Helping your Student to make sense of their Practice Framework

Confidently articulating one’s practice framework can be difficult for all of us and some more so than others. This is a topic that students rarely feel confident talking about. And in some cases Supervisors are at a loss as to how to help a student make sense of this elusive ‘thing’, which can come across as very daunting for some.

  • The trick is to keep it seriously simple. Remember first placement students will be in a totally different space to final placement students. For first placement students, they will be just starting to develop their framework for practice. Final placement students should already have the beginnings of a framework. The role of the supervisor is to facilitate a student’s ability to articulate their emerging framework for practice. It is also to help students unpack the complexities, tensions, disconnects, to challenge them and to be challenged.
  • Students tell us that a major challenge and learning on placement has been that they have always thought of a practice framework as an external, academic concept. The challenge has been around achieving the shift from seeing this as something external, to understanding that one’s framework is very personal and a part of who they are, that is, part of their overall social work identity.
  • A further challenge is where you as a supervisor have your own well developed framework and where your student’s framework is quite different. For example where there are strong differences in the value base: e.g. a student or supervisor that may have a strong religious value base that clashes.
  • When asking your student about their framework you might find in their responses that there isn’t really much substance or that they are fixated on the one particular theory (which could be the new ‘flavour of the month’) to the exclusion of others. Another concern might be the student’s overt avoidance at talking about it at all.
  • It could be that as a supervisor you actually have not had much of an opportunity to articulate you practice framework either so you are happy to avoid the topic as well.
  • Regardless of your circumstances, don’t put the Practice Framework discussion with your student in the ‘too hard’ basket just yet. Here are some simple ideas on how you can facilitate the discussion with your student.

Some questions and comments to get things started

Be honest when talking with your student about practice frameworks. If you are still figuring yours out – tell them. It will help take the pressure off and it will demonstrate that you are not presenting yourself as ‘the all knowing expert’. It will also reinforce that these are works in progress for all of us and they need to be. If you feel pretty confident, then great but remember to share that getting to this point was a journey and perhaps tell them a few stories or examples of what it was like when you were first working it all out. You might start your conversation off by asking:

  • What does the word ‘practice framework’ mean to you? Can you share your current understanding of your own framework? Remind your student its o.k. to be honest and tell you if they actually have no idea what it means and that they are really confused about what ‘goes in’ a practice framework.
  • Explain to your student that knowing and articulating your practice framework effectively is important for a number of reasons; it ensures that your work with clients is ethical, evidence based, consistent and professional. It demonstrates you understand what is guiding your practice with clients and provides an insight into the work that you are doing.
  • If students are struggling to make sense of what they want to be a part of their framework you could try encouraging them to start by choosing two or three theories that they most identify with. What theories jump out at them or make sense when they read them? What theories most align with their values and beliefs? Once they have picked them they need to be absolutely clear on what the main principles and values of the theories are and be able to say them out loud.
  • Next your student should identify their main or dominant values and personal beliefs and then ask themselves the following questions. Are they congruent with the theories they have chosen? How do their values and beliefs influence their work and understanding of clients? For example are they passionate about human rights so will look for injustices and advocate on behalf of their client whenever possible. How can they tell if this is appropriately or inappropriately influencing their work? Can having a strong value about something lead to dangerous assumptions? For example, having a strong value around what good parenting looks like and then working with a mother where there are potential child safety concerns – how will they ensure that they won’t expect this client to hold the same values?
  • Practice Wisdom. What does your student already know? What have they already developed and experienced? Have they used any models or strategies in that past that have worked well? They might find this hard to answer so be ready with an example or a suggestion? Are the good at navigating systems or building rapport?
  • Obviously there is much more that can go into a practice framework but having these as the basics that they can start to build on will ensure that the student is not overwhelmed and can concentrate on getting the foundations right.

A useful tool to use is the model developed by Drury Hudson (1999) about the ways of knowing, what are the different types of knowledge that we draw on that make up our professional framework. You can use this to work through the different types of knowledge that the student brings with them to the placement, and to share and discuss the types of knowledge that you draw on in your role. Remember, students are really interested to hear about your journey. It is also an interesting process to work through this at the beginning of the placement and then to ask the student to reflect on where they are at the end of the placement.

Strategies and Tips

  • A good strategy is to get your student to write their answers down after you finished having this discussion. Tell them to practice it over and over and that you will refer to it during your supervision session together so that they can get some practice talking about it and linking their theory to practice. A good question to ask them any time is "what part of your practice framework did that come from – your theory? Your practice wisdom? Or was it a value based decision?"
  • Compare the students’ framework at the beginning and end of the placement; they will be amazed at how much it has evolved and how confident they are at explaining it!
  • Give them a mock scenario (not too hard to start with) and ask them to tell you how they would respond and to refer to their practice framework in their answer.

The Challenges

So how do you deal with some of the challenges mentioned earlier? Try using one of the coach or mentoring models we have already explored or maybe the challenge is best suited to the ‘key questions’ framework. Remember Tracey Harris’s model for supervision that can also be a useful tool in helping you and your student to make sense of tricky situations.

So what do you say to a student who proudly explains their framework to be ‘eclectic’ and thinks it needs no further explanation?

  • Clarify: The number one priority is to always clarify your understanding of the situation and what your student is telling you. Can they break this down for you and give you more specific information and or examples? Ask them to tell you what they ‘mean’ by the word ‘eclectic’. What does being ‘eclectic’ involve, look like and/or include/exclude?
  • Support: Reassure your student that this is the space and perfect opportunity to really unpack and get to know their framework. Tell them that you would be really surprised if they had it all worked out and that your own practice framework is always evolving and is by no means perfect.
  • Challenge: Feedback to your student the potential limitations of using such a broad term –e.g. it doesn’t allow an accurate insight into their framework, it can come across as a bit ‘wishy washy’ and doesn’t adequately reflect their values and beliefs and what shapes their work with clients.
  • Encourage: Encourage your student to spend some time thinking about their framework over the next week and to narrow down the theories they like to just two and be able to tell you about them in detail as well as the reasons why they chose them during your next supervision session. Do the same with their values, practice wisdom etc.

What about a student who has strong values and is struggling to keep them in check?

  • Clarify: Spend some time discussing the student’s values and clarifying what they actually are and where they came from? Why are they important? Are they conscious or subconscious values?
  • Support: If you have already done your ground work you may have pre-empted this issue by asking your student to identify their strong values and how they might influence (negatively or positively) their interaction with clients. This might be hard for them so give them some ‘mock’ scenarios or again use your own example of this happening to you.
  • Encourage: your student to be on the ‘look out’ for this occurring during their placement as it is a really common occurrence and is bound to happen as we are not robots! Reassure them that it will be a great conversation for supervision, that way when the value clash does occur your student will be more likely to raise it for discussion rather than trying to pretend that they didn’t have that ‘negative and judgemental’ thought about that client.
  • Challenge: It’s important to identify and explore any strong value as soon as it emerges. If your student doesn’t raise it in supervision or has little awareness of it then it’s your responsibility to bring it to their attention. Try asking them the following questions:
    • Do they think their personal values have influenced their work at all?
    • Did they make any assumptions or judgements about a client’s circumstance? Remind them they are not robots so it’s almost impossible for them not to have had any personal thoughts or reactions to clients.
    • Did they feel like they had a ‘skewed’ understanding of the clients’ situation?
    • Ask them to talk about what they think happened as a result; what was the flow on affects?
    • Did the student feel it was fair or appropriate to have that value and expect the client to hold the same value?
    • What makes the students values more important or ‘right’ then the clients?
    • How would the student feel if the client expected the student to accept and adopt the clients’ values? Would they think that was a fair expectation to have?
    • Do they think expecting others to share their values is ethical?
    • Can they map out some of the potential consequences of imposing their values on clients? If they can’t think of any ask them to consider if these could be possible consequences - could it compromise their capacity to build rapport and trust with clients and reduce the likelihood of them feeling safe enough to be honest about what their needs are? Do they think that a client would feel safe to be honest about the help they need with parenting if you have made it clear that being a good parent means never taking drugs?
  • Encourage: Encourage your student to spend some time over the next week writing down all their values. Once they have this list, ask them to work out all of the positive as well as the negative implications that this value could have on their practice.