Current models and approaches

We know from the research and from students and supervisors in the field, that students do their ‘best learning’ when they experience two things; a good relationship with their supervisor and a learning environment where they feel safe to make mistakes, be challenged, work through complexities and establish their identity as a social worker. So what does that actually look like on the ground? Click below and explore some approaches and models that will help you put this into practice.

Professional/Student Supervision – What’s the difference?

Professional supervision is not about complying to ensure that rules are followed, rather it is the application of professional skills, knowledge and principles with the variations of professional practice. Supervision provides the forum where practitioners can critically engage with their practice, reflect on their actions, review their decisions and learn. There are few right answers but rather a choice of "best" (Beddoe & Davys, 2010, p.19).

  • Looking at the definition above, both professional and student supervision have many things in common. However the key difference in Field Educational Supervision is that it should have a strong educational component.
  • To get a quick understanding of what we mean by it being more’ educational’ take a look at the Supervision Swingometer. The swingometer helps you to visualise the different Functions of Supervision (Adamson, 2012, p. 187)
This diagram details the range of functions normally undertaken as part of supervision which includes professional development and competence, quality consumer rights & best practice, sustainability, occupational health & safety, efficiency, effectiveness & cost effectiveness and risk management & accountability. Supervising students, according to Adamson (2012) should focus primarily on the first four.

For student supervision the focus should be on the left hand side not so much the right

  • Of critical importance is the role that field placements have on how a student grows to understand the importance of supervision and its role in ethical, accountable and quality social work practice. No pressure!

The role of supervision on building resilience

It’s important to stop and just reflect on the importance of resilience for all social work practitioners. An interesting study completed by Adamson (2012) published in Australian Social Work 2012, highlighted the important role that supervision can have in building resilience for the supervisee. We thought this was useful to think about, again highlighting how critical supervision can be in not only supporting the student, but in helping to build their resilience as future practitioners. We’ve highlighted some key points to consider:

  • Supervision can provide "a healthy environment for strengthening the processional development and best practice of the supervisee" (Adamson, 2012, p. 190). This is just reinforcing what we are saying – but it is making a direct link to how we build resilience.
  • Reflective ability has been described as "an important predictor of resilience and psychological well-being" (Kinman & Grant, 2011, p. 10, cited in Adamson, 2012). Reflection is a key aspect of supervision, enabling the linkage between "linking the thinking and the doing, and the doing and the thinking" (Adamson, 2012, p. 190). Critical reflection throughout a student’s placement is absolutely key, and supervision and supervisors provide the ideal forum to really develop and nurture this.
  • Supervision can strengthen the worker’s ability to respond to uncertainty and complexity. Thus supervision can provide a protective process for the supervisee, as they develop their emotional knowledge and positive emotions, which contribute to their ability for reflection (Adamson, 2012).

The Basics

  • Donovan’s (2012) study found students initially felt apprehension and anxiety about the prospect of supervision, not really knowing what it actually meant and looked like in practice. So spend time talking about the students knowledge/understanding of supervision and any previous experiences (have they been positive, negative, confusing, safe and supportive? What made it this way and what did they like best / least about it? What did they find helpful/unhelpful and why?)
  • Prioritise the first session to discuss the purpose of your supervision, your mutual responsibilities, expectations and what the format and agenda will be (e.g. how will you spend your time together? Will you spend the first part of supervision discussing the learning plan and then move onto practice related content? Will there be ‘set’ agenda items each week? If so what is important to have on the agenda?).
  • Create a contract together which outlines all of the details you have discussed. Importantly, you should also include your agreement on how feedback will be given and received, the limitations of your confidentiality and how any issues or concerns will be resolved.
  • Ensure supervision is regular and scheduled in advance.
  • Have issues, concerns, feedback or questions prepared prior to the session.
  • Provide both positive and constructive feedback during every session - but remember, there should be no surprises at the end of the placement about the student’s performance.
  • Have regular ‘check in’s’ as to how you both think the supervision sessions are going – is it working well? Do either of you need to make any adjustments or changes? What would you like to do more of? What would you like to do less of?
  • Lead and facilitate the session and provide clear direction.
  • Mentor and coach students to reflect and grow.
  • Respond to the student’s developmental and educational needs as required (includes university requirements such as completing learning plan etc).
  • Address issues as they come up – do not put them off for another session!
  • Make sure you keep records of your supervision and have a discussion with your student around what kind of information will be recorded, who will record it, where it will be stored and how they can access it.

Supervision Content

So now you have negotiated and agreed on what your supervision will look like, what will you actually talk about? Remember supervision should not turn into a counselling session (for the supervisor or the student!) and it should not be limited to conducting case reviews. It should cover a broad range of issues such as....

  • The student’s developing professional practice framework
    Ask the student to tell you what they can about their practice framework. This will be a work in progress so be sure to reassure the student that you don’t expect them to have it all worked out yet. Explain that supervision is the perfect space for you both to unpack what a practice framework actually means and how it translates to practice.
  • Ethical dilemmas or issues
    Encourage your student to bring a new ethical dilemma or issue to discuss at every supervision session. It doesn’t have to be limited to their current placement experience. This will help to facilitate the beginnings of reflective dialogue. We would suggest that it is important to talk with your student about what they see as being their role where they observe behaviour or situations that challenge their ethical values. This can help in preparing the student to recognise their responsibility and ownership in ethical practice, i.e. not seeing it as something that is just other people’s responsibility.
  • What does the student find confusing or confronting?
    Have they had a reaction to anything/client/staff member? Or, you may have noticed the student has not reacted to something that you would have thought that they would have.

    You may need to prompt your student to think seriously about this as there may be a tendency to minimise or not accurately understand their reactions. Make sure you create a safe space for the student to be truly vulnerable by reassuring them that supervision is the opportunity to really look at these kinds of things and explore what they really think and feel. A good question to get this process started is ‘what did you automatically think/ feel when your/the client did/said etc.’ Tell them it’s ok if it wasn’t politically correct as they are human after all – what’s important is to have a good understanding of why they thought/felt that and if it influenced their response or behaviour towards the client in any way. Perhaps you can share an example of your own experiences when first starting in the profession to model how this is a ‘normal’ part of being a social worker.
  • Client interaction
    Have they had any interactions with clients? What was it like? What theories did they draw from and/or consider to help them understand the client’s situation/behaviour? What parts of their practice framework did they use or refer to, e.g. values, practice wisdom? Spend time role playing with your student and modelling how you might respond when working with a client.
  • Vicarious Trauma
    It is important to create a culture that acknowledges and understands the impact of vicarious trauma on workers. So by raising this topic and discussing it openly it will help to reduce any potential stigma around the dreaded ‘burn out’. By openly putting this on the table, it also helps to ‘normalise’ the fact that we all experience trauma and stress, so that students can feel it is okay to acknowledge they are feeling this way, without fear that they are somehow not good enough, or not suited or will fail. If you need more information on it or some tools to help support your student then click here.
  • Self Care
    Hand in hand with Vicarious Trauma is the promotion of good self care. This of course starts with you modelling what this looks like. Have discussions around what they currently do to take care of themselves and what ‘extra’ they might need to do now they are on placement. One thing that is suggested to students coming on placement is to develop a self care plan, where they write down all the things they normally do to look after themselves, to keep that with them and to refer to this while on placement when things get stressful. Click here for some great resources that can assist you with this.
  • Insight and awareness of personal values
    Drawing attention to the student’s values and how they impact and influence their work and understanding of clients is an important learning and growth opportunity. Ask your student to articulate their values and why they are important to them. Where did they come from? How do they affect the way they make decisions? It is your job to help students to see how their values may influence their work in good ways and potentially not so good ways. Find examples of how this might be occurring and unpack it together. Sharing examples of your own is always helpful in these kinds of conversations.
  • The development of professional boundaries
    Boundaries are tricky and sometimes interpretive. Talk about the differences between personal and professional boundaries and how students need to remember to have their ‘social work’ hat on when working with clients. Give your student a few scenarios where boundaries could be blurred and unpack them together in the safety of supervision.
  • How they are managing their workload
    It’s important to check in regularly around this to make sure your student isn’t just putting on a brave face. By doing this your student will feel more comfortable about putting their hand up if they feel like they are drowning, or if they feel they are not being challenged sufficiently.
  • How they are travelling with their colleagues and in the context of the team
    This is really important, as students are often, for the first time, working in the context of a team, and having to negotiate different personalities, power dynamics and priorities. Are they getting along well with the team? Do they feel accepted and welcomed? Are they being assigned appropriate tasks and workloads by other team members or have they become someone’s P.A.? Do they understand the different roles and priorities and how are they making sense of any tensions?
  • Pulling it all together

    Need a flexible tool to help make sense of it all? You’re in luck. Tracey Harris’s model will help you to structure your supervision, make you feel in control of the session and give you some reassurance knowing that you are covering all the important stuff we have talked about. It’s an easy model to understand and won’t cramp your supervision style. Take a look at the model and the video below and see what you think.

    Tracey Harris’s PASE model for supervision (PDF file, 102KB)

    Please note: the following video below is hosted on an external website and might not be fully accessible or meet QUT web accessibility standards.

    2012 Amovita Student Placement - Supervision Reflection (YouTube Video) Linked to another web site

    The PASE Model unpacked

    • This is an integrated approach to Supervision which helps you to navigate your way through your session.
    • As you can see the circle has been divided into four equal discussion areas. Each part reflects an important part of the supervision discussion and exploration.
    • The tool assists you to focus on different areas in the supervision meeting.
    • You do not have to cover all four areas of the circle every time you have supervision. Instead use it as a guide to help direct the supervision according to the student’s needs. For example, using this model with students (as opposed to your existing staff) you would expect to spend a lot of time in the Educative and Developmental part of the circle. This is what makes the tool so flexible. Importantly, you need to ask the student to tell you where they want to focus on during the supervision.
    • This is not something you need to memorise, it will be more useful if you print this diagram out and sit down with your student and go through it together. Put it up on your wall or have it in front of you, that way you can refer to it regularly during your sessions to help keep track of your time together.
    • Monitor the parts of the circle you are focusing on or where the student would like to focus on. Evaluate this together; is there a pattern of you ending up in one particular part of the circle? Why?
    • If you find that you rarely explore any part of the PASE model other then the ‘Organisational and Administrative’ area, then you know something isn’t quite working and it’s time to consider what might be preventing you from facilitating a more comprehensive supervision session.
    • Time to practice! Think about the supervision content ideas explored earlier. Do you know what part of the PASE model they would fit in? Try matching them; it will help you practice thinking about your supervision content in the context of this model. It’s easier than you think! The first one is a student’s developing practice framework. This would fit in the Practice and Reflective part. You try the next one...

    Attachment Based Approach to Secure Social Work Field Supervision

    Looking for something a bit more in depth? This style of student supervision conceptualises an attachment based model in the context of developing a supervisory working alliance. In this way, Bennett and Deal (2009) suggest that an attachment approach can help supervisors to better understand and respond to the dynamics in their relationships with students as well as assist them in providing a ‘secure base’, "considered essential for the supervisees exploration and unfolding development" (p.669).

    What are the key concepts/principles?

    • The dynamics of the supervisory relationship activate the internal working models of attachment for both the supervisor and the student
    • It is the supervisors responsibility to create a ‘secure base’ for the students learning which in turn allows the student to freely develop and explore the professional world
    • The student feels safe to return to the secure base of supervision to unpack their experience of placement
    • This process becomes cyclical throughout the course of the placement creating a circle of security within the supervisory relationship
    • Relational cues are exchanged within this cycle, with the supervisor reading the students cues as to whether they require support for exploration or a safe haven to restore themselves
    • As a result students are able to explore the world of social work, build their confidence and develop their professional identity.

    (Source Bennet, S. and Vitale Saks, L., 2006)

    Recognising Attachments

    Recognising your own as well as the students attachment patterns will ultimately enhance your capacity to respond to the dynamics and behavioural patterns that unfold within the supervisory relationship. So often miscommunication and conflict in a supervisory relationship can be the result of not accurately recognising your own or your students attachment needs. In extreme cases it can even end in a breakdown of the supervisory relationship.

    Take a look at the table below. Can you identify your own and/or your student’s attachment style? How might your/or your student’s attachment style be influencing your supervisory relationship?

    Supervisor behaviours
    Secure/Autonomous Dismissing Preoccupied Unresolved/Disorganised
    Appears secure regarding relationships and others Appears dismissive of attachment Anxious and/or preoccupied about maintaining attachment Unresolved regarding personal history or abuse and/or loss
    Empathic; sensitivity attuned to others Chronically ignores or dismisses legitimate learning needs Is inconsistent and intrusive May be verbally or emotionally threatening
    Responsive and supportive Tends to be unresponsive and inattentive Needs to feel needed May be incoherent and disorganised when speaking
    Predictable Hyper-critical, focusing on weaknesses rather than strengths May micromanage Has problems maintaining professional boundaries
    Meta-cognitive thinker Doubtful about own abilities
    Able to read other’s ‘cues’
    Encourages exploration as well as needs for support
    Student behaviours
    Secure/Autonomous Dismissing Preoccupied Unresolved/Disorganised
    Appears secure regarding relationships with self and others Appears avoidant of attachment Anxious and/or preoccupied about maintaining attachment Unresolved regarding personal history of abuse and/or loss
    Sees self as worthy and others as dependable Sees self as unworthy and others as unresponsive, rejecting Sees self a weak and needy and others as unpredictable Appears disoriented and fearful
    Self-reflective Hides mistakes and insecurities Likely to be clingy May appear incoherent, rambling or tangential
    Curious and interested Functions too independently and avoids asking for help Minimizes own abilities Requires a great deal of attention and ‘miscues’ needs
    Clear about learning needs; able to ask for help/guidance as necessary Difficult for others to read this person’s ‘cues’ Difficult for others to read this person’s ‘cues’

    How do I create a ‘secure base and safe haven’ for my student/s?

    As a Supervisor with a secure attachment you would:

    • Be dependable, responsive and empathic to the students learning needs
    • Recognise and normalise developmentally expected anxiety
    • Support students growing independence as competence increases and trust that the student is learning and capable
    • Be non defensive when challenged with new learning or new ideas
    • Be willing to ‘let go’ as the placement comes to an end and encourage the student to move onto the next phase of their professional development
    • Be comfortable with safe haven and the exploratory position on the circle of security
    • Have an increased understanding of how leaning may be impeded by relational problems in supervision

    (Source Bennet, S. and Vitale Saks, L. 2006, p. 674)

    You might find these articles useful if you want to know more about Attachment Field Education Supervision.

    • A Conceptual Application of Attachment Theory and Research to the Social Work Student – Field Instructor Supervisory Relationship. Bennett, Susanne;Loretta Vitale Saks. Journal of Social Work Education Fall 2006; 42,3; ProQuest Central p.669
    • Attachment-informed Supervision for Social Work Field Education, C. Susanne Bennett, ClinSocial Work J (2008) 36:97-107

    Reflective What?

    Heard the words Reflective Practice thrown around a bit lately? That’s probably because research is telling us that it is an effective tool in helping us to become a better worker, while significantly minimising the impact of the difficult and often complex work that we do. So it makes sense that you and your student understand what it means and how to’ do it’.

    • Jenny Gilmore (2010) helps us to understand what Reflective Practice means in very simple terms; "The essence of reflective practice is being conscious of what we are doing and why. Being conscious is terribly important because it is the only way that we can guarantee growth and change. If we are not conscious of what we are doing and why we are doing it then the opportunities for change are drastically limited".
    • Being conscious and aware of what we are doing and why can happen on many different levels. It can involve our behaviour, language, thoughts, and feelings, what’s happening physically in our bodies as well as to others around us.
    • Gilmore believes that in order to achieve this level of consciousness and become a reflective worker (and in your case Supervisor) you should follow three important steps.
      1. Have a good and reflective relationship with self
        • Know yourself! What are your values, strengths, challenges, triggers?
        • Know how to care for yourself and keep yourself safe
        • Prioritise and respect yourself and be prepared to put the energy into maintaining your own wellbeing.
        • Have an independent sense of self, do not judge yourself or others
        • Have good boundaries – know what is ‘yours’ and what is not.
        • Be open to learning new things and to being challenged
      2. Develop a dynamic and relevant framework for practice
        • You cannot reflect on your practice unless you have a solid foundation to work from – your practice framework.
        • Your framework helps to guide and influence your understanding and work with clients. It allows you to be conscious of what you are doing and why. By reflecting on this it ensures congruency and consistency in your practice
        • When there are inconsistencies in our framework there may be issues in our work
      3. Have clear knowledge of you role, purpose and boundaries
        • You need to know your role, purpose and boundaries
        • Understand that as workers there are some things you are responsible for and some things that are out of your control. It is very important that you can tell the difference as we need to be attending to ourselves and our own issues.
    • Being a reflective worker/supervisor takes a lot of courage. It means you have to be truly honest with yourself and open to learning things about yourself that you would probably rather ignore!
    • Luckily the benefits of this hard work are well worth it. Not only do you get to improve your work, which in turn enhances client/staff outcomes, you get to help facilitate the process with others.
    • emember – as workers we expect our clients to do this kind of hard work all the time, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same!
    • So now that you have started to get your head around the three steps, try helping your student to follow them. You can do this during your supervision sessions. Print a copy out for you and your student and go through them together. Ask your student to talk about what they mean to them and how they interpret them. In addition to your supervision discussions, ask them to do some weekly journaling about the three steps so that you can both reflect on how these steps have developed and evolved throughout their placement. You may like to ask the following questions; what step did they find the hardest to work on? What did they learn about themselves personally and professionally? What step did they find came naturally or was easy to do? What do they think are the benefits /positives of being reflective? Remember to encourage your student to continue to work on these steps throughout their career.

    Coach/Mentor Check List

    You have the model but but what other skills might you need? Consider these statements below and think about areas that you might need to work on or improve in order to become a good mentor or coach. What do you already do well?

    Broard Attributes

    1. I have skills in building rapport
    2. I can adopt a non-judgemental view of others
    3. I have the capacity and commitment to challenge others and have difficult conversations
    4. I can see the big picture in terms of the the areas of growth for a person
    5. I have capacity to develop mutual trust and respect
    6. I can adopt a solution focus
    7. I hold strong beliefs that others have the capacity to learn, develop, and change
    8. I am committed to developing my own coach/mentor skills


    1. I have a sincere interest in helping this person succeed
    2. I have a constructive and effective relationship with this person
    3. There is mutual interest in this process
    4. Our understandings about this process are congruent
    5. I am clear about my role
    6. I can enthusiastically engage in helping this person
    7. I can commit adequate time to coach/mentor this person
    8. I have the support I need to engage with this person as a coach/mentor
    9. Shared agreement exists to developing a coaching/mentoring plan

    (Source: Penny Gordom and Associates Pty Ltd, 2011)

    Coaching/Mentoring Models

    Similar to a coach or mentor role, your supervision should have a strong educational focus, which allows plenty of opportunities for reflection and growth. Using a coach or mentor model can be helpful in terms of making sure you are consistently facilitating these opportunities. Scroll through the ones below and see if you think one could be a good fit for you and your student.

    STRIDE Model (print model)

    • Strengths: Affirm the positive throughout and draw attention to their strengths
    • Target: What do you want to achieve as a result of this process?
    • Reality: What is the current situation like now and what obstacles are there to achieving your goals?
    • Ideas: What could you do to address the situation?
    • Decision: What are you going to do? What are the next steps?
    • Evaluation: Check the decision – How committed are you to doing this? Over time – What progress have you made towards meeting these targets?

    FLOW Model (print model)

    • Find the challenge: What is the issue that you need to address?
    • Look at the reality: What are things like now?
    • Open possibilities: What could you do about it?
    • Win commitment: What are you going to do and when?

    (Souce: Flaherty, 1999)

    GROW Model (print model)

    • Goal: What is the outcome to be achieved? The goal should be as specific as possible and it must be possible to measure whether it has been achieved. So, having identified the goal, questions like ‘How will you know that you have achieved that goal?’ would be useful.
    • Reality: What are things like now? What is stopping you from getting there?
    • Options: What options do you have to help you get there?
    • Wrap up: This is the What, Where, Why, When and How part of the process. At this stage, having explored all of the options, the coachee/mentee makes a commitment to action.

    (Source: Alexander and Renshaw, 2005)

    Hilda Model (print model)

    • Highlight the issue: What do the coaches/mentees want to address? What do they want to be different and how?
    • Identify the strengths: What do they already do well? How can these skills and attributes be used to address the particular issues?
    • Look at the possibilities: In an ideal world, with no obstacles, what could they do to address the issues? What is getting in the way of doing this? How could these obstacles be overcome? What have they already tried? What worked and what didn’t?
    • Decide and commit to action: What are they going to do to address the issues? When are they going to do it? How are they going to do it?
    • Analyse and evaluate the impact: How will they know if they have been successful? What will it look like?

    (Source: Alison and Harbour, 2009)

    Feedback Models

    Providing feedback is essential to a student’s development. However giving feedback in a way that is positive, thoughtful and useful can sometimes be a bit tricky, especially if you haven’t had much practice. Nobody likes to have those ‘difficult’ conversations but it doesn’t have to be as bad as you think. Here are some simple models that will help you to give feedback in a way that is both structured and positive.

    CORBS – how to give good feedback

    Clear: Being clear about what feedback it is that you want to give. Being vague and faltering will increase anxiety for the receiver and contribute to misunderstandings

    Owned: The feedback you give is your perception – not an ultimate truth

    Regular: The more regular the feedback the more useful. Give feedback as close to an event/process as possible

    Balanced: Have a balance of negative and positive feedback – this is created over time, not necessarily in each interaction

    Specific: It is harder to learn from generalised feedback. Give specific information that the receiver can do something about

    (Source: Hawkins and Shohet, 1989)

    SBI – how to structure feedback

    Situation: Where and when did the specific behaviour occur? (e.g. in our meeting this morning)

    Behaviour: What are the characteristics, observable actions, verbal and nonverbal behaviours that could be changed? (e.g. I noticed that you were looking at your phone a lot throughout the meeting. It seemed like you were very preoccupied with your phone and so you weren’t able to concentrate on what was being discussed)

    Impact: What are the consequences of the behaviour? What impact does the behaviour have on people and how they think or feel? (The meetings are important so that you are up to date in terms of what’s happening in the service, so by playing with your phone it came across as though you are not interested in what your colleagues have to say).

    Source: Centre for Creative Leadership

    Need some help with phrasing feedback?
    Here are some examples of how you might word feedback to students...

    • Can you recognise a bit of a pattern when it comes to .... that keeps bringing you to the same outcome?
    • I have had some feedback about some possible areas of growth and I would like to spend some time exploring these together.
    • What kind of support do you think you might need to make some adjustments to the way you...
    • Can you think of an alternative way of doing...........
    • Have you thought about doing................. another way? What are some possible ideas?
    • I would like to spend some time talking about ..... so we can come up with some solutions together. Does that sound o.k.?
    • I have noticed that lately you seem to be ................ do you think that’s an accurate observation?
    • I know you are keen to do the best you can so it would be great if we can work on ......... during supervision. Does that sound o.k. ?
    • I was hoping we could make ................... a regular agenda item during our supervision so that we can make sure that we prioritise time to work on it together. What do you think?
    • It would be great if we could take some time to reflect on your ........... How do you think you went? What would you do differently next time? What do you think you did well? Is there anything else that you have thought about the ............. that you would like to share?
    • I have a few concerns around...... and I think that it’s important for us to have a chat about it so that we can sort them out.