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External Process Supervision with Senior Leaders in Schools

By Lisa Lea-Weston, working with children/young people through dramatherapy

and the provision of supervision to Senior Educators that shape their lives.

Supervision is a part of social work and psychology/psychotherapy culture as well as midwifery. It is not yet part of education culture. It is the safety valve within those professions cultures which keeps worker and client safe. It enables the practitioner to stay in healthy relationship with themselves and the person/people they support. Supervision acknowledges the “stories” and complexity that supervisees are hearing day after day and the toll that this takes on them both physically and emotionally and within their personal relationships. It is about the supervisee’s professional/personal development and their well-being, role as a leader BUT crucially the initial contract changes the frame for all subsequent conversations


Supervision is defined by Shoet and Hawkins as “…a joint endeavour in which a practitioner (teacher) with the help of a supervisor, attends to their clients (children), themselves as part of their client practitioner relationships and the wider systemic context, and by so doing improves the quality of their work, transforms their client relationships, continuously develops themselves, their practice and the wider profession.” (Shoet and Hawkins, 2012) As a current supervisee (Assistant Head teacher) said to me, it is like being in ongoing, bespoke, continued professional development on a 5/6 weekly basis, which is entirely focused on her needs and the needs of the children in her school.

Head Teachers/ Senior Leaders are under an intolerable pressure

Head Teachers/ Senior Leaders are under an intolerable pressure, as are many teachers/teaching assistants. The pressures are the obvious performance related ones but there is an increase in expectation to be able to manage the mental health needs of all children, including the most vulnerable in our society. There is a move towards schools being more trauma-informed and whilst these are excellent ideas in principle, the pressure for schools to do this reflects the decline in other services and the reduction in resourcing of schools from the government and social services and Children and Adolescent Mental Health. However, regular supervision enables schools who do want to become trauma-informed to do this with a safety net in place, which is vital. Supervision in schools that have a high population of children with Adverse Childhood Experiences is vital and outside the scope of this article but a subject we are passionate about!

Talking Heads is working face to face with Senior Educators in Devon and sees people nationally via Skype/Zoom. Remote work has proved successful where set up has been face to face at first. This alleviates any anxiety and gets the relationship of with the personal/professional tone that is needed. Most Senior Educators are choosing to have appointments when they can Skype from home. This ensures the space is not interrupted. They feel more relaxed and able to be “open”. They also report feeling inherently valued when the school supports the space and finances it. Sessions take place 4-6 weekly.

What is Brought to Supervision?

Anything that is feeling like it is “on top” and getting in the way at work.

Issues range from:

  • Celebrating successes
  • Crises of confidence
  • Moral complexity and a need for ethical maturity
  • Interpersonal/team dynamics
  • Safe-guarding
  • Personal issues that are overwhelming
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Sense of overwhelm
  • Whatever needs to be brought that is impacting at work!


Why external Supervision?

As a Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) Dramatherapist who spent 10years in the NHS as a Clinical Lead working clinically and as a service manager, supervision was important for myself and for my team. It was best practice when offered outside of the team by someone the supervisee did not connect with in their day to day work and who held no line management responsibility. This supervision was paid for externally for many years. With the reductions in budget this was gradually eroded and more supervision provided “in house” but across teams in order to maintain some of the elements for best practice. Those of us who were Clinical Leads mostly paid for our external supervision out of choice, it being impossible to take issues with colleagues or team difficulties and so on to another peer and it feel “safe” to be vulnerable. This capacity to be professionally vulnerable is key in supervision and that is why supervision, once a relationship is established, is usually a long- term relationship of some years.

Talking Heads has emerged because of my work as a dramatherapist working with children with attachment/trauma in their lives, who are inevitably part of education. I have worked with one primary school for the last 5 years as a therapist and supervisor and have been part of a team that has helped make school the safe space when nothing outside is safe. We have worked together and successfully engaged children in education where elsewhere they may have been excluded if their needs were not met in the same way. This is enormously satisfying but the schools I have worked with no longer have capacity to fund the work. However, in several schools I am continuing to provide supervision. This is work I also know to be powerful and it is here in this work that there is also the capacity to be supporting children – all children in a school. A resourced and reflective Head Teacher/Senoior Leadership Team is a leader that is capable of being creative and of resourcing others and leading with compassion.

Regular supervision becomes anticipated by the supervisee and this itself is holding and an agent for activating processing and reflection as the supervisee not only anticipates but in times of difficulty they begin to develop their own internal version of their supervisor. This supports well-being and learning in between sessions.

I am passionate about a change in culture from supervision being taught about/experienced as an option in teacher training to career long experience and it being an “expectation” of senior leaders. There is a level of accountability that is inherent in the definition of supervision but that is because it is NOT something that needs to be feared. Accountability in supervision terms is a deeply ethical process and not the same as the outcome driven processes pushing school leaders currently. To be able to reclaim this sense of accountability – our own personal/professional sense is also key to wellbeing at a profound level.

Shoet, R.& Hawkins, P. (2012) Supervision in the Helping Professions. Berkshire, McGraw-Hill Education.


FOR FURTHER INFORMATION – please contact Lisa on 07912 224213 or email for more information: talkingheads@oakpractice.co.uk or oak@oakpractice.co.uk Www.oakpractice.co.uk Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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