The chances are that you’re involved in some kind of work with young people, after all thats what this blog is all about, and most of the people who read this are youthworkers, paid or voluntary in a variety of settings. So, the chances are that you’re involved in this ongoing unpredictable vocational task of trying to educate/support/guide/challenge young people through the purposeful relationship that you have with them. And its challenging isnt it? some/most/all of the time (delete as appropriate)
What about a second assumption.
The chances are that you have faced some kind of reduction to your budget over the last 5 years, thats if you have one. If you’re a volunteer, maybe there used to be a paid worker in the church, if you’re a youthworker you used to have a training budget, or if you’re actually still in a paid professional youthwork job, just well done for having it (and no budget to make anything happen). But in the main, (unless you work for NCS) your youthwork has had some kind of reduction in the last few years. Right? at least half right? Yeah i thought so.
So, the chances are, that as a youthworker, you have barely any reflective supervision or support for your work?
the youthworker who used to supervise you- has now left
the external supervision you used to get – you cant afford, it was a luxury anyway
no one in the congregation really takes an avid interest in the youthwork, thats why you do it.. all they hope for is young people on a sunday or staying out of trouble..
There seems not to be anyone who spends time doing the listening anymore.
And who is thinking about your development? – not just the development of the outcomes, or the goals of the group?
And not just that, its the sounding board, the ideas space, the reflective questions back.
Having someone to help with the ongoing reflective practice has been deemed a core part of youth work practice since the 1960s, yet fast forward a number of years and it was seen as barely important in faith settings mostly, and a luxury in more secular settings. At least its shifted from personal development to managing the outcomes and goals (Ord, 2012)
And the first thing to go when the budgets got tight.
Yet good supervision can do a number of things (and supervision is different from management, or at least management can also include supervision, see my other posts on this topic for more) but good supervision as Joan Tash described in ‘Working with the unattached’ deems supervision to be an ‘experimental relationship’ in which the dreams and ideas of the worker have a space to circulate, fester and be talked through.
So what happens when thats lost?
who is losing out? – well you are…
Supervision for the youthworker/volunteer is a space for support, for education and also direction (Jon Ord, 2012), that often happens outside of the management relationship (though it could occur within it). And so, that supportive, educative and directive function may be lost for the person involved in the ongoing practice, and its a reflective practice of youthwork.
Today is Wednesday.
What are your thoughts on the youth fellowship from Sunday evening? How did it go? Or the detached session on friday? what about the schools session you did today? how did it go – how are you feeling about it? how might the young people?
They might be the questions you allow yourself in thinking about the few hours of that bit of youthwork, then onto the next one, or for the volunteer, back home to put the kids to bed, do the washing up, switch on the tv, breathe and recover and think about work for the next day. Quash the potential insight, wisdom or ideas , life moves on us quick.
So, if being supervised is a kind of experimental relationship – what about giving it an experiment in itself and try having supervision digitally? What might that look like for you?
Dont be too freaked out… below are a number of questions and instructions, that might help you think and reflect upon your latest or series of latest pieces of youthwork practice. All you need to do, is use the questions to write down, either using pen or whatever means, a response, a story, questions, comments, ideas – and then use these reflections as your own shaping of supervision, done through digital, rather than face to face.
It wont get personal, just keeping it to do with your practice. Find a space, grab a coffee, have a seat, and think about whats going on with the youthwork that you’re doing at the moment. You might want to focus on one of the groups, one of the young people, one situation over the weekend. Ill pose a number of questions here, with comments and spaces for you to spend some time on your own just thinking through them, and writing down responses.
So here goes (if you want to avoid this, then skip to the final paragraph) , no pressure, this is optional and in your time.
Starting question ; What is it you would like to talk about with whats going on in the youthwork at the moment? What are the things that are plaguing your thinking about whats happening? – what would you like to explore further..?
..write them down, take your time, theres no rush…
Now Pick one of these things
Now, go a bit further on this one thing
Give it a bit more thought, why is it troubling you, or energising your thoughts – describe it in a bit more detail – are there many sides to the issue? or perspectives?
is there more understanding that you require – and from whom?
ill give you space to write some of these reflections and sentences down
As a result of this – is there something that needs to or could change? what could be done differently? what change might you need to implement?
write these down
who might be affected by the change? how might you be affected by it? how might young people be? How involved should they be in making a change? are there best or better ways that change could be implemented? Think some of these through
How do you feel about the scenario, about the scenario at the time and what do you learn from these feelings?
Thats one particular direction…
What if it isnt a problem, but its an idea that you have instead?
Then in a way its the same questions – about developing it, thinking it through, working out how and who’s idea it is – thinking though the values of youthwork such as participation and empowerment and how your idea encourages these things.
From here i cant say whether I would go along with or suggest an alternative to your idea – but think about it like this – put yourself in the position of the young people in the group – how might they react to a leader doing what you’re about to do? Maybe refine it or test it out – or share with others in the volunteer team and discuss it further
how might your idea, or change, or issue start to have an impact on the relationships you have with the young people? will it hinder, damage or develop and encourage? Is it a risk worth taking at the moment? Or a risk for the relationship to be tested on?
Do you have to implement the change or the idea at all? Is a ‘Red light’ and stop needed to be heard? or Amber and its spent time in further discussion for a while, or green and give it a go, a trial, a test.
Lets change the direction a little, if i asked you ‘what are you learning at the moment?’ what would you say?
about an individual young person? – about the whole group?
about participation and barriers?
about the local community?
about being a volunteer or paid youthworker?
about the resources you’re using?
about the nature of the space created?
about the abilities of young people?
stop and think for a moment on what you’re learning, and what you might all as a team of volunteers be learning, all the time. You never stop learning and observing in youthwork practice, its good to stop and acknowledge it and share it.
it is good to stay curious and humble about what we do or dont know (Jon Ord, 2012)
What about what you’re learning in what you’re reading and challenging yourself with? away from practice? Is there a theory, an author, a journal, a blog, a sacred text, a conversation that got you thinking, that has spurned thoughts, or ideas that is challenging you, your practice and your way of thinking and perspectives? How are you being channelled and challenged yourself? and if this isnt happening – do you need to make space for it?
And finally – What do you do next? Whats the next steps?
Do you need to reframe your goals and objectives? Do you need to put in place training, for yourself or others? do you need to have a conversation with someone about something? what might you need to do as a result of thinking through this one particular idea or issue?
write them down..
But dont just write the down – when are you going to do these things? Set yourself a deadline!
If its that important to worry about and chat through, then isnt it worth doing something about it, i would think so
Maybe keep a journal or write further, having started to think through these things, reflective practice and supervision go hand in hand, and its important to keep the channels open to learning, and especially personal learning which can often be our own responsibility to do.
And now as you close this process take a moment.
Reflect again on thinking through this.
Where you started and where you got to. Think for a moment about the group, the young people, the conversations, the volunteers, reflect on something that makes it sparkle, gives it life, a moment of discovery and learning, a moment of joy. Thats a moment to take heart, a moment to remember and be assured that you’re doing a good think, even despite what might be a current challenge in a different aspect of it. Hold on to those moments. the moments when a young person surprises ( because of our lack of expectation or fear), where a volunteer does something impressive (because they took a risk) , where the group develops their own idea (because they were given space to play and be creative and creators), for all of these things, or the things you are thinking about now, be assured in the small transformations that you are making.
Repeat again? And set a date to this again? sometime? – Same place? – this post will always be here.
Come back again sometime.
If you are now able to share your reflections with others, or need to then do, maybe its another volunteer, a line manager, the vicar, or someone to talk through now as you may have more clarity over an issue, over an idea and what you might need to do about it.
I am hoping that was helpful for you. Even if it gave you questions or a framework to use for yourself or others in the volunteer group.
The process is very much following through the reflective process and cycles of Kolb, that include concrete experience, reflection and thinking, attending to feelings and then renewing/changing action. With bringing into that cycle external learning, theoretical understandings and previous experiences. If you are being a youthworker in a faith context then that understanding of community, humanity, education and ministry also shapes the responses – as well as being a formational tool to inspire and realise. In a way this is where reflective practice meets practical theology – (but thats a whole different discussion.). So Supervision is your opportunity to reflect, gather thoughts, dream and experiment. It should include aspects that are educative, directive and supportive, to help with development of practitioners – rather than be merely task focussed, and be helpful in developing your experiences, and also the experiences and relationship that you have with young people. You may also be able to use similar questions with young people as you help them reflect on their day to day lives.
So, there may not be money floating around for the quality relationships, and enhancing the quality – where good supervision might be helpful in the ongoing unpredictable process of youthwork and developing those within it to be it. Maybe even having this conversation internally and reflecting might be half helpful for free, and if it is ‘half-helpful’ then thats great.
If this has been helpful and you can afford to receive supervision in person, it is something I can offer and so do contact me here , some national youthwork agencies like FYT also offer this especially for those groups connected to their community of youthwork practitioners, Streetspace.
Some, only a few, resources on supervision are here:
Working with unnattached youth : Goetchius and Tash, 1967
Rebalancing Supervision , Cooper, Grace, Griffiths and Sapin, In Ord, Jon Critical Issues in Youthwork Management, 2012
Sustaining ourselves and enthusiasm by Carole Pugh in Jeffs and Smith (ed) Youth work Practice, 2010
Theres a few other articles on supervision on this website, in the Management Section, have a look around!
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