Should schools engage in clinical supervision?
We have a lot to learn from other professions but we all tend to operate in our own worlds and get on with our own jobs. But opening the door into another profession might just help to develop our own and improve it.
Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are engaged in regular clinical supervision at all stages of their careers and are required to have ongoing professional supervision. Can we learn from this? If teaching is a profession similar to other helping professions then supervision in these other professions could come from a similar theoretical background.
Clinical supervision is the term used to describe a formal process of professional support and professional learning conversations which encourage self-assessment, analytical and reflective skills. It brings together practitioners together to engage with each other to develop their professional artistry.
At its most basic level, supervision will involve two people, supervisor and supervisee but this could also be a triad, a departmental/year team, whole school or network of professionals.
We might associate supervision with a more experienced member of staff looking over the shoulder of the newly qualified with developmental conversations, regular feedback and rapid response help when needed. However, clinical supervision is for all staff including the seemingly self-sufficient uber-teacher because there is no end-point to learning.
One of the most commonly used clinical supervision frameworks in the health professions is Proctor’s Model, derived from the work of Bridgid Proctor (1986) and her Interactive Model of Clinical Supervision.
This model focuses on three key functions:
- Formative Function – this offers a framework and route for critical reflection. It enables you to recognise strengths and weaknesses and what you can do to further develop your skills and knowledge from theory to practice.
- Restorative Function – this provides you with supportive relationships to help address and manage the emotional responses and reduce stress arising from specific situations and relationships.
- Normative Function – is managerial and concerned with quality assurance, managing projects, safety, maintaining and improving standards.
Is Proctor’s model suitable for teaching?
These three components of supervision are more than likely already happening in everyday teaching practice informally – either over snatched conversations in a staffroom or micro-meetings in corridors. But is there a case for regular, protected clinical ‘super’ vision time where we are able to formally stop and intentionally reflect as a staff about practice?
“Supervision” doesn’t have to conform to a traditional definition or hierarchical relationship.
Super = above or beyond; vision = sight. Supervision can be taking a birds-eye view, a drone’s view and then zooming in to take a closer look to get a greater insight. Supervisors can be senior managers but every colleague has a responsibility to act as a supervisor to everyone else with everyone committed to seeing the big picture and then getting down to grass-roots level to help unpick and problem-solve. It’s more a case of ‘super’ vision than supervision.
Clinical supervision is a helpful tool for dissecting issues together, for getting under the skin of a problem and seeing how things could be done differently and improved. In teaching, terms this might be helping each other manage unfamiliar problems, identify blind spots, explore dilemmas or seek advice on trying new strategies. It could be a ‘post-mortem’ of what worked well, what didn’t and what to do next time.
Clinical supervision is an aspect of lifelong learning and shouldn’t be seen as ‘yet another bloody meeting’. This should be regular (once a month), secure time for in-depth reflection of teaching practice. It is a time to exchange skills and ideas in relation to live practical issues. Everyone benefits from feedback, guidance, pointers and professional interventions. This isn’t mentoring or coaching but sharing, feeding each other with lifelines and promoting reflective practice.
Clinical supervision meetings can bring out the best in everyone because they are non-judgmental and based on respect, empowerment and thoughtfulness. They can also boost morale, reduce stress and definitely build better teams. These are not like ordinary staff meetings because they are focused on ‘enabling’ and don’t get bogged down with admin, deviations, distractions and AOB.
Clinical supervision can help teachers to
- participate in critical introspection and reflect on practice collaboratively
- become more self-aware and self-confident in their teaching practice
- identify practice issues and consider alternative approaches
- be challenged in a safe environment
- consider their training needs
- inform their personal development plans
- promote innovations and share with colleagues
- develop best practice
Clinical supervision is a collaborative dynamic process, fuelled by creative conversations which involves thinking about things in a non-linear fashion, moving away from fixed ideas of cause and effect. It is a mirror and sounding board approach that can help develop competent, assured and autonomous practitioners and ensure that pupils receive a quality educational experience.