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What Works Well Practice Learning Circle: Creating a model through relationships, encouragement

In this blog I am going to share the journey I have been on (with my colleague, Sandra McGough) in creating and developing a practice learning model- The What Works Practice Learning Circle. Details of what this is can be found on our Padlet page-https://padlet.com/carolinesettle/Whatworkspracticelearningcircle

My bet is there are many practitioners in vocational fields who would love to share their ideas and innovations, to a wider audience but, for various reasons, they don’t feel able to. There may be a book in me (that may never get written) ...who knows?… but I want to share my excitement about a more modest achievement. My motivation in writing this blog is to inspire other people to find ways around the barriers ordinary mortals encounter when they dare to aspire.

I’m not going to start at the beginning but at where things are today…

Today my colleague Sandra will be presenting a model we co-created (almost by accident) at a world social work conference in Dublin. She’s never done anything like that and neither have I. Having overcome huge (and I mean huge) barriers, like the costs of attending conferences, I was not fit to travel. So she’s Billy No Mates and I’m disappointed, frustrated and frankly envious! Stuck at home, wishing I was there! Through the wonders of social media I am vicariously sharing the experience. She videoed the opening ceremony, where a choir sung “Something inside so strong”, and we both got a bit teary. I will be posting a video of her presentation as soon as she’s finished on the Padlet and on Twitter. She is so pleased I will be doing that (not!).

Alongside my feeling gutted because I’m not sharing the experience of attending, and presenting, at a conference, I’m also feeling excited, proud, optimistic and involved. I really am.

Sandra and I have worked closely for the best part of a year, as What Works Well Leads for a social work teaching partnership, and we are a team. An unlikely pairing of a grounded, calm, experienced adults’ social worker (her) and a live-wire social worker-come -lecturer with a background in children and families work (me). We have some important things in common (values, passion for improving practice, and empathy for social workers). The bringing together of our different strengths, skills and experiences, and forming a collaborative relationship, has brought us further than individually we would ever have achieved. We all need someone to bounce ideas with. We all need encouragement and relationships to learn and develop. Our interdependence has provided a secure base for us to explore from.

We did not set out to create a model. We set out to find innovative ways to embed a learning culture. Rather a grandiose objective in a one year project but we gave it a go. We read and researched and read some more. And some more. We found inspirational academics and practitioners who generously shared their ideas, writing and advice. This provided us with solid foundations (the evidence base that supported our ideas and ways of working). We found ourselves responding to a thirst in practitioners for some positivity and a framework for facilitating reflective sessions evolved. Bolstered by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we set out to find a model so others could replicate what we did. We couldn’t find one so decided to create our own. The story of that is in the narrated presentation on You Tube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4RTj0dEs6Yuk9mZucFJ75Q

Our motivation in sharing our model is not fame and glory. We don’t aspire to climb any ivory towers. We simply want to share something that practitioners have found helpful and, more importantly something that encouraged them by focussing on their successes. In any case our ideas are not ground breaking. They build on the research evidence created by people we respect and are inspired by. For example: Harry Ferguson’s ‘critical best practice’ perspective, Louise Grant and Gail Kinman’s ‘sparkling moments’ ,and Rhoda MaCrae analogy of “lighting small fires’. There are so many more who have inspired or encouraged us from a range of disciplines.

We have had to be creative because we had no budget and only ourselves as the resource. All the images for the presentation we created ourselves using play people and craft materials from my direct work kit and our smartphones. We have been on the steepest learning curve. Google is my friend and we have used that to learn digital skills we never thought we would need to know! Amanda Taylor, a social work academic who is a legend on the digital technologies front, has been an inspiration. We needed to find a way of sharing our resources and blatantly copied her idea of creating a Padlet to share via social media.

What has excited me and made me feel optimistic is the responses we have had from sharing our ideas on Twitter and the conference hashtag #SWSD2018. We have been able to connect with practitioners, academics and organisations in an unprecedented way. Please bear in mind we are ordinary mortals. We get very excited if a respected academics ‘like’ one of our tweets! Suddenly my blog notifications are coming up with ‘someone from India is looking at your post’. Wow. How amazing is that?! I cannot express how exciting it is to be getting feedback from people who are giving our model a go. Their feedback is so important because we are able to refine and improve our guidance notes.

We think our modest model has the potential to be used in a range of settings. Hopefully we can get an article published, with the underpinning evidence, too. That of course requires circumnavigating more barriers. But we are beginning to see barriers as unnecessary irritations rather than insurmountable challenges!

So with just a few minutes to go before Sandra’s debut presentation I will close this blog with some thank yous.

Thank you to everyone who inspires and encourages us: To Norfolk County Council for supporting us in exploring our ideas. We found amazing examples of social work in every one of their teams we visited. Thanks to BASW for the grant that enabled our work to be shared in Dublin. Particular thanks to our virtual friends and colleagues (near and far) for the information, debate, feedback and positivity…without these digital relationships we simply would never have got to this point.

As always I want your feedback on my musings via Twitter @CarolineAldrid5 and don’t forget to check out @McgoughSandra too.

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