Building blocks

The journey into Personal Supervision (week 3)

Personal supervision is inherently… personal. This makes it hard to reflect on, but I do want to use his week’s blog as an opportunity to think about it in the context of leaving the thirdspace. At first, personal supervision felt like something inherently distinct to academic roles – but the more I’ve reflected upon it, I don’t think it is.

In the context of my previous Learning Development role, there was no personal supervision of students – or similar responsibility. But that is not the case for other thirdspace professionals. I’ve even seen some non-academic (thirdspace) roles dedicated to supervision, although this may not be typical. Student Success roles often fall into this space. Another such example was even Learning Development-based, centred on a single discipline where the Learning Developer supported academic skills development and supervision for all first years. The more I think about it, there may be more exceptions to the rule – especially for some institutions that have wholesale moved supervision away from academic workload and towards professional services.

Diverse approaches to personal supervision

It is also important to acknowledge that the specific duties of personal supervisors might be split in different ways across different institutions. This can change in time too – and Hull even trialled an academic-focused approach to supervision before moving back to a more holistic personal supervision model. Looking at any given responsibility for personal supervisors, there is almost always overlap with the thirdspace. Often, most pastoral issues are usually better supported in the thirdspace. This can even apply to academic-related issues where Learning Developers, Librarians and other professionals may be best placed to support. Yet – while supervision-related duties may fall into the thirdspace at times, I do think there may be something different about that academic-based personal supervision.

I’ve reflected on the last few weeks, and I think there is something special about the academic-based approach to personal supervision. Academics might not be best placed to know everything about the support services available to students, but they are very in tune with the requirements of the course. They should have a feeling for the rigours of the course, based not just on personal experience, but on reflective practice from former course runs. There is also that shared passion for the discipline (hopefully) and an awareness of career options.

Learning Development and personal supervision

Personal supervision stands out as a very different duty from my work in the thirdspace as a Learning Developer. In my old role, I would support different students, disciplines and levels of study. As with my lectures and workshops, as a personal supervisor, I see the same students regularly. This is a sharp contrast to the whole university support focus of my previous role. Don’t get me wrong – I loved that variety at the time. But after a decade of that, I wanted more. I needed a change.

Supervision is a good metaphor for that change for me. That is because, above all, good supervision should be based on connection. Personal supervision works best when supervisors and supervisees know and trust one another. Supervisees need to feel confident they can discuss issues with their supervisor. For this reason, it helps to build that rapport from early on. You just don’t get the chance to engage like that as a Learning Developer, where you are dropping in when needed – then leaving.

My first few weeks as a supervisor

I’ve really enjoyed meeting my students both individually and as a group. It has been great to get to know their motivations and learn more about them. Given the diversity of my supervisees, there is a fair chance I’ll be the one learning from them! One thing that is very similar to being a Learning Developer is the no-shows – but I also recognise life happens, and those circumstances will happen. We will try to re-arrange, I am sure. I had my first group sessions with my supervisees last week, and I hope to meet all of them individually (that want to) in the coming weeks.

It’s been nice to build those connections – and offer some initial support. It’s very much what I expected it to be – which is great. For me, I always think back to the excellent supervision I received as a Geography undergraduate. I just hope I can live up to that example as I move forwards into this role myself.

Earlier this month I reflected on leaving the thirdspace. This post continues my reflections on the transition to my new job!