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.

 

 

Using video to connect, reflect and grow

By Sarah Murray

adult agreement blur brainstorming

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

For educational psychologists, much of our work is centred around supporting and fostering positive relationships. To achieve this within my work I am grateful to be able to apply Video Enhanced Reflective Practice, more commonly known as “VERP”. Within this approach, the aim is to support the adults with whom we work to improve the quality of their interactions with others. This enables them to connect, reflect and grow, in order to support their work with children and young people.

VERP uses video clips to allow professionals to see their strengths in practice and observe themselves ‘in the moment’. The professional selects short video clips to share with a trained Video Interaction Guidance guider. Together they discuss what the video clips show. During the discussion there is a focus on building on existing strengths and skills and then thinking about key areas for development. The VERP process is underpinned by the values of trust, hope, respect, compassion, co-operation and appreciation.

With the focus on strengths, the VERP process helps to increase a sense of satisfaction. Research suggests that focusing on positives is motivating when we are reflecting on practice. Professionals are also encouraged to focus on ‘working points’ (or ‘what would be even better if?’) in order to think about areas for further development. VERP can be used to reflect on interactions between: professionals, professionals and their clients and professionals and the children and young people with whom they work.

I have found that the use of video can be a powerful tool to aid professional reflection. During my training to become an educational psychologist I would reflect on consultations that did not go so well to try and understand what had happened.  When I started to use video to reflect on my professional practice, I noticed that often what I had thought did not go well in a consultation was actually very different to what I saw in the video. So the use of the video helped to enhance my reflections. This led me to believe that there is value in using video to reflect upon our work. Inspired by this, for my thesis I decided to gather the views of trainees who were using VERP in their practice. My thesis can be found here and I have also written a paper about my research for Educational Psychology in Practice.

Since qualifying as an educational psychologist I have continued to be interested in developing my consultation skills. I recognise that it can be difficult to target specific skills without taking a closer look at my practice and what specifically I wanted to develop. Using the principles of attuned interaction when analysing the video clips has enabled me to consider ‘deepening the discussion’ within these interactions.

More recently I have started to widen my use of video and I have recently trialled using video to record a dynamic assessment with a young child. Using video in this context not only allowed me to reflect upon the skills I was using during this assessment, but also allowed me to capture moments where the child was demonstrating various skills and strengths. I was able to share this within a consultation with the child’s parent and school staff. I felt the video clips highlighted some of the comments I made during the consultation by providing evidence of what was being discussed. Again, another example of how the use of video from a strengths based perspective can be very powerful.

Sarah graduated from the initial training course for educational psychologists at the university of Birmingham in 2016.

For further information please see the Association for Video Interaction Guidance (AVIG UK): https://www.videointeractionguidance.net/aboutvig/

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