Reflective Supervision

People in a meeting smilingReflective supervision provides an avenue for learning from the work that has already been done, as well as a place to determine how the work can be focused in the future. Reflective supervision takes place between a supervisor and a supervisee, and it is characterized by active listening and thoughtful questioning by both parties. It happens on a regular schedule and can be done individually or in a group.1 It provides an opportunity to explore the events in the group care setting or on a home visit as well as the education staff's internal reactions to the events.

The following vignette features Mel and his supervisor, Theo, to illustrate part of a reflective supervision session.

After a brief discussion about Andre's recent behavior, Mel stops and takes a deep breath. She says, "Kris and I don't quite know what to do. Andre is turning the whole class upside down, and most of the other children don't want to be near him or play with him. When he comes into the room in the morning, it doesn't take long before he is grabbing something from another child or pushing a child to the side so he can be part of a group. If a child tries to take back the toy he grabbed, he throws the toy and then runs after it. He's fast, so he usually gets the toy back. And he is always pulling on me to get me to chase him in the classroom. When I tell him our classroom rule is to walk inside and run outside, he starts yelling and crying. Most of the time, I have to pick him up and hold him to calm him down. I'm finding it difficult to focus on the other children because I'm spending so much time trying to keep him from hurting the other children or throwing toys. That's leaving Kris with the rest of the children, which is really hard on her. He's definitely pushing my buttons, and that's throwing me off-center."

Theo asks, "What specifically does Andre do that pushes your buttons?"

Mel replies, "It annoys me that he's always ready to grab or push if he sees another child holding a toy that he wants. But once he has what he wants, he gets along better. That bothers me. I know he prefers to speak Spanish, but I know he also understands and can speak English. I just wish he'd use either of those languages more often to say what he wants first. Kris and I know some basic words in Spanish and might be able to figure out what he's saying. We could also check with his parents. And although I'm affectionate with all the children, I feel like Andre's taking advantage of me because now he knows that if he starts yelling and crying, I'll pick him up. That probably wasn't the best strategy to use, but I love working with children and don't like seeing them so upset. It takes a lot of energy to have Andre in our classroom and I am exhausted by the time he leaves." Mel pauses to take a deep breath.

Theo waits a moment and then says, "I hear how frustrated and worried you are. And you have a sense of the behaviors that bother you as well as an idea for understanding what Andre says if he speaks Spanish. But I'm also wondering, is there anything going well or better with him that you could build on?"

Mel responds, "Well, when he's not pushing, grabbing, throwing, and pulling, I'm able to get him engaged in the block area building tall structures and using some of the more unusual shapes like the cones and arches. In his quieter moments, he also spends time at the sand and water tables when no other children are there. And one of our girls seems willing to play chase with him outside. But I'm always close by and keeping an eye on him."

This vignette demonstrates one of the strengths of reflective supervision, helping the supervisee to recognize strengths or improvements in even the most challenging situations. It also clearly supports the importance of individualizing teaching practices and interactions as well as engaging with families to create a responsive early learning setting.

1 Parlakian, Rebecca, Look, Listen, and Learn: Reflective Supervision and Relationship-Based Work (Washington, DC: Zero to Three, 2001).