Three years on, three perspectives: Longer term reflections on the impact of the Practice Supervisor Development Programme

Written: 7/03/2022

By: amy bishop

In: News & Views

Published: 07/03/2022

Author: Sharon Jennings, Jo Williams and John Packiaraj

As the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP) moves swiftly through its fourth year of delivery, in a second year of pandemic living and working in remote spaces, our recollections of the very first cohort’s meeting in a hotel in central London have been a welcome reflection.

Speaking from our different perspectives we draw on what the programme has meant for our learning, and our thoughts now on applying and embedding this learning. John reflects from his experience as a participant on the first London PSDP cohort; Sharon as facilitator of that cohort; and Jo from her position as delivery lead, who joined cohort 1 to develop the programme delivery alongside them.

What I learnt from PSDP?

John – One of the key learnings is that I increased my confidence to deploy a range of theoretically informed approaches to help supervisees with emotionally and professionally complex dilemmas. Reflective supervision, not only offered containment and built a strong relationship with my supervisees, but also enabled the supervisees to have a reflective engagement with service users.

Sharon – I have learned the power of acknowledging vulnerability and imperfection and how this in a strange way, leads to competence and being effective. This concept underpins the importance of relationships, one of the key themes on the PSDP. To build trusting working relationships, we need to bring ourselves, our true selves, and that means an acceptance that we are not perfect. It is this acceptance that I believe that can promote self-care in the very stressful environments in which our participants work. By modelling this, practice supervisors can play a vital role in influencing team and organisational culture change.

Jo  I have learned that ‘who’ you are as a supervisor and what shapes and influences your lens from your own unique biography and history, really does govern how you relate to others and navigate important aspects of practice such as power and emotion. That these aspects of being a supervisor require proper attention in order to ‘do’ really good, reflective, curious, emotionally literate and relational supervision. And that if we can model this to our teams, it will help them to ‘be’ this in their practice with children and families.

Application of learning

John – Offering a containing supervisory experience was key to me appreciating and understanding the views of my supervisees. Reflective supervision meant I listened to the anxieties and hesitations and had to be emotionally receptive to make sense of supervisees’ views about returning to the office [once Covid restrictions were lifted]. This process helped me in rapport building and getting to know the team and their context better, particularly the role played by the Social GGRRAACCEEESSS (Burnham, 2012) in understanding people’s unique identity. I learned that open and trustworthy conversation manoeuvred by optimism enabled us to understand similarities, differences and life experiences.

Sharon – As a facilitator, I see first-hand how the programme offers spaces where delegates can be heard and where deep listening happens throughout the programme, that is, through the formal small reflective group work that occurs on the programme as well as during the breakout sessions with peers. These spaces allow for delegates to share their experiences in a safe, appreciative environment where they are understood and validated. This is a feature of the programme that consistently receives positive comments in the evaluation and it is clear that participants value the importance of networking and collaborating with people in similar roles and circumstances from all over the UK.

Jo – As delivery lead for the programme I have learned to appreciate that experiential learning opportunities allow us all to embody the principles of good reflective supervision and to take them forward into the practice context. As facilitators providing these experiences, we have learned the importance of ‘modelling the model’ and that this enables participants to experience what some of the models we teach feel like relationally. The biggest learning curve for me has been in developing my confidence in asking really good questions. Initially this was challenging when teaching these and over the course of the programme, I feel much more able to naturally integrate these into my facilitator approach and through doing this, it has enhanced my own supervision skills as well as my teaching style

Commitment to perpetuate and practice PSDP learnings

John – The PSDP enabled me to find firm footing into management roles in children services. The opportunities to apply PSDP learnings are always there, in every challenge and for me, it is important to identify this and look for ways I can interject the PSDP approach. I discuss and share the PSDP resources with colleagues, in team and management meetings. In this way, I hope the uniqueness of the PSDP will permeate all the activities undertaken by me and contribute to the workplace remaining a learning organisation. 

Jo – The PSDP programme and website provide a rich resource and suite of materials relevant to the context of supervision and leadership in child and family social work and beyond. These can be adapted to any context and viewed through a number of lenses. I am particularly committed to ensuring that these lenses are the ‘anti-racist supervisor’, and for supervisors who are now managing teams remotely or navigating hybrid models of working. This will hopefully perpetuate the learning alongside some current debates for the profession and help to shape contemporary supervision practice in the sector.

Sharon – This year we are offering additional workshops on developing an anti-racist and equalities focus on supervision. This is in response to participants’ feedback on wanting to gain more confidence in integrating diversity in supervision, building on PSDP sessions such as the Social Graces (Burnham, 2012), social inequalities impacting on children and families, ‘holding critical conversations’ (Chandra, 2020; O’Neill and del Mar Fariña, 2018) and insights gained from considering the barriers to career progression for Black, Asian and minoritised social work professionals.

Additionally, this summer we will hold several regional conferences aimed at all former participants of the PSDP to consolidate learning on providing remote/online supervision, and developing communities of practice, as well as equalities and diversity. This will be an opportunity to invite everyone involved in the programme over the past four years to come together to celebrate their commitment to practice supervision in social work with children and families.

Sharon Jennings, Jo Williams and John Packiaraj

Sharon Jennings is the Deputy Delivery Lead for the PSDP and a programme facilitator via Goldsmiths University of London. Jo Williams is the Delivery Lead for the PSDP. She works for the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, who are part of the PSDP consortium. John Packiaraj is a PSDP participant from cohort 1 in 2018 and is a MASH Team Manager in London.

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