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Toward an understanding of the role functions of the supervisory conference in theological field education Lehtinen, Jean Marie


Throughout the history of theological education there have been many articles written about field education and the need for effective supervision, but few works describe research on the role functions of the supervisory conference. Studies have suggested that examining the supervisory process is complex and not easily researched. For accreditation, the Association of Theological Schools requires field education and supervision as an integral part of the Master of Divinity degree. The purpose of this study was to further the understanding of supervision from the perspectives of supervisors and students engaged in the process of theological field education. An exploratory field research methodology was used. Previous research in theological field education supervision proved inadequate for hypotheses testing. The specific purpose of the study was to search for answers to two questions. First, how do supervisors and students describe the role functions of the supervisory conference? And second, what are the relationships between the role functions of the supervisory conference and conceptual level, constructive openness, orientation to supervision, personality type, age, gender, educational level, and experience? Interviews of supervisors and students were the source of data for the study. The interviews included asking demographic information, asking the role functions of the supervisory conference, and administering four instruments: the Paragraph Completion Test, the Preactive Behavior Instrument, the Supervisory Beliefs Inventory, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The role functions were content analyzed and correlated with age, gender, experience, educational level, conceptual level, constructive openness, orientation to supervision, and personality types. Analyses were performed on the aggregated groups of supervisors and students, and on nine individual supervisor/student pairs. The results of the study indicated general agreement between the field education supervisors and their students in understanding the role functions of the supervisory conference. The mean scores on conceptual level for supervisors and students were not significantly different. Supervisors rated themselves higher in constructive openness than their students. Students estimated their supervisors to be more directive than the supervisors believed themselves to be. The personality types of supervisors and students were similar on the perceiving and judging preferences. When the data were examined by supervisor/student pairs, a more precise description of the supervisory interaction became apparent. For example, the effects of different conceptual levels and personality types became evident in the supervisory relationship. This finding suggests that future research in supervision should use individual pairs instead of aggregated groups. Two important role function themes mentioned least often by students were "relating of religious traditions and values to the human and social needs which have been identified in the ministry placement" and the "linking of theology with the practice of ministry." These two themes represent key strategies for those preparing for future ministry, and should play an integral part in field education. This study has raised several questions for future research: Is the supervisor the key element in the learning of the student? Or is the context of field education the key to learning? What does the student learn from the supervisory conference and the field placement? And finally, is the articulation of the supervisor's own theology and experience an essential component in the supervisory process, and therefore, a component in supervisor training programs?

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