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.

Reflections on my first year of training as an educational psychologist

By Dawn Dance

Finding our more about the role

In my previous working life I had never met an educational psychologist despite working for nearly ten years in a Post 16 and secondary school setting. As part of my application I had the chance to talk to some educational psychologists and to read about the role but I struggled to make sense of what that meant in practice. Being on the course and my placements has shaped my understanding of the role of an educational psychologist. Here I want to share some of the key aspects of my learning during my first year of training.

Early Days

During my first weeks of lectures I began to realise that educational psychologists don’t just do tests! I was introduced to dynamic assessment and other models that offer alternative ways to gather information to help me to connect with and understand a child or young person. This is important to me, because some children and young people just don’t ‘do’ tests (there’s a reason why we’re advocating for them). I can see that some tests might have a role in educational psychology practice, but they don’t have to be the first port of call.

When I started my first placement I was concerned about needing to appear to have all of the answers to hand (I do wonder if some of my ideas might have stemmed from other professionals’ perception of educational psychologists). My first placement supervisor (in particular) helped me to understand that my strategies don’t all have to work as  that I can re-visit them. This was a great relief!

Other Reflections on my Learning

Communication: One thing I quickly realised is the necessity of being observant and a good communicator! Communication underpins the role of the educational psychologists, who must connect very quickly with people from all backgrounds and professions.

Consultation: Before my first placement, I imagined consultation as having a ‘chat’, but have since discovered that consultation isn’t just a series of conversations, it’s purposeful. It’s structured and designed to gather information that will help to think about the problem that has been raised.

Problem solving: This concept spans multiple contexts and the use of frameworks for practice are recommended for trainees (the Interactive Factors Framework is a favourite tool of mine to use). This is to help them to consider all aspects of the systems that sit around the child. The more I use the frameworks, the more it helps me to intentionally reflect on what I’ve observed and heard.

Voice of the Child: I’ve always considered the voice of the child to be important to my practice and quickly realised that a person-centred approach is paramount to the EP role. The role of the educational psychologist is to ensure that the voice of the child is woven through the assessment process and reflexively checking that the child’s or adult gatekeeper’s voice permeates every part of our work.

Training: I had the opportunity to train local authority employees in the use of applied psychology and this was a great feeling. Firstly, because if they apply what they learned we are able make a difference to the lives of the children and young people that they support. Secondly, we’re demonstrating our commitment, as outlined in the SEND Code of Practice (2015) to working with other professionals.

Research: I was able to contribute to a small-scale study investigating the evolving role of EPs in a local authority service during COVID-19. This is intended to inform future practice in the service and has shown me how educational psychologists can be part of influencing systemic change.

Final thoughts

My experiences in Year 1 of the training course have given ‘life’ to the picture that I had in my head about what an educational psychologist does. I’ve begun to realise that we have the capacity to work holistically, from an individual to systemic level, so that all children and young people can benefit from our applied psychology.

An educational psychologist has many tools that they can use to promote children’s development and learning, but how this is done is very much a professional and personal decision. To quote Shakespeare: “This above all: to thine own self be true”. and my newly acquired understanding of the educational psychologist has given me the opportunity to do so.

Dawn is a Year 2 trainee on the initial training course at the University of Birmingham.

 

 

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

handwritten text on paper

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By Dr Anjam Sultana, Dr Cherelle McDonald, Dr Maninder Sangar, Dr Sasha-Louise Simon and Dr Sidra Aslam

George Floyd’s murder has caused the resurgence of strong emotions of hurt, anger, and loss with recollections of racism in the UK and within our local contexts. It has taken its toll on Black educational psychologists (EPs) emotionally, physically and mentally. Many have articulated feelings synonymous with grief, burnout and anxiety. Black and ethnic minority EPs, within safe spaces, have articulated their inherent feelings of distress and disappointment as they returned to work where silence resounded. This lack of acknowledgement perpetuated the realisation that their hurt and pain; their wellbeing; their experiences of racial trauma were not worthy of recognition. Colleagues of colour want to experience empathy; a sense of belonging; and to know that their emotions are recognised and validated.

This blog is Part One, of two blogs, that aim to address this silence, firstly by defining six key concepts relevant to understanding racism in the hope it will raise awareness, educate and empower more EPs to engage in race talk within their EPSs. For each concept a variety of follow resource are recommended for you to explore.

  • What is racism?

To define racism, we must understand the concept of ‘race’. Historically, the concept of ‘race’ is rooted in the desire to classify people into distinct biological groups, typically based on their skin colour. Today, we know classifying humans into ‘races’ based on physical characteristics is crude and problematic, as we know there is greater genetic variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them. So, we understand ‘race’ as a social construct; however, a construct that continues to affect people’s lives in the form of racism. Racism refers to discrimination and prejudice against someone because of their ‘race’ and is underpinned by the belief that some ‘races’ are superior to others.

Resources: race and racism:

  • Podcast: Talking Race (2020) presented by Professor Vini Lander and Dr Daniel Kilvington: this podcast includes interviews with leading academics in the area of race and racism including Professor Kehinde Andrews and Professor David Gillborn
  • Books:
    • Saini, A., (2019) Superior: The return of race science, Harper Collins, London.
    • Rutherford, A., (2020) How to argue with a racist: history, science, race and reality, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London
  • What is institutional racism?

Institutional racism or ‘systemic racism’ refers to policies, processes or practices within an institution or organisation which discriminate against, and disadvantage Black and ethnic minority people. These practices can be unintentional and a product of thoughtlessness or racial stereotyping. In the UK, this concept was used in the 1999 Lawrence Report by Macpherson to explain the failings of the police in their investigation into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. As EPs this concept is important in considering how practices or procedures within educational settings or EPSs may be institutionally racist.

Resources: institutional racism

  • What are racial microaggressions?

Microaggressions are the incivilities that happen in everyday life, including the workplace, that are linked to an individual’s perceived racial group membership, age or gender. Racial micro-aggressions are a form of discrimination that subtly signal to individuals that they do not belong and are not welcome by highlighting a difference from the ‘majority’ group (Kandola, 2018). What makes micro-aggressive comments and acts so traumatic are their subtle and ambiguous nature, often made by well-intentioned people. Within the workplace common micro-aggressions include (but are not limited to): being ignored or interrupted by White colleagues in meetings, not given eye contact, incorrect pronunciation of names and comments based upon stereotypical judgements about an individual’s ‘perceived race’ (Weston, 2020). The accumulation of these ‘micro’ acts over time can have a detrimental impact on an individual’s psychological wellbeing.

Resources – racial microaggressions

  • What is Unconscious/Implicit Bias?

Unconscious or implicit bias (the terms are used interchangeably) refers to the attitudes and beliefs that we hold outside of our conscious awareness. Our biases develop through our experience and learning of stereotypes and associations within society. Biases affect our perception, attention, memory and actions, and they are implicit when they are outside of our explicit awareness or deliberate expression. We all have implicit biases. Implicit racial biases occur when we attach attributes to different racial groups based on stereotypes pervasive in society. The challenge of implicit racial bias is that it can lead to decision making, thinking and actions that are more/less favourable towards different groups. To address implicit bias, we firstly need to be aware that we have it and that it affects us.

To understand and address implicit racial bias is to become starkly aware of the stereotypes and associations that exist within our society, actively take steps to challenge them, and be more conscious in our decision making, thinking and actions.

Resources: implicit bias

  • Videos:
    • Implicit Bias – Concepts unwrapped: This US video (University of Texas at Austin) further explains implicit bias
    • Biased: a short extract from a Royal Society of Arts lecture delivered by Professor Jennifer Eberhardt, and introduces how implicit bias affects us all
  • Articles:
    • ‘Bias in Britain’: This series of reports from the Guardian newspaper examines implicit bias in a range of areas in UK society
  • Books:
    • Agarwal, P. (2020) Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias. London: Bloomsbury Sigma.
    • Eberhardt, J. L. (2019) Biased: The New Science of Race and Inequality. London: William Heinemann.
  • What is Aversive Racism?

Aversive racism builds on implicit racial bias, to describe the prejudice experienced when an individual outwardly professes an egalitarian view and regards themselves as non-prejudiced, yet implicitly experiences negative feelings and beliefs in relation to a racial group (Pearson, Dovidio, and Gaertner, 2009). Aversive racism is subtle and indirect, and leads to discrimination in situations where there are ambiguous social norms, as behaviours can then be rationalised as being due to factors other than race.

Resources: aversive racism

  • What is White privilege?

Coined in the 1930s by the famous Black civil rights activist William Du Bois, White privilege is a concept based on an institutional set of benefits granted to those of who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions (Robin, 2018). White privilege can be hard to see for those who have it, as it is ascribed from birth. It encapsulates a whole host of social advantages that come with being a member of the dominant race. The concept came to further prominence when antiracism activist, Peggy McIntosh, shared her experiences as a White woman about the invisible unearned conditions she could rely on:

  • I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed
  • When I am told about our national heritage or ‘civilisation’, I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is

(p.2, McIntosh, 1988)

In her book, ‘Me and White Supremacy’, Saad (2020) encourages self-reflection to questions like:

  • In what ways do you hold White privilege? Study the list from Peggy McIntosh and reflect on your own daily life.
  • What negative experiences has your White privilege protected you from throughout your life?
  • What positive experiences has your White privilege granted you throughout your life (that Black, indigenous and people of colour do not have)?
  • What have you learned about your White privilege that makes you uncomfortable?

(p. 39, Saad, 2020)

Resources: White privilege

  • Video: illustrates the concept of White privilege: The $100 Race
  • Article: Peggy McIntosh (1988) White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack
  • Books:
    • Angelo Robin (2018) White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Boston: Beacon Press.
    • Saad Layla (2020) Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World,  London: Quercus Books

Anjam, Cherelle, Maninder, Sasha and Sidra are educational psychologists working in the West Midlands who all completed their training on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham

Thinking about trans-cultural supervision and working with difference

By Haley Fong, Tara Janda and Anita Soni

man wearing white top in front of woman wearing blue long sleeved top

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

 

 

In this blog post we explore the concept of trans-cultural supervision and how we have used this in our practice. The context of the supervision is between Anita who is an academic and professional tutor and two of her Year 1 trainees: Haley and Tara. Here they share their use of experiences of trans-cultural supervision.

Background

Anita: Tara, Haley and I have been exploring trans-cultural supervision in our sessions through undertaking an activity together from Hawkins and Shohet (2012) to help us become more aware of our own and each other’s cultural perspectives and to work in a culturally sensitive way. Hawkins and Shohet remind us to bear in mind the following;

  1. It is important to become conscious of our own culture.
  2. All cultures are equally valid, but as we operate within different cultures we may hold different values and assumptions. Habitual ways of thinking can arise from cultural assumptions.
  3. It is good to be sensitive and open to the differences that may arise, by both taking an interest in other cultures and areas of difference, whilst never assuming we understand the cultural world of another person. This means we start with an interest in finding out from the others whilst accepting our own not knowing.

The Activity

In order to explore our cultures we used the following activity:

Person A explain to Person B What I would like you to know about my cultural background is… (where cultural background is interpreted in the widest sense and so can include many aspects of a person’s life that they think is relevant).

Person B listen carefully to Person A and recounts what they have heard.

Person A listens to Person B and clarifies, corrects any misunderstandings, adds further information

Person B then reflects how this may relate to the supervisory relationship.

The roles are then reversed and Person B then explains to Person A about their cultural background, and the following steps are repeated.

The discussion ends with considering what might be the same about each other, and where there are overlaps.

Haley, Tara and I tried this activity towards the end of their first term in university and have reflected on how it felt. Initially we all felt unsure and apprehensive but decided to give it a go.

Reflections

Haley:

Once I heard Anita share freely about various aspects of her life, it made me feel comfortable and confident that it was a safe space for me to do likewise. This sets the tone so that we know we can share our thoughts and background without being judged. I think being able to share aspects of what makes me ‘me’ is so important to enable understanding my values and thinking. Also, it made me consciously aware of what was important to me in terms of culture. It is important for me to be aware of my assumptions so that I can be accepting and sensitive to others too.

After hearing both Anita and Tara sharing their culture, I felt that I was able to begin to understand their background and what brought them to where they are today and gained insight into their cultures although far from knowing it all! Although it was really useful to explore which areas of our cultures were similar, it was even more interesting to explore what areas were different. This is because during future supervision, it can help to highlight why we may have different interpretations of the same concept or situation. In that sense, we can learn from other points of views and engage in thought-provoking discussions based on these. Therefore, it elevates supervision to another level as we can be reflective of our own thoughts and reasons as well another person’s thoughts and reasons.

Tara:

I valued listening about both Haley’s and Anita’s culture and the aspects they considered to be important to them. It gave me insight into their unique journeys to their current positions. Additionally, I gained understanding into aspects of their life they deemed significant and through the discussion was able to compare and contrast this with my own experiences. Listening to both Haley’s and Anita’s accounts made me aware of how much I could learn from them as their experiences differed from my own.

The experience was a structured and safe method in which I could share aspects of my life, such as my school experience, previous jobs, and my family’s religious background of my life, I wanted to be known. The discussion made me aware of how my experiences and culture impacted my views and beliefs, and how these have changed over time.

I enjoyed the experience very much though discussion with friends and colleagues has suggested that some people may find it difficult to reflect on their culture. This is something that resonated with me as everyone has a culture, it just may be that some cultures are embedded in the norms of society which some may see as harder to recognise. I believe that trans-cultural supervision would help colleagues to recognise their culture and how they may impact on professional and academic practice.

We all valued trying out the transcultural supervision activity, helping us reflect on how aspects of our lives have impacted on our views and values which in turn influences on each of our practices, both professionally and academically. We agreed it was an activity we would engage in again!

Tara and Haley are in the first year of the initial training course at the University of Birmingham. Anita is one of the course tutors.

Reference

Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R. (2012) ‘Supervision in the helping professions’ (3rd ed) Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill