“You wouldn’t believe what’s going on with that student…I’ve no idea what to do.” Heard yourself uttering something like this quite often to your colleagues? What is the response? Imagine this. A colleague immediately stops what they’re doing, turns round to face you, looks you in the eye with a concentrated gaze and says, “I’m here to help, tell me all about it”. When did that last happen? Has it ever happened? Of course, your colleagues aren’t being deliberately unhelpful. At least one hopes that is the case! The conflicting pressures on all of us make it difficult for us to drop our current activity to support a colleague.
Providing outstanding support comes with the bi-products of students opening up to you more, relying on you for emotional support, wanting even more support and thus exposing you to challenging, emotionally draining and potentially upsetting issues. Combined with the whirlwind life of the trainee teacher, the question of how to cope before it all becomes overwhelming needs to be explored.
Long established in psychotherapy and counselling for example, supervision is less so in education. Most definitions imply that supervision relies on a structure and certain rules. There can be some differences within this, so maybe it is more useful to think of a framework of guidelines within which supervision sessions should be carried out.
A framework for supervision sessions:
- a reasonable regularity needs maintaining for keeping momentum going and possibly revisiting issues and reviewing progress.
Who is invited?
- a small group of your peers at work (group supervision) or a one to one with a peer or your manager (‘paired’ or ‘individual’ supervision);
- in the case of the former, the line manager doesn’t attend or only if specifically invited. Reasons for this:
- to avoid the manager leading and, possibly even without knowing, driving an agenda and seeing himself or herself as there to ‘solve’ issues;
- exploration of the issue is reduced;
- participants will feel more free to express feelings they may have about the issue without a potential fear of looking ‘weak’ or ‘not coping’ in front of their manager;
- supervision is differentiated from other typical work meetings.
What are the ground rules?
- use of a confidential space;
- a specific amount of time is given;
- one person to talk at a time;
- clarity over whose issues will be aired that session; it may be that it is only 1 or 2 per session;
- this lead contributor(s) to start the session outlining the issue along with their concerns / questions;
- concentration on that issue and the contributor’s concern and questions without digression from this or others bringing in their concerns;
- focus on open questions from the group enabling the lead contributor to find their own solutions.
The support side of the teacher role can feel like you’re more of a social worker than teacher. Given the demands on you in the face of serious and challenging issues with students who you want to support as best you can, if supervision sessions were built into your working routine, how helpful would it be?