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Using Reflective Supervision to Lead Collaborative ECE Teams

Feb 26, 2021    |   Leadership & Team-Building

Those who work as program directors, coordinators, or in other supervisory roles know that teachers do their best work, and children receive the best care, in calm, respectful and supportive work environments. Ideally, early learning programs prioritize collaboration and teamwork, and program supervisors’ management skills exemplify these key values. One management tool for reinforcing a culture of collaboration is reflective supervision.

What is Reflective Supervision?

Reflective supervision is a form of leadership and relationship-building in which a supervisor facilitates reflection with a supervisee or staff member.

ZERO TO THREE notes that “Reflection means stepping back from the immediate, intense experience of hands-on work and taking the time to wonder what the experience really means. What does it tell us about the family? About ourselves?” In reflective supervision, the supervisor serves as a facilitator for reflection, with the goals of building a trusting relationship, working through the emotional content of the work, and promoting professional development.

According to ZERO TO THREE, the three building blocks of reflective supervision are…

  1. Reflection: actively thinking about thoughts, feelings, and experiences directly related to work in the classroom and with the children

  2. Collaboration: teamwork between supervisors and staff that allows for active shared responsibility, problem-solving, and professional development

  3. Regularity: taking the time that is necessary to build partnerships and trusting relationships and to establish ongoing communication opportunities

Click here to read the full article from ZERO TO THREE, Three Building Blocks of Reflective Supervision.

What Does Reflective Supervision Look Like?

Reflective supervision requires collaboration, communication, and mutual trust. Often, it will take place in a meeting in which the supervisor and supervisee talk about experiences in the classroom. During the conversation, the supervisor will practice empathetic, nonjudgmental active listening as the supervisee talks through her experiences, thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

Questions will be brought to the table by both the supervisor and the supervisee. As a team, the two work together to explore emotions, ideas, and issues that the supervisee is managing. As a team, they work to understand and identify appropriate next steps.

A few things that you might also see a reflective supervisor do…

  • Work in the classroom alongside educators/caregivers on a regular basis. It can be difficult to collaborate with teaching staff if you have not spent time in the classroom to observe the dynamic between the children and the educators. Spending time in the classroom enables a supervisor to get a real feel for the flow of the day and to understand first-hand what teachers are experiencing when they describe their reflections.  Working in the classroom also provides an opportunity to develop relationships through teamwork and shared responsibility.

  • Make meetings a priority. When meetings are planned with staff members, it is not uncommon for scheduling issues to arise. Time is precious in an early learning program. Staffing shortages or a busy day can mean that you might have to reschedule meetings from time to time. Rescheduling check-ins as soon as possible will help your staff know that these meetings are a priority.

  •  Acknowledge the emotional toll of ECE work. For reflective supervision to be successful, the teaching staff needs to feel safe at work. The job of an early childhood professional can be challenging, and it is critical that they feel supported, acknowledged, and safe at work. A reflective supervisor listens to their staff’s feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way and collaborates with the supervisee about potential solutions and ideas.

What Doesn’t Reflective Supervision Look Like?

Reflective supervision is not administrative or directive supervision, which might include oversight of rules and procedures, hiring, evaluating performance, or monitoring productivity. These tasks are important parts of management and leadership, but they are not a part of the reflective process. Reflective supervision requires time that is set aside for constructive and collaborative problem-solving conversations.

Reflective supervision is also not therapy. It is focused on experiences, thoughts, and feelings directly connected with the work.

Self-Care as a Starting Point for Reflective Supervision

The best way to get started with reflective supervision, is to develop your own practice of reflection and self-care. Practicing self-care is critical to creating a supportive and compassionate environment.  Before we can be effective with others, we must make sure we are taking care of our own self-care needs.

Engaging in reflective supervision with teachers reinforces the importance of taking time with thoughts and feelings by practicing reflection, compassion, and nonjudgement.

A few articles to help you get started are included below:

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