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Podcast Episode 6: Telling it how it is

Dawn Williams is joined by Creative Facilitator, Mary Robson, to discuss the importance of reflective practice.

Transcript

Please note that this transcript is auto-generated and therefore will contain some errors and natural pauses in conversation.

00:00:06:16 – 00:00:22:00

Dawn

Welcome to the Creative Life Story Work podcast, where we explore how a creative approach to life story work can help children and young people who have been in care make sense of their past and build a brighter future.

 

00:00:23:06 – 00:00:38:08

Dawn

A new model for life story work is being rolled out in the north east of England, and this podcast shows the latest learning on investigates how it could help improve the lives of care, experienced children and young people across the country.

 

00:00:39:13 – 00:00:53:22

Dawn

My name is Dawn Williams and I am an associate at Blue Cup in one of the partners on this exciting work in the region. Today we are asking the question, telling it like it is and discussing with me.

 

00:00:53:22 – 00:01:10:09

Dawn

I’m delighted to say is my friend, colleague and creative facilitator Mary Robson. Mary has been working alongside other artists on the creative life story work at blue carpet and you’re very welcome this morning, Mary.

 

00:01:10:12 – 00:01:11:10

Mary

Thank you, Don.

 

00:01:11:14 – 00:01:37:20

Dawn

My role at Blue Cabin as part of Creative Life Story Work, has been working alongside the artists to think about what support needs to be in place for them to best, best approach creative life story work. And one of the biggest themes that comes out of our conversations is around different sorts of spaces to reflect.

 

00:01:38:13 – 00:01:47:00

Dawn

You’ve been working with our artists as well, and I wondered if we could start our conversation by by thinking about that, the need to have that sort of a space.

 

00:01:47:06 – 00:02:14:08

Mary

As you know, I’m passionate about reflective practice, really, and that comes from my experience of being a freelance solo facilitator years ago and coming across situations that were difficult and having nowhere to take to take them. And so how was I going to develop as an individual and as a practitioner?

 

00:02:14:08 – 00:02:25:17

Mary

Because as we know and especially in this kind of work, I think reflective practice is a life skill. Rather than a chore to be done at the end of the day.

 

00:02:25:21 – 00:02:48:13

Dawn

We’ve got about eleven artists working with us at the minute, and at first one of the conversations would be, Oh yes, I I think about the session that I’ve just done as I’m driving home in the car. And I wondered if one of the things that we’re investigating is, is there any more robust frameworks that we could

 

00:02:48:13 – 00:02:59:06

Dawn

be giving to artists to think about where to place the experiences and the stories that they’ve heard in the creative life story work sessions that that they’ve been taking part in?

 

00:02:59:09 – 00:03:20:06

Mary

And this would also be relevant, wouldn’t it, to the kinds of practitioners to the most compelling definition I’ve ever read of reflective practices by a woman called Joy Amalia from what was then called the center of Reflective Community Practice at MIT.

 

00:03:20:07 – 00:03:46:05

Mary

That’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and I discovered this definition a long time ago, and it’s become a bit of a mantra for me, she says. And I’m going to quarter here. Reflection is an active process of witnessing one’s own experience in order to take a closer look aspect, sometimes to direct attention to it briefly, but often to

 

00:03:46:05 – 00:04:13:16

Mary

explore it in greater depth. And I think she goes on to say, and it’s very clear that this doesn’t have to be always in retrospect, but can be before, during or after. And I think having some kind of framework where it’s made clear to practitioners that all of those things are the nuts and bolts of reflection is

 

00:04:13:16 – 00:04:37:11

Mary

probably really useful. Again, I remember talking to nurses about nursing training a long time ago, and they had to keep a reflective journal at the end of every, every day, but they were marked down. If it said anything, that was inverted commas negative.

 

00:04:37:15 – 00:04:53:18

Mary

So you if you said. I’m having real difficulty with the patient in in bed five, and I don’t know how to cope with that. That would be perceived and at that time as being a negative thing to be judged.

 

00:04:54:02 – 00:05:05:19

Mary

And I think for me, the whole point of reflective practice is to be able to speak the unspeakable in order to understand it and in order that something gets done about it.

 

00:05:06:01 – 00:05:29:10

Dawn

I remember working in a lantern’s workshop, a foot recounted and being on a table with a child who I was finding very difficult and and I was trying my best to not snap at this child. But I do remember that almost it was unconscious as a team of artists.

 

00:05:30:18 – 00:05:50:08

Dawn

We would just put our hand up a signal, just go swap. So in that instant, you’re trying to be genuine with that child so that they can have the best experience of making a lantern, but knowing in that instance that actually you’re not the person to be doing that, that’s quite hard in a workshop to do that

 

00:05:50:18 – 00:06:14:05

Mary

. I think it is hard. I think we’re all in some ways, like those nurses, were being in a way conditioned to think that and that you can be the same with everybody. And you really I think you hit on absolutely the right point there, which is the important thing is that the child or the person does not

 

00:06:14:05 – 00:06:32:03

Mary

in that moment feel judged in any way and that you are ethically as well dealing with it, you know, so that it’s not about it’s not about pretending to care. It’s that care involves involving other people in that moment, you know?

 

00:06:32:09 – 00:06:56:05

Mary

So it’s broadening that definition of care. I would say as well within those contexts so that people are really well looked after and that attention is paid to when that care is needed and by whom. And you’re right, that’s for me, a classic example of reflective practice in practice, which is that you have a kind of agreement

 

00:06:56:05 – 00:07:04:13

Mary

with the other people and in the environs that that’s not only acceptable is actually the right thing to do in the moment.

 

00:07:04:18 – 00:07:30:16

Dawn

one of the other questions that comes up with the art is the team of associate artists that we’re working on. What I’ve noticed is that there’s a there is a need for different sorts of spaces to do that processing in, whether that’s an online one on base camp, whether it’s an informal WhatsApp group, whether it’s formal supervision

 

00:07:31:00 – 00:07:50:05

Dawn

. But there’s an absolute need for all of those. And I’m just wondering about who is that you have these conversations with, who do you deliberate with and how do we pass it on to the next generation of social workers, artists, nurses who are all collaborating together?

 

00:07:50:14 – 00:08:12:19

Mary

I think this also kind of intersects with, I know some things you always point out to people, which is that grid between the personal and the professional. And I think it’s first of all, it’s really important, especially when if people are freelance, you know, but it’s important.

 

00:08:13:21 – 00:08:40:01

Mary

It could decide which is what is personal to you and what is professional. That’s really crucial, but also in terms of being freelance, it’s about taking responsibility for your own well-being and development too. So I would add another kind of grid in there as well, which is around what is my responsibility for me and what is my

 

00:08:40:01 – 00:09:07:01

Mary

responsibility for my practice. So, for example, some different spaces that can be considered. I started having what was called supervision professional supervision when I was a freelance. That was me looking after me because I realized there were lots of transitions between projects or situations that happened when I was working and I didn’t have anybody to take it

 

00:09:07:01 – 00:09:28:00

Mary

to necessarily. And that was developing my practice. Now that was with somebody who was trained also in person centered counseling, and she made it her business, therefore, to take that that kind of unconditional positive regard in terms of what was happening in that space.

 

00:09:29:03 – 00:09:48:22

Mary

Also, importantly, that space isn’t just about problem solving, it’s not just about it’s not just about what went wrong, it’s also about celebrating. I think that’s one of the things we don’t do is we don’t look to what we did right or we don’t think, Well, actually, that’s a sign that I’ve developed because I’ve done it, not

 

00:09:48:22 – 00:10:14:20

Mary

it’s not on my to do list. I’ve actually done something so this far. And that’s, I think, an individual’s responsibility. Now I also know that blue carbon have taken that very seriously for their employees and another spaces that that people are offered that debriefed reflective space as part of their professional commitment, which I think is laudable, absolutely

 

00:10:14:20 – 00:10:43:16

Mary

laudable. But also, I think there’s a lot you can do in cahoots with whomever you’re working, you know, so as we’ve said, having agreements within the movement of how you deal with things in workshops, etc. But also there’s there are templates around how to reflect at the end of the day using some very simple, straightforward systems that

 

00:10:43:16 – 00:11:02:10

Mary

is that may appear to be onerous in the first place, like, oh, a bit like filling in the evaluation form at the end of a workshop. But actually, when you get a body of that together, it really shows you how again, how far you’re moving on and how useful it is in your practice because you don’t just

 

00:11:02:10 – 00:11:21:10

Mary

dump things in the in. Whatever the report, pain is in the corner of your mind, you’re actively engaging with it. So going back to what Amalia says before you’re actively engaging with it, you know? And then there’s also you can be doing that on your own and then you can be doing it as a group, you know

 

00:11:21:10 – 00:11:32:19

Mary

? So again, I know blue carbon have really excellent practice around this, where artists can come together as a group and learn from each other as facilitators to.

 

00:11:32:23 – 00:11:50:14

Dawn

You were talking about the different lenses of the professional and the personal at Blue Cap in social pedagogy. Principles run through a lot of the work and they would add a third lens in there, called the private some things that you don’t share.

 

00:11:50:22 – 00:12:11:04

Dawn

And so I’m wondering what between those, if there was those three boundaries, how do you negotiate the difference between that, the distance between those boundaries? Because that ever shifting depending on the child that you’re working with or the other adults in the space?

 

00:12:12:08 – 00:12:20:20

Dawn

And I’m wondering, yeah, I’m wondering, what’s that process of negotiating that with yourself and the other people that you’re working with?

 

00:12:21:05 – 00:12:44:14

Mary

I think reflection leads naturally to that. I think it then becomes really clear. For example, we might all be very clear about something like a disclosure of some kind from a child in a workshop that immediately. And also, we’re all kind of cognizant of what we need to do in that case and where we all.

 

00:12:45:13 – 00:13:03:03

Mary

We all know about talking to children and young people, I assume around when they say, will you keep it a secret? And you say no, because if it’s around the care of you, then no, I will talk to others about it because I care about you and what happens to you.

 

00:13:03:18 – 00:13:20:13

Mary

And again, I think that that notion of private and public is a real life skill that I don’t think gets talked enough about with children and young people witness now and all the problems around social media around what is private, what is public, for example.

 

00:13:22:01 – 00:13:40:22

Mary

I think reflective practice by getting things out into the open makes it really clear what needs to be private and not. There may be things that are just. Too much information about oneself, you know, but but on the whole, it’s.

 

00:13:42:22 – 00:14:06:09

Mary

We need to be able to delve into our experience in order to be curious about it. So I think that curiosity should override any concerns about whether it’s private or not. The other thing is to always give people the opportunity to edit what is their right before they share it.

 

00:14:07:13 – 00:14:18:11

Mary

I think this is one of the things you and I’ve learned something we in in some of the methods we use where you give people time on their own and then you say, what do you want to share?

 

00:14:18:12 – 00:14:24:12

Mary

And at that point, those people are making decisions about their own data, which is really important.

 

00:14:24:20 – 00:14:44:19

Dawn

And certainly, that’s what is offered to some of the children in creative life story work sessions. And some of them, you know, might be about your dreams for the future. And the choice has always given you can put it in the golden envelope or you could share it with the group, but you don’t have to.

 

00:14:44:19 – 00:14:57:05

Dawn

And it always makes my heart sing. When you see some children hold it going. Now, I’m going to put this in a very special place because actually it’s mine and I don’t want to share it. So that was that.

 

00:14:57:11 – 00:15:21:09

Dawn

Yeah. An example in practice of that happening. And I wondered, does I know that the conversation that we often have is around a term that you use called everyday ethics? And I wonder if this is another light reflective practice, whether this is another starting point or a useful frame for the conversation around around telling those stories because

 

00:15:21:09 – 00:15:38:04

Dawn

it’s that the stories that we’re working at are being brought into the space of those children’s stories. They are the authors and they get to edit them. But I’m wondering if if we use that as a starting point, does that is that something that supports use of reflective practice?

 

00:15:38:13 – 00:16:05:03

Mary

Yes, I think because I don’t think you can be ethical without being reflective and vice versa. In my view, a lot of people’s views of ethics. So the other that they’re text based, i.e., you know, if you’re doing a research project or refute them if you’ve got professional codes around ethics around which is, you know, moral, you

 

00:16:05:03 – 00:16:27:15

Mary

know, moral behavior, basically. But but I believe again that the instance, for example, you gave before of the working with that child who you’re not, you know, you’re not feeling aligned with that is a classic all not only of reflective practice, but also of ethical everyday ethics.

 

00:16:28:05 – 00:16:49:07

Mary

Because again, you’re not allowing that situation to fester, you’re not allowing it to get to a point where it wouldn’t be a positive experience for that young person. But ethically, you’re doing something about it in that moment. So I think all of those little decisions that are made moment to moment are in fact also ethical ones.

 

00:16:50:00 – 00:17:11:14

Mary

And rather than framing things as, I don’t know, positive or negative, good and bad all the time, it’s actually around finding one’s way through. So again, the kind of roles you might have as a facilitator or as a social worker or as another practitioner, we could all kind of have a bit of a list of when we

 

00:17:11:14 – 00:17:27:06

Mary

have to be an advocate or when we when we’re a bit of a teacher or when we’re there. So when we’re that, it’s it’s also having that awareness of how you skip from one applause to the other, which is the most appropriate and which setting.

 

00:17:27:14 – 00:17:39:14

Mary

So for me, yes, everyday ethics really, really applies alongside and threaded through reflective practice, too.

 

00:17:40:05 – 00:18:11:08

Dawn

I’m reminded memory of something you said earlier on about a reflective journal being completed and it being seen as a negative if if less than positive accounts were being written in the journal. I’m wondering about how about the sharing of accounts, what gets told, who’s doing the tallying, but also what’s being withheld as well, what is not

 

00:18:11:08 – 00:18:19:01

Dawn

being told and how we begin to take account of that in the work that we’re doing as artists, social workers, foster carers.

 

00:18:19:08 – 00:18:51:18

Mary

I think kind of ethically speaking, sometimes some of the emotional work, some things around those roles that don’t necessarily need to be made public beyond yourself or an immediate, you know, an immediate group. But sometimes writing those accounts for a more public audience answers your previous question around legacy to around people learning from practice.

 

00:18:51:20 – 00:19:17:05

Mary

Because we’re talking about learning here from everyday practice, not simply from books. So that in itself can be really useful to others and indeed ethically driven. I think the thing about. Whose truth is it or who says what when is is endlessly fascinating and.

 

00:19:18:15 – 00:19:48:23

Mary

I think we all withhold things, whether that’s a reaction to something in the moment or, you know, those moments where you think, Oh, I wish I’d said that I was reading the Jamaican poet Chi Miller’s latest book recently, which is all about what is withheld and some great examples in there about how it is recounting stories from

 

00:19:48:23 – 00:20:11:20

Mary

the past where, for example, one white woman comes in when he’s working as a black Jamaican and he’s got some music playing in a cafe and she comes in and she makes a remark about the music that it should be switched off and looks at him in this very pointed way.

 

00:20:12:03 – 00:20:28:20

Mary

And he points out that at the time, it was known that lots of Jamaican music was a certain strand of Jamaican music was homophobic. And that in the moment she is, she’s doing what she thinks is the right and truthful thing.

 

00:20:29:20 – 00:20:51:11

Mary

Which is to get the music switched off because it’s offensive. What she doesn’t know and what he doesn’t see is that he is a Jamaican, obviously black and also queer. So in and in that moment, lots of things are being withheld.

 

00:20:52:14 – 00:21:07:20

Mary

And I just thought that was a great example with which he comes to in retrospect, and he does so without judgment of that woman because he says she was doing what she thought was right and his view isn’t to harm anyone in the process.

 

00:21:08:02 – 00:21:29:20

Mary

And again, we could say ethically that we do want to do any harm, but also in all of these delicate negotiations within X, within our everyday sessional experience, whether it’s with colleagues or with young people and children, things are being withheld for lots of different reasons.

 

00:21:30:05 – 00:21:53:15

Mary

And it’s not necessarily about, I don’t think about excavating everything to dig them out. Like you said, the child that holds the gold non-law is an example of withholding in a really positive light. But I think it demands an awareness that we’re never going to know all the truths at any one time.

 

00:21:53:15 – 00:22:03:19

Mary

It’s never going to be a definitive one. And I think it and that helps us not be seen as the expert all the time to that we know best.

 

00:22:04:05 – 00:22:24:04

Dawn

And I suppose that brings us back to the very first point that we were talking about, about recognizing what it is that you’re bringing into the room when you step into that space, into whatever, whatever role that is that you know, and that to go back to your personal, professional and private, that can change every session what

 

00:22:24:04 – 00:22:40:02

Dawn

it is that you’re bringing in, but also the other people in the room are also bringing that whatever has happened will be in the room that all needs to be navigated and yeah, navigated and held in the room as well.

 

00:22:40:18 – 00:23:00:05

Dawn

So Mary, thank you so much for a rich conversation this morning. Trying to tease out a reflective practice, everyday ethics and telling it like it is. It’s been a pleasure to have you in the studio this morning. Thank you very much.

 

00:23:00:07 – 00:23:02:18

Mary

Thanks so much for asking me. It’s been a delight.

 

00:23:03:11 – 00:23:16:13

Dawn

Whether you’re a foster carer, someone who has experience of the care system or you work with children and young people, we hope this episode has given you an insight into how we could make life story work better for young people.

 

00:23:16:20 – 00:23:30:17

Dawn

You can find out more about our show at We Are Blue Captain Dot Com Forward Slash podcast, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. You can record and send a direct question or message to the show via the website.

 

00:23:31:04 – 00:23:46:01

Dawn

Tweet us at at we are blue carbon or if you are one of the 15 hundred people taking part in our Creative Life Story Work Learning program, you can always get in touch through the online learning platform if you’d like to listen to future episodes.

 

00:23:46:07 – 00:23:58:11

Dawn

Remember to subscribe wherever it is you usually get your podcasts, and if you’re using Apple Podcasts, please do leave us a review as it really helps others to find our show. Bye for now.

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