29 Mar 2021

Supervisor resource 11 - Good supervision (including virtual) practices

Supervisor resource 11 - Good supervision (including virtual) practices

Creating a safe space

Research with supervisees has highlighted the importance of supervisors being trustworthy, supportive and caring; available but boundaried; sensitive to supervisee’s needs; and able to create a safe atmosphere where perceived errors can be disclosed and learned from (Hawkins & McMahon, 2020).

Creating a safe and positive atmosphere may include considering:

  • Where supervision happens including phones, noise and interruption
  • Being away from usual workspaces to switch from reactive modes
  • Responsibility for timing and agenda of the session  
  • Intervening when initial chat leads to avoiding the agenda

A supervisor facilitates learning and just like another kind of educator in a class setting would consider, many of these aspects relate to the open and receptive emotional and mental state required for true reflection and development. The NHS Scotland (2011) toolkit for creating learning opportunities argues that managing your own state and the state of a learner are key to effectiveness though effortful.

Managing boundaries

For a supervisee that uses a lot of time superficially describing case activities in sessions it might mean allowing that within an agreed boundary. The supervisor might then be gently curious about whether the detail of tasks shows a desire to win approval for hard work or discomfort with the reflective analysis. Conversely someone feeling distressed about an aspect of casework is unlikely to focus on an agenda until that issue has been discussed.     

Contracting for each supervision relationship sometimes gives way to carefully developed organisational policies to which staff must adhere. However, if that does not cover negotiation around responsibilities and roles, session formats, regulatory and accountability issues and the supervisory relationship those things still require individual attention.

Such areas for discussion might include;

  • Issues with colleagues, managers & organisation
  • Themes arising in a supervisees work
  • Strong feelings e.g. supervisees have felt anger or embarrassment
  • Professional goals and individual learning plans
  • Self care, stress levels, time-management, workload
  • Personal issues that impact work or vice versa
  • When a supervisee feels awkward about a piece of work
  • Potential ethical issues e.g attachment & possible loss of objectivity

Virtual supervision

While familiar to many in remote and rural locations in Scotland, virtual working has recently become valuable for almost everyone since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are key tips from research across the globe about improving the quality of online supervision:

  • Strong internet connections (wired connection to broadband routers)
  • Having a backup plan for failed connection (retries followed by phone call)
  • Consider use of headphones to improve audio quality and increasing confidentiality
  • Having the camera level with your face improves eye contact and sense of listening 
  • Be about an arm’s length from the camera, as this will offer the best quality image
  • Discussions about environment including use of virtual backgrounds for additional privacy
  • Making sure your face is well lit, with no strong light behind you eliminates a silhouette
  • Try to look at the webcam at least some of the time, particularly at emotive moments
  • Once image is clear, well lit and framed consider turning off self-view to reduce distraction
  • Reduce intensity when appropriate by screen sharing useful tools from your web browser 

There are also a number of useful reflections on managing the session and the content and transfer our interpersonal skills to virtual sessions. This includes beginnings and endings and more time for ‘checking in’ so participants are in the right state for reflection. It’s important to talk about how the online medium assists or hinders your own communication style and how it impacts working with any strong emotions. Supervisors may have learned to withhold too many non-verbal cues of approval or concern in order to give space to the supervisees process. However online practice may require more expression of empathy and connection in non-verbal cues particularly at beginnings and endings.  

Information and links

  • Research in Practice – Supervision conversations using remote-working technology
  • The above guidance is generally helpful for our increasingly online world both in rural working, reducing travel, time burdens and reducing climate harms. However, many supervisors at this time will still be considering their provision in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • SSSC has also made available a resource to think about wider issues of leading in a crisis. This includes sections on managing grief and change, self-leadership and use of supervision, mentoring and coaching in the online environment. There is also detailed guidance covering ethics in social work practice during the pandemic with those using our services.  
  • SSSC – Leading in a crisis
  • Scottish Government – Covid-19 safe and ethical social practice

Useful ideas

  • Consider the way you currently negotiate and review supervision including how parties prepare.
  • How does this help avoid describing casework activities and enable reflective, meaningful and difficult conversations?

Go to supervisor resource 12 – Supervision models

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