Let’s talk about reflective practice.

I was in a youth advisory committee meeting for a local council last week and we asked each young person what issues they are passionate about. One of the answers really stood out to me, a young person said “I am passionate about recognising and understanding my privilege and using it to give a voice to those less fortunate than me”. How many 14 year olds do you know that can reflect so deeply on a topic such as privilege? I was astounded and inspired.

This got me thinking.. when have I been required to be critically reflective about myself and my work? Whilst there is some reflective practice involved in team meetings, supervision (that’s a whole other story in itself) and trainings, I don’t recall a time where the main focus was on critical reflective practice. With this in mind I decided to get in touch with you, our Ultimate Youth Worker community, and find out what your thoughts are on reflective practice.

Here are some of the responses:

“Youth Workers should use this process to talk about the things that are affecting you personally. What has been a situation with a client that are made you uneasy, or made you frustrated or angry, or made you nervous, or that you have ‘hit the wall’ with a client. You should unpack that and get in touch with what is going on, it will help you.”

– Paul McDonald, Anglicare Victoria.

“Reflective practice is extremely important in youth and social work to avoid experiencing vicarious trauma. A few years into my career, I worked with a particular family that caused me to suffer vicarious trauma. I was young myself and their story was particularly harrowing and frustrating. I wasn’t in the headspace, both professionally and personally, to truly acknowledge how this situation was affecting me. I had one-on-one supervision but at that time it wasn’t adequate, and I would stay late every day, long after everyone else had gone home. After many months of this, the trauma seeped into my personal life and eventually I realised what was happening. As my career has progressed and I have now managed a team, I see the vast importance of reflective practice, both individually and as a group/team.

Within our team and site, we have one-on-one supervision, group supervision with a child psychiatrist, group supervision with an occupational therapist who is a child trauma specialist, as well as practice reflection as a site. These are absolute non-negotiables now and are compulsory for all required staff to attend. The work we do is tough, and without these safe spaces to be able to reflect on what we do and how we do it, as well realise how our work affects us, we cannot do the best work for the people we support.”

– Sammy Hoppe, Launch Housing.

It’s great to see positive comments on reflective practice, it goes to show that there are some structures and processes out there that work really well to support staff in their personal and professional development. However I have come across a large number of youth workers who express the opposite concerns about the support they are getting with regards to reflective practice. In our experience at Ultimate Youth Worker, we find that this is partly due to a lack of a clear model for critical reflective practice for youth workers. One particular model that we find effective in our practice is Jan Fook and Fiona Gardiners framework for critically reflective practice, outlined in their book ‘Practicing Critical Reflection’.

In short, the framework is broken down into three phases and is usually facilitated in small groups, but it can also be used in a one-on-one setting. Firstly, the participants are asked to go through the process of ‘unsettling assumptions’. In this stage, the participant is asked to reflect on their practice and how it is affecting them, but they are also asked to unpack their assumptions based on their social and cultural context. The reason the term ‘unsettling assumptions’ is used is to ‘shake up’ the thinking of the participant in a way that they start to experience a degree of discomfort and explore hidden assumptions that they normally wouldn’t. Which in a supportive and clinical environment can foster greater and deeper learning. The second phase focuses on linking the learnings from the previous stage with theory and practice relevant to the individual and their work. In the third phase, which we argue is potentially the most neglected part of reflective practice, the participant goes through the process of linking their changed awareness with changed actions. This third phase is the most important part of reflective practice.

In their book, Fook and Gardiner state that “The climate and culture of the critical reflection process are probably as important as the tools and techniques used.” They continue by describing how important it is for the facilitator to create an environment where participants acknowledge the potential pain, risk and vulnerability involved with reflecting. I would love to say that I’ve had such a detailed and structured reflective practice session in my years as a youth worker, but unfortunately this is not the case. A story that I’m sure is all too familiar. What are your thoughts on this model? Would you want it to be implemented in your workplace? Share your comments in the section below.

If you would like to read more about the model, we suggest reading Practicing Critical Reflection and Being Critically Reflective: Engaging in Holistic Practice. If you feel you need more support in this area, contact our Director, Aaron Garth at aaron@ultimateyouthworker.com.au to have a short discussion about how we can support you.

Thank you to all of our amazing community members who have sent through their thoughts and ideas on reflective practice, we really appreciate your input.

Until next time, watch out for the crocs!

 

 

Jessy Hall

Jessy is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Ultimate Youth Worker. Jessy has been working as a youth worker since 2014 in a variety of different roles. His passion for youth work began whilst volunteering on a YMCA program for young indigenous leaders, after being inspired by the strength and passion of the young people on this program he immediately began his studies at Chisholm Institute of TAFE where he completed a Diploma of Youth Work. Since then, Jessy has expanded his knowledge and skills in the field by working in residential care facilities, being part of an Australian first evidence based foster care program (TFCO) and partaking in various trainings in youth mental health and other relevant areas to his work. Jessy currently lives in Melbourne but is about to embark on the journey of a lifetime and drive around Australia in a four wheel drive with his partner. He plans to work along the way and explore the different opportunities available for youth workers in Australia. Jessy has dreams to one day start his own organisation dedicated to developing the next generation of socially engaged and passionate young people.

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7 signs you need more supervision

7 signs you need more supervisionYou need more supervision!

When we tell people what we do at Ultimate Youth Worker and that youth workers need more supervision we often hear “But I get supervision at work?”. When we unpack this with staff members what they mean is that their boss knows something about their caseload or program and occasionally allows them to do some professional development. When we ask how often they get this supervision most say that it is sporadic at best. In the AYAC National Youth Work Snapshot 2013 a survey of youth workers showed that 8.4% of surveyed youth workers had never had a supervision session and around 51.7% receive it less than once every three months. As an industry that claims professional status this is appalling. It is no wonder that the sector in Australia turns over staff at 23% every year. Supervision is important to staff retention.

The most unfortunate part of this is that the average youth worker doesn’t know what a good supervision framework looks like and so they do not see a problem until it is too late. With this at the forefront of our minds here are the 7 signs that you are not getting enough supervision.
  1. You are bored at work. One of the most damaging things that can happen to a youth worker in their role is boredom. I know what you are thinking. How can I be bored when I am up to my eyeballs in trying to meet KPI’s. When we meet youth workers for external supervision one of the biggest issues we see is that they are not being challenged. At least not in the right ways. We all need to be stretched just a little bit to be our best self. We need to try new things. We need to find new solutions. If you do the same thing day in and day out you get bored. If you are bored in your role you need more supervision.
  2. You see supervision as punishment rather than development. Maidment & Beddoe (2012) believe that supervision must be placed at the core of professional development for staff, “We want to place supervision at the heart of professional development, which is career-long and where, via diverse learning activities, practitioners refine and augment their knowledge, develop skills, and undertake supervision to enhance critically reflective practice”. If you see it as a chore in which you will be rebuked for doing the wrong thing rather than encouraged towards best practice then you need more supervision.
  3. Your boss only talks about tasks in ‘supervision’ sessions. If like most youth workers your boss is giving you their version of supervision which most likely is checking in that you are completing all your tasks then you are not getting supervision. You are getting the administration part of good supervision. Making sure your cases are going well and your paperwork is done is only a small part of it. Tasks take up less than a third off good supervision practice. Hence you need more supervision.
  4. You have less than one hour once a fortnight. Best practice in supervision says you should be getting at least one hour of reflective supervision every two weeks. If you are not getting the opportunity to develop you as a person and as a practitioner as well as to deal with the admin side of your job then you are not developing as a youth worker. This takes more than one session a month or God forbid one a year. Supervision takes time, but it also pays dividends. In our experience, for every hour spent in supervision it gives you an ROI of 24 hours of exceptional practice.
  5. You have started to look for a new job. You don’t necessarily hate the job you have but you are starting to feel that if you don’t move on the job will eat you alive. This sense of needing to begin a career search is often where we see most of our clients. Either they or their manager refer them on in an attempt to keep them going. But its hard to stop the Titanic sinking with a bucket. In short if you have started to look for a new job it may be too late. This is always a clear sign you need more supervision.
  6. You are not up to date with youth work theory and practice. One of the key reasons for youth work supervision is to keep up to date with best practices and current research. If you are not getting this then you are not getting supervision. If you are not being moulded into a better youth worker every session then something is not right. Your supervisor must grow your knowledge and help you to critically reflect.
  7. You don’t remember the last time supervision looked like this. If your supervision seems lacking after reading this you are not alone. most youth workers we speak to feel the same way. Most managers and team leaders wish they could provide this level of support too. The key is to recognise it and move forward. If you feel like you need more supervision then get it. If your organisation won’t provide it Then get an external supervisor who will.

If you have read this post and you are now wondering what to do then we suggest you look at the links throughout the post as they are a rich source of wisdom in this area. If you can’t find a supervisor in your organisation that is able to provide good supervision then you really only have a few options. Stay and suck it up. Stay and find an external supervisor. Leave the organisation you are currently at for something better. Unfortunately, the stats would say they are few and far between.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we want to see a well supported youth sector. It is why we began back in 2012 and why we started providing supervision from day one. If you need a benchmark then use the resources on this site. If you want us to supervise you we do face to face in Melbourne and Skype throughout the world. Our biggest wish though is that your organisation will provide you with the best supervision.

Let us know if you think we are on the money.

Leave us a comment below.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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The youth work supervision environment: importance of neutrality

The supervision environment is important to staff uptake

All to often I hear from youth workers that they don’t want to do supervision sessions. The concerns range from the classic ‘it would breach confidentiality‘ to the obscure, ‘it doesn’t fit well with my existential philosophy‘. The main reason we hear is that staff don’t feel comfortable. Whether meeting with their manager or an external provider the staff member must feel comfortable with the supervision environment. 

Many staff feel that supervision sessions with their manager are really uncomfortable. The meetings are usually had in the managers office with all the managers stuff on the desk and a mountain of paperwork which needs to be dealt with beside the computer. The manager says they are 100% engaged in the session while looking over the pile of paperwork and listen to their staff intently while the email toast pops up on their computer screen.

In the case of external supervisors if they come to your office to work with you or your staff, using the store room as a spare office does not make anyone feel like this is a worthwhile session. If you go out from the office you have issues of privacy and confidentiality. If you go to the external supervisors office they should have a space which is dedicated to sessions like this.

Your environment for the supervision session is really important! If the staff member does not feel comfortable then they will not be open to challenge and change. It needs to be an area that does not have too many distracting qualities and gives the person attending a feeling of safety and warmth.

A bad supervision environment
Would you prefer this?
A good supervision environment
or this?

 

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Seven things a manager needs to know about internal supervision?

You should be doing internal supervision

As a youth worker who managed staff one of the areas I spent a lot of my time doing was internal supervision sessions. I saw that my staff needed the opportunity to discuss cases in depth, gain professional skills and a framework for organisational administrative procedural work. These staff liked the idea of having an open door but the most productive work happened through our supervision sessions.
Unfortunately, many youth work managers have been promoted into management without gaining any training in supervising staff. They remember the support they received and then give the same to their staff… nothing. But if no one has shown them what to do we can forgive them for not supporting their staff. But no longer. Here are the top seven things a manager needs to know about supervising their youth work staff. 

  1. More communication is better. These sessions are a way of not only speaking about their practice but building a relationship with your staff member. Many managers believe that they are communicating a lot with their staff… you could triple it and it still wouldn’t be enough. In the words of Steven Covey, ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’. 
  2. You speak for the organisation in all things. As a manager you have role power. It is written all over your face. When you speak to your staff you are speaking with all the authority of your organisation. When you encourage it is like the board has given encouragement. When you admonish they see the CEO getting ready to fire them. Be aware that in their eyes you are the organisation!
  3. Have a best practice framework for the session. In youth work there has not been a lot written about frameworks for professional supervision. In the social work setting there has been quite a lot. Whether you use Alfred Kadushan’s model or another… use a model that has been tried and tested. 
  4. Have an agenda. This is a business meeting like any other. It requires an agenda! What case do you want to work through? What policy do we need to analyse? Is there an organisational framework for the work we do? Whatever you choose as your model for practice will frame your agenda.
  5. One hour EVERY fortnight. Consistency is key. You need to do these sessions regularly with your staff. We recommend every fortnight. when you start it will seem like a lot… but give it time. Even if you are travelling for work use Skype or the phone tot have your session. I was a way at a conference not long after taking on my first managing gig. When I told my staff that we would still be doing our sessions they were amazed. It shows that you care about them.
  6. Its about your staff member. These sessions are not a time for you to reminisce about the good old days when you were on the frontline. They are not for you to sprout from the font of all knowledge. They are all about your staff! What are they struggling with? What do they need to know? What is the best way to deal with the issue they have? Overarching your model of supervision is the fact that it is all about your staff development.
  7. You need to be more knowledgable than your staff. If you know less than your staff then you are in trouble. Read a book. Do a course. Get your own external supervision. In the sessions your staff will expect that you can lead them through the maze of case work to pop out the end with their objective well in hand. You need to know what you are doing! If you don’t you may want to look at contracting an external supervisor.
If you follow these seven steps you will be more effective than the average youth work manager by leaps and bounds.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Critical reflection

youth work peer consultation: reflective practice revisited

Reflective practice with your peers

We have all had those moments in our youth work career. We are stuck and we don’t want to go to the boss because we don’t want to seem incompetent. So we lean across the aisle/cube/partition and ask a colleague what they would do. Sometimes our reflective practice is not so worrying. You are having lunch and you pose a question about how you might approach a new young person to the group. On the other hand you were just chewed out about how you dealt with a particular case and you are looking for some affirmation so you explain what you did to your colleagues. When a group of peers work together to support each other through reflective practice it is called PEER CONSULTATION.

Critical reflection Peer Consultation, unlike a chat about the weekend around the water cooler, describes a process in which critical and supportive feedback on style and worker identity is emphasized while evaluation of practice is not. Consultation, in contrast to supervision, is characterized by the youth worker’s, “right to accept or reject the suggestions [of others]” (Bernard& amp; Goodyear, 1992, p. 103).

The terms ‘peer supervision’ and ‘peer consultation’ have both been used to describe similar relationships amongst colleagues. However, at Ultimate Youth Worker we believe that the difference is the outcome of the process. In ‘peer supervision’ colleagues provide a clinical evaluation of each other’s work to better individuals and the group. In ‘peer consultation’ colleagues focus on providing mutual support and advice to the individual using reflective practice.

The foundation of peer consultation is steeped in the understanding that individuals who are trained in helping skills using these same skills to help each other function more effectively in their professional roles. According to Benshoff & Paisley (1993), peer consultation provides a number of benefits to youth worker’s on the coal face including:

  • Decreases dependency on ‘expert’ supervisors and provides greater interdependence of colleagues;
  • Increases responsibility of youth worker’s for assessing their own skills and those of their peers, and for structuring their own professional growth;
  • Increases self-confidence, self-direction, and independence;
  • Development of consultation and supervision skills;
  • Use of peers as models;
  • Ability to choose the peer consultant; and,
  • Lack of ‘clinical’ evaluation.

Critical reflectionPeer consultation comes in two forms. Informal chats over the partition with your colleagues and more formalised group consultations. Whichever form it takes just do it. Spending time with your colleagues in reflective practice helps you to strengthen your practice and hone your skills in a supportive environment. It provides a safe place to critically reflect on your practice within the confines of your peer network.

Reference

Benshoff, J.M., & Paisley, P. O. (in press). The Structured Peer Consultation Model for School Counselors. Journal of Counseling and Development

Bernard, J.M., & Goodyear, R. K. (1992). Fundamentals of clinical supervision. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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