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Absolute Healing Blog

Sustainable support for teachers

Posted in Professional development on 18/04/2013

Sustainable support for teachers

Supporting teachers when budgets are tight

Peer group supervision or, to give it its full title, peer group person centred supervision (PCS) gives teachers an opportunity to off-load, find solutions to problems and feel part of a supportive team. A one-day workshop will establish the structure and the teachers can then run it for themselves to the benefit of all and on a minimal budget.

Supervision is considered an important part of continuing professional development by people practicing listening therapies such as counselling and psychotherapy, indeed it is often a requirement for remaining licenced to practice. Most people in caring professions would consider it an invaluable tool for keeping them engaged, creative and healthy and I propose that it would be equally effective for anybody else working with people in some capacity, for instance in management, policing or customer relations. It is a model that lends itself particularly to the teaching profession.  

Person centred supervision focusses on facilitating the supervisee to explore and find solutions to their own problems. As such it encourages independent thinking, empowerment and self-development. Supervision may be provided by a mentor who is more experienced than the supervisee. This model has an advantage in that the supervisor can also offer advice where it is needed. In peer group supervision advice is not offered but the supervisee is supported to find his or her own answers by another member of the group. I believe that this model would be particularly useful for building strong teams and developing an ethos of mutual support and respect amongst the staff of a school.

The peer group is anything upwards of two people. Small group have the advantage of being short and intimate while large groups, though they take more time, will provide the potential for a wider range of issues to be aired thus offering more learning opportunities for everyone. The session is structured and each person is given an equal length of time to take the seat of the supervisee. He or she is invited to talk about an issue which is bothering them. This could be a troublesome student, a staff management issue, a personal issue or a problem with the workload: In fact any problem that impinges on their ability to be effective, engaged and fulfilled in their work. The supervisee talks directly to one person who has taken the seat of the supervisor and this person actively listens, encouraging the supervisee to explore the issue deeply and all other members of the group act as observers of the process.

This process has many functions. To name three: It allows the supervisee to feel truly heard and have their issue witnessed and acknowledged. This is powerful. It can not only allow him or her to feel supported, but also to gain a fresh perspective on the problem, possibly leading to fresh insight and a way forward. Secondly it allows the others in the group to begin to build an empathetic understanding of the supervisee and recognise in them issues that they share, helping to strengthen the team. Thirdly, at the end of the session, the supervisee can receive suggestions on dealing with the problem from the rest of the group.

Once established, a peer group contracts to meet regularly. This provides a support structure that is robust, on-going, and becomes more valuable over time for all concerned. The skills required to successfully run a peer group of this nature can be taught in a single day workshop. Two short follow up sessions would address any teething troubles, helping to ensure that the group was becoming increasingly supportive for all its members over time and that trust was growing.

With this small investment a school could establish a robust system for support, professional development and team building for its teachers.

Clare Walters. Mindfulness Guide and Person-centred Supervisor at Absolute Specialists.