Independent and Critical Practice: written analysis of your development as an independent and critical reflective practitioner over the period of the course. In this you should make reference to models of human learning and change.

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Independent and Critical Practice

In this essay I will complete an analysis of my development as an independent and critically reflective practitioner by chronology referencing my learning over the past four years of study. However while all years within this degree have been important to my development as a critically reflective practitioner, I will not discuss year one as I feel that it is not as relevant to this essay as the other years. My discussions will focus around my development and understanding of supervision, how supervision has assisted in my learning to working within an anti-oppressive (AOP) manner through the ‘use of self’ and how this has developed over the course of my three placements. I will then discuss how I plan to use this knowledge and understanding to continue my professional development.

When I started on the course, I felt I knew what it meant to be both critical and reflective, and having worked in social and nursing care for several years prior to commencing the course also thought I had a good understanding of anti-oppressive practice (AOP) which is defined by Thompson (2009:10) as “an attempt within social work to acknowledge oppression in societies, economies, cultures, and groups, and to remove or negate the influence of that oppression”. However, it was in year two and my involvement within the communications module that I realised my understanding was limited as I was introduced to the concept of difference and empathy and was expected to draw upon these terms to guide my practice in a class room scenario.

Faced with a class room scenario of a black women who had recently been discharged from a psychiatric hospital and was unhappy about living in a mixed sex supported living home, I found myself focusing upon her mental illness to explain why she was unhappy, failing to engage with the skills of empathy and failing to acknowledge difference which are described by Trevithick “as entering into another person's frame of reference” (Rogers 1969) and “a process that explores beyond diversity to enable an understanding of how individuality affects personal behaviour and responses” retrospectively (2009:135).

Needless to say that the feedback I received from my tutor and peers was not as I would have hoped, and the word oppressive was used to describe my practice as I drew purely from a medical model which is where my background lies. However this experience gave me my first real opportunity to receive feedback within a social work context and I came to realise that in order to become a critically reflective practitioner and practice anti-oppressively I would have to do more than “complete a check list of procedures” as I had done in previous employment:  acknowledging my ‘use of self’ which is described as “conscious and deliberate reflections on the ways in which own personality traits, attributes, values, beliefs, life experiences, and cultural, ethnic, and religious heritage influence their work with clients” (Trevithick 2009:57): And critically reflecting upon experiences which is described by Boud “to be an important activity for practitioners to undertake as it allows them to recapture their experience, think about it, mull over and evaluate it” (1985:43)

In the context of my understanding of becoming a critically reflective practitioner, when linked with Kolb’s experiential learning theory this can be understood as an important experience within my social work training. Kolb (1984:6) states that “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” and without experience learning would not happen. From this class room experience it was clear that while I was able to understand theory and terms in a shallow and simplistic way, completing an essay on the subject, I did not understand them properly as I was unable to draw upon them within my practice; which I would contend links to my learning style of accommodator and my need for concrete experience to fully understand abstract concepts.

A learning style is described by Pritchard as being “a mode of learning – in which an individual prefers to think, process information and demonstrate learning” (2009:42). Everyone learns in different ways and for this reason it is important as a student to recognise a particular learning style that is best suited to their needs: With Pritchard believing that “a learner’s awareness of learning preference and an understanding of the learning process can lead to improved learning outcomes”. While there are many different models that a student can use to help them determine what type of learner they are, within this essay I reference Kolb’s experiential learning model as this is what we used to define our learning styles throughout the degree. The model of experiential learning contends that there are four stages which people use to learn based on their experiences and that these are experienced in a cycle, which can be entered into at any of these stages and all stages must be passed though in order to learn. The four stages are concert experience, abstract conceptualisation, reflective observation and active experimentation. “Therefore learning is an active and developmental process, where the responsibility rests with the individual” (Maclean and Harrison 2008:88). Kolb’s model can be linked to individual preferences for particular learning styles. When tested at the start, middle and end of the course my style of learning has been shown to have changed from the assimilating preference in year 1 to the accommodator in years 2,3 and 4. Individuals with an assimilating learning style are more attracted to logically sound theories and need time to think things through; and the accommodator likes to use other people’s analysis, preferring to take a practical, experiential approach. With an understanding of both these learning styles I most identify with being an accommodator within this learning theory with Pritchard stating that an accommodator is someone who is “person orientated and a hands on learner” (2009:43).

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Soon after this experience I entered into my year two placement with a fostering agency, and was surprised to find that I was expected to undertake supervision on a weekly basis. My experience of supervision was limited as I hadn’t ever experienced it before, however I understood it to be the “overseeing of work by either a practice teacher or line manager” with Kadushin (1992) stating that it is a two way process in which a supervisor and supervisee meet to complete three functions of “Administration, Education and Support” needs.  Carpenter (2010:82) states that the overall aim of supervision is ...

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