Monday / April 22

Want Teachers’ Trust? Differentiate Supervision


The last two years in school have been chaotic and unpredictable. Leaders and teachers are leaving in record numbers due to the constant upheaval and uncertainty. Engaging those who stayed and enticing a new generation of teachers requires educators to rethink how we do business. Millennials, who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, report that learning is the key to success in their career (O’Boyle, 2022). As schools evolve and respond, it is essential to create learning environments that provide hope, compassion, and stability.

Creating these conditions requires time and space so that deep learning can occur for both students and adults. It requires an environment where teachers possess a general willingness to risk being vulnerable when confronted with new ideas, a hard to reach student or lackluster test results. It requires an openness to learning that can’t occur without high degrees of trust.

What is trust?

Trust, as defined by Tschannen-Moran (2004) is,“The willingness to be vulnerable based on one’s confidence in the other party’s benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence (pg. 1).” Trust matters because it reduces uncertainty. When high levels of trust are present the organization is more cohesive and relationships are more productive (Hoy & Tschannen-Moran,1999).

One way to cultivate the facets of trust in schools is to rethink traditional supervision models. Traditional models treat supervision as an event, something “done to” rather than “with” a teacher. Walkthroughs, if used, provide generic feedback based off of a checklist developed by the principal and then a summative evaluation is conducted towards the end of the year. It is easy to see how these practices erode rather than promote openness and honesty. Instead, we need to replace this approach with one that accounts for the individual needs of teachers and teams while helping leaders build trust and improve  student outcomes. We need to differentiate support and feedback, working with teachers, to help them unravel the complexities of meeting students’ needs.

Differentiating instruction based on student needs is not a new concept to educators. Since the one room schoolhouse educators have been challenged to teach students of  different ages and abilities. Carol Ann Tomlinson, considered the pioneer in differentiated instruction, describes the practice as “a way of thinking about teaching which suggests that we establish very clear learning goals, that are very substantial, and then that we teach with an eye on the student.” This makes sense and while we know it is good for our students, we believe that differentiation is not only beneficial, but essential for building trust throughout the school.

Differentiated Supervision

The differentiated supervision model is built around two axes as illustrated in the figure below. The model was designed around these axes in order to address the inherent challenge of improving an entire system while simultaneously addressing the individual needs of a diverse teaching staff. The two axes define the dimensions of differentiated supervision by intended focus (building or classroom) and the type of feedback (formative or summative).

At the core of the differentiated supervision model is feedback. Feedback occupies this spot because it is central to how we learn and grow. We agree wholeheartedly with Bambrick-Santoyo (2012) that “the primary purpose of observing teachers isn’t to judge the teacher, but to find the most effective ways to coach them to improve student learning” (p. 63). This requires an approach to feedback that has teachers actively engaged so they can identify what is working and what they could do better next time.

The five facets of trust are developed in this model through the following ways:

Benevolence The differentiated supervision model is built on the belief that the number one job of the principal (besides student safety) is to help everyone grow  and develop. Leading from this lens puts the growth mindset front and center so the principal and staff are working together in service of learning. Feedback methods promote reflection and dialogue.
Honesty We love the quote by Brene Brown, “clear is kind, unclear is unkind”. Thus, feedback in this model relies heavily on collaboratively developed look fors that promote shared meaning and lend themselves to rich discussions around the initiatives in the school.
Openness A clear plan of action fosters openness within the school. This model relies on a school improvement plan that has clear goals, strategies and action steps. Staff are integral partners in developing the plan ensuring transparency and ownership.
Reliability Processes in the model provide a strong infrastructure of support which has leaders consistently  observing and providing feedback. Teachers can count on leaders in classrooms and participating in PLCs. These predictable routines help staff know they  are not alone.
Competence The model asks that administrators be a lead learner and actively participate in professional development alongside staff.  This level of learning supports the leader and builds on one’s lateral capacity to provide relevant feedback.

Teachers, like all of us, want to work in a place where they feel seen and are able to grow and thrive. Trust is a necessary and essential ingredient to creating this type of environment. Leaders must pay consistent attention to the facets of trust and implement practices that expand these beliefs throughout the system. The differentiated supervision model does this by helping the leader organize practices in a purposeful way so growth is realized throughout the school.


Bambrick-Santoyo, P. (2012). Leverage leadership: A practical guide to building exceptional schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hoy, W. & Tschannen-Moran, M. (1999). Five facets of trust: An empirical confirmation in urban elementary schools. Journal of School Leadership, (5), p. 184-208.

O’Boyle, E. (2021, November 3). 4 things gen Z and millennials expect from their workplace. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from

Tschannen-Moran, M. & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2004). Understanding, building, and repairing trust. Retrieved from

Written by

Ann Mausbach is the author of School Leadership through the Seasons: A Guide to Staying Focused and Getting Results All Year (Routledge Eye on Education, 2016), Align the Design: A Blueprint for School Improvement (ASCD, 2008), and Leading Student-Centered Coaching (Corwin 2018). These books provide practical guidance to school leaders interested in creating lasting reform in their schools. Ann has served as a central office leader in a variety of roles including Coordinator of Staff Development, Director of Curriculum, Director of Elementary Education and an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. She holds a PhD from the University of Kansas. She currently works as an Assistant Professor for Educational Leadership at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.

Kim Kazmierczak, co-author of School Leadership through the Seasons: A Guide to Staying Focused and Getting Results All Year (Routledge Eye on Education, 2016) and Differentiated Supervision (Corwin, 2022), is the principal of an urban elementary school located in the Midwest. Her administrative experiences have included elementary, middle and district administration for over twenty years. She has primarily worked in at-risk environments addressing complicated issues of equity, poverty, homelessness and special education. She was named Middle School Principal of the Year by School Administrators of Iowa in 2016. She has been the coordinator for new teacher induction, McKinney Vento Homeless Grant and Safe and Drug Free Schools.

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