As part of my social work studies, I was required to carry out six child observations, do a power point presentation, and write a reflective report on the entire exercise. To make this reflective report coherent and concise, I will be adopting the six stages of Gibbs’ (1988) reflective cycle.
I used the Tavistock method (Esther Bick, 1964) to carry out these observations. I did one informal presentation and one formal power point presentation after the sixth observation. My task started with getting an unfamiliar child of a different age group as my children and from a different race and background as myself. I contacted parents and pre-schools for assistance. I observed a 4year 8months girl in a school setting. Before I started, I secured consent of both parents and the school through a written agreement reviewed and signed by the school, the child’s parents and myself. I also signed a copy of the school’s policy on volunteers/ external involvement.
My decision to use an unfamiliar child put me in an uncomfortable position. I felt uncomfortable to approach unfamiliar people, telling them I need their child for my personal interest. But I encouraged myself and started contacting parents with young ones.
My negotiations about the observation were with the head teacher and not the class teacher. This made me have a feeling of powerlessness for the teacher. Also while observing, the pupils occasionally came for help/chat but I couldn’t and this made me feel like an intruder in the teacher’s territory.
While presenting, I felt very nervous at the beginning and was also anxious that the time will not be enough. This made me rush the presentation. However, the constructive feedbacks I received made me feel I have started to learn how to apply theory to practice and is now beginning to be reflective in my practice.
Though I felt my role as an observer was not necessary, but I got an understanding of why I should do observation. According to Carole Sharman et al. “Practitioners can learn more about why and when children and young people do something by having knowledge of development, and by observing what they do. Without that knowledge we can misunderstand what they are trying to tell us, and this can make life difficult for everyone”.
My decision to observe an unfamiliar child from was very good. It enlightened my knowledge about nature and nurture and limited the impact of my personal values and prejudices on the observation, though it was hard for me trying to invade unfamiliar people’s territory to get a child.
There was careful negotiation among all parties to the observation. The agreement was reviewed by all parties before printing and signing the final copy. I also recognised the class teacher as party to the observation and I briefly introduced myself to her on the first day of my observation. I believe this enabled a good professional relationship which is key in social work practice (Wilson et al 2008). It also showed respect to human rights. However, these brought in a bit of delay in the preliminary process.
The Tavistock method used for the observation enabled concentration. But I think one hour is not enough and that using the same time and setting limited the understanding of behaviour. According to Bandura (1969), Holland (2004), and Howarth (2010) cited in M and S O’Loughlin (2014), behaviour is better understood in different settings. Nevertheless, the school setting created opportunity for me to see how children interact with their external world outside their home, even though there were distractions from other children.
My power point presentation went well but not without faults. My slides were attractive, but some contained too much information and looked compressed. I spent longer time, used faster speed and lesser eye contact as expected. I believe this was caused by my inexperience, anxiety, and time constraint considering the information I had. However, the questions and feedbacks enhanced my ability to think critically and constructively and showed areas I need to improve on.
According to Trevithick (2012) “we learn a lot by observing others and as such learn what is being transmitted through tone of voice, volume, intonation, posture and gestures.’
Through the observation, I saw how secured attachment could help a child develop resilience and reduce feelings of powerlessness and purposelessness. I deduced that though Bowlby recognised secured attachment for under 5s, he failed to recognise this attachment outside the mother. I could see the child securely attached with friends within the school. Thus, the stimulating meso system offered her opportunity to explore and develop positively. However, despite these external factors, there are biological factors that affect temperament and in turn may determine how a child acts or reacts in the environment and what the child gets in return. At this point as a mother I reflected on my children’s relationship in school, its effect on their social and academic development and the impact of moving them from their school. As a professional, I thought about the emotional impact of moving children from schools especially during adoption.
The observation also revealed Erikson’s (1950) stages of psychosocial development. I saw hope, will power, purpose, and care as the child played; though there was no dedication to the care. I learnt children can show an element of care earlier than Erikson suggested. I learnt good skills like compassion, love and leadership can be developed through play. However, the child’s intermittent movement from one play to the other made me believe that children may lack ability to maintain these skills.
I saw the link between play and social and cognitive development as I observed. I saw her cognitive ability emerge through play as she actively explored her environment seeking alternative ways in making her own party crown. This exploration I believe, was triggered by a stimulating environment offered by the teacher and school. This implies that both the process of adaptation and the environment play significant role in shaping the child.
The presentations were an opportunity to express and improve on my communication skills which is important in social work practice. One feedback I received created self-awareness in me about my prejudices. This confirms that where you stand determines what you see. It made me gain understanding on what to look for beyond race and gender; emphasising the need for a reflective practice which is anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive.
Though I learnt much through the observation, I believe the teacher’s interaction with the child might have been influenced by my presence thereby bringing an observer effect on behaviour. Fawcett (2009) states that ‘We learn much from our observations, but we must accept that what we see is the tip of the iceberg.’
I have learnt that anxiety could be a case for ineffective or negligent professional conduct. It could put practitioners in risky circumstances such as I experienced during the presentation. It is also important to maintain openness, be aware of ones’ own prejudices, and constantly work on the interlocking differences of race, class, gender and other factors that might affect professional decisions.
The observation created more awareness in me that inequalities exist everywhere in the society and that both personal and professional relationships are affected by power dynamics. It also enlightened my understanding on how to maintain professional boundary while working in a different organisational context.
The observation enhanced my ability to concentrate, use theoretical materials, relax, and think before doing. I also learnt that opportunities for feedbacks and seminars are very good ‘open spaces’ for stripping bare embedded assumptions and values that could negatively affect professional decisions. I have learnt the need for good communication skills in social work practice to present information accurately.
Overall, I now understand a child’s world from a wider perspective; having a holistic view of child development and how powerless a child can be. I have learnt the need for person centred support acknowledging the uniqueness of everyone as well as recognising the impact of the eco system on individuals across the life course.
I will continue to improve on my emotional intelligence by reading more literatures on reflective practice and consciously reflecting on feedbacks. During placement, I will make use of supervision to improve my observation skills. I will work on my IT and communication skills to improve my ability in power point presentations. Giving constructive feedback is an important skill in social work. I will ensure I seize every opportunity that comes my way to improve my ability to give constructive feedbacks as well as improve my confidence in speaking to an audience.
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