Sample Chapter 3: Supervision within placement

The next sneak preview from ‘Innovations in Practice Learning‘ is taken from Chapter 3 entitled ‘Supervision within placement: Achieving best practice’ by Heidi Dix.

Students may find that they have a practice educator who is based within the agency and from whom they will receive weekly supervision. However, in other placements the practice educator is not based within the agency and an on-site practice super- visor will be appointed to provide day-to-day support and guidance. Students who have an on-site practice supervisor in addition to their practice educator may find that supervision will be given on alternate weeks by the practice educator and the on- site practice supervisor. The nature and content of supervision provided within these roles is slightly different. For example, supervision with an on-site practice supervisor could focus on the direct work the student is undertaking and have more of a man- agerial focus, for example, ensuring that the student is working within the agency’s eligibility criteria. However, supervision with a practice educator may have more of an educational and reflective focus, supporting the student to apply the knowledge they are learning in university and their self-directed learning to the work they are undertaking in placement.

Below are some comments from students in relation to the advantages and disadvantages of off-site and on-site models of practice education which I have heard over the years. Of course, these are generalisations and will not apply in all situations, but it is worth noting the strengths and limitations of both models. However, the most important thing is that the practice educator and practice supervisor work together to meet the learning needs of each individual student.

 

Advantages of having an off-site practice educator and on-site supervisor Disadvantages of having an off- site practice educator and on-site supervisor
‘If practice educators are not directly working within the agency they can provide greater objectivity and support students to question agency policy, procedures and practice.’ ‘Practice educators may not have direct practice experience in the area of social work that students are placed in.’
‘Off-site practice educators often bring experience from other areas of social work, enabling students to  compare and contrast their placement with other aspects of social work practice.’ ‘Off-site practice educators are often not available outside scheduled supervision times.’
‘Off-site practice educators, particularly those who work independently, will often support a number of students and will often provide group supervision which can be beneficial.’ ‘Contact with practice educators will be limited, particularly within the 70-day placement.’

 

Advantages of having an off-site practice educator and on-site supervisor Disadvantages of having an off-site practice educator and on-site supervisor
‘Practice educators will have direct practice experience of the work required within the agency.’ ‘Students can learn from different approaches and styles, eg “two heads are better than one.”’
‘They are often available for both formal and informal supervision,’ ‘Practice educators can be immersed in the culture of the agency and could be

adverse to the student asking questions that

demonstrate critical reflection.’

‘Supervision will be offered on a weekly basis with the same person.’ ‘Students will need to ensure there are opportunities to shadow other colleagues, not just their on-site practice educator.’

 

The majority of supervision students receive will be on a one-to-one basis, although there may be occasions when group supervision is used. Students often find this helpful as it enables them to share learning with other students in a practice setting and provides another form of support (Doel, 2010). However, one-to-one sessions are critically important in enabling a student to focus clearly and in depth on issues specific to their individual learning needs, particularly if a student has additional learning needs (see Chapter 8). There are also different expectations of students in their first and final placements as they build on the capabilities demonstrated in the first placement. Although students will still be offered guidance and support in their final placement, they should be given more autonomy as their confidence and ability increases. Students often find that their learning needs change as their confidence increases and consequently require different things from supervision. For example, in early supervision sessions, students may require support to develop their self- belief. However, as students develop in confidence, they may require less of this type of support and supervision could focus more on developing critical thinking skills.

An insight into what students can expect from their supervisors and practice educators

As adult learners, Rogers and Horrocks (2010) suggest that although we will have similar characteristics we also have differing needs depending on a range of factors. These include issues of diversity such as gender, ethnicity and class as well as the level of experience, skills and knowledge that students bring to the programme. Depending on our personality types (Rogers and Horrocks, 2010), the attachment experiences we have received in childhood (Howe et al, 1999) and whether we are operating from a secure base (Bowlby, 1973), we may require more or less support in particular areas of development. Therefore, as part of supervision sessions, students can expect their practice educators to ‘tune in’ (Taylor and Devine, 1993) to their needs to assist them to identify previous skills and experience in order to assist them appropriately. Research conducted with social work students by Lefevre (2005) suggested that stu- dent learning is enhanced when students feel listened to and respected by practice educators; therefore, developing a professional relationship to facilitate effective supervision is helpful to both parties. It is important that each party understands what is expected of the other and this needs to be clarified if there is any confusion.

There are many ways that we learn and take in information. Many of us prefer to have information presented to us visually, some of us find if we hear things we retain them better, others prefer to see things written down, and some of us learn best if we can move around and utilise our senses (Fleming, 1995). For some of us, experien- cing something and thinking about it afterwards is the best way that we learn (Kolb, 1984). There are a number of questionnaires that are available to help us under- stand our learning styles (Honey and Mumford, 1992; Fleming and Baume, 2006) and it may be helpful for students to complete one of these and share the results with their practice educator to enable them to tailor their support to help maximise the student’s learning. Although we often have a preferred way of learning, it is important that we have the ability to be receptive to new ways of understanding, because as practitioners we will often work with service users who will have a different way   of learning to ourselves. We may need to present information to service users in a way that best meets their needs; practice educators may model this by encouraging students to be flexible and to begin to adopt new ways of receiving and processing information.

 

Organisations have different policies in relation to the amount of supervision to which employees are entitled. Students may find themselves placed in organisations where supervision is not something that is routinely offered to employees or volunteers. However, qualified social workers employed by a local authority are entitled to regular and consistent supervision (LGA, 2014). As social work students, the frequency of supervision will be determined by the university and negotiated with the placement provider at a Learning Agreement Meeting. In addition to formal supervision sessions, students should be able to ‘check out’ any questions they have in between sessions by utilising the experience and knowledge of other practitioners within the organisation. If students believe they are not getting the length and quality of the supervision they are entitled to as a social work student, they should be encouraged to inform their university tutor who may need to revisit this with the placement provider or practice
educator as part of the Learning Agreement.

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