Peer supervision enables social workers to go beyond individual limitations and to expand on their knowledge, skills and experiences – as long as power imbalances are left at the door. Claudia Megele (above) offers tips on how to make the most of your peers’ experiences and opinions.
● Regularity and attendance
Peer supervision sessions should be regular and long enough to ensure everyone has a chance to participate. Appoint a facilitator for the group, either fixed or by rotation, who can take charge of the diary and alert members to any changes, as well as directing the sessions. Ideally, social workers should prioritise peer supervision sessions over competing commitments.
Supervision sessions should be structured, to prevent them from degenerating into gossip, chat or gripe. A clear framework or agenda will make it easier to enforce boundaries and uphold the quality of the supervision. This also allows for the use of structured supervision tools such as: analysis of both positive and challenging incidents, issues, dilemmas and experiences; structured questioning; and sharing of practice and feedback.
● Provide a safe and supportive environment
Treat everyone in the group equally regardless of age, experience, knowledge and professional background. The effectiveness of peer supervision is directly related to the degree in which supervisees feel safe to share their experiences. Admitting incompetence is difficult in a competitive environment. Supervision sessions should be non-competitive, non-judgemental and supportive. Any existing power imbalances must be checked and promptly addressed.
● Critical reflection
It is important to achieve consistent high-quality supervision by sticking to the process, being candid and intuitive in your responses, balancing positive and negative feedback, avoiding lecturing and advice giving, and most of all remembering that the purpose of the group is to promote critical reflection. Supervisees should be given time to draw on their own reflective abilities.
Peer supervision requires supervisees to be self-directed learners, determining their own needs and choosing appropriate tools for their development. The space and the group should be dedicated to one supervisee and his or her needs at a time, without straying into other members’ needs.
● No “postmortems”
After the end of each session, there should be no further discussion of the issue either in or out of the group. This is an essential ground rule that establishes clear boundaries and prevents supervision material from leaking into other places and processes.
Claudia Megele is a qualified social worker and service director of A Sense of Self
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