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A critical reflection on my learning practice and professional development as a practice educator
In this essay I aim to demonstrate and critically reflect on my learning, practice and professional development as a practice educator for a learner completing their initial 70 day placement. My role was to assess and to make a final recommendation as to whether the learner should pass or fail and how this will impact on my future as a practice educator. I will use the Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988) to reflect upon this experience.
Prior to the learner commencing the placement, I was provided with their profile and this was the key part of effectively planning and matching the learning opportunities to the requirement of the practice curriculum.
This was followed by an informal meeting arranged with the learner. We had the opportunity to have a brief overview about the organisation which included an introduction to the team.
At the learning agreement meeting the discussions went really well on reflection I feel the learner had an insight of the potential vast learning opportunities the placement had to offer.
At this point however this being the learners first placement the challenge was that she was unconsciously incompetent not clear about what transferable skills she was bringing into the placement as this was untested. My role as a practice educator was to move the learner into the “consciously competent” stage, by demonstrating the skill or ability and the benefit that it will bring to the practitioner’s effectiveness. Business balls (2018)
The expectation at the end of the placement for the learner was that they practitioner should ideally continue to practice the new skill and, if appropriate, commit to becoming “unconsciously competent” at the new skill.
I felt relatively confident in preparing the learner to start the placement. The added advantage was that I was able to get the learner included in the planned organisation two week induction programmes for the newly qualified social workers in their Assessed and Supported Year (ASYE).
I have had the opportunity to be an onsite supervisor for previous learners in different levels of placement and I have had invaluable experience in case progression discussions during these times. In this role as a practice educator and onsite supervisor I felt that the challenge for me was going to be the expectations to conduct an in depth approach of reflective supervision using relevant theories, models and tools to inform practice and learning both for me and the learner . I completed the Bring and Buy and the Understanding your Learning Styles questionnaire (as described by Maclean and Caffery 2014) separately from the learner and in the initial supervision we discussed and made a comparison of the outcomes that determined whether one was an Activist, Reflector , Theorist and Pragmatist. It is vitally important that social work is carried out in a supportive learning environment that actively encourages the continuous development of professional judgment and skills. Regular, high quality, organised supervision is critical. (Laming, H (2009) The Protection of Children in England. TSO).
Professor Munro stated: “Our intuitive capacity is vast, swift, and largely unconscious. ‘Reflective practice’ is the time and effort spent to pull out one’s intuitive reasoning so that it can be reviewed and communicated. Cooper J (2011)
Anxiety can have a positive or negative effect, as an experienced level 3 social worker my competence in practice has developed to a level that I do not need define what knowledge of legislation, policies and procedures and theories are applied when I practice but I continue to implement them in my practice. I was able to include this in early discussions with the learner about the factors that were likely to cause anxiety and the strategies for dealing with unhelpful levels of anxiety. This approach was the beginning of cultivation of resilience for both the learner and me in my new role as a practice educator.
Thompson (2005) recognised the value in having confidence in one’s ability, so that one can assert their ideas and suggestions and promote professional development; in order to improve my confidence, and therefore my ability to complete and develop in the task as required. I sought the support of my Practice Mentor Assessor, and found her advice and reassurance invaluable together with the use of the learning materials from the teaching and discussions from my university lectures.
The concept of self-efficacy derives from the work of Bandura (1977, 1986) concerning social cognitive theory. Bandura proposes a model of learning – triadic reciprocal causation –which suggests that personal factors, behaviours and environmental events all interact and influence each other to produce future responses to situations.
My role included planning learning with the learner and others involved in a structured, logical and coherent manner so that the learning outcomes are addressed.
The General Social Care Council ( 2005b: 6) states that the principles of pedagogy’ which have been designed to promote and enhance the adult learning experience , must be located within the workplace and aligned to the needs of the organisation’.
I had to reflect on what the aim of teaching was without making the assumption of what and how the learner learns. Walker , Crawford etal 2008, stated , the processes by which we learn are far more complex than merely acquiring a knowledge from an `expert `; to encourage learning we need to design teaching activities that recognise the implications of different ways( theories) of learning .
The theoretical approach taken into consideration was the adult learning theory. As Practice Educator the aim of my role is to empower the learner to take control of their own learning to enable self-development.
I was able to follow through using the task – centred model of practicing learning self –efficacy, Parker (2005). I began with smaller, manageable tasks whilst the student was less confident and gradually moved on to complex challenges as her confidence developed. During the supervision I was able to review the progress of the learner to determine what new learning opportunities were available to meet the identified needs and at the same time recognised the achievements by giving the relevant feedback using different reflective models. I used supervision to move the learner toward a more reflective and thoughtful approach to practice endeavoured to question her thinking constructively. Walker, Crawford and Parker, 2008.
Constructive alignment therefore refers to the need for all aspects of the teaching system (curriculum content, intended learning outcomes, teaching methods, and assessment) to be aligned with each other. This encouraged me to consider how my practice as an educator assisted the learning process.
The main objective of my role as a Practice Educator was to ensure that the learner developed knowledge of legislation, policies and procedures and applying theory in her practice during her work with children and families in this placement. (PCF5) To achieve this objective I ensured that the learner was able to evidence this in supervision and I encouraged the student to prepare and plan for the sessions with the use of reflective logs and reflective tools were used during supervision. (PCF 1, 6). At times during the sessions I was too directive and when this happened I would explore further using the reflective models and this allowed the learner more opportunity to verbalise her understanding. To further compound the learning I set the learner tasks such as further reading through research and how the application of relevant legislation, procedures of intervention and use of theory to inform effective practice.
The learner was proactive and took on board the recommendations made in regards to further learning and any tasks set for further development such as further exploration of particular topics through research and accessing the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Local Safeguarding board (LSCB) procedures for specific subject areas such as CSE exploitation, domestic violence, substance misuse to contribute to her work analysis. ( PCF5)
In addition to this the learner did attend workshops in the induction period and later during her placement to develop her practice.
The learner also managed to use this similar approach to deliver a presentation in Child Mental health to the social work team.
( PCF 1,4, 5, 7, 8 and 9).
As a result of this variety of work described above, the learner did not have difficulty in selecting the relevant piece of work to complete her work analysis to evidence her capability to meet the PCF standards in this placement.
The learner has also attended monthly group supervision with other The learner from a range of placement settings. The feedback given is that The learner was a very proactive and engaged member of the group, able to share her own views and to support and encourage others including less confident The learner s. (PCF1) She always prepared well for the set tasks, familiarising herself with the reflective models such as Collingwood (KIT) and readily provided case examples to reflect on in the group. (PCF6) The learner demonstrated ability to critically reflect on her practice, she was self- aware and able to discuss her own values and challenges on placement as well as supporting others to reflect and problem solve through reflective questions and prompts. (PCF6,9) Through reflection of her work and discussion with peers The learner demonstrated a good understanding of her role in the context of the agency setting and wider inter-agency setting. (PCF1,8) She showed awareness and an empathic approach to understanding of the needs, wishes and views of children and demonstrated developing knowledge of risk and safeguarding in the context of children’s social work. (PCF7) .
The learner has gained an invaluable experience during this placement. I have no doubts that if the learner continues with the similar positive and enthusiastic approach in her learning she has the ability to transfer and develop these skills in her future learning and social work placement without any difficulty.
Overall the learner has presented as an enthusiastic the learner who is ready to learn and explore new challenges. Active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge (Dewey 1933)
The learner will need to continue to use reflection and analysis practice to inform decision making for her intervention in the future. (PCF 6).
I encouraged the learner to complete a reflective log / diary to record the experience and these were brought to some of the supervisions. We had an opportunity to discuss and I found this enhanced the development of critical thinking and reflection or a questioning attitude around the particular topic or event.
The learner was able to start to develop a voice; it improved the writing and recording and as the placement progressed the personal development and self –empowerment became apparent. The learner was able to recall the details of their interactive work with service users and colleagues and demonstrated the ability to integrate the theoretical concepts , skills and values being taught in the curriculum .
Race (2003) “Imagine feedback bouncing back in to the ‘ripple’ of learning. This keeps the ripple going, increases the intensity of rippling, and deepens learning. If there were to be no feedback the ripple would tend to fade away and die out. The learning would vanish.”
As I developed in my role I have found that the opportunity to have reflective supervision as integral part in my role as it provides the space to be critical and gives the ability to dissect social work practice.
I was initially sceptical about the role of a Practice educator having had the role of an onsite supervisor over the years. I felt that this gave be more responsibility and power with regards to determining whether the learner or the learner is fit for practice.
I had to have an awareness of values and implications for practice. In the The MANDELA Model (Tedam, 2011), emphasis is put on the importance of learning about the learner, their culture, educational background and life experiences. Practice educators and the learner need to enter safe learning environments in which they can focus on the learner s’ strengths to advance the journey to professional social work practice.
Reflecting on my the learner’s progress reminds me how beneficial has been in my practice on the time I was a the learner my understanding at the time of the different requirements in relation to meeting my portfolio outcomes and the roles the people around me played in supporting me with my learning , My onsite supervisor , my tutor and PE. In this placement I have had the opportunity to cover two roles but the most profound role was the practice educator role .
I feel I have been able to get back in touch with my professional and to apply both theory and innovation to my practice again.
It has been exciting not only teaching but watching the learner grow under my guidance and the social team and develop in confidence and begin to forge her identity as a social worker practitioner.
The learner has had experience working as a carer to support adults /patients with dementia and her approach to building a rapport and engaging with service users during visits was observed to be natural. This was clearly a transferable skill which the learner may have not considered as strength when the placement commenced.
The Mandela Model discussed by Tedam, Prospera, and Zuchowski, Ines (2014) , stated, “A strength-based perspective on practice puts the focus on what the learner is bringing to practice learning, what they identify as areas for growth and how their own strengths and knowledge will contribute to make the practice learning opportunity successful”.
At the end of placement the learner was able to identify and begin to have a view how their practice has an impact to change lives.
Fook J & Gardner F (2007) , proposes that the concept of conscious competency and when thinking consciously about the feedback I got from the learner and my PMA I agree that this is likely to make us more skilled in providing feedback, The use of ‘good’ feedback is important for professional growth and development’ (Bassot, 2016, p.50). more pro-active in seeking feedback and less defensive in receiving it. Respectful, Helpful and supportive ,Specific and focused on behaviour that can be changed or developed ,Timely ,Limited in amount ,Clear and clarified if necessary to avoid misunderstandings ,Focused on positives with some points for further development to enable a person to progress and motivating.
In conclusion, I found completing the portfolio a very profound experience and the satisfaction of having had a positive placement made it really pleasant.
The learner passed the placement. The learner has demonstrated a consistently proactive towards her learning throughout this placement. The learner has been able to take responsibility for her own learning and has taken advantage of the wealth and variety of knowledge and strengths in the social work team to inform her practice.
The social work colleagues in the team have all stated that it has been a pleasure to have the learner in the team. They stated that The learner had a very positive work ethic and showed very good qualities of a social worker and has a very good potential as a future social worker in the child in need team.
The learner demonstrated professionalism in terms of presentation, demeanour, reliability, honesty and respectfulness.
Having had such a positive experience I feel this has brought about a certain level of expectation that I may have for the learner when I start the Practice educator stage 2. This level of expectation could potentially be a barrier and therefore will ensure that I encourage self-directed learning.
According to Knowles (1975), being self-directed signifies that adult students can and should be allowed to participate in evaluation their learning, needs , planning and implementing the learning activities and evaluating experiences.
Knowles further stated that individuals can be assisted in becoming more self -directed when given appropriate learning tools, resources experiences and encouragement.
In future, as a practice educator I will always endeavour not to overlook that ;It is widely acknowledged that ‘an excessive workload is counterproductive ‘, in so far as it can lead to less being achieved , rather than more ‘( Thompson , 2006: 110). This is a significant statement that I have had to consider in respect of my own responsibilities in the workplace and those of the student that I have to support during placement. I was able to use various strategies or processes that involved support mechanisms and I was able to use supervision with my PMA, my team manager and working with social work team members and support from the other Practice educator learners and teaching days at the university.
Time and workload management involves skills that can be learnt and this requires motivation and morale. In my practice I will have a continual cyclical approach that I have go through on a regular basis and this will include; self-awareness, systematic practice, learning and assertiveness. Thompson (2006).
- Bandura, A.(1977) ‘ Self –efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behaviuor Change : Psychological Review , 84(2):191-215
- Bandura, A. (1986) Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Conscious Competence Learning Model, 2018
- Cooper J (2011)The need for more critically reflective social work. Online: Community Care.
- Dewey, J. (1933) how we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. (Boston) DC Health.
- Fook J & Gardner F (2007) Practising Critical Reflection. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Chapter 3
- Gibbs, G. (1988) Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods. (Oxford) Further Education Unit Oxford Polytechnic.
- (Laming, H (2009) The Protection of Children in England . TSO).
- http://www.in-trac.co.uk/supervision -now-or -never/ [accessed 16-05-18]
- Maclean, S and Caffery, B (2015). Developing a Practice Learning Curriculum: A Guide for Practice Educators (2 nd edition) Litchfield : Kirwin Maclean Associates LTD.
- Race P (2003) Using Feedback to help the learner s Learn. The Higher Education Academy. Accessed online 28/09/18 at:
- Race P (undated) How the learner s really Learn Accessed online 28/09/18 at:
- Tedam P (2011) The MANDELA Model of Practice Learning: An Old Present in New Wrapping? Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning 11(2)
- Tedam, Prospera, and Zuchowski, Ines (2014) The MANDELA practice framework as a tool for strengths-based social work education.
- Knowles, Malcolm S. Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers. ( 1975)
- Walsh A (2007) An exploration of Biggs’ constructive alignment in the context of work‐based learning. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. Vol 1 (2) pp.79-87)
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