Reflecting on the importance of being present through use of Video Enhanced Reflective Practice (VERP)
by Megan Tucker and Anita Soni
VERP is an application of Video Interactions Guidance (VIG), and is now more frequently termed VIG with professionals. It is a strengths based approach which enables professionals to analyse their practice to reflect on ways to improve their communication, therapeutic or teaching skills through shared review of video clips of attuned interaction in their everyday practice (Kennedy, Landor and Todd, 2015). VIG and VERP are based on the values of respect, trust, hope, compassion, co-operation, connections, empathy and appreciation, and both utilise the same principles of attuned interaction and guidance. The principles emphasise the importance of waiting attentively, encouraging initiatives from the child and following the child’s lead through receiving their initiatives as the basis to intersubjectivity. It is anticipated the child-learning mentor relationship and the VIG guider-client relationship mirror each other in terms of communication within an attuned relationship.
Meg and Anita started using VERP as a way of reflecting on practice in January 2018. Although Anita had used VIG with parents, this was Anita’s first experience of using VERP with a Learning Mentor in a primary school and Meg’s first experience of VERP. Meg as a Learning Mentor provides support and guidance to children and young people to help them overcome social, emotional and behavioural problems which act as barriers to their learning. She bridges academic and pastoral support roles, through building professional helping relationships with pupils, ensuring that individual pupils and students engage more effectively in learning and are participating in the life of the school.
The following account has been written to reflect on the idea of ‘presence’ and what this came to mean to us, both for Anita as a VIG guider and Meg as a Learning Mentor.
Anita: I had been keen to develop the use of VERP within a primary school. The Headteacher encouraged me to present information about VERP within a staff meeting, and then for staff to choose to volunteer. Two staff offered to try using VERP, and due to difficulties with cover for both staff at the same time, it was agreed to work with them individually.
Meg: My focus was within the context of individual mentoring sessions. I had been seeing children in small groups and individually for 18 months but felt unclear as to how effective I was being.
Anita: I was excited to work with Meg as I have been using group supervision with Learning Mentors for the past six years, but felt it was time to develop new ways of working. VERP seems to offer a valuable opportunity for Learning Mentors to reflect on their communication and attunement to the children they work with.
Meg: The VERP process provided the opportunity to assess my interactions more objectively and positively, as my tendency is towards a negative view of the way I work. It also gave me an opportunity to consider the responses and cues of the children I was working with.
Anita directed me to the positive features of the clips we looked at. It’s strange that something so simple can be such a revelation. After the initial session I felt affirmed that I did have positive interactions with children and we could identify the ways in which these were created e.g. eye contact, timely nods or acknowledgements, using the child’s own language and repeating their own phrases back to them, amongst many other small positive communications both verbal and non-verbal.
Initially when watching the clips my attention was on myself, partly because it’s strange to see yourself and because I wanted to see what I thought about how I was working on playback. But over time I became more interested in the impact of my actions on the child.
Anita: I was aware from the initial training session, and other experiences of VERP and VIG, that there can be a reticence to watch yourself back on camera. I was also aware that the focus on better than usual moments can be challenging as one of the teachers had queried it in the staff meeting. I admit to having been unsure of both of these issues myself at the beginning of my training on VIG, but gradually through my own supervision and further experience, I had become more certain of the approach. I hoped to open up dialogue on both issues in the training, but was uncertain I had answered in a way that was helpful and not defensive. I also felt that both of these concerns can only be fully answered through experiencing VERP yourself!
Meg: I had understood from the staff meeting that the aim of VERP is to identify the positives in what you are already doing and then build on them. Certainly that was my experience. I realised I was using lots of helpful strategies to good effect. In identifying the strengths in how I interacted with children I was able to apply those strategies more intentionally and consider how to build on them to engage in deeper more reflective conversations.
However, although the focus is on strengths, whilst watching a clip I realised I wasn’t always present in the moment and this provoked me more than any other observations to think about my practise in the individual mentoring sessions and about what my intention should actually be.
While watching a clip with Anita I realised I had missed a cue from a child as they tried to volunteer a comment. I missed the moment. Similarly Anita commented on a facial cue from a child which I hadn’t registered. On further reflection I realised I hadn’t missed these opportunities because I was looking the other way or setting up an activity but because in my mind I was busily thinking about something that had just happened and also about where I wanted to get to in that session. Looking at myself in the clip, I appear present but there was a short section of the clip I couldn’t actually recall. I realised I had been on autopilot at various points.
Watching myself there were times when I could see myself disengage momentarily from the interaction. I worked out this was when I was thinking on my feet as I assessed how to respond to what the child was saying or maybe reviewing something from before the session or planning ahead to my next task. Previously I had been unaware of this shift in my attention.
Anita: I remember this as a key point in the second shared review with Meg. I was so impressed at Meg’s ability to reflect on herself, and her honesty in her reflections. I was genuinely curious to hear what she thought! It made me also stop and reflect on what engagement or presence is. It also made me stop and consider my own presence in work more generally, and specifically within VIG and VERP, and the points at which I was most present. I reflected that I find it easier to be present and fully engaged in the discussion as I have become more confident with VIG and VERP. However in VERP, I find I have to be more present as I don’t know what is coming. As an Educational Psychologist, I sometimes would over-prepare for meetings, and would have defined thoughts on where I felt the discussion should go and the outcomes of a successful meeting.
This led to a deep discussion on presence and how difficult this can be in the face of the pressure of measurable outcomes. I have been a teacher, and now spend time observing in nurseries and schools. Meg too is a teacher, and we are both highly aware of the pressure on outcomes, and moving children on in their learning.
Meg: Yes, as measuring outcomes has become so important in education, I have become more focussed on an outcome than what is currently happening in the room. I plan activities to achieve an objective, so I can show that I have addressed a particular issue. Or perhaps I perceive a number of steps I feel it would be helpful to progress the child or group through, but my attention is more on completing the current step in order to move onto the next one, rather than the children.
Anita: I was curious to consider how we can be both available and attentive, but yet hold in mind other key ideas.
Meg: I know it’s important to be planned and have an aim in mind but it’s equally important to be conscious of how that can steal my attention away from the current situation. It’s natural to have moments where you have to think on your feet. Watching my VERP clips I can spot my ‘thinking on my feet’ face. Seeing this in the clips I am more conscious that I may need to re-engage or still be watching for communication cues from the child, even as I try to strategize on the go.
I’ve also realised that it helps me to take a moment or two to collect myself before I start a session. I am then more able to leave aside what has just happened or will be happening later so I can focus on the present moment. Also meeting up with other mentors at school to talk and support each other as a sort of debrief has helped me stay present when working with a child.
Anita: Yes, we discussed practical ways of managing being fully present as this is when time can race past, but can also be emotionally quite draining. In some ways, I reflected that having a focus on an outcome can feel safer and easier!
Meg: The VERP process has also made me think about how the activities I plan can facilitate interactions and gently provoke more reflective and deeper conversation. Previously the exercise was often more about completion within a time frame. I’ve realised that it is hard work to enable easy conversation and that there’s real value in giving a child room to chat and respond in their own time. This can then naturally lead to a child volunteering more reflective responses. I’m learning to provide more opportunities to chat whilst engaged in an activity, as this seems to encourage or allow the child to lead the conversation but doesn’t have to have a strict focus or outcome.
Anita: This particular use of VERP has helped me reflect on how I further support staff working in schools to take a different perspective on outcomes. As Vermeulen, Bristow and Landor (2011) highlight ‘…an essential part of VIG guiding is being present in the here and now’ (p. 267) and is modelled for the parent. When using VIG with professionals or VERP, this same presence here and now is vital, but may contrast with approaches traditionally taken within my own field of education. I have come to see this mindful presence as not only central to VIG and VERP, but also highly applicable to other aspects of my work as an EP. However, alongside this, I have to recognise that it contradicts dominant models within education policy and practice, where the focus is on progress towards outcomes identified by teachers from within the curriculum. This in turn means this may be a very new way of thinking for professionals within education, although could be said to be aligned to person-centred planning. For me, I have come to realise that the discussion itself is the outcome, and if I (and indeed the Learning Mentor I am guiding) focus on being fully present then the outcomes will emerge.
Kennedy, H., Landor, M. and L. Todd (2015) Video Enhanced Reflective Practice: Professional Development through Attuned Interactions, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Vermeulen, H., Bristow, J. and M. Landor (2011) ‘Mindulness, attunement and VIG’ in Kennedy, H., Landor, M. and L. Todd (eds) Video Interactive Guidance: A Relationship Based Intervention to promote Attunement, Empathy and Well-Being, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers