Sergiovanni’s platform for supervisors in Education

1. Theory of supervision

Sergiovanni believes that competence and virtue should be the main sources of authority, and should be supplemented by bureaucratic, psychological and technical-rational aspects. Hierarchical authority and psychological leadership are alternative strategies for supervision since there are no hard and fast rules which can apply to every setting (Brandt, 2006)

In his book, Strengthening the Heartbeat: Leading and Learning Together in Schools, Sergiovanni explains the competencies which an effective leadership needs to develop:
Attention management – this is the ability to get others to focus on values, ideas, goals and purposes which bring them together and provide a reason for whatever goes on within the school. Attention is managed by leaders through what they say, what they reward or pay attention to, and the reasons they give for their decisions.
Meaning management – this is the ability to bring teachers, parents and students together in a sensible and valuable manner. Leaders should have the ability to connect the daily routines of school to the big picture that define who people are, what they are doing in school and why their participation is needed.
Trust management – this is the ability to create an impression of credibility, legitimacy and honesty. Aside from making decisions, it is important for a leader to be able to explain these decisions and link them to the school’s vision.
Self management – this is the ability to understand one’s own identity, beliefs and actions. This is an ability connected with practical intelligence, or the ability to know how things work and put this knowledge into action. A leader is said to have achieved self management when he can defend his actions in a manner that people will at least understand and respect his behavior even when they don’t agree with it.
Paradox management – this is the ability to reconcile conflicting ideas, like giving adolescents the independence they yearn for and a venue for discipline when needed, or involving parents without sacrificing the school’s autonomy. Paradox management becomes easier when leaders are guided by ideas, values and visions of the common good.
Effectiveness management – this is the ability to monitor the development of a school in a manner that it improves performance over time. This requires an understanding of how school success is understood and measured. School success requires effective management to get results. It also requires learning and cultivating relationships. Learning leads teachers to discover more about their profession and to discover more efficient ways to reach success. These result to improved practice as a teacher.
Responsibility management – this is the ability to get people to internalize values and purposes that creates the obligation for them to satisfy commitments to the school and to each other. People are motivated by what they feel is their duty to do. Once this feeling of obligation is instilled, people act even when it means making a sacrifice in personal terms. The motivational tool of duty and obligation are stronger than gain or pleasure because it can sustain itself.

Aside from these competencies, Sergiovanni also emphasized the need for moral commitment, and its priority over psychological leadership. To get his point across, he made an example of a leader who is psychologically strong but fails to lead his people anywhere because, if there is anything a leader of this kind is good at, it is lead people towards the wrong direction (Brandt, 2006).

Sergiovanni also believes that an emphasis on leadership downgrades professionalism. He would prefer to face the challenge of nurturing more leaders so there will be less worry over who are leaders and who are not (Brandt, 2006). In other words, he believes that everyone has the potential to be a leader. If this potential was developed in every individual, then everyone can play the role of a leader whenever the role is called for. There won’t be the need for the hierarchy found in traditional forms of leadership. But, more importantly, there will be less finger pointing when it comes to taking responsibility because everyone is accountable for their own actions.

2. Philosophy of education and supervision

Sergiovanni defines leadership in education by starting with what it is not – it is not about 1 person coming up with a slogan then claiming that it is the school’s vision. Going back to his idea about nurturing more leaders, he advocates the idea of every member of the faculty bringing to the table their own unique concepts. These unique concepts combined become the idea structure for the school. While these concepts may be different from what the principal considers ideal, what Sergiovanni banks on is the belief and passion that these faculty members have from knowing that they were an authority in arriving at the school’s vision (Brandt, 2006).

What Sergiovanni is trying to pull away from is this manner of supervision which can be likened to a one-man show. He advocates cooperation and collaboration from the conception of policies all the way to its implementation.

Sergiovanni likens the school to a community within a society, and it serves as an alternative community for those youths who do not belong to one. In the latter, the school leaders play a vital role by serving, following and inviting others within their school to share in the responsibilities of leadership. Through this process, schools become a ‘communities of mind’ because of shared ideas, ideals and purposes (Leadership discussion: Sergiovanni in Victoria, 2005). In other words, the school should be like a family which the students should be able to come home to and express their ideas and reconcile these with the other members in the school. The role of school leaders is to bring more people into the school so their community can grow. As it grows, then more people will play a role in the development of the school.

3. Mission and vision

At the heart of Sergiovanni’s theory of school leadership are moral connections rooted in cultural norms. He wrote that moral connections stem from the duties accepted by teachers, parents and students and the obligations they feel towards their community. These obligations result from a commitment to share values and beliefs.

Sergiovanni believes that moral connections should be at the core of building communities in schools. In order to accomplish this end, schools should move towards the goals of:
increasing the sense of family, neighborliness, and collegiality among faculty members;
becoming a professional community by getting everyone to care about each other, help each other, learn and lead together;
cultivating a school-parent relationship wherein parents are included in the growing community (The Developer, 1997).
What Sergiovanni is envisioning is a synergy of teachers and parents to aid in the creation and growth of a community in schools. While this is a goal intended for the benefit of the students, the teachers will also be benefited because the cooperation from parents and their fellow teachers can aid in alleviating the challenging task of teaching students. The fact that a school is not just a learning venue but also a community implies that teachers also play a role in raising the students to become adults. The task of raising the children is not only left to the parents, and the task of teaching is likewise not left to the teachers – thus, a convenient synergy is created.

4. Roles I will assume as a supervisor in a school

As a supervisor, you will assume the role of a head follower. A head follower engages others in conversation because this is the means to generate ideas. You will not engage in one way communication in the form of directives, reminders and reprimands (Sergiovanni, 2001).

As a supervisor, you will act as a model for your followers. You will do this by supporting teachers, leading discussions, assisting meetings and be careful with your use of language and display of attitude (Sergiovanni, 2001).

As a supervisor, you need to display humility in your decision making process. You can do this by reasonably procrastinating through the use of trial and error techniques. Another strategy is to stagger the implementation of decisions through gradual changes and getting feedback as a means of checking progress (Sergiovanni, 2001). In other words, policies should not be implemented with finality. There should always be room for improvement and negotiation with those people who do not quite agree with the policies, or the people who can offer ideas to improve their implementation.

Sergiovanni frowns upon dictatorship as a means of supervision. He advocates the strategy of communication as this is the means by which a supervisor can get to know the norms of the school which he or she is a part of. At the same time, there is also the need to play the role of a leader by guiding teachers towards their individual goals and showing initiative to assist during discussions.

5. Methodology

Sergiovanni calls for the need to scrap evaluation systems. He says that the reason they don’t work is because after teachers have been observed for a couple of hours and no one is observing them any longer, they will continue to teach in a manner that makes sense to them according to the norms. Norms are connected to the cultural side of life and not the managerial side. So there needs to be new management and leadership practices that acknowledge this truth (Brandt, 2006).

Another reason why evaluation systems don’t work is because of the ever changing circumstances in every classroom. What may work for 1 group may not work for another group. So having an evaluation system which is used for all circumstances will just leave an inaccurate and, maybe even unfair, assessment of a teacher and a class.

Strategies and action plans need to be planned and executed on a daily basis. These plans should address what needs to be done by whom and when. These plans should identify specific training needs.
With regard to supervision, a system to monitor everyday activities and provide in-class and on-call professional assistance need to be in place. Action plans should also address the kind of assessment needed and the daily steps that need to be taken to realize the action plan (Sergiovanni, 2005).

Going back to the competencies of leadership (see part 1), school leaders should master the competency of effectiveness management and be good at following up. This requires detailed, careful and continuous supervision with an emphasis on learning and an assessment on whether or not this learning is being achieved (Sergiovanni, 2005).

Superintendents and other key officials need to be involved in the daily task of implementation. They should play a part in professional development training. Learning walkthroughs should become their weekly routine rather than an occasional thought. They need to visit schools and classrooms to acquire a firsthand impression on the progress being made (Sergiovanni, 2005).
The responsibility to follow up must not be delegated otherwise the implementation of quality, no matter for how long, will eventually be abandoned. Teacher leadership is also critical to successfully follow up how things work and not simply how things look (Sergiovanni, 2005).

For the effects of implementation to be permanent, it is important that follow ups be done by the key leaders. This is a task which they may share with the teachers who they are also training to become leaders. This idea of sharing is based on the reality that sometimes superintendents need to address more pressing matters outside the implementation of school policies. But by the end of the day, it is important that the key leaders of the school have an accurate and primary idea of where the school is and where it is headed. Sharing and delegation are not the same since the latter implies an abandoning of responsibility to someone else.

6. What would I do with curriculum?

Schools need to respond to the growing complexity of public life. Schools need to produce graduates who are enlightened on public issues which confront the nation, and how to participate in political discussions (Sergiovanni, et al., 1998). This means that a curriculum and instructional methodology needs to employ experiential processes to reach a school’s academic achievement standards. There might be a need to play it by ear for a while to determine what works and what doesn’t in line with the school’s standards. But, in the long run, this trial and error approach is better than sticking to a curriculum that has lost its ability to reach the objectives set by the school.

In order for education to address the nation’s problems, it needs to enhance the students’ reasoning ability, inquiry skills, and rational problem solving. A student with these abilities will equate to a citizen who will use the power of knowledge to decide the best direction to take as he travels the continuously developing world. Sergiovanni bases this assumption on the Socratic principle of knowledge equals virtue – if your knowledge is deep enough, you can think clearly enough to do what is right (Sergiovanni, et al., 1998).

So what should be done with a curriculum? It should be developed towards the above goals. It should advocate books and other reading materials that advocate social consciousness and awaken nationalism. At the same time, it should encourage activities like debating, role playing, music, art and other manifestations of creativity so that students can have a venue for the expression of their knowledge.

A curriculum should encourage the collection of knowledge but should not end there. Students should be allowed to explore venues outside the classroom like public libraries, museums, banks, factories and other places. Educational tours should be encouraged and students should be made to process the significance of these tours to their overall education.

7. Hiring practices

Sergiovanni advocates the idea that in order to transform schools into real learning communities for students, these schools also have to be learning communities for teachers. The adults who teach in schools need to be actively engaged in the learning process by inquiring and encouraging problem solving (The Developer, 1997).
With this principle in mind, it is important to hire teaching staff that are open to questions and encourage students to solve problems while also guiding them in the process. Schools should hire teachers who see learning as a 2 way process, and not simply an environment where they speak and everyone else listens.

During hiring interviews, schools need to ask teachers questions in the nature of:
how would you describe your teaching approach?
how do you feel about students asking questions?
how would you encourage students to explore the answers to their own questions without making them feel abandoned?
These questions and others of similar nature can gauge if the teacher applying for a teaching position has the right attitude to support the goal of creating a learning community.

8. Professional development

Sergiovanni came to the conclusion that the organizational principles that govern corporations in the business world cannot be used to govern schools which are sprinkled with children, books and sandboxes. He likened schools to families and small communities. What are needed are the right substitutes for parents and casual leaders, not traditional leaders or dictators (Brandt, 2006).
Teacher development must be the priority in school improvement. This means that management systems, organizational patterns, and teacher growth strategies must take the following factors into consideration:
the need to adapt to individual differences among faculty members;
the need to encourage teachers to reflect on their own practices;
the need to prioritize open dialogue among teachers;
the need for a venue that allows collaborative learning among teachers;
the need to create a caring attitude;
the need to create awareness for a moral response to one’s work.

Sergiovanni says that in order for permanent change to come about it must be based on norms and not rules. The tools for such permanent change include professional socialization, shared values and purposes, collegiality, and natural interdependence (The Developer, 1997).

In other words, it’s time to abandon the old tradition of rules which are followed so long as someone is watching. If the people who need to follow the rules are allowed to play a role in their creation, then there is no reason for them to disobey their own rules. There is no reason for them to disobey the rules which they believe in, and the rules which they have committed to follow.


Brandt, Ron. (2006).On Rethinking Leadership: A Conversation With Tom Sergiovanni retrieved on April 14, 2011 from:

Office of Learning and Teaching, Department of Education and Training. (June 2005). Leadership Discussions: Sergiovannin in Victoria. (Issue no. 3). Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from:

Sergiovanni, Thomas. (2001). Leadership: Whats in it for schools?. Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from:

Sergiovanni, Thomas. (2005). Strengthening the Heartbeat: Leading and Learning Together in Schools, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pgs. 142-149

Sergiovanni, T.J. & Starratt, R.J. (1998). Supervision: A redefinition (6th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

The Developer. (1997, February). Community Must Guide School Reform, Says Sergiovanni. National Staff Development Center

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