When I first heard this word: “Supervision”, my heart was struck with fear and worry. And is it any surprise, coming from a system and culture where this word is linked to images of someone standing by the side while you do your work, watching you with a critical eye to make sure you’re doing your work “right”, making sure you’re meeting all the necessary criteria and prerequisites to be deemed as passed and qualified? Supervision, even with the best of intentions, have unfortunately become a word of relatively negative connotations in our work culture.
Despite my initial trepidation, I soon realized, to my relief and delight, that Supervision in music therapy (or Allied Health, for that matter), does not have direct correlations to my perceived impressions of being Supervised. It’s in fact the opposite – a whole culture of being non-judgemental, accepting that the typical human being is failable, that everyone has emotional baggage, that everyone has times when they need to talk to someone about their emotions and not only about how good they are in their skills and job.
In such an emotionally-charged job, Supervision is seen as necessary and some places, like mental health wards, make supervision mandatory for the clinicians there.
I was thinking about all these, and wondered: Why isn’t Supervision made mandatory for Teachers?
Not supervision in the lesson-observation, work review sense, of course, but in the above-mentioned sense. Supervision for teachers in the sense of each teacher having someone they can go to to sort out whatever comes up in their work. It may not even necessarily be senior teachers, just like music therapists don’t always go to senior music therapists for supervision. As long as it’s someone who understands the nature of their work and the nature of the client population they work with. For teachers, it may be someone who works with students of similar socio-economic status, or perhaps someone in another school who teachers the same subject.
There is informal Supervision, of course. Teachers talk to each other all the time. Along the aisles of the staff room, along the corridors. Over lunch. Mentor-mentee sessions – these probably come closest to Supervision. But even then (at least in my experience), the mentor-mentee talks were always filled with issues like classroom management issues, pedagogy, effective delivery, etc. There was little focus on the individual perspectives of the teacher and how that individuality could affect day to day interaction and working.
The best supervision I’ve had so far was when working in Mental Health. The client group was undoubtedly the most challenging I had encountered up till that point, and having good supervision was so essential to my well – being, development and growth.
In the confidential, closed door, one-to-one sessions, I was able to bring up emotions I felt when working with certain people, ask questions about MT interventions and techniques, discuss academic readings and discourses with the much more experienced and ever non-judgemental supervisor. That experience really made me view Supervision in a different light, and now I find myself wondering if the burn-out rate among teachers would be less if we could have a culture like this. A culture of supervision where it is ok to talk about our problems and inadequacies, instead of trying to hide them and hope that you can overcome them in time to produce a good lesson for observation, to push for that school carnival, to pull off that speech day concert.
Over a meeting with Lecturer K the other day, she asked me how I was going with the course, giving me very encouraging feedback and advice. One of them was: make sure you get yourself a good supervisor and continue to develop yourself professionally when you start working as a MT.
The culture of supervision is so strong in this field that anyone who lets it be known that they don’t have a supervisor to go to is frowned upon and thought of as less-than-professional. It implies that they are not making efforts to reflect, talk about the difficulties faced, and possibly not keeping up to date with the latest developments in the field. That’s how important Supervision is viewed.
Maybe it’s time someone introduces this concept to Education Ministries and get something started. Teachers, like therapists, also give a lot of themselves – mentally, emotionally and physically. And any work with vulnerable individuals is bound to expose vulnerable aspects of ourselves too. Why should teachers be denied the platform to work through these vulnerabilities, take charge of their own professional and personal growth, empower themselves to be the best person they can be, and ultimately present the best aspects of themselves and their abilities to the ones that matter the most- their students ?