While reflecting on my own journey as a life-long learner I realised that my greatest insights had occurred when key educators sat me down and chatted in ways that took my thinking forward. This is what I try to do for postgraduate students. Through critical conversations I invite them to clarify who they are, how they know what they already know, and what they want to learn for themselves in the writing of a thesis and what they want to contribute to their profession.
Learning through Critical Conversations
The key to these conversations is to get students to start from wherever they are. This alleviates the panic of wondering whether they have anything to contribute. My assumption is that every student is capable of being an A grade student, and I tell them so. Helping to put them at ease and begin a conversation that draws on their passions is the first step. I reassure them that they are not an empty vessel that I am filling, but an active partner in a dialogue where I will expect them to take increasing authority. We can chat about life, literature or career goals and, within a short space of time, we are able to reach a point where I can pull together the threads of the conversation.
Learning through Integrating Personal Values with Professional Identity
In my experience, there are often discrepancies between students’ personal, professional and student identities so our initial conversation is about identifying values. In 2016, I had a student I will refer to as K. She was a Master’s student who arrived with a strong anarcho-feminist philosophy. She felt there was no connection between this identity and the “rather boring professional sense of OT identity” she associated with her undergraduate training. She was an excellent student, but a ‘strategic learner’ and we struggled to find an authentic question. I asked her to talk about how this philosophy had manifested in her life. Later I suggested she come back to our next 1:1 conversation with written thoughts on the topic. These strategies were helpful but inconclusive until the day I invited K in class to sum up what she thought of an occupational therapy conference she had recently attended. What she said was electric. In a few moments, she claimed an identity that was both anarcho-feminist and occupational therapist. For the first time she had stood in front of her peers and stated who she was. Her journey was also of interest to her peers.
I would argue that K’s thinking and writing took off from then on because of the preparation I had threaded through our conversations during supervision sessions. She was able to integrate two parts of herself through these conversations and became less abrasive and more able to listen to others. She went on to claim prizes with her thesis.
Pastoral support of students
One of the ways that I have provided pastoral support for students is through the development of carefully matched learning partnerships. For example, I have matched a third year OT student with a low vision second year social services student. The low vision student was beginning to really struggle with her learning, and I found ways to provide her with an iPad, a large electronic magnifier, and with a scholarship to attend a Retina conference to develop her capacity for youth leadership. The OT student became the one who trained her in the use of the equipment and developed ergonomic solutions for seating and space. This was a mutually beneficial partnership and I was able to leverage a significant amount of pastoral care from a situation that developed into a friendship over time. The OT student has now graduated and the more mature social services student is providing training for a range of my students about sighted guiding techniques.
Setting up a small room for students with visual impairment
In other learning partnerships I work to develop the relationships between my master’s students, so that they can provide support to each other. I tend to provide the link between the students, and I help them to help each other when necessary – even though they are distance students.
Butler, M. (2018). The Development of a Learning Partnership Within a Role-Emerging Fieldwork Placement. Insight, 39(6).
Action learning in supervision
My teaching of students about how to engage in peer supervision has been greatly helped by using the principles of Action Learning (Patterson, 2017). In this process the students are asked to bring a story to their supervision about a dilemma/problem/success. Each student takes a turn to tell their story and the other students are encouraged to ask open questions, which avoid preempting a solution. The first student usually answers some of the questions, but inevitably there are some that they cannot answer without further thought. Students write their questions on post-it notes, which are taken then away by the first student. The following week I ask each student to describe the progress they have made in addressing the original issue. This teaches the individual student to help themselves, and they learn how to deal with clinical issues in a reflective manner, and most importantly it helps them to learn how to learn. This process tends to bring about thoughtful changes to clinical practice.