Practice Educator Working with Students

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The primary goal of this paper is to examine my efficacy of performing the functions of a Practice Educator, which include a critical reflection and an analysis of aspects of learning and practice in working with the student. I aim to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching strategies and skills used by me as a Practice Educator to encourage the student during the student’s 100 days placement with the organisation.

I also aim to reflect on changes in my skills and professional views concerning the said role, as well as the identification of opportunities for future learning and development of relevant skills in the context of a social workplace.

In addition, I plan to consider the methodological approach to learning essential criteria for social work with students and expert social workers, as well as skills and tools for searching for new career options and acceptance of new responsibilities.. I aim to demonstrate knowledge and appropriate application of values and power issues in relation to practice-based learning and assessment, including the meaningful integration of user perspectives and feedback. I will be analysing global pandemic COVID 19’s impact on student placement.

The described practice was my first introduction to the responsibility of educating social work students, hence the necessity to scrutinise the main principles and tenets of the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) (BASW, 2017). The specified framework was linked directly to social work students that have reached their final placement level. Thus, a profound understanding of the PCF was required. Combined with thorough reading of the HCPC published Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers (HCPC, 2017), PCF served as the review tool for testing whether the student in question met the set expectations. Moreover, the framework provided new learning opportunities for the student in question. Complying with the Practice Educator professional Standards (PEPS) (BASW, 2013) was also viewed as a necessity due to the opportunities for social work evaluation that the PEPS provided.

The described frameworks suggested the creation of a detailed introduction plan for the learner, training sessions, assessment of key opportunities, and practicing problem solving in the work-related context, specifically, in the Local Authority’s Looked After Children’s Team setting.

This paper will seek to scrutinise crucial management and evaluation tasks and processes, feedback received from my mentor after meticulous observations, overview of adult learning theories, consideration of main motivators in adult learning, relationships between the key agents, and main contributors to my progress in developing the skills of a Practice Educator. Specifically, the main factors shaping my development as a Practice Educator will be located and examined along with the key traits and values shown in the process of completing the practice course.

According to Maclean and Lloyd (2008) posit that competence-based assessments and general evaluations should be the applied to determine the extent of social workers’ proficiency. Specifically, the assessments in question should serve as the means of transferring skills and knowledge from an educator to a student.

Prior to starting of the placement, I drew a draft induction plan for the student, which helped me to be clear on what the student can complete within the 100 days of her placement. The specified stage was followed by the induction period, in the course of which students had to complete key induction dimensions in accordance to the instructions provided by Keen et al. (2016) In addition, a placement learning agreement was designed as the framework for meeting unique needs of learners, with a detailed description of related work experiences that would support the process of evaluation. Regarded as the midway review, the described notes were modified as the placement process occurred. The main goal was to build a prolific and inspiring learning environment, which is a vital part of any student’s experience and further progress, as remarked upon in. Doel and Shardlow’s (2005) work. Likewise, Fletcher (1992) explains that the assessment process is vital as a part and parcel of a competence-based system to determine whether the exhibited performance meets the established criteria.

The Children Looked After (CLA) Team was chosen as the location of the placement, as mentioned above, since the specified setting was a statutory service under the governance of the local authority. CLA consists of expert social workers, who assist children and young people placed in foster placement, residential homes or children waiting for permanency either through long term fostering, Special Guardianship Order or through Adoption. The caseload is varied which include Care proceedings, Reunification of children with their parents, and Looked after Children’s cases. It is the job of social workers to compile Adoption reports, Matching reports, Review reports, Care plans, Personal education plans, Children & Family assessment, and risk assessments.

The team collaborates with a range of experts in healthcare, as well as numerous schools and educational faculties, law enforcement, and charities. The student in question is currently a Senior in her social work course. She has been undergoing placement for 100 days as prescribed in the BNU University 2019/20 Placement Handbook.

Being a Practice Educator, I had to perform an array of roles, yet my main goal was to provide the student with complete access to key resources, educational options and opportunities, and support in learning, including supervision. Specifically, the guidelines for the Professional Capability Framework (BNU University, 2019/20 Placement Handbook) were utilised.

I was clearly anxious in my role as a Practice Educator though I had a substantial amount of preparation for educating and supervising students. However, with the support of two other team members, who had already had substantial practice with social work students, I learned about the type of resources and information needed to start my practice. I met with the student prior to the starting of the placement to discuss the areas, which she needed to improve as she was repeating her final year placement. I read through her last portfolio to clearly understand the areas, which she must improve during this repeated placement. I have also asked my student what she is going to do differently at this time and what preparations she has done prior to her placement.

Preparation for further supervision and the support of students’ academic progress have been established as critical functions of a practice educator by several scholars, including Parker (2004). Therefore, having been armed with sufficient theoretical knowledge, I managed to implement the induction stage properly, with the placement learning agreement being introduced. The purpose of the agreement was to provide my student and me enough room for decision-making while delineating our roles and responsibilities, including the cases on which we had to work. In addition, the supervision schedule was discussed thoroughly. The supervision issue was particularly important as the opportunity for students and supervisors to discuss the progress and explore opportunities for further development (Parker. 2004).

During the first part of the evaluation process, I gathered a substantial amount of information about the student’s skills, learning potential, and motivation rates, which clearly signified that she was willing to become a Social Worker. The described discovery made me feel very enthusiastic and overall satisfied to have a motivated learner to guide. Despite obvious cultural differences defined by our background and age, I related to the student professionally and recognised her as a knowledgeable person to work alongside in the future. The significance of motivation in professional learning has been emphasised multiple times by academics; for example, Shardlow and Doel (1996, p. 66) explain that “Motivation for learning will only be present where students are committed to the relevance of the content of learning and its final outcome”.

Moreover, learning about the student’s previous professional experience, as well as hr needs as a learner and the pace, at which she learns, was critical for future insights. To determine her learning style, I applied the ‘Learning Styles Questionnaire’ by Honey and Mumford (2006), which outlined the best approaches to facilitate her learning and the platform on which it should be based (reflection, action, theory, or guidance) (Parker, 2004, p. 49).

The specified step was much needed to receive more accurate information for further alignment of the learner’s style with the teaching approach. The questionnaire indicated that the student represented a combination of a reflector and a pragmatist, which implied that I had to try innovative solutions to align her learning style with my teaching approach.

For assessing the student, I relied on 1-1 supervision sessions where we discussed the issues related to case-work, as well as student-specific needs, including the issue of supervision as recommended for student Social Workers (Parker, 2004). Moreover, the role of supervision has been emphasised by Hawkins and Shohet’s (2000) study as the means of taking care of oneself and exploring the chances for continuous self-development and unceasing, lifelong learning.

The first stage of supervision was conducted successfully, with a detailed agenda having been set. During the placement process, formal and informal approaches to supervision were used (Maclean and Lloyd 2008). For student evaluation purposes, direct observations were utilised as the main tool. Additionally, reflective logs, documents, as well as the feedback provided by users, managers, and co-workers, were utilised. In addition, the cases that student had to address were discussed extensively, after the student familiarised herself with the key theories that defined her professional choices. The descried approach shows the supportive role of supervision as the tool that allows improving the quality of decision-making, effective assessment of risk, and the opportunity to provide the best solutions for the children whose needs were addressed by social workers (Laming 2009).

Power dynamics within the assessor/student relationship

Before the placement occurred, the issue of power dynamics in collaboration between the student and me as a Practice Educator, as well as between the student and other team members, had to be addressed fully. Specifically, the details concerning professional ethics, boundaries, organisational and professional hierarchy, responsibilities, quality expectations, and the related issues were addressed during this conversation. Namely, the role and responsibilities of the student were delineated, along with the role that I would play as an assessor of the student’s progress. Particularly, it was necessary to place the emphasis on my role as a part of the support system and the source of crucial recommendations and useful information for the learner as opposed to the continuous flow of criticism. Thus, opportunities for establishing positive workplace relationships were built. The described step was critical since, according to Lefevre (2005), collaborative and nurturing partnership approach constitutes the bulk of effective practice in education. Specifically, the identified strategy contributes to empowerment of a student and ensures that the learner is empowered and safe.

However, the idea of proper power balance and the necessity to maintain professional relationships has always been evident to me as a Consultant Social Worker. With a massive baggage of professional experience, I had a vast opportunity to assist the student in gaining the necessary competencies. At the same time, I ensured that I did not discourage her in her attempts at gaining independence in her professional development, which was crucial for maintaining the student’s motivation (Rogers, 2002 p139).

The Global pandemic COVID 19 and its impact on student placement.

Overnight, social distancing policies have changed the face of social work placement, requiring the student and me to find solutions for direct service and to carry out effective supervision to continue to meet placement requirements effectively. The traditionally offered face-to-face supervision has changed to virtual platforms. Learning platforms have changed to incorporate remote activities for supervisors to evaluate and students to demonstrate a satisfactory level of practice.

In the current climate, this changed the face of supervision and delivering support to the student. I have decided with my student to check in regularly. This was mainly through telephone contact at the start of the day to confirm that we both have no health issues. Supervision was conducted through virtual platforms using Microsoft teams, which took a few weeks for both of us to adjust to the new style. The supervision records and the observation of students’ work also took place through virtual platforms. Observing the student on an online platform was a strange experience that needs more creativity and careful attention. This has increased the anxiety level of my student and me. We created an agreed level of communication between us, including regular emails, daily telephone calls, extended supervisions in Teams, sharing learning materials on teams, etc.

The student took the challenge of visiting one service user by completing an appropriate risk assessment before her visit. I supported the student on the RAG rating system and COVID risk assessment with the service users in line with the organisational policies. I must acknowledge that initially providing support online appears to be a challenging and exhausting task; however, it became a part of the daily work as the time pass by.

Student’s feedback

To get students feedback, I have used the feedback form from Research in Practise. My student had commented that I have created a working environment which allowed her to seek assistance without viewing it as a way of giving up and reducing her agency as a learner. For this purpose, I focused on being calm and supportive, encouraging her to be proactive and evaluate her journey with minor prompts from my side. This was a good comment for me to receive Equally, I found my student’s personality as a proactive in terms of her work which helped to build our relationship.

During my collaboration with this student, I learned to recognise her as an independent and competent learner, who was capable of making decisions on her own to the extent that her professional experience and theoretical knowledge allowed her. Encouraging the student to reflect on her practice has also helped in boosting her confidence as a pragmatic learner (Honey 1992).The use of the pragmatic learning style was especially useful since it allowed the student to reflect objectively on her actions and decision-making.

Although the student had a limited amount of knowledge on the issue of social work and the related legal standards, she managed to accomplish the key milestones of her practice successfully by developing new skills and using my support and guidance to her advantage (Maclean and Lloyd 2008).

The application of problem-based learning chosen in the case in point has rather profound theoretical underpinnings. According to Burgess and Taylor (2005) (as cited in Lishman 2007, p. 238), problem-based learning encourages students to embrace the possibilities of evidence-based practice by incorporating their knowledge with the recently gained insight to define, evaluate, manage, and reflect critically upon specific problems. Therefore, the proposed method illustrated above in collaboration with the student in question should be used to assist students in preparing for the Social Work field.

Indeed, performing the tasks of a Practice Educator, I strived to create the learning environment in which students could apply their skills properly and transition from theory to practice as seamlessly as possible. Moreover, the described practice has helped the student to build supportive working relationships with team members.

Notably, the extent of student’s initial knowledge concerning the issues of interventions used in social work, the method utilised by experts, and the procedures approved by the statutory agency were quite scarce. However, she managed to embrace a very broad range of information and apply it correctly to practical issues within a very short amount of time. Recording logs of her practice, the student took the time to reflect on her decision-making and its implications, which allowed her to connect theoretical knowledge of social work practice. As a result, by the Mid-Way Meeting, she had the full extent of competence and skills needed in the PFC context. Unfortunately, the placement was suspended and was on hold for two months due to global pandemic and this resulted in further challenges in face to face supervision and meeting the service users through online platforms.

Motivational factors in learning

The levels of the student’s motivation and engagement have been consistently high throughout the placement process. Specifically, she participated in assessments, as well as multiple Child in Need meetings, drew respective plans for addressing children’s needs, compiled chronologies and care plans, and participated in workshops, thus expanding her knowledge and skill range. The student assisted children that experienced a particular threat of a trauma and used her strength to the best of her abilities to support vulnerable patients. Moreover, she was an active group discussion participant and developed transferrable skills successfully. The specified change in the student aligns with the existing perspective on the role of training in the development of social work skills. Specifically, Professor Eileen Munro (2010 p. 34) states that improved training allows gaining the skills needed for training the next generation of social workers and allowing them to gain lifelong learning skills.

Reflection on my practice and assessor’s feedback

The responsibility of performing direct observations by using virtual tools was a challenging task since it made me feel very self-conscious and, thus quite anxious. As a result, performing key tasks while being aware of the observation was quite difficult for the first time. Specifically, the described situation made me question my decisions and the effectiveness of online support with the student. The student reassured me that she considered the specified methods of supervision, including both face to face and virtual one, as extremely helpful and supportive. My assessor’s comment confirmed that, the supervision relationship appeared to be based on mutual respect, with both adding items to the agenda. The session was relaxed but formal and the focus was on casework and the student’s progress with the allocated families and her understanding of the issues presented. Assessor also commented on me spending time in helping the student to make links between the PCF and her experiences and the student could be asked to take more responsibility for her learning in terms of sourcing literature for discussion. This feedback was an eye opener for me as I used to discuss PCF domains outside of the supervision session.

Assessor further commented that a good deal of material was covered, and it was necessary for me to manage the time so that all items on the agenda were considered. The student raised an important practice issue just before I was closing the session, I assessed that this needed addressing and that the student should be given time to ensure she was clear and happy about the actions to be taken.

Boundaries were appropriately maintained, and I listened attentively to what the student said. Involving her in the process by asking her to articulate her views and to set her goals, this clearly facilitated the student’s development.

My mentor also commented that “Sreejala had a clear plan for what she wanted to achieve this session, but she also built in time to address the issues the student would bring. Therefore, whilst the agenda had been formed, with discussion of current work at the top, space to discuss learning needs and administrative matters, there was also flexibility to add points as they arose. I noticed that the student was completely comfortable with the structure and fully engaged with the process. I also noticed that Sreejala allowed the student time to settle into the supervision and adjust to my being there”.

On reflection of my assessor’s feedback, I clearly understand as a practice educator my role is to make the student feel comfortable. Overall, the experience of providing guidance to a student as a Practice Educator was crucial to my professional development and had a tremendous meaning for me since it showed how people with different personalities and sets of competencies could interact productively in the social work setting.

Attending the PE training course, as well as building the skills of group supervision, has helped me to create a unique personal approach to support as a facilitator. The described change was one of the critical components of professional practice that I used in the course of team meetings with the student. While the specified meetings were few, the student managed to use them to their maximum potential, having become an active participant and providing detailed feedback on her case.

Critical overview

What worked well

The development of trust-based relationships with the student and providing proper guidance without disrupting the power balance was the main accomplishment. The student absorbed crucial information immediately and responded to assessments promptly, improving her practice, filling out reflective diaries, and working on her professional development. Moreover, the student accepted innovative ideas and approaches, including the feedback received from me. The issues of gaining new skills and knowledge, setting priorities in line, and accomplishing them accordingly were managed properly and duly. Despite the constant checks that I perfumed on the submitted documents, the student remained positive, friendly, and appreciative of my efforts.

I was able to use virtual platform effectively with the student to provide adequate support to the student.

Through supervising the student, I have acquired new characteristics required for updating my management style and making it more personalised as a supervisor. My strengths are my ability to build relationships and to retain composure and calm during conflicts and complicated scenarios. My feedback was consistently objective and detailed, with the focus on the student’s response, which allowed for greater reciprocity and a better dialogue with the student. Moreover, I checked whether the student attended the workshops that would expand her knowledge system and range of competencies. Overall, my evaluation remained objective and fair, aligning with my personal value system, which allowed increasing the support for the student.

As a consultant practitioner in the team where my role is to offer reflective supervision to the team, I managed to contemplate my teaching strategies more carefully. The specified change was especially meaningful for the newly qualified social workers, who enabled me to encourage the student to consider taking greater introspect into her professional practice. Feedback from the student and the mentor confirmed that I was able to create a safe place in which the student could share her thoughts and concerns as well as share what she felt she was doing well. The student was encouraged to explore her instincts and given permission to talk about the feelings raised by the work. I was able to clarify when the student should expect help and support. I was able to offer positive feedback on the students work and was able to use strength-based approach with the student.

My drawbacks

Due to my role in the team as a consultant, I have to hold complex cases some of which needs daily involvement due to the complex nature and also to supervise an ASYE and to support other social workers, I had to balance the specified aspect with the process of student evaluation, while giving her enough time for reflection. Though I was well prepared for a student, time management was really an issue for the first two weeks, and I had to develop better time management skills to provide better student supervision. I made the specified change with the help and support of a line manager, as well as using my experience with social workers, and consulting relevant literature..

My hard working nature and the virtual work cast a doubt on me to questions myself to see whether I have given added pressure to the student by checking and reminding student on the importance of getting feedback, compiling reflective logs, and coordinating the rest of my tasks properly,.

What I will do differently in the future

I will focus on coordinating my performance with the line manager to provide a suitable learning environment by providing a laptop on the first day of the placement. The suggested strategy will allow me to support students with caseloads extensively, while drafting my further action plan accordingly. Moreover, I will integrate virtual platforms and other digital resources into communication with colleagues to provide the best support to students. PCF will be prioritised during supervisions and the related activities so that more information for assessing students’ performance and offering guidance to them could be obtained. Also, when offering supervision, I should be able to take an opportunist approach by prompting students on research and reading materials of topics of their interest.


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