Our work at Us in a Bus is all about connection and communication – we facilitate opportunities for people with complex needs to explore sociability and self-expression. By far the most important and useful approach in making this happen is Intensive Interaction and we’ve been lucky enough to have been using and evolving this work for since 1990. Some time ago, we established – as a team – that if clear communication and open connection was what we were offering, we had to experience this for ourselves, as colleagues and with everyone we came in to contact with, not just the people who use our services. This grew into an essential part of our Code of Conduct and Ethics:
Congruence There needs to be congruence between what is expected of our service users and what we expect of ourselves. A lotis expected of them – they are observed, reviewed, reported about, encouraged to stretch their comfort zones, expected to learn, given feedback etc. We should not expect less from and of ourselves.
We aim to ensure that congruence underpins everything we do, ensuring that respect for those we work with is at the very core of our work. Our trouble shooting, quality control processes and communication with each other must include the same level of scrutiny and honesty that is often expected of our Interaction Partners, for it to be a fair representation of the ideals we hold. Translating this principle into everyday practice is sometime easy – and sometimes not.
We use Intensive Interaction every day, encouraging people to develop their fundamental communication abilities and their basic sociability, playfully exploring activities together in a way that feels familiar and natural. As we all know, a lot of thought, observation and reflection supports this and, as we also know, things don’t always go to plan.
Over the years we have worked hard to find ways in which we can effectively support our team to work through these moments and form strategies to solve problems. One of these ways is by holding regular ‘Unpicking Meetings’ which I’ll describe here.
The American Educational theorist David Kolb constructed his Cycle of Experiential Learning in 1984 and it has been widely adapted to fit many different settings.
It’s presented in many versions and all break down the process of learning by “doing” into categories.
Our version, adapted from Kolb by Janet Gurney, our Director of Training, adds into the cycle the thing that we all, as Intensive Interaction practitioners must hold in our head at all times. The concept of “PURPOSE”. Why are we interacting as we do? What are our hopes for the person we’re with? What do we hope to achieve?
So our version looks like this:
So, how do we use this to direct our trouble shooting, “unpicking” meetings?
We have found that a few minutes discussion with our regular working partner usually results in examples of moments in our sessions that have raised questions with us in some way. As a team, we decide which of these we want to analyse in more detail. There are often themes that run through everyone’s experiences, (for instance how to work with sleepy people or how to best facilitate group interactions when one person is more energetic than the others). With someone facilitating the discussion, we work our way around Kolb’s cycle, noting in detail the facts of what happened, what we thought about it and how we felt about it.
Sometimes there are expressions of discontent, dismay, insecurity, frustration, impatience and any number of other emotions. Practitioners share the thought that perhaps home support staff think they’re rubbish, that they are rubbish, the person they’re working with just doesn’t want them there. Practitioners feel disheartened, sad, or upset that they can’t connect as they would like.
So much doubt I hear you say! Well yes, often the nature of these meetings is to work through situations we are finding hard to navigate, so the subject matter will often be the less joyful moments of our work. They are however incredibly useful both as a guard against complacency, and to offer re-motivation and invigoration at times when we feel “stuck in a rut” or that things are not “happening”. They are also exceptionally joyful experiences when moments of wonder have occurred within an interaction and are being celebrated.
After discussing the Facts, Thoughts and Feelings and before we move on to what we may, or may not do differently, we focus on our purpose for the time we spend with this person or persons. Our organisational constant is to promote opportunities for people to explore their sociability, so this is without fail one of our main purposes. To ensure people feel valued, building esteem and confidence, supporting people to feel heard, promoting feelings of “good to be with” all, inevitably, are mentioned.
With that in our minds, we move on to considering what we might change, and this is the point at which we often realise that we are, despite our thoughts and feelings, meeting our purposes. The method sometimes needs tweaking, and Us in a Bus practitioners are pretty imaginative and creative people, so always have ideas of how to do this.
An example, drawn from a recent unpicking meeting.
It is incredibly easy for us to turn perhaps small sections of unsatisfying practice into huge chunks of disastrous work, in our heads. This method of deconstructing situations and getting to the most important elements of an interaction, together with the support of a team whose input reflects the value base they share, encourages continuous positive progression in practice. It also, just as importantly, supports us to identify and deal with any “cross-purposes” that might have found their way into our practice. We might be challenged to consider that we are too focused on “impressing” someone: Perhaps other professionals, our working partner or support staff. We may discover we are trying too hard to “teach” or “make someone do something”. Feedback may indicate we are not always “being real”, as our Code of Ethics demands. The gold standard is of course being able to (and remembering to) do all this in our heads as we work, genuinely self-reflecting and making changes as necessary.
Of course, the experiential learning cycle is just as useful when used to examine interactions that are working really well – it helps us to notice exactly why it is positive. Once we have identified what it is we are doing that makes it ‘work’, we are more likely to be able to plan next steps and avoid complacency. We can also apply what is ‘working’ to other situations
Sharing our practice concerns in this way within the team, and having the openness of culture to both ask for, and offer, support, is extremely valuable and illustrates a level of professionalism to which we aspire. Demonstrating the commitment to communicate with our colleagues in this way, promoting congruence with those we provide a service for, is a sure fire way to ensure they remain at the centre of our practice.
If you want to read more about how we encourage each other to develop our practice and raise our standards, spend 99p and have a look at Chapter 8 of Delivering Intensive Interaction Across Settings: Practice, Community and Leadership.