Collaboration Corner: Supervision 101

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As a school-based clinician in the Boston area, I’m grateful to have access to some of the greatest learning institutions in the country. As an off-site clinical supervisor, I feel particularly obligated to make all that learning translate into something meaningful. In a public school placement, the school day can become insanely busy. This month I’ve decided to share a few tips that guide me both as a clinical supervisor and a professional.

Create a clear contract of expectations: Provide a copy of the school calendar with holidays, early release days. Provide a week-by-week schedule of expectations, including which specific clients your student will see, and how much supervision will be provided. Include any evaluations, reports and meetings your student will be expected to attend. Provide a mid-term check-in (even if the institution does not require it) and review academic expectations, this way you can give structured and specific feedback.

Know your learner, know thyself: Figure out early in the game, how she or he prefers to get information to you, including email or text messaging. Establish up-front what kind of feedback your student finds helpful, and how/when it is most helpful.  Generally, this seems to work if the student has pretty good insight as to how they function real-time. If they aren’t sure, provide examples. For example, do they mind if you jump in during a session, or do they prefer notes afterward?

Don’t assume anything: I usually get a list of the student’s academic resume and personal experiences. This doesn’t provide me with much information, so I go into the relationship assuming nothing. First, even if my graduate student has experience in a school, each school runs different, and has a unique culture. Second, I can’t assume they have any experience (or minimal experience) working with students like mine. Third and perhaps most importantly, don’t assume reading translates easily into application. A very clever mentor of mine once said, “Remember, you are only as smart as the last thing you read.” This is an important perspective, because not only are you teaching methodology, which brings text to life, but as a supervisor, you are setting the foundation for students’ clinical skills. Show them what they need to learn.

Encourage your student to journal: Reflective learning is the most important part of clinical growth. There is a ton of research supporting opportunities for reflection and professional development. I don’t ask students to show me their journal. I do ask them to take 10 minutes out of their week to sit down and write about two things: something that they learned that week, and something that they need to work to improve. I also encourage them to think larger, not just clinical skills, but interpersonal skills, and how they handled a difficult situation. Then, every other week or so, I have a heart-to-heart on how they think they are doing, and what they think their biggest accomplishes and challenges are thus far.

Leave at least 15 minutes twice daily for check-in: Once in the beginning before school starts to review lesson plans, and then once around lunch or at the end of the day. The first opportunity provides guidance on how to run the lesson; the second should be a chance to discuss how your student perceived the lesson-in-action.

Don’t take the little things for granted: Your students are always learning from you; this includes the good and unfortunately, the not-so-good-but-human moments. How you approach a conflict with a student or co-worker is a lesson. How you are able to comment on your mistakes (a good thing) is a lesson. So remember you are always a role model, not just as an SLP, but as a successful professional. Here’s the best part, I find students make us be the clinicians we want to be; even after a long week of parent conferences, a full moon of behavioral outbursts, or after one too many caffeine-fueled moments, they keep us accountable.

After all, after 16 years, I’m still learning, too.

Kerry Davis, EdD, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.