationship

The relationship between the student and supervisor is central to the success of an early childhood practicum, so finding effective ways to support that relationship is vital. Awareness of patterns of student and supervisor development can be helpful at a number of levels: for supervisors in their work with students, for coordinators in supporting the student-supervisor relationship, and for persons planning professional development opportunities for supervisors.

Even if we had the opportunity to carefully match student to supervisor, it would be impossible to control for all of the variables that exist in the supervisory relationship. We can, however, support the ability of supervisors to work effectively with a range of students.

Early childhood practicum supervisors seldom have specific training in supervision but bring many applicable skills from their professional training; for example, the abilities to observe, self-reflect, communicate effectively, and problem-solve. Alerting supervisors to the developmental nature of their students' learning gives them another tool for working with the diverse variety of students that they will encounter.

The SWS (2000) research shows clearly that supervisors need and expect support from the colleges for their work with students. Colleges, at the same time, struggle to make difficult decisions about the best allocation of resources.

The SWS findings suggest that it may be particularly important for coordinator to be actively involved with the supervisor-student relationship early in the practicum (in Caruso's theory, the phase of confusion/clarity). Supervisors who participated in the research outline the need for an in-depth orientation session where the coordinator meets with the student and supervisor to clarify the expectations of the placement and lay the foundation for open communication among student, supervisor and coordinator.

The college coordinator's intervention becomes critical, as well, in situations such as Aline and Melanie's where the placement is stalled in negativity. This would become apparent around Caruso's fourth phase, in cases where the supervisor believes that the student isn't making expected progress and the student is experiencing frustration and doubt. Coordinators might need to support the supervisor in providing appropriate supervision through to the end of the practicum or they might choose to move the student to a different agency.

The SWS project discovered that supervisors have a strong need to get together with peers to discuss supervision issues. In fact, the awareness created through the research project prompted several groups to organize workshops and conferences regarding supervision. Events such as this provide participants with an opportunity to compare experiences and gain information. They also allow long-time supervisors to share their expertise with those who are new to the task .
At its best, practicum supervision is stimulating and rewarding. It provides early childhood professionals with an opportunity for professional growth and the satisfaction of contributing to our profession. However, supervision can also be challenging and, without the appropriate supports, frustrating. Knowing about patterns of student development and their implications for the supervision dynamic helps both supervisors and their college coordinators create practicum experiences that work for everyone.


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