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Summer Institute Week 4: The kaleidoscope of learning

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In the first week, Becky Brewer wrote about a kaleidoscope of emotions. The kaleidoscope of learning continues to turn at the Summer Institute, as new colours are added to the palette. New patterns emerge as more ideas are introduced and others are revisited and reconsidered, all evoking emotions and inviting continuing reflection.

Week four began with teaching on child development delivered by Dr Sajid Humayun, from King’s College London (KCL), and supported by child development specialists Hannah Collyer and Sarah Poland. This is core learning for social workers: it is the duty of children’s social workers, and others to ensure that a child’s “development is not impaired or neglected.”   To make judgements about impairment it is therefore vital that social workers have a sound knowledge and understanding of child development. 

Frontline participants were characteristically curious and energetic in pursuing these ideas. The goal of the teaching was to provide a clear map which could guide further study. This included identification of important domains of development, such as cognitive, emotional and social development and consideration of theory and research findings that support or challenge key assumptions and ideas. The day ended with a rousing debate in each seminar, where participants were invited to employ key concepts to consider provocative or thought provoking statements in the arena of child development.

KCL teaching on development continued on Tuesday, focusing on developmental difficulties and mental health problems that are common in children who are looked after and on the edge of care. It was sobering to contemplate the emotional impact on children with adverse family experiences. Key ideas on a model of formulation, which can systematically consider the complex array of factors that influence children, was also introduced.

Dr Matt Woolgar, who led the teaching, was supported by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) clinical psychologists, Ben Wellens and Sara Dawson, who are specialists in fostering and adoption.  Feedback suggested participants valued this expertise, which they drew on in employing the formulation model to analyse and discuss a range of case studies.  Key teaching on attachment theory further developed ideas on child development and fed into Wednesday afternoon’s teaching on parenting and the factors which influence parents, led by myself. Seminars on parenting were ably led by Dani Taylor and Kiran Flynn, participants from Cohort One, who demonstrated the superb abilities and achievements of our pioneer group.

On Thursday, the Institute of Family Therapy teaching team returned and the focus turned to ideas from Narrative therapy. Participants gave feedback on how much they enjoyed thinking about narrative ideas, and in particular exercises that allowed them to begin to use skills from narrative practice, including externalizing “the problem.” They were able to think about how useful such a technique might be in practice. A number of participants were self-reflexive about dominant discourses and stories from family of origin. Making links with the wider social context and employing the ‘grraacceess’, is rapidly becoming a common language.

On Friday, the IFT were with the 2014 Cohort, revisiting different theories, and exploring the main concepts and techniques. The day started with a warm up exercise on “unspoken stories”: participants were asked to stand up, if, for example, they were from a multicultural family, or came from a family with a strong faith background and so on. Encouragingly, when we asked people to stand up if they had asked a good circular question during the last year in practice, just about everyone stood up!  

Later, tutors and participants were able to spend time demonstrating the use of theories in practice. Tutors were impressed by the links the participants were making between different models of change and their grasp of key ideas.  

Friday ended with a reflexive exercise: participants wrote a letter to the ‘self’ that began the programme a year ago; and were invited to write a letter from the ‘self’ they will be in a year’s time. So the kaleidoscope had turned full circle. But, in the way of kaleidoscopes, it was only beginning again, to create more complex and interesting patterns of “thinking and doing” in social work practice.

Moira Doolan (Lead for KCL) graciously aided by John Woolner (IFT).

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