The Fruits of Reflective Practice

The main reason I promote the use of the 7 levels engagement is so staff have a shared language with which they can describe and analyse their practice.  In a recent consultancy I did for the Sheffield learning disability charity The Burton Street Foundation, one trainee said “Oh, I get it… the levels are about the depth of the interaction.” This is correct.  The levels are not describing some abstract quality that is only useful for recording… it is a way to describe the depth of an interaction, from fleeting awareness all the way to two-way-ness and the initiation of this two-way-ness. A clear understanding of the levels can really help staff to understand how to meet the needs of the people they support more effectively.
For example, at Woolley Wood school I have given a teaching assistant in each class the role of II Class Lead.  During the first half term their first as was to take a baseline for the two children in the class most in need of Intensive Interaction support.  To take the baseline the staff have to pair up and film some interactions and then watch the films back and record the levels every thirty seconds.  This is done several times for each child and the average is taken which gives a relatively robust baseline to which future interactions can be compared.
That this method gives a nice baseline is all very well and good but to be honest, I’m more interested in the social learning that takes place between the staff as they do the analysis, particularly with their new words to describe the practice.  I was very happy therefore when one class teacher gave me the following feedback:
“Last week the II Class Lead organised an after school reflection meeting during which we analysed one video of an interaction with one of the children.  We were discussing and noting the levels every thirty seconds and then, about three minutes in, we noticed that the levels dropped off.  We discussed the potential reasons why the the interaction no longer had the two-way-ness and that the person was only showing brief attention to what was happening socially and, after reviewing the video again, we realised that the staff had started to try too hard, being a little impatient because nothing had happened for 15 or 20 seconds or so.   We discussed how the staff could approach the interaction differently next time and how perhaps the staff could simply have waited to see what the child wanted to do next rather than to intervene or how it might have been a good time to end the interaction.”
The teacher who gave me this feedback was so enthusiastic for the work and it was great to see the fruits of reflective practice – how using a shared language to describe our shared challenge can help us to offer the joy of human interaction to isolated and difficult to reach people. My work here is done :0).

Musical Interaction vs Intensive Interaction

Every Tuesday I work at Wilsic Hall School in Wadworth, Doncaster.  The service is a residential secondary school for people with complex needs mainly arising from autism and learning disabilities.  My role is to offer Intensive Interaction and Musical Interaction sessions for the individuals most at risk of isolation due to their communication disability and also to train staff during the monthly induction training and also as part of an ongoing training programme I have devised for the service.
Currently I am working with two class groups and I am finding that Musical Interaction is a useful approach in this context.  I hope the following short explanation may go someway to explain how I understand the approach relates to Intensive Interaction.
The way I understand Intensive Interaction is that, to create rapport, the practitioner looks for offers in the person’s behaviour and then joins in with this behaviour, using 100% of their attention and celebrating the behaviour like it’s the best idea in the world.  If this results in a mutual understanding of each others behaviour then rapport can be experienced (Fig 2).

In musical interaction the music offers a further opportunity for rapport.  In this approach practitioner will often make the first offer – a song, pulse, tune or rhythm which the practitioner thinks might be be mutually understood by the both the musician and the person (or other participants if working in a group setting).  If this results in mutual understanding then rapport can be experienced (Fig 3).

I have made the diagrams in an attempt to clarify this short explanation.  They work for me… let me know they make the practice more clear to you too.
Oh and if you want to learn more about Musical Interaction then I will be offering training on Musical Interaction Training 20th November 2017.

A post a day for II week – Monday – Woolley Wood School

Every Monday I visit Woolley Wood School in Parsons Cross, Sheffield.  I have worked at the school for one day per week since 2013 and, according to our evaluation of the community of practice, the Intensive Interaction provision and skill base has steadily developed over this time.  This year I have finally put a strategy into place that has been something that I have wanted to initiate for at least two years now and I thought I would share how this is going so far.
Each class now has a teaching assistant appointed as the Intensive Interaction Lead.  The person was chosen for their enthusiasm for the practice as shown over the last three years I have been working in the school developing II. Their role is three-fold:

  • To motivate the staff team to do Intensive Interaction and to learn more about the practice
  • To lead reflective practice meetings with the staff team
  • To be responsible for the intensive interaction recording – initiating the baselines and keeping the records up to date

The support that I give to help the lead person to achieve these objectives is to offer:

  • Easy to pass on principles of the practice (Three C’s of Intensive Interaction and RECAPS, 6 observable qualities of intensive interaction).  More about these in a future post.
  • Twice half-termly reflective practice meetings with the nine class leads to model how to facilitate such a meeting in the classroom after school.
  • Training on the 7 levels of intensive interaction and how to take baselines and record.
  • In class support to the lead person to model practice, answer questions and support recording.

Even though we are only half way through the first half-term, this strategy is already proving to be a big step forward for my role as consultant because I now have a group of staff to liaise with, each of whom is responsible for the practice in their class.  As you can imagine, this is much more practical that one person attempting to facilitate the practice in nine classes with only one day per week to do it.  I’ll write more about this strategy as the year progresses.
I will attempt to write a post a day for Intensive Interaction Week, each post referring to the context I work in on that day.  Tomorrow will be the Hesley Group service Wilsic Hall School in Wadworth, Doncaster.

What's in it for you?

Once up on a time I believed that all practitioners (and potential practitioners of intensive interaction) would share the same motivations – to help the person they are supporting to develop fundamental communication skills or to offer experiences of social inclusion and help the person become less isolated as a result of their communication disability.  While these motivations are very important and are often the priority for teachers, educators and therapists, after working for several years with support workers at the Hesley Group, I found that this other group of practitioners were, on the whole, motivated by a different set of reasons and outcomes.
This realisation is very important, particularly when working to develop a community of practice.  In Etienne Wenger’s social learning theory, the concept of ‘identity’ explains why a person will be motivated to take up a practice.  Put very simply, if the benefits of a new practice cover enough of the person’s ‘identity’ that they see the benefit to themselves; that they see why working harder tomorrow will be worth it, then they might give it a go (Interestingly, Etienne explained to me that the concept of identity hasn’t entered the mainstream understanding of ‘communities of practice” which may explain why it is an often neglected part of the theory).  Much of the explained benefits for Intensive Interaction tend toward looking at the impact upon the person we are supporting but, in my personal experience, while this is an important factor, it seems that this objective is not enough to motivate all people to do more intensive interaction… staff need to see “what’s in it” for them.
So, with this in mind, here are some of the most common motivations that I have found support workers to have for doing intensive interaction.  I have found that emphasising ‘what’s in it” for the practitioner to be very effective is supporting a staff member to try intensive interaction.
To find “this is why I came to work” moments – The wonderful thing about support work is that these moments are available every day.  All intensive interaction practitioners know what I mean when I say “this is why I came to work”.  It was this feeling, and the mutual feeling of the person I was supporting, that made me an advocate of II in the first place.  From conversations with people on induction with the Hesley Group, it seems that outside of care work people typically have these moments of job satisfaction in relation to promotion or when somebody offers them praise.
To calm the supported person to baseline – This benefit is a recurring theme with the support workers at Hesley Village.  The reason is obvious – the support workers have a difficult job supporting people whose behaviour can put both themselves and the staff at risk of harm.  Staff will certainly value a technique that can calm a volatile situation, reducing the risk to both the staff and the supported person.
To get a good shift – One staff member now describes the practice as “working for the eye contact” after she found that, if she joins in with the persons offers and gets good eye contact at the beginning of a shift then she tends to have a good shift.
To create rapport – Many staff feel unhappy when don’t get any positive feedback from the person they are supporting.  Staff are often relieved to find an approach that can create rapport, which both gives the positive feedback, because rapport works both ways, a positive feeling for the staff too.  One staff member now describes the practice as “working for the eye contact” after she found that she
To build a relationship – This is my core message to new starters.  Good relationship with the person you support = good job.  Bad relationship = bad job.  Rather than developing a relationship through trial and error, Intensive Interaction immediately brings a sensitivity to the needs of the person and will mean that the relationship develops quicker.
To make the supported person happy – The reason why support workers at Hesley have a good shift is more often than not because the person was happy.  Staff therefore find a lot of value in a simple approach that can lead to more happiness.
The community of practice at Hesley only started to develop once I started considering the motivations and needs of the community of staff I was working with.  Rather than trying to explain the practice in terms of the value I saw in it, I began to consult with staff to understand their perspective so that I could adapt my explanations to their needs.  This approach has had far reaching impacts and it all started with answering “What’s in it for them?”