A Supervisor and a Student Does your student “get it”? A supervisor who’s also a student learns the answer isn’t always what it seems. Academic Edge
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Academic Edge  |   October 01, 2017
A Supervisor and a Student
Author Notes
  • Danielle Osmelak, MS, CCC-SLP, has worked as a clinician in acute care, teaches graduate courses at Eastern Illinois University, and is pursuing a doctorate of education in ethical leadership at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 10, Issues in Higher Education; and 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. drosmelak@eiu.edu
    Danielle Osmelak, MS, CCC-SLP, has worked as a clinician in acute care, teaches graduate courses at Eastern Illinois University, and is pursuing a doctorate of education in ethical leadership at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 10, Issues in Higher Education; and 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. drosmelak@eiu.edu×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Normal Language Processing / Academic Edge
Academic Edge   |   October 01, 2017
A Supervisor and a Student
The ASHA Leader, October 2017, Vol. 22, 40-41. doi:10.1044/leader.AE.22102017.40
The ASHA Leader, October 2017, Vol. 22, 40-41. doi:10.1044/leader.AE.22102017.40
At the end of an hour-long meeting with one of my doctoral faculty supervisors in which we discussed my research methodologies, she turned to me and asked, “Are we good? Any questions?”
In response to my supervisor’s question, I automatically said “yes,” but subtly (and unintentionally) shook my head “no.” Even though she was more than willing to answer any questions, I had an earnest desire to please my supervisor. I was working so hard to keep up with the conversation and didn’t want to disappoint by asking her to explain it again, so I instinctively confirmed that I understood—even though I didn’t.
Turning point
This meeting with my supervisor served as a turning point in my own approach to supervising. As a doctoral student at Olivet Nazarene University and also a faculty member and clinical supervisor at Eastern Illinois University, I have the opportunity to be both the supervisor and supervisee at the same time. This uniquely blended experience has illuminated the blind spots in my own supervisory approach, changed my perspective and improved my supervision style.
I was fortunate that my supervisor immediately recognized my masked uncertainty. She then asked me to recap our conversation and my plans to accomplish the goals we had set by our next regularly scheduled meeting. As I tried to summarize my understanding of our meeting and her feedback, I was surprised at just how far off the mark I was. My supervisor patiently made sure we were on the same page and that I left our meeting feeling confident, prepared and ready to tackle my goals for the next week.
As I left her office, I wondered: “Am I providing genuine opportunities for students to openly ask questions? How am I assessing that students leave our meetings on the same page? How do my students feel when they leave our clinical meetings?”

As I tried to summarize my understanding of our meeting and her feedback, I was surprised at just how far off the mark I was.

In the dark
That conversation helped me realize that my assumptions were leaving my students in the dark. Not until I was back in the role of a student did I fully understand the aspect of vulnerability in asking questions to a mentor and supervisor. That realization led to other questions: Do I—and other supervisors—assume that students understand our feedback without validation? Do we assume that no questions equals complete comprehension? Do we end meetings with students without confirming that we are on the same page?
Later that same semester, I was giving feedback to a student and wrapping up our meeting. She gave me that oh-so-familiar, reluctant “yes” as she shook her head “no.” She wholeheartedly wanted to take my advice, but was unsure how. I remembered my own experience, and a light bulb went on in my head: Just as I had needed an opportunity to verbalize and summarize my understanding in my own way, this student needed the same. It’s so hard to ask questions when you don’t know exactly where to start!
I saw myself staring back at me: eager, but unsure how to ask for clarification. I smiled and asked her to describe in her own words our plan of action. From there, we found the blind spots in her understanding and talked it through. She was relieved and more confident, as was I.

Effective supervision includes ensuring that students can independently and confidently understand and apply your feedback.

Clinical clarity
There are ways we can facilitate moments of clinical clarity. Here are some strategies I have found useful in lighting the way:
  • Seek to understand the supervisee’s perspective first. Before you can help build a student’s clinical skills, you need to know the student’s level of experience and the skills and tools they’ve mastered. Take the time to have a conversation about the supervisee’s perceived strengths, areas that require additional growth, clinical goals and aspirations—information that facilitates effective mentorship.

  • Embrace the opportunity to learn from the supervisee. Supervisors and supervisees come from varied backgrounds and diverse clinical experiences. Each student provides a unique perspective and valuable experiences that can shape even a seasoned supervisor’s therapeutic perspectives and skill sets. Just as students want to learn from their supervisors, supervisors can learn from their students.

  • Help supervisees find their own voices as clinicians. In the same way that clinicians strive to help patients to find their voice, supervisors should strive to help students find their voices as clinicians. Finding the balance is critical: Supervisors want to give students the freedom to cultivate their own clinical foundations and voices, but also want to provide feedback and support that helps students critically analyze each aspect of the therapeutic process.

From my active participation in both sides of the supervisory relationship, I realize how important it is to give the supervisee the opportunity to reflect, recap and voice the takeaways from their own perspective. Effective supervision includes ensuring that students can independently and confidently understand and apply your feedback. The process builds their ability to draw insight and think critically.
When I changed my vantage point—even slightly—I became a more effective supervisor.
1 Comment
October 13, 2017
Jane Sackett
Poor choice of visual
I am frustrated that the image chosen to accompany this article is that of an older white man ‘supervising’ a young woman. We are in a field statistically dominated by women, yet in an issue devoted to supervision, the published image is of men teaching and instructing us. According to ASHA’s 2016 Membership and Affiliation profiles, less than 5% of ASHA’s members are male. That photograph in no way reflects any of my supervision experiences. I find that visual a very poor choice.
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FROM THIS ISSUE
October 2017
Volume 22, Issue 10