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

Poverty and the work of the educational psychologist

By Ben Clyde

Today marks International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Educational psychologists are usually aware of the impact that living in poverty can have on the life chances of a child. Indicators suggest that the numbers of children living in poverty are increasing in the U.K. For educational psychologists these social issues can seem overwhelming and beyond our capacity to make a difference. However as reflective practitioners we need to be aware of how children and families who live in poverty are constructed. These constructions can be oppressive and we need to find ways to challenge them.

Poverty is not just an economic issue, but is a multidimensional phenomenon that affects all aspects of people’s lives. There are over 4 million children living in poverty in the UK. If we think about a typical class size of 30, this would equate to 9 pupils – a worrying statistic considering the long-term effects of childhood poverty in regards to education and life chances. Research from the Department of Education shows that there is a 21% attainment gap between children and young people eligible for free school meals and their peers in terms of achieving at least five ‘good’ GCSE grades (Grades 5-9).

Despite these figures it is sometimes suggested that the UK is a meritocracy, i.e. a political system where individual people achieve on the basis of their “merit”, which is their talent, effort and achievement. So achievement is not linked to the family and circumstances that they were born into. What the evidence suggests however is that there is very limited social mobility in the UK, very few people move out of the social class into which they were born. A simple reason for this is the access to additional educational experiences that come with better economic standing.

For those who believe that we live in a meritocracy the blame for living in poverty is largely placed upon the disadvantaged families. It is argued that they do not make the most of the opportunities available. This does little to address the systemic issues that serve to create and maintain such disadvantage. The problem is located in the individual; shifting attention away from the social structures and institutions that serve to maintain poverty.

As practitioners, we should aim to be aware of how people living in poverty are constructed. On the training course at the University of Birmingham, trainee educational psychologists tale part in a number of sessions under the umbrella term ‘anti-oppressive practice’. The idea of anti-oppressive practice is underpinned by the acknowledgement of the differing power relations within society. It requires an awareness of how social factors such as social class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture and disability can advantage or disadvantage the people with whom we work. We also need to be able to reflect on how what we do can benefit some people more than others.

To try and guard against this, being a reflexive practitioner is perhaps the most important factor when engaging in anti-oppressive practice. We need to hold in mind at all times the ways in which personal, cultural, social and structural contexts shape the difficulties that children and families living in poverty face. And we should resist and challenge constructions that suggest that families are to blame for circumstances that are outside their control.

Ben is a trainee educational psychologist in Year 3 of the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.

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Using video to connect, reflect and grow

By Sarah Murray

adult agreement blur brainstorming

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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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