Reflective Practice for Professionals: 21st century Supervision for Schools

This page speaks about how supervision can be applied into schools. The need for supervision of school counsellors (known as ‘Clinical Supervision’) is relatively well understood. For many years now, I have provided supervision services to school counsellors and wellbeing coordinators in schools.

Over this time I have come to believe that the supervision process that I deliver can be taken further into an educational setting and applied to enhance the professional capability of individual teachers and in turn raise the status of the teaching profession.

Depending upon your vintage, the term ‘supervision’ can evoke many different recollections for a teacher. Some may have experienced supervision as a persecutory and corrective process.

Trained professional counsellors have an entirely different experience of supervision. Clinical Supervision for a counsellor has as its goal gaining insight and understanding into what the counsellor brings to the therapeutic relationship.  I believe that this supervision process can be transferred to other professions, particularly teaching.

In teaching, supervision has mainly been for the pre-service and/or beginning teacher, with the major focus (rightly) on what to deliver and how to teach. Yet there is an additional and very important element of successful teaching – the establishment and maintenance of relationship with students.

This aspect is often presumed to be an innate skill or talent and is subject to less emphasis in teacher training than content and procedural pedagogical knowledge. But it is such a potent ingredient that its deliberate cultivation should not be overlooked.

When a teacher develops insight into their own reactions to students and situations, they can adapt and modify what they do and how they behave and consciously respond rather than simply react to the situation they are presented with.

This is exactly what creates a safe learning environment for the student and a healthy work environment for the teacher. It also extends to a healthier collegial environment within the teaching team, school management and to the wider school community.

The core of this form of supervision is known as Reflective Practice.

Reflective Practice

Reflective Practice requires thinking about how you carry out your professional work. Exploring your perceptions, judgements, beliefs, emotional reactions and responses to others and how this relates to your sense of self.  It encourages critical thinking around decisions and interventions made. It allows deliberation on what has been done and enables learning from experience.

Reflective Practice is essential in the helping professions because they are founded upon safe interpersonal relationships, where the professional plays a major part in how those relationships are built, maintained, and mended when broken. In Reflective Practice the professional explores both what is happening for them personally (intra-psychic experience) and also what is transacted between them and others (inter-psychic experiences).

For a teacher, the concept of Reflective Practice in Supervision is separate from the understanding of pedagogy, procedures and pursuit of knowledge in subject areas.

Reflective Practice in Supervision requires you to explore what you bring to teaching that comes from your understanding of your sense of self and your identity as an educator.

The Safe Container

Reflective Practice can only take place from within a safe container, where trust has been established. A successful relationship between supervisor and supervisee requires this safe container for Reflective Practice to be effective.

We now commonly accept that in a safe relationship and safe environment, students build capacity to learn to their best ability, able to take risks and tolerate the stress of uncertainty that learning requires. The same applies to adult learning and professional development, including for teachers.

Where trust has been established, supervision becomes:

  • a safe container;
  • a quiet soft place to fall into: supportive, caring, creative;
  • an intentional adult learning environment aimed at advancing interpersonal competencies;
  • a place where participants can actively participate, empower and validate one another, be mutually reflective, gently challenged, and receive useful feedback;
  • a professional alliance, focused on the participants’ professional work, role and self-care, in a protected scheduled time slot, independent of the workplace.

As mentioned, the need for (Clinical) Supervision of school counsellors is relatively well understood. All school counsellors have a duty of care to undertake supervision, and management have a duty of care to support their supervision.

Beyond Counselling in Schools – a New Supervision Initiative

Beyond the Clinical Supervision of School Counsellors, Reflective Practice can also support emerging, proficient, highly accomplished and lead teachers, as well as education leaders.

Unlike executive coaching, which is goal-oriented, Reflective Practice in Supervision is an ongoing process undertaken between supervisor and supervisee that focuses on how to create safe and effective connection and communication with students, parents and colleagues.

Over time, the application of Reflective Practice in Supervision will enhance and develop the use of self in the art of teaching.

Enhancing the use of self in the art of teaching will exert a positive influence across all the pedagogical, procedural and subject knowledge a teacher gathers over their career, and contribute to an increasing quality of professional teaching delivery, with the end result being that students’ learning outcomes are also enhanced.

The knowledge and content delivery of education is very much in place; teachers’ wellbeing and insight is what needs attention now.

Reflective Practice, its outcomes and benefits, are not explicitly addressed in the APST/VIT standards. The standards comprehensively articulate the major areas for acquisition and exchange of knowledge and techniques. However they make no explicit mention of intra-psychic processes and their influence on quality of delivery, perhaps because these are more internal and subjective, rather than objective concepts.

Reflective Practice is really a meta skill that applies uniformly across all parts of the standard. It is an ongoing process with the individual teacher gaining insight into how they bring themselves into the application of the standards.

I strongly believe that Reflective Practice in Supervision will be of great benefit to the profession of teaching.

Reflective Practice in Supervision offers a way for individual professionals to grasp and grow personal agency, confidence, resilience, professional efficacy, professional and personal insight.

Growing these qualities in their professional work will result in increased parental and community respect for teachers – not because they should respect teachers, but because they will observe the mastery and confidence of the profession, as it delivers increased positive student outcomes and success.

Read on for more details about:

Clinical Supervision, which is specifically for school counsellors and Wellbeing teams.

The possibilities for implementing the concept of Reflective Practice as a 21st century mode of professional development and professional self-care for individual Teachers.