Strategies on how to be an effective supervisor
Recently I’ve been involved in interviewing clinical educators in their role of educating allied health students. It made me think Back to when I was an occupational therapy student and the amazing supervisors I had during my studies. Clinical educators that I developed friendships with and still support me to this day.
Any occupational therapist can be a supervisor. But what are the characteristics that make a great clinical educator? Here are some tips to think about as placements are soon to commence.
- No two students are the same. Each student needs a different teaching and learning approach. Maybe they have a disability, come from a different cultural background or have varied learning experiences.
- Open communication. Placement is so stressful, anxiety-provoking and lonely. Students (particularly International students) can be afraid that as a supervisor you are cold, not approachable and just there to assess them. Be clear to reduce this hierarchy. You will get better performance results from your students and your students will be able to more openly share their difficulties.
- Be friendly. Seems like a given but not all teachers are meant to teach. Talk to the student as they are part of your team. Introduce them to others in the environment. Ask them to sit with you at lunch. Find out how they look after their health.
- Be flexible. The best supervisors are those that recognise their own limitations and are willing to learn and adapt how they supervise to meet the student’s needs.
- Collaborate and identify how the student learns. Are they a visual, kinaesthetic. auditory, or reflective learner. Put strategies in place that supports them. Use their strengths.
- Check in with them. Ask them how they are going. During my 4th year placement in mental health case management, I had my mental breakdown. Because we had established open communication I opened up to them and uni that I was becoming unwell. My supervisors were so supportive in listening and collaborating on ways I could finish the placement and pass. We organised half days, a part-time schedule and times when I could just be by myself to recoup during lunch. We identified small weekly goals and they reinforced my confidence to be an OT. I had numerous psychologist appointments so they would let me leave early or if I was up for it come back for the day. These two supervisors inspired me to become a mental health OT. And motivated me to finish the degree which I thought I couldn’t do.
- Use humour: I had another supervisor who just made me laugh but was so understanding. I’d turn up after crying and she would make me laugh. Help me problem solve through my honours research struggles and made things seem possible. She inspired me to be a leader. To be fair, to keep going even when people are reluctant to change their practice. We developed a friendship and I recently saw her in Darwin on a family holiday.
The common denominator in all these supervisors was friendship, open communication and feedback. I was never lost not knowing if I was going to pass or fail. They continued to emotional support, provided constructive feedback and graded all tasks to ensure success and the boosting of my confidence.
They all inspired me to build meaningful connections with students and to be my self even if that involves humour at my expense.
My supervisors taught me not to be afraid, to step out, have a go and that I couldn’t be perfect. Most importantly they showed me how powerful it can be to say to a student I don’t know, maybe you could teach me?