1. Be prepared. You’ve successfully landed your first student social work placement and, presumably, you’re preparing to have an informal interview or meeting with your work-based supervisor. Be sure to research the agency and the service they provide and write down any questions you’d like to ask them on the first meeting so that you don’t forget. Your supervisor may have questions to ask you about statements you’ve made on your application; this is to gain a better understanding of you, to make clarifications and to have an idea of what to include in your learning opportunities.
2. Make sure you invest in a diary that you can use throughout your placement to record important dates, appointments and meetings with service users and other agencies. It is a good practice to develop, because it makes it easier to maintain and manage caseloads as well as evidence work activities.
3. Decide with your supervisor when you’ll have your reflection time. I preferred to make bullet points of important learning developments in my diary every day, and then I would use Friday afternoons to write it up in detail.
4. Always make use of your reflection time, as it is a powerful learning tool in understanding social work practice. It is also an opportunity to learn to link practice with the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF; if you’re based in England) and link the theories of human development and interventions (learned at university) with practice, as well as discovering which theoretical reflective cycle you prefer to use.
5. Make note of training courses you have attended and the dates and keep certificates in a safe place. My supervisor advised me to write a short reflection, if possible, about training courses I attend, focusing particularly on what I have learnt and how I can implement it in practice.
6. Whenever you attend multi-agency board meetings, make the effort to network with people from the other agencies after the meeting. Also, be sure to thank the chair for giving you the permission to attend the meeting and of course your supervisor for organising it.
7. Update your knowledge by reading more widely about new initiatives, policies and debates about the service user group you’re working with. In my first placement, my practice educator advised that I read more widely about serious case reviews to learn more about good practice, lessons learned and how to avoid potential pitfalls.
8. Your practice educator should be a registered social worker with heaps of experience. They will focus particularly on educating and helping you to link practice with the PCF, codes of conduct and ethics, theory and reflection. These are people who enjoy sharing their knowledge and expertise with the next generation and want to give something back to aspiring social workers, so there is so much to gain from them. During supervision, never feel that you have to passive; tap into their knowledge, ask questions, put across your views. Work together to ensure you get the best out of your placement.
9. Always be honest. If you don’t understand something let your supervisor know and never be afraid to ask for information to be repeated. Also, let your practice educator and supervisor become aware of your learning style and any learning difference that you have so that they can take it into consideration.
10. Ensure that you send a short email to individuals and agencies you liaised with to let them know that your placement is coming to an end, at least a week in advance. You must prepare service users from the beginning of your work with them by letting them know the time frame of your placement; revisit this a few weeks before you leave and try to arrange a final visit for all the service users you have worked with.