This week I did a couple of days training for colleagues about theory.
It struck me that most of us probably don’t think about this too much, once we’ve finished our qualifications…
So why does theory matter?…
After 30+ years of working with young people, it’s only relatively recently that I’ve come to appreciate the value and importance of theory.
I had few really tough cases which left me not knowing what to do. So it was back to the drawing board!
And a good thing it was, too…
Theory is about why…
Do you ever think about why you do what you do?
For me it’s about “there but for the grace of God, go I” – if my life hadn’t been so good, it would no doubt be the same as many of the kids we work with.
This thought energises me. What is it that energises you? Establishing this will tell you something about the basic theoretical stance you hold.
For most of us, there will be an underlying belief in the redeemability of troubled children – a belief that they can change, given the right help and the right opportunities.
That’s an example of a theoretical stance that drives us. We believe they can rehabilitate.
What does theory do for us?…
- Theory boosts confidence – sometimes our work can leave us feeling pretty exposed. We’re grafting away but it’s hard to see results – they don’t come quickly! But if we know why we’re doing something (theory) it can help us to hang in there. Even when we can’t base our confidence on immediate results!
- Theory affirms and confirms – working with troubled kids often relies on us doing what feels right. This instinct can be valuable and incisive. But good theoretical knowledge is crucial. It bolsters our practice and adds detail and specificity to what we do – it gives direction and practical clarity to our good intentions.
- Theory safeguards us from…us! – using our instincts is good to a point. But we’re also susceptible to bias and error. Sound theory helps us avoid errors and clumsy, habitual practices. It keeps us sharp so that we don’t wander off or lose our focus! It provides a set of rails for us to run on (hence the picture above! :0) – a protection from our own weaknesses, if you like.
- Theory brings a sense of safety – colleagues, managers and those from other agencies may question what we’re doing. But if we’re clear on the reasons for a particular approach, we can feel safe about our work. Knowing that we’re grounded in sound theory allows us to focus on the child or young person, rather than being concerned with our own professional “safety.”
If theory is that important, we need to nurture it, get more of it and understand it better.
Here are a few things to help us stay sharp and focus our theoretical lens:
- Think – taking some time out to reflect on what we’re doing, will help us to be deliberate. It means we can hang on to the stuff that’s sound and spot the stuff we need to ditch. Holding our practice up for scrutiny in light of good theory can only happen if we make time to think.
- Read – if we’ve stopped reading, we’ve probably stopped learning. Which means our practice isn’t developing. One sure way to keep moving forward is to expose ourselves to research and current thinking – theory! Making time to do this is tricky – but invaluable.
[shareable cite=”Jonny Matthew”]If we’ve stopped reading, we’ve probably stopped learning. Which means our practice isn’t developing…[/shareable]
- Take care – failure to look after ourselves means we won’t be on top form to help the children we serve. Making the effort to be deliberate about looking after ourselves will help us to perform to our optimum potential, so the kids get the very best out of us.
You’ll have guessed that I’m using the term “theory” in the loosest way here – it overlaps with values and professional ethics. These three overlap and are difficult to separate.
But, once again, theory is the basic building block. Get this right and the rest follows…
What do you think?…
- How has theory served you? How do you stay sharp despite the competing demands of work?
- Please let me know your thoughts… Leave a comment below or click here.
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© Jonny Matthew 2016