6.1 The Structure of Reflective Supervision

What Is It?

Reflective supervision (RS) needs to occur on a regular schedule, ideally, on the same day and at the same time every week. The session usually lasts one hour. The space must be private and protected from eavesdroppers. However, the schedule should not be rigid. If a highly emotionally charged event occurs, the supervisor should be available to schedule an extra session.

How To

The ideal reflective supervision session integrates the following steps:

1. Prepare

  • Take time to get ready for the meeting.
  • Review notes from the previous meeting.
  • Anticipate topics that might be on the home visitor's mind. For example, last week the home visitor expressed concern about the apartment being dirty.

2. Greet and reconnect

  • Set the tone for your time together by asking how the home visitor is doing.
  • Use active listening and pay attention to the home visitor’s verbal and nonverbal cues: “You’re usually so lively when you tell me about a visit. You’ve been kind of bare-bones about this one. Let’s stop here and think about what feels different about this visit.”
  • Make sure you pay attention to your own nonverbal cues, too: “Wow! I’m having trouble focusing. My mind is wandering. What’s going on?”

3. Set the agenda

  • Plan together for how you will spend the supervisory time.
  • Prioritize what needs to be accomplished: “You’ve just told me about so many things that sound important; what would you like to make sure we talk about first?” Or, “It sounds like so much happened this week, but one thing really stands out for me.”

4. Gather information

  • Explore with the home visitor how he or she is approaching the work. You might use verbal anecdotes, video of home visits, or exploratory questions to view all sides of an interaction, event, or situation.
  • Listen for content (what happened): “What was happening right before he said that?” Or, “What did Melanie do when Jamie didn’t stop jumping?”
  • Listen for process (how it happened): “So, Cai showed Hui the doll but wouldn’t let her take it when Hui reached for it. That happened about four times? Is that right? How did Hui react when that happened and what did Cai do?”
  • Listen for unspoken issues (feelings or experiences that may be affecting the home visitor or family): “It sounds like the feeling in the room got tense when Harris came home. Alibi held Comfort close to her and got very quiet. You said Harris seemed agitated but not angry. Do you remember how you were feeling as this happened? How did you make sense of it?”

5. Enlighten through "teachable moments"

  • Look for the unplanned opportunities for professional development such as education on child development, discussion of boundary issues, or lessons from research: “There was Max, looking intently at his mom, touching her lips while she talked to you. It sounds like you did a really good job of listening to her, but consider how powerful it could have been to acknowledge what she was saying and also say, ‘I’ve also been watching Max while you’ve been talking. He’s really listening to you and watching you. He doesn’t know what you’re telling me but he sure knows it’s important to you.’ You can use a moment like that to bring the focus back, a little bit, to understanding Max.”
  • Use role plays or open-ended questions to enhance skills: “How about we try exactly that situation, but I’ll be you and you be Tomas?”

6. Resolve issues raised by the home visitor

  • Help the home visitor develop hypotheses about the situation, and do some joint problem solving.
  • Focus on the particular skills the home visitor brings to the situation, for example, her knowledge of child development and her skills in helping parents recognize learning: “Let’s think for a minute about what was happening for Tanni when she maneuvered herself under the chair but couldn’t get out. You said she was calm. Just trying different moves. What was she showing you about how a seven-month-old is learning? Let’s imagine how you would talk about that with her mom while it is happening.”

7. Provide information

  • You may need to offer concrete resources or recommend clinical intervention. In some cases, your goal will be to create comfort with ambiguity when no clear answer to a problem is apparent: “For right now, I’d urge her to go to the pediatrician but sleeping through the night is a challenge. They might not have much to offer yet either. Let’s keep our eyes on it.”

8. Address accountability issues

  • If you are also the administrative supervisor and cannot have separate sessions, this is where you might address administrative issues. For example, has the home visitor completed the required number of home visits? If not, is it the home visitor or the families canceling the visits? How did the content of home visits address the families’ goals in the family partnership agreement? Is the home visitor able to attend to all the families with whom he or she is working? Is the home visitor maintaining appropriate documentation? (See Chapter 9.6, “Balancing Administrative and Reflective Supervision,” in this Handbook for more information.)

9. Reach closure

  • Review the session and set a potential agenda for the next meeting.
  • Provide the home visitor with strategies to enhance skills: “All right, this week you’re going to make a point of observing each child to recognize and note moments of learning from the child’s point of view, and we’ll look at your notes together next week.”
  • End with a positive affirmation of the home visitor, such as empathy in the face of a challenging home visit, praise for a job well done that specifies what the home visitor did well, or acknowledgment of his or her commitment to the work. “That must have been rough listening to her own story of abuse as a young girl. What you did was so important—just staying quiet and listening, being a safe place for her to share this experience. And showing up again this week will be very meaningful to her as well. You’re showing her that she doesn’t have to feel shame about this. This is huge!”

Experience It

Overview: Reflective Supervision: A Closer Look Clip 1

Dathan Rush, associate director of the Family, Infant, and Preschool Program in Morganton, NC, talks about the differences between coaching, mentoring, and supervision.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Reflect on the differences between mentoring, supervision, and coaching. When might you use each one in your program? Think of an example of each.
    • Supervision is ongoing, regular, and predictable. The supervisor supports the supervisee throughout the home-visiting process and addresses issues across the spectrum.
    • Coaching is usually time limited and addresses a specific issue or issues.
    • An example might be coaching to enhance the home visitor's skills around joint planning or engaging challenging parents in home visits.
    • Mentoring is usually done by a more experienced person to support someone who is new. It often takes place over a period of time.
    • A mentor and supervisor can use coaching as a strategy.

Overview: Reflective Supervision: A Closer Look Clip 2

In chapter 4, leaders from various Early Head Start (EHS) programs talk about reflective practice/supervision in their organization. Four EHS managers share positive outcomes of using reflective supervision to engage staff in making program and professional development decisions.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How do you use group reflective practice in your program to obtain ongoing feedback?
  2. Describe the partnerships you have with your supervisees through (reflective) supervision.

The Structure of Reflective Supervision

Brenda Jones Harden, PhD, Institute for Child Study, University of Maryland, discusses the necessity for regular reflective supervision to support the home visitor.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you offer reflective supervision to your home visitors? Do you feel it is frequent enough? Why or why not?
  2. How might you be able to offer reflective supervision more frequently, if needed?

Learn More

Outlines the home visitor's responsibilities in the collaborative RS relationship.

Outlines the supervisor's responsibilities in the collaborative RS relationship.