Why practice supervision should be an essential for youth and community work/ministry roles

I sometimes think I just get paid to drink coffee. But I dont. Well, actually I do.

Actually I get paid to be a practice supervisor with community and youth practitioners and do this mostly in coffee shops around the north.

And sometimes I think i’m the only person that’s doing this, or thankfully working with organisations (or self employed) who also value this. Though im probably not… but..

In the main, usually, I supervise practitioners on a 6/8 weekly basis, and I hope, at least, I think, that this is deemed valuable for those who receive it.

For those of us who have had a high regard for practice supervision, that its deemed a luxury can be a tragedy, and real inhibitor to the encouragement of good practice, why?

Well, because supervision that’s non managerial, helps a person look at what they do, with an outside view, gives them the opportunity to describe to someone else what it is they’re doing, what their ideas are, what the issues might be, what the challenges or joys are – and in good supervision be reframing this as they talk.

Be already working out the response the issue, without much input.

Other times, the story, the situation provokes a question from me

On other occasions I might refer to a theory, a book or the example of someone else – so that the practitioner connects with another

Or they’ll talk, and ill listen, and ill just let the conversation keep going, until the practitioner has worn themselves out… and the issue isn’t the issue at all.. its something else, and we got there in the end…

I might ask : ‘so.. what are you learning?’

or ‘are you sure?’  or

‘is there anything else going on?’

or just ‘ keep talking..’

‘what theory might this remind you of’

or

‘how might your theology inspire you here, where are the resonances’ (to the faith based practitioner)

The whole aim of supervision, in this way, is to encourage, to affirm, to help the practitioner reflect, to give them space to realise the new themselves – and I know sometimes I might want to share an idea, and I probably do too much, but am learning to stay quieter for longer.

I do despair that so often this kind of reflective space in supervision isn’t deemed essential for roles – sometimes management is barely adequate to be honest, sometimes practice reflection might highlight the need for better management…

But if management is about helping a person set and then meet designated goals, then supervision, for me, if the roles are separate, is more open, set by the practitioner, with subjects, content in what they want to talk about – reflect on, share – and yes the conversation might wander…It’s the space of the practitioner, and this, I think is the crucial bit. And it is safe. It is a place to do real if need be, if it needs to be a space of wallowing, of heartache, then it might need to be – but then it is also a place where the rebuild might occur, through the conversation.

Because its tough out there in ministry, community work, youth ministry – isn’t it?  really tough.. pulled in all directions, managing up and downwards, delivering and planning practice, trying new things..pressure to keep organisations going, worry, stress.. and so, whilst supervision might not be the only answer… its a place to step out and reflect. To breathe….

are you telling me that this isn’t essential?  no though not…

I have had to be manager/supervisor to a few people, and id almost have to pre empt a change in style to go between the two saying ; ‘you know im not often like this, but,  I will say that you need to do_____’ – and be more directive in that moment- when the rest of the time I might be more reflective.

Its as if they are improvisatory conversations, within which there’s reminders of the tools already available, reminders of the resources that are within grasp and reminders that the person genuinely isn’t alone.

And its great, in the main, to hear of the progress of a project,  the learning of an individual, the change a person might make from one supervision to another, and not everything happens to plan, ever, and not everything even happens at all – but if its taken seriously, then the process can be valuable, I hope through reading this you can tell that is.

So church – if you value your youth workers, clergy even – creating and purposefully including non managerial supervision (and its different from spiritual director/retreats/management) as part of their role might be the best thing you could do for them.

So, yeah, I get paid to have coffee, on one hand. Maybe I get paid to increase the longevity, creativity, support, learning, awareness of community and youth workers, and do this through conversation- helping community and youth workers discover that they can do this themselves..and that they’re ok…  Though I might need shares in the many local coffee shops in the north….

Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust (www.fyt.org.uk) and Communities Together Durham (www.communitiestogetherdurham.org) , though this blog is my own personal views. I am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

2 thoughts on “Why practice supervision should be an essential for youth and community work/ministry roles”

  1. I love this so much James. As a fellow coffee drinker/supervisor i sometimes struggle with articulating this as well. How do you show that doing the reflective work is a benefit to an org/person who is cash strapped and time poor. I once had a very senior manager of a large NFP youth service tell me that they had a budget for hiring, but not one for supervision/care of their staff. It still boggles my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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