Allyson Davys and Liz Beddoe share their four-step model for the live observation of social work students.

Allyson Davys and Liz Beddoe

Allyson Davys and Liz Beddoe
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Correspondence to:

Opening up our work to a third person for observation and feedback can be a daunting experience for the best and most experienced of us, so it is not surprising that it can be a very challenging experience for a social work student. Live observation of professional practice, a routine component of professional social work education, engenders a level of anxiety in the student, not only because of the presence and critique of the external eye but also because student placements ultimately lead to assessment – a pass or a fail.

The Negotiated Collaborative Model (Davys and Beddoe, 2015a), a four-step model of live observation, can help to reduce the students' anxiety by inviting them to join with the practice educator to identify the parameters (purpose, roles and process) of the observation, to participate in the evaluation and feedback and to commit to future action.

Four propositions underpin the model:

  1. That feedback criteria are overt and negotiated.
  2. That specific, appreciative and strengths-based feedback is heard from both the student and the practice educator.
  3. That the discussion and reflections between students and practice educators, following the feedback, create an opportunity for professional conversations and practice development for both parties.
  4. That the learning identified by all participants will be followed with a commitment to introduce it into future practice.

The model which began with the early work of Jane Maidment (Maidment, 2000), was further developed by Liz Beddoe and her colleagues (Beddoe, Ackroyd, Chinnery, and Appleton, 2011) and finally evolved into the present four-step Negotiated Collaborative Model.

The Negotiated Collaborative Model

Step 1: Preparation – the rules of engagement

The parameters and purpose of the observation are identified, discussed, understood and agreed by both the student and the practice educator.

Questions which can assist this negotiation include:

  • What is the purpose of the observation?
  • Is it appropriate and ethical for this interaction with a service-user to be observed?
  • What are the criteria against which the student's work will be considered?
  • What criteria are not negotiable?
  • How will the session be reviewed and how will feedback be given?

(adapted from Davys and Beddoe, 2015b p.11)

A most important area to be included and agreed in this discussion is the role of the observer (practice educator). Humphrey (2007) warns that it is often not only the student who can be anxious in these situations and that the observer (practice educator) in his or her anxiety may move from the agreed role of observer and stray 'into the realms of participation and intervention" and justify this by asserting greater experience and expertise.

A number of questions need to be clarified.

  1. Is the observer strictly an observer or will he/she participate under certain circumstances?
  2. If there are exceptions to being strictly observational, what circumstances would justify intervention?
  3. What is the possible effect if the observer intervenes? (Humphrey, 2007)



Step 2: Negotiated Observation – the action

Step two is where that session occurs – some useful reminders:

  • What preparation does the student need to do?
  • Has the service user's consent been acquired?
  • How has the service user been advised about the observation?
  • How has the service user(s) been invited to participate?
  • How has the practice educator been introduced?
  • How will the service user give feedback (if appropriate)?
  • What role has the practice educator negotiated in the session?



Step 3: Debriefing and Feedback – the learning

Debriefing and feedback are not the same thing and may occur together or separately. It is important to debrief immediately after the session and to have feedback as close to session as possible.


Considerations include:

  • Are there any matters identified (concerning the service user or student) which need immediate action?
  • How will these concerns be addressed? What action is required?
  • When is the formal feedback scheduled?


  • Student: what did he/she not like, what would he/she like to develop?
  • Practice educator: what did he/she think didn't go so well, what would he/she like the student to develop?
  • Student: what did he/she like, what would he/she like to do more?
  • Practice educator: what did he/she like, what would he/she like to the student to do more of?

It is useful to separate the positive from the critical feedback so that both can be heard without the one qualifying or cancelling out the other.


Discussion is about mutuality. When feedback is discussed it opens up the 'possibilities, rather than imperatives, for practice' (Davys and Beddoe, 2015b).

Conversations focus on the learning available for both student and practice educator and the 'wonderings' which might arise from the practice observed and the 'process' of the observation (as opposed to the content).

Each participant, student and practice educator, identifies what they are taking from the observation that will influence or change their practice.



Step 4: Next Steps – practice development

Considerations for next steps include for both the student and the practice educator.

  • What have I learned from this observation as the observed or the observer?
  • How will that affect my future practice/work?
  • What aspect(s) of my practice will I value and continue to include in my future practice.
  • What do I want to develop, learn more about or continue discussions about in the coming months?
  • What can I take to share with my team/supervisor/manager/classmates?

The negotiated collaborative model for the observation of live practice invites students to participate in the critique and consideration of their developing practice.

The model is negotiated in that the participants discuss and agree the criteria for observation, the processes by which the observation will be conducted and the manner in which the feedback will be delivered. The model is collaborative, in that the participants work together to achieve the agreed outcomes of the observation (Davys and Beddoe, 2015b, p.177).


Beddoe, L., Ackroyd, J., Chinnery, S.A., and Appleton, C. (2011) "Live supervision of students in field placement: More than just watching." Social Work Education 30(5): 512–528. doi:10.1080/02615479.2010.516358

Davys, A.M., and Beddoe, L. (2015a) "'Going live': An exploration of models of peer, supervisor observation and observation for assessment." Practice 28(1): 3-20. doi:10.1080/09503153.2015.1053857

Davys, A.M., and Beddoe, L. (2015b) "'Going Live': A negotiated collaborative model for live observation of practice." Practice 27(3): 177–196. doi:10.1080/09503153.2015.1032234

Humphrey, C. (2007) "Observing students' practice (through the looking glass and beyond)." Social Work Education 26(7): 723–736. doi:10.1080/02615470601129933

Maidment, J. (2000) "Strategies to promote student learning and integration of theory with practice in the field." in Fieldwork in the Human Services, edited by L. Cooper and L. Briggs, 205–215. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

About the authors:

Allyson Davys is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and teaches on the post graduate professional supervision programme. She has practised social work in a range of social work contexts (statutory, not for profit and private) and continues to run a small private supervision practice.

Liz Beddoe is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. She practiced social work for 14 years in women's and family services in health settings.

Liz blogs at
You can follow her on Twitter at @BeddoeE


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