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Research into practice - The shining example of Birmingham’s Community of Practice for PEs

A post by Joanna Holmes, Consultant Social Worker, West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership.

Wenger Trayner 2015 defines Communities of practice as “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

In June 2020 The West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership encouraged and supported a number of employer partner organisations to develop a Community of Practice for Practice Educators where Practice Educators and those interested in Practice Education could regularly meet up to share best practice, discuss the role and create a supportive community to help enable Practice Education to flourish in the region.

The Community of Practice in Birmingham has since grown from strength to strength and continues to run today under the hard work and dedication of Margaret Stratton, Specialist Practitioner ASYE Adult Social Care Directorate in Birmingham. The Community of practice is open to Practice Educators from Birmingham adults and children’s services and independent Practice Educators in the Birmingham area.

I became aware of Margaret’s community of practice as the lead Consultant Social Worker for the teaching partnerships Research and Development group as the community of practice has developed to include an academic attending the session to bring research on any topics the Practice Educators are discussing. One of the aims of the partnership is to improve social worker's access to and understanding of research and supporting them to apply messages from research to their day to day practice. Practice Education and improving support to Practice Educators is also at the heart of our everyday work so I was really interested to hear more about Margaret’s Community of Practice.

The communities of practice are held on a bi-monthly basis. The academic involved in the Community of Practice is Ani Muir from the University of Wolverhampton. Ani is made aware of the session’s topics and areas of discussion prior to the session and will share research and recent articles on the subject at the end of the session. Practitioners access to literature and current research is a real issue in practice so this really is a positive aspect of the community of practice for the practice Educators and Margaret reports that Ani’s research and discussions are always really well received by the Practice Educators.

The areas of discussion vary from each session and the recent presentations have included Ani looking at increased failure amongst men, and black men in particular and the reasons behind this, confidence of Practice Educators supporting students with disabilities, with a mental health focus. Sessions have also looked at the impact COVID 19 has had on students coming into practice and the effectiveness of anti- discrimination and anti-oppressive models used with students.

As part of her role at Birmingham Margaret supports Newly Qualified social workers and with the community of practice for Practice Educators going so well, with ten to fifteen Practice Educators regularly attending, Margaret wants to develop the communities of practice in the region further to include a community of practice for Newly Qualified staff and would be interested in learning from any partner organisations who has developed a community of Practice for Newly Qualified social workers.

The teaching partnership is built on agencies sharing ideas, resources and best practice and when I heard about the success of Margaret’s community of practice and its ability to share up to date research with practice educators to help them better support the students they are working with I wanted to share this with the partnership with the hope that it celebrates and promotes the work within the region of supporting practitioners to embed research into their practice.

The timing of the blog is also very apt as I will end with a call to action as Ani Mur is retiring and so Margaret is looking for another academic to step into her place. The partnership’s Academics Proximity into practice is gaining momentum and linking academics into opportunities to spend time in practice but if anyone is particularly interested in joining the community of practice for Practice Educators if you let the programme team know we will put you in contact with Margaret so it can continue to support and develop Practice Educators in the region.

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