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.

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.