The Importance of “Stuff”

I have been reflecting recently on the issue of work space and particularly how your work space can support you in developing your skills for critical reflection. Critical reflection means different things to different people but for me and for the purposes of this post I would describe it as an activity undertaken to reflect on situations and consider your actions. Importantly this reflection should be balanced; we should recognise the things we did well as well as those things that we could improve. In undertaking this activity we develop and grow as practitioners, and I would argue, as people.

For the last twelve weeks I have been teaching on a module that student social workers undertake prior to going out on their first placement. Students are required to engage in an interview with a service user and demonstrate their ability to engage with the service user. Students are required to demonstrate a range of competencies. These relate to the students abilities to actively listen to the service user and to allow the service user the “space” to tell their story. Students are urged not to try and “fix” things, rather they are asked to be open and encouraging, to be supportive and to allow the service user to develop their own understanding of their issue through a supportive dialogue.

All too often these skills are described as “soft” skills and all too often I have described them thus. Having taught on this module and reflected on my own performance I have came to realise that describing these skills as soft is erroneous. I believe that these are fundamental skills as they are skills that separate professionals working in the care sector from professionals in other sectors. They are obtainable and many of the students I have taught have some basic awareness that they have a facility in this area but they are often in need of support to develop this understanding and then further support to implement them in a way that is empowering and transformational.

Students are asked to reflect on their performance in the taped interview and describe how they felt they managed. In essence they are required to demonstrate their own ability to critically reflect. I enjoy teaching on this and for me this has been a transformational experience as it has allowed me to reflect on my own awareness and to consider how effective I am and have been at critical reflection. Un surprisingly I have found that in practice I used these skills without being fully aware of them and sadly all too rarely. A greater commitment to allowing people the space and time to arrive at a deeper understanding of their own issues would undoubtedly have led to a more enduring change. In my rush to fix things I overlooked the importance of a more fundamental set of skills that would have been far more effective and have given service users a greater sense of their own capacity to resolve come of the issues they are faced with.

Arriving at this conclusion was an empowering process, one which I undertook while surrounded by my own stuff. Here at my desk on my right hand side is a small collage of family photographs. My son and daughters provide a link back to my home life reminding me of the importance of the balance I often fail to strike. A reproduction print of St. Cecelia and the Angel sits over my left shoulder, it reminds me of my love of music and it is a thing of beauty. Next to it is Nasirean the giraffe. Well not a real giraffe of course. It is a print given to me by an African student who bought it while on holiday in Africa. Nasirean has a special significance, I remember the student giving to me and feeling a sense of gratitude and humility. A student thought of me in the cradle of civilization and brought me something back. It seems that I made enough of an impression on this student that she wanted to bring me a gift back from half way across the world. I am taking that as a positive.

This then is my environment. I have constructed it. Partly it comes from me but partly from others. It is a personal space in a large institution in what was once the second city of an empire and it is here that I write this. Here that I reflect on my own abilities, here that I recognise my achievements and consider what I can do better. The quality of my fundamental skills development is directly affected by the environment that I operate in any adjustment to this environment to me would adjust my ability to undertake a key aspect of what makes me the person and the professional I am.

I have a digital environment as well, my Twitter feed represents who and what I am. My timeline keeps me up to date with the professional and personal aspects of my life and provides encouragement, support and a virtual network that I have developed over the last two years. I have contributed to this and I have given and received support and encouragement and it is a two way relationship that I now cannot imagine not having.

Without these real and digital locations I would not have developed or written this post, and as a social worker I believe that any de personalisation of the environment that we operate in would have an impact on the quality of the fundamental skills that we seek to develop and promote. Your environment provides a sense of self and of place, mine provides me with a sense of security and ownership and I am comfortable in it, it is the personalised space in a diverse, fluid organisation that alters and changes, often outwith my control.

So stuff is important, not just for security and comfort but to develop fundamental skills and to allow for critical reflection. Do you agree?

2 thoughts on “The Importance of “Stuff”

  1. So, on balance, would you say there is a giraffe in the corner? That is, as opposed to an elephant or, to get it right for once, a rhinocerus (Ionesco, ‘Rhinocerus’). 🙂

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