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Online group reflective practice during Covid-19

Dr Ray Middleton is FLNG’s Workforce Development Lead who has been offering support and resources online to help people navigate the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown restrictions.  In this blog, Ray and Kevin Dobson, our Peer Research Co-Production Worker, share their experiences of offering group reflective practice sessions to a staff team using online video conferencing. 

Online group reflective practice during Covid-19

By Dr Ray Middleton and Kevin Dobson, Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead

Hi, I’m Dr Ray Middleton, I’m the Workforce Development Lead at FLNG where we are working hard for a better response for people experiencing complex needs during the coronavirus outbreak – those people facing multiple disadvantage.

When the lockdown was announced I thought about how hard it was going to hit frontline services and the people they support. I phoned the manager of a local housing and support service to ask how he and his staff were.  The answer:

things were very challenging and the staff were under pressure as both roles and context were changing daily.

We then thought together about if there was anything we could do to help and an idea emerged around offering group reflective practice to the staff team online using a video conferencing platform such as Zoom. If I’m honest, I felt some anxiety of anticipation wondering if it would work online?

But… we jumped straight in and have held weekly sessions since. As the coronavirus is a unique social situation we asked our research team to evaluate what difference online group reflective practice has made which Kevin shares with us below.

Evaluating the practice
By Kevin Dobson

This was my first evaluation project in my new role so going into it was a new experience in itself, let alone having to do everything electronically, from planning it with Ray to the actual data collection and its analysis.

I had worked with the team before which made me feel a little more comfortable and I was hoping that would also provide some candid opinions from my peers. I contacted all participants the day after each of the three sessions and asked specific questions relating to each individual session. I was mindful of the current work strains and didn’t want to ‘push’ people into answering. I was aware that I may not get responses from everyone but was hopeful for an array of experiences.

Overall, the response rate was good and varied. The first session there were seven responses from the eight participants (only seven finished the session as one participant had to leave for a work related emergency). From these responses, most found it to be “really useful”, “effective” and “helpful”. Half of the participants reflected on being able to address their feelings during the sessions and were supported when expressing them. Most of the participants had taken part in some kind of reflective practice previously but had felt it wasn’t impartial due to it being facilitated by another member of the team. They found Ray’s methods and style of facilitation to be “encouraging” and “well led” which offered the opportunity for everyone to “participate and get their views across”.

Using digital ways to deliver reflective practice appeared to be a new concept for all participants, as I would have expected. The team lead was concerned it may impact the session by not being able to see facial reactions “in a little square at the top of a screen”. This was not the case however as they felt they hadn’t held back and were “more honest” as they weren’t watching reactions to what they were saying and reflected that this “let the conversation flow easier”.

One participant found that digital reflective practice made it hard for them to “connect” and “find meaning over video chat” as they describe themselves as a very sensory person.

The second and third sessions yielded fewer responses, one of which was a long and in-depth reflection from one participant which was shared as a group email in reply to questions. This then led to a reply from a colleague who could relate with the shared feelings and emotions and validated them as an ad hoc reflective practice via email which was interesting to see.

Ray had incorporated a short 15-minute teaching session around his Ladder4Life framework and seeing people through a “trauma-informed” lens into the third session. The feedback around this was that it was beneficial doing a short training session at the start, as it helped to structure the reflective practice exercise and also helped to “challenge some natural thought processes”, making it “valuable” and “much needed”.

Ray’s closing thoughts

On a practical/emotional level, I feel encouraged to hear the feedback that participates found it helpful on a number of levels. Facilitating online reflection, I felt I needed to be more directive online than I would in a group meeting physically. For example, I named people and invited them to share how they thought and felt about the work. Although I felt uncertain about this at the time, it seems to have worked well.

I love a good metaphor because they help us communicate an internal experience to other people. So to hear:

  • “it was good to see that others are in the same boat emotionally”

prompted me to think of reflective practice as a safe ‘boat’ which could help protect people from drowning on a stormy sea of emotions.

Other descriptions made me think about reflective practice in new ways. For example:

  • “Our work is blowing up at the minute so I think this protected space and time with Ray is invaluable really.”

This prompted me see the value of the space as protective, perhaps like a bunker amongst the “explosions” of work during the virus.

After the initial sessions I have introduced a theme like validation on being trauma-informed to begin the session. I believe it can help to introduce some teaching on a theme to increase the quality and focus of the reflective practice and to some extent emotionally contain it. Therefore, I was personally encouraged to hear:

  • “I really liked the teaching content as it helps provide a bit of challenge for some of my own natural thought processes, so really found that valuable. I think the fact that the teaching content came first before the feedback on the week helped shape some of what I would later talk about in more productive ways.”

Overall delivering online reflective practice and hearing this feedback has renewed my passion for creating safe reflective practice spaces. I can see the value in opening up spaces for people to share about the emotional wear and tear of the work. A theme can shape the reflection. Clearly, done well it can allow human beings to appreciate both similarities and differences alongside colleagues who are ‘rowing the boat’ together – trying deliver a service during this stormy sea stirred by the coronavirus.

If you’d like to get in touch with Ray and Kevin to learn more about their experiences of delivering these sorts of sessions online please email them at ray.middleton@fulfillinglives-ng.org.uk and kevin.dobson@fulfillinglives-ng.org.uk.

Useful links

The Ladder4Life framework that was devised by Ray Middleton, Workforce Development Lead at Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead