Online training during COVID-19: a necessary evil or a silver lining?

By Emma Dove

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

During the first UK COVID-19 lockdown educational psychology services had to find new ways to support children and young people, their families and schools. One example of this was through the delivery of online training sessions for school staff. In my experiences of online training for schools during COVID-19, I encountered both strengths and barriers to effective training development and delivery. Despite this change in the way in which training was delivered evaluations from school staff were positive and suggest that further use of online training may be a more permanent feature of service delivery.

My experience 

Working remotely on placement in an educational psychology service during COVID-19, one of my key roles was to work with educational psychologists to develop and deliver training on supporting school staff wellbeing. The intended audience was school senior leaders and the focus was supporting wellbeing and normalising the anxiety people may be experiencing given the COVID-19 context. We felt it was important to steer clear of being yet another list of ‘to dos’ for how to look after wellbeing. We were keen for the training to focus on positive psychological models which encourage the nurturing of a range of aspects of wellbeing. Rather than a one size fits all model, this could be applied by each setting to suit their staff’s needs. With a colleague, I delivered the training on a weekly basis via Microsoft Teams. It was conducted synchronously (live) with a small group of 12 school leaders at a time. Our aim was that this would allow for discussion and peer support.

Soon I found myself preparing to deliver my first online training session from my ‘office’ (i.e. the chair closest to the wireless router). It was an anxiety provoking experience. My typical nerves before delivering training were mixed with additional fears. Would the IT work? Would online learning support collaboration and learning? And was anyone even out there?

Was it successful?

My reflections after delivering the training session online over a number of weeks, were that it was a really useful tool for the EPS to support schools. I enjoyed the opportunity to repeatedly deliver training and be able to refine and improve it. The initial strangeness of speaking to a screen subsided and on the whole the technology worked. However, I found it challenging to ‘read the room’ in the way I usually would during training and adapt to the needs of the group.

Building reflection and planning time into the training session was very powerful as leaders were able to provide ideas and ask questions of each other. The use of the chat function facilitated contributions by making it less intimidating for people to share. This also helped me to feel connected to the attendees. The experience of the training showed that the peer support it provided was vital, especially at a time when staff were often isolated by remote working themselves. Staff views from the evaluation questionnaire confirmed the positive impact of running online training. They reflected that the training was very useful in supporting their own wellbeing as well as that of their staff team. They felt that the delivery and materials were very clear and high quality. A number of attendees noted how useful they found the psychological models for reflecting on their own and their school circumstances. The feedback also supported how the staff found the sharing of practice across settings beneficial.

What next?

Whilst online training was brought about in response to the circumstances of COVID-19, after such a successful foray into this approach I feel it shouldn’t be restricted to a COVID response. As one attendee asked, is this the “way of working for the future?”. The move to increased remote working has been a steep learning curve for many of us but there are some benefits from this way of working that we can take forward into whatever future awaits us.

Emma is a trainee educational psychologist who is currently in Year 2 of the initial training course at the University of Birmingham

Supervision: Am I doing it right?

By Laura Halton

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

At the end of my first year on the initial training course for educational psychologists there were a year’s worth of university discussions, literature and placement practice circulating like a Ferris-wheel of reflection in my mind. Surprisingly – for me – none more so than my understanding and participation in supervision. The BPS accreditation standards for educational psychology courses (2019) state that supervision is a ‘critical component of safe, effective, reflective, ethical psychological practice’. An established practice amongst other professions, including clinical psychology and counselling, supervision has seen a rise in importance in educational psychology practice since the turn of the century. On placement, trainee educational psychologists should receive 30 minutes per day of protected supervision. Good supervision is now considered vital professional practice for educational psychologists (EPs).

Hawkins and Shohet (2007) suggest that there are three functions to supervision: Supportive, Managerial and Educative. At the beginning of the year, I quickly identified that I prefer a managerial approach to supervision. Naturally, I feel most comfortable sharing a weekly update of completed practice with my supervisor. I want validation that I have formulated logically, approached tasks systematically and have reflected effectively. Because of this, I used supervision as a regular opportunity to check that I was ‘doing it right’ and, in my eyes, my needs were being met.

An epiphany

At least, that was my opinion until the second university seminar on the topic, where we were asked to reflect on how valuable supervision had been so far. Valuable? Supervision was reassuring for me, my supervisor knew what I had done and we could tick it off our to-do lists. But, valuable? How had I actually developed myself? Cue a light-bulb moment. From that one question, I realised that I had been wasting an amazing opportunity. In my strive to check that I was ‘doing it right’, everything about my approach to supervision was wrong. It dawned on me that it isn’t a tick-in-the-box exercise but an opportunity to learn from an experienced professional, challenge my understanding and develop my own practice.

A learning curve

It was then that I made a conscious decision. Supported by the university tutor, I was going to make an active change in my approach towards supervision. I braced myself and jumped in feet first. In collaboration with my placement supervisor, we scheduled a 20-minute problem-solving session into each supervision. I could not believe the change. From the first reformed session, we were sharing topics of interest, bouncing ideas off each other and working creatively. I felt that I had developed more in one session than the entirety of my previous supervision experience. I left the checklists at my desk, trusted in the support of my supervisor and embraced supervision as a valuable part of professional practice. In doing so, I was able to loosen my life-long obsession with checking that I was ‘doing it right’ and began to enjoy practicing a little flexibility of thought. It felt like a self-imposed weight had been lifted.

A safe space

On reflection, I realise that my need to produce a pre-written checklist of completed work each week was driven by my desire to appear competent. Having previously worked in a profession where you were expected to independently identify and solve problems before they came to the attention of your managers, I initially struggled to trust in the integrity of supervision as a practice for development. However, as my engagement in the educative function of supervision grew, so did the trust in myself and my relationship with my supervisors. I realised this during my second placement To my amazement, I – the girl who had previously just used it ‘to tick a box’ – sought supervision to discuss the emotional impact of a piece of casework. Never before had I allowed myself to discuss how a piece of work had affected me, never mind how it had upset me. In trusting its principles, I was able to experience all three functions of supervision within one session. I left it feeling reassured, informed and protected – my initial desire at the beginning of my engagement in supervision.

A final thought

One year on, I feel that it is only through the development of all three functions that I have seen the true value of supervision. As the academic year ends, perhaps now is the ideal opportunity to reflect on your views and approach towards supervision. Although your preference may lean towards one function of supervision, I wonder if it would be of surprising benefit to your practice to consciously tweak your existing approach. Moving forward, I am determined to continue to utilise the functions of supervision, practise flexibility in my own approach and make the most of the opportunity to develop in collaboration with my supervisor.

Laura is a trainee educational psychologist who is currently in Year 2 of the initial training course at the University of Birmingham

How to Avoid the Silence: Supporting Race Talk in Educational Psychology Practice – Part Two

By Dr Sasha Simon and Dr Anjam Sultana

photo of people reaching each other s hands

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

In part one of this blog, the authors outlined six key concepts relevant to racism, in order to support race talk within Educational Psychology Services.  In part two, we focus on the emotional impact of racism and how we, as educational psychologists, can support colleagues who have been affected by racism and the cumulative effect of George Floyd’s death.

There has been relatively little research, particularly in the UK, into the emotional impact of racism.  Existing research has shown the impact of race-related trauma on individual mental and physical health, including the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in some individuals.  

In light of this, it is important to recognise the emotional impact of racism for Black and ethnic minority colleagues we suggest that the following recommendations are immediate ways we can support one another:

  1. Caring: simply asking your colleagues how they are may make the world of difference. Yes, there is an acknowledgment that racism can be a sensitive topic, but avoidance of difficult conversations can be more detrimental for relationships
  2. Taking a genuine interest: listen more than you speak and make space to actively listen to the lived experiences of Black and ethnic minority educational psychologists. Be curious, in order to understand their emotions and the impact of recent and historic events. It is important to approach conversations from a place of curiosity rather than a position of shame
  3. Empathy: Educational psychologists often use this Brene Brown video when   The principles suitably relate to the Black and ethnic minority experience. Although individuals may not be able to connect with negative race-based experiences, we can all connect with the emotions conveyed. The following phrases can build empathy, connection and ally-ship:
    • I know that I am in a privileged position but I want to understand your experiences and how you are feeling
    • I do not understand your exact experience but I feel privileged that I am able to listen
    • I am sorry that you have had to experience this
    • I am willing to listen
    • I just want to check if you are OK
    • I can understand that you would be hurting right now and I want you to know that I am here for you
  1. Lead in ally-ship: take the first step to recognise, care, empathise, and seek to understand. Too often, educational psychologists who experience racism can be expected

    to lead initiatives and speak on race-related matters. It would be much more impactful for educational psychologists of colour to see their White counterparts leading and making changes to promote anti-racist practice.

What is ally-ship?

Ally-ship can be defined as someone from a non-marginalised group using their privilege to advocate for a marginalised group. From the perspective of this simple definition, all EPs should be allies, but it needs to be expanded to highlight the need for consistent effort, as captured in the following definitions provided by Forbes:

  • an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person holding systemic power seeks to end oppressions in solidarity with a group of people who are systemically disempowered;
  • any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole.

Additionally, the website www.guidetoallyship.com suggests that:

ally ship

In a recent podcast episode entitled ‘The Fine Line between being an Ally and Stealing the Mic: Racism, Education and Self-forgiveness’, anti-racism campaigner Nova Reid, details a powerful representation of ally-ship. In this episode Natalie, an educational psychologist, speaks of her quest for greater knowledge and insight into anti-racism as a White woman. Natalie, vulnerably articulates her journey, using the term ‘walking alongside’ her Black and ethnic minority peers. It paints a beautiful image of ally-ship. Natalie equates her exploratory journey to a scene in the film, The Matrix, where she states that ally-ship feels like taking the red pill and suddenly seeing the world through a different lens. Reid highlights that in ally-ship it is important to recognise where White colleagues hold more power and reinforces the view of colleagues leading in ally-ship.

Natalie also uses the following analogy to reinforce that ally-ship rejects the notion of remaining silent or dismissive:

‘If your colleague had cancer or something had happened to their child or a family member, it would be courteous to ask how they are doing. Similarly, with regards to racial equality, it seems counterintuitive to be silent. The same action should have been enacted for all Black and ethnic minority colleagues.’

 Sasha and Anjam are former trainees from the initial training course at the University of Birmingham. They both work as qualified educational psychologists in the West Midlands. 

 

 

Life of a Year 1 Trainee Educational Psychologist – Lockdown Edition

By Ella Mansfield

woman using her laptop on video call

Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

In January, I wrote a blog post about what an average week is like for a year 1 trainee educational psychologist at the University of Birmingham. At that point, I had no idea that in a matter of months I would be continuing the course from my parents’ home, writing essays from my childhood bedroom and starting my second placement remotely, having never met any of my new colleagues face to face.

Back in March, the university decided not to continue face-to-face lectures. This was a relief, in a way, as sitting in close proximity to twelve other trainees for six hours a day was beginning to feel a little panic inducing. The news about growing infection rates was becoming more serious and we were all starting to worry about the health of both ourselves and our loved ones. When I was sure there would be no more lectures, I had a hasty  departure from both my shared rental home and the city, one week before lockdown started. I packed up the car with everything I own, and made my way back to Surrey where my parents and boyfriend live.

This was my fourth week at my second placement in Year 1 of my course, in June 2020.

Monday

This morning, I ‘met’ with my placement supervisor via video call to talk about last week’s work and plan for the next few days. Over the last two weeks, we have been co-writing some non-routine statutory casework for a teenager who has had a long history of difficulties in educational settings. The case is complex, as the young person has  multiple learning difficulties and social, emotional, and mental health problems. . Social distancing measures have resulted in some adjusts to practice including the inability to visit the teenager in school to assess their needs. This first-hand information would help to fill gaps in the information we are provided by other professionals, so that we can have a holistic view of the case. Instead, we are planning on contacting the young person and their parents via a phone call..

During our meeting, my supervisor and I also discussed a potential training opportunity. My placement service has set up a helpline for parents to offer support during the pandemic. Having volunteered as a counsellor for ChildLine, a listener for Samaritans and managed a phone counselling service for students, my supervisor suggested that it might be useful to share some of my experiences in the hope that it might help support and improve the educational psychology helpline and other phone support services. We discussed the relevance of my experiences and which areas might be helpful for educational psychologists to hear about. Whilst I’m excited about this project, I’m wary that any content I share with my colleagues must be applicable to what they are doing as there is great demand on their time. .

I spent Monday afternoon working on the outcomes and recommendations for the casework and then had a short peer supervision video conference  with one of the other year 1 trainee educational psychologists  who is on placement at the same local authority. I find these meetings so useful – not just to discuss placement and university, but also for social time and maintaining my own wellbeing.

After work, my boyfriend and I went out for our government-approved exercise – a jog. I decided to force him to run up Box Hill – a famous beauty spot and very steep slope! I instantly regretted it of course, but it was worth it for the views.

Tuesday

This morning I ‘attended’ (via video) a RAG review meeting for a specialist secondary school for pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties. A RAG review meeting involves the identification and discussion of children within a school who are considered the most at risk, which could be due to things such as bereavement, dangerous behaviour, or domestic issues at home.

The school are  trying to ensure that pupils who are most at risk are in school if possible. Transport is a  problem as many pupils need specialist equipment and travel long distances to get to class. The staff appear to be under a great deal of strain as they try to continue as normal whilst working in shifts, maintaining social distancing where they can whilst also  catering for the pupils themselves as the school kitchens are  closed. All this with little or no PPE, causing concerns about their own health and the health of their families. I’m looking forward to being part of these meetings on a weekly basis as this has taught me a lot about the lived experience of school staff and pupils during this difficult time. School is so important for these pupils, not just for learning but also for social experience, routine, specialist support, parent respite, nutrition and community inclusion.

This evening I phoned around some local farms  to try to source some chickens for my parents. My boyfriend and I have been building a chicken coop in the garden from an old swing set and recycled fence panels. It’s not beautiful but we think it should keep the foxes out!

Wednesday

Today, I mostly focused on my training for educational psychologists on helpline services. As I was wary that some might not find the content of my training applicable to their role, I decided to create a short survey to gauge interest.. I sent it off in the morning and got some lovely feedback from my colleagues about how refreshing it was to complete a questionnaire in under a minute! I was pleased to see that all respondents  suggested that they thought the training would be useful. The topics they were most interested in learning about were helpline frameworks, supervision and aural active listening techniques. Now, I suppose, I need to get on with planning it!

During the afternoon, we had a team meeting, chaired by the Senior Educational Psychologist who manages the team. The meetings would usually be fortnightly, but due to the pandemic they’ve become a weekly occurrence. I’ll be honest, I’ve found them a little disorientating, but it’s normal to feel a bit lost when you first start a new placement, simply because you don’t know people’s names or interests and the topics of discussion are different at each Educational Psychology Service. However, when you don’t know what anyone looks like, let alone whose voice is whose, it can be even more confusing! I’ve been trying to let the information wash over me and be at peace with the idea that I don’t need to know everything and everyone all at once. I tend to write down words and phrases I don’t understand and either look them up or ask my supervisor about them later on.

Thursday and Friday

Thursday and Friday are our study days. I’ve been trying hard to keep these days completely separate and use them to only work on things for university. I’m currently writing an essay about the unique role of the educational psychologist in working with children with low-incidence complex individual needs. I chose this topic as, for me, this year has largely been about understanding the educational psychology role and I was keen to know more about how it differed from other specialist roles. Educational psychologists have a  broad skill set which doesn’t lend itself to a clear role description when collaborating with other specialists  There are certain functions which are unique to the educational psychology role. Collaborative communication with others and skill in building rapport means that educational psychologists are well-placed to gather information and make change in a range of environments, including the child’s school, home and community. Psychological knowledge is therefore a  strength, meaning that interventions and approaches can be tailored to the child as an individual.

Ella is a Year 2 trainee on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.