6 Reflective Supervision

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Reflective supervision (RS) is different from administrative supervision, which focuses on accountability (e.g., hiring, orienting, monitoring, evaluating). RS is a process in which a home visitor and supervisor learn together about the child, the family, the home visitor’s work, and all the relationships involved, including that of the home visitor and the supervisor. The process of reflection, of stepping back and wondering about the many factors at play within, between and around the individuals, provides opportunities for new perspectives and insights that improve the quality of the work.

Shahmoon-Shanok describes RS as “a collaborative relationship for professional growth that improves program quality and practice by cherishing strengths and partnering around vulnerabilities.”1 Eggbeer, Mann, and Seibel define it as “the process of examining, with someone else, the thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions evoked in the course of working closely with young children and their families.”2 Key to these definitions is the role of relationships between people as a foundation for learning and growth.

RS incorporates the following characteristics:3

  • Relationship-based. You and the home visitor engage in a reciprocal process in which you each grow to trust the other over time; your empathy for and validation of each home visitor leads to a solid supervisory relationship.

  • Reflective. Supervision is used as an opportunity for home visitors to reflect on what they are doing during home visits, their reactions and feelings in relation to their work, and their challenges and accomplishments.

  • Regular. Supervision occurs on a consistent basis; scheduling a regular meeting time is preferable. It should be a protected, uninterrupted time when you do not take phone calls, check email, accept visitors, or perform other tasks.

  • Collaborative. You and the home visitor have mutual respect for each other and benefit from each other’s expertise.

  • Safe. You provide a supportive environment for home visitors, respond to them in a nonjudgmental manner, and maintain confidentiality.

Supervisor strategies for RS include self-reflection, verbal strategies, collaboration, and active listening, which are explored following a discussion of RS structure.

  1. Rebecca Shahmoon-Shanok, “What Is Reflective Supervision?” in A Practical Guide to Reflective Supervision, edited by Sherryl Scott Heller and Linda Gilkerson (Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE, 2009), 1–22. 

  2. Linda Eggbeer, Tammy Mann, and Nancy Seibel, “Reflective Supervision: Past, Present, and Future,” Zero to Three 28 (2007): 5–9. 

  3. Emily Fenichel, ed., Learning Through Supervision and Mentorship to Support the Development of Infants, Toddlers, and their Families: A Source Book (Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE, 1992).