Free writing a reflective assignment
Gillian Ruch and Rachel Williams
In this piece, we explore the benefits of free writing a reflective assignment on the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (or making and digesting an egg sandwich).
Participants who have completed the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP) have the option of writing an assessed reflective assignment when they have completed the programme. This is an opportunity to reflect back on learning from PSDP and to:
- Take stock about the impact of the programme on your work as a Practice Supervisor.
- Review what has changed as a result.
- Consider how you can be supported to develop further.
You can read more about what the reflective assignment is and how it is assessed on the PSDP website FAQs – ‘Will participation in the PSDP be accredited?’. The assignments are assessed by staff at the University of Sussex, led by Professor Gillian Ruch. The first few reflective assignments were submitted recently.
This blog explores the benefits of reflecting on learning in this way from the perspective of Gillian (who reads the assignments) and Rachel (who has recently submitted an assignment) – with some top tips along the way.
It is always hard to know how to get started when writing an assignment. So here is a suggestion. It’s a creative writing exercise called ‘free writing’ and simply involves you taking a blank page and writing non-stop for anything between three-five minutes (decide before you start how long it will be) about a topic you are wanting to think and write about, without lifting your pen off the page. If you run out of things to write then simply write ‘I don’t know what to write’ and as sure as egg are eggs (and they are!) something further will emerge.
In the case of the PSDP a working title for your free writing exercise could be:
‘What have I learnt from completing the PSDP?’
The exercise is essentially free association in written form. By not stopping writing you allow a stream of consciousness to emerge, which may reveal some surprising ideas you had not expected. Doing this exercise literally frees your mind and could reveal to you what you might want to focus on in your reflective assignment.
The PSDP content and structure have been designed to encourage you throughout the programme to pause and reflect on your learning. For those of you that have completed the programme, if you have used the spaces in the workbooks provided for each day then you will have a rich resource to draw from. If you’re reading this in advance of completing the programme, we’d strongly encourage you to fill in the workbook as it will be an incremental way of developing resources to inform your assignment. So to get you started and inspired, in addition to your free writing revelations, you can refer back to the workbooks, the slide presentations and your notes to see what catches your attention again.
So, you’ve free written, you’ve looked at your workbook and notes from the programme, what next? Well, this makes me recall my mother’s wise words every time I went off to sit a school exam – read the question! In this case, there is no question but simply a task of producing a reflective account of your learning, plus four learning outcomes, which we ask you to take into account when writing the assignment. These might be thought of as the equivalent of ‘the question’ and they are as follows (with cross references to the Knowledge and Skills Statement for Practice Supervisors (KSS)).
Learning outcome one
Have acquired the knowledge, skills, and values required to take up the role of Practice Supervisor, in keeping with the key KSS requirements, and the confidence to deploy a range of theoretically informed approaches to help supervisees with emotionally and professionally complex dilemmas and decision making processes, keeping the needs of vulnerable children and families clearly in mind.
(KSS: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7)
Learning outcome two
Have developed a deeper and wide ranging set of critically self-reflective capacities and skills, enabling them to remain focused, analytical, authoritative, ethical and professional in demanding professional and supervisory circumstances.
(KSS: 2, 4, 7)
Learning outcome three
Have a critical understanding and ability to work constructively and reflectively with the dynamics of power, authority, emotion, difference and diversity in practice situations, and in the supervisory relationship, recognising the role of clear contracting processes with supervisees, the significance of professional anxiety on all involved and the importance of effectively managing its emotional impact.
(KSS: 1, 3, 4, 6, 8)
Learning outcome four
Appreciate and work in a critically constructive manner with the impact of organisational pressures on themselves and their supervisees and how these may at times create tension with professional ethical principles.
(KSS: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8)
With this framework in your head, the next piece of advice would be to focus on just a few aspects of your learning – perhaps three key ideas that you’ve taken on-board, can evidence as having applied in your workplace and which collectively address all four learning outcomes. Once you’ve identified what they are and written about them, it’s helpful to return back to the learning outcomes again to check you have covered each of them to some extent. For those of you who think and learn more visually you could think of this process metaphorically as making an egg sandwich.
The learning outcomes are the slices of bread that sandwich the aspects of your learning that you are reflecting on and showcasing, represented by slices of egg (it’s important to note that this is not a mashed egg sandwich, which would not be a helpful image to make the point…!). In the process of writing you are digesting your learning – or one could say you are eating the egg sandwich – in order to enhance your professional development.
But who am I to give advice? Far better for you to hear from a PSDP Practice Supervisor who has successfully completed their assignment.
Juggling a family and a career in social work management is a constant time management battle for me, so an assignment that I didn’t ‘have’ to do drifted like a feather to the bottom of the gigantic ‘to do’ pile. And while it sat there, it gathered dust, and the more dust it gathered, the more reluctant I became to pick it up. Because then I would have to dust it off, and I couldn’t actually remember what the feather looked like by then anyway, so I just kept thinking I’m going to leave it right there, under the dust! If I am completely honest, perhaps I was hoping it would remain buried and no-one would ask me about it…
So why did I decide to pick it up, dust it off and spend time evaluating it? I had a few reasons. Firstly, I wanted to know if the time and organisational investment in me had been worthwhile, what had I learnt and how had my practice changed. I went on the course because I genuinely care about my practice and I want to supervise effectively (I think these are characteristics that we all shared), so it made sense to reflect on the learning process and completing the assignment was a method to achieving that. I also thought about how I promote the reflective process as a method of learning with families, supervisees and my peers. I figured I needed some of my own advice! Finally, I thought about the assignment and how I hadn’t actually tried to complete it, so I didn’t know how long it would take, or how difficult (or straightforward) it would be.
Once I had freed myself from excuses and decided I was going to get it done, the process happened quite naturally. I used a free writing method and considered poignant events of the last few weeks (there are many to choose from in our line of work!). Bullet points would be fine as a starting point. Once I had these events, I read the learning outcomes and loosely matched four of them together. It felt a little bit like writing a learning log as a student – free writing, but there are certain elements you have to cover. The learning outcomes are fairly broad and I found that most events would fit into at least one learning outcome. I chose one event for each and then began a kind of cross-examination. I asked myself what I did, why I did it, how I felt about it and how I might have done things differently before I completed the course. I reviewed the course material and linked some of the theory to the actions I had taken. I pulled this together into four paragraphs and the assignment was done!
If you ask me, it is 100% worth the time investment for your own development. I found writing the assignment enabled me to occupy a space that would normally pass me by. The rollercoaster of emotions felt on a daily basis; confusion, frustration, elation – it gave me a chance to unravel it and consider my role, and subsequent learning. It demonstrated how much I had taken on board from the course, and I am sure it will for you as well.
About the authors
Gillian Ruch is a Professor of Social Work at the University of Sussex and PSDP facilitator.
Rachel Williams is a Practice Manager in Central Bedfordshire Council and PSDP participant.
Practice Supervisor Development Programme
Practice Supervisors who have attended PSDP can also find out more about the self-reflective assignment on their Moodle account. If you have any questions, please contact PSDPadmin@rip.org.uk or 01803 847200. You can also share your ideas and learning from programme on Twitter via #PSDP.
Related Practice Supervisor Development Programme blogs
- Making the most of the Practice Supervisor Development Programme
- Place, space and time: Reflections on the bespoke Practice Supervisor Development Programme
- Be more penguin
- Reflective one-to-one development sessions
- Reflections from the Practice Supervisor Development Programme
- Showing our workings out – an update on the PSDP so far