Effective supervision in a variety of settings
The foundations of effective supervision practice: Promoting reflection and critical thinking
One message from practice is that, too often, supervision may be dominated by management processes and task completion, and not enough time is given to reflection and critical thinking. The opportunity to promote high quality services through promoting reflection as a means of increasing the understanding of the worker and supporting practice development may therefore be lost.
Skilled use of reflection and critical thinking within supervision will enable a focus on the quality of practice and may at times alert the supervisor to situations where the work of the supervisee is unlikely to promote the best outcome for the service user.
An important element in reflective supervision is enabling staff to question their practice, critically analyse and evaluate experiences, and debrief after challenging or stressful encounters. This will lead to a better understanding of the cognitive and emotional elements of practice.Scottish Social Services Council
Time to stop and reflect has been reported as a missing element of day-to-day practice for many members of staff working in social care. Reflection on feelings engendered by the work, including consideration of assumptions or biases that may be driving practice, is an important element of supervision. Alongside this, an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of particular courses of action, and how the worker might have acted differently for the greater benefit of the person who uses services, is an essential learning tool facilitating appraisal and continuous improvement. Supervision which encourages reflection and critical thinking will increase the potential for including comments from people who use services within supervisory discussions.
One supervision model that has been used extensively to promote reflection and critical thinking is the supervision cycle. This cycle is based on the adult learning cycle  and can be used for either discussions relating to work with people who use services or discussions focusing on more general issues relating to the supervisee’s work – for example, issues about the work of the team as a whole. The advantage of the cycle is that it integrates all four functions of supervision – i.e. management, support, development and mediation. The cycle prompts the supervisor to work collaboratively with the supervisee through the following four stages.
- Experience – working with the supervisee to understand what is happening in their current practice. Where this relates directly to work with people who use services it is an opportunity to make sure that their perspective is introduced into the discussion.
- Reflection – engaging with the supervisee to explore their feelings, reactions and intuitive responses. This is an opportunity to discuss any anxieties and acknowledge situations where stress may be impacting on their work. Where the discussion relates to specific work with people who use services it is an opportunity to explore any assumptions and biases that might be driving practice. This can be an important element of working with diversity and promoting anti-oppressive practice.
- Analysis – helping the supervisee to consider the meaning of the current situation and use their knowledge of similar situations to inform their thinking. At this point alternative explanations may be explored and, where the needs of a service user are being discussed, this is an opportunity to consider the relevance of research and practice knowledge. This in turn may be useful in identifying any learning and development needs for the supervisee.
- Action planning – working with the supervisee to identify where they wish to get to and how they are going to get there. Action will automatically result in a need to re-engage with the experience of carrying out identified plans.
When using the supervision cycle in practice:
- do not feel that each stage of the cycle must rigidly follow the last – there will be many times when the conversation moves back and forth between the stages
- do try and use mainly open questions in order to facilitate discussion and explore the supervisee’s perspective
- do resist the ‘short circuit’ which moves directly from experience to action and does not engage at all with reflection and analysis
- do practise using the cycle in both formal situations and in ad hoc supervisory conversations.
For more information on the cycle and questions that can be used in supervision see Morrison’s book ‘Staff supervision in social care’. 
All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following downloads you will need a free MySCIE account:
- Effective supervision in a variety of settings
- Service user and carer involvement in the supervision of health and social care workers: seminar report
- Practice enquiry into supervision in a variety of adult care settings where there are health and social care practitioners working together
- Narrative summary of the evidence review on supervision of social workers and social care workers in a range of settings including integrated settings