As AAIDD gets ready to publish The Supervisor Training Curriculum: Evidence-Based Ways to Promote Work Quality and Staff Enjoyment by Dennis H. Reid et al., we interviewed Carly Hatalsky and Jennifer Wagner, two supervisors at The Arc of Frederick County, Maryland in an effort to understand their jobs better and how such a Curriculum can benefit them.
Jennifer: My role here at The Arc as a supervisor consists of providing supervision to 5 support coordinators and one supervisor, working with families to help monitor their budgets and connect to community services, representing The Arc on several inter-agency committees within the county, writing some grants, monitoring the program’s individual budgets as a whole and supporting coordinators to do their work in a creative and supportive way. I usually have supervision with each coordinator on a bi-weekly basis (or monthly depending on seniority) where we talk about each of the families they serve, brainstorming about resources, and how to connect/build rapport with families.
Carly: As a supervisor, I provide ongoing support for 8 individuals. I am not interested in micro-managing but rather providing the support my staff need to be successful support coordinators. This support includes bi-weekly to monthly supervision sessions, depending on the level of support that each person needs. The sessions are conducted as a conversation to keep updated on progress being made, as well as me being able to offer feedback or suggestions to help problem solve. I also am available on a daily basis to answer questions that need an urgent response. When necessary, I also have to have the tough conversations that include reprimands and I try to do this as quickly as possible so that problems can be resolved immediately before they begin to snowball. I feel that when the support coordinators receive ongoing support, whether it is a pat on the back for a job well done or suggesting that more needs to be done, they feel motivated to reach higher.
Carly: Working in the social service field, I think a lot of us have a tendency to be warm and fuzzy people. As I stated above, there are times when I have to reprimand coordinators for not doing their job (in a variety of ways). It’s difficult to be “tough”. Another challenge is the sense of urgency that people have. There are times when a situation should be responded to urgently and as a supervisor, I may need to drop everything to react or walk the coordinator through the action steps. There are also times when a situation is not as urgent as it is made out to be, in which case I feel I need to recognize this and help the support coordinator to focus on what should be addressed or which steps need to be taken and when.
Jennifer: I think the most challenging aspect of my work as a direct support supervisor is probably finding the way to bring out the best in the people I supervise. Each of the coordinators I support is very different in their working style and the way that they work with people. So figuring out how to use their different personality traits to get the best support coordination services for the people we serve is usually a challenge. Also, because I fill many roles at our agency, I often feel pulled between doing the best work I can as a supervisor and then the best work I can as a support coordinator for the families I still support. Disciplining employees effectively has always been an area of concern for me as well, and a difficult skill to master.
Jennifer: I think promoting an enjoyable work environment is critical to avoiding burnout among employees and high turnover rates. Coordinators really need to feel supported in their jobs in order to do them well. I think the value of this Curriculum is to teach supervisors how to really supervise staff and thereby lessen their own stress.
Carly: I think this is a necessity. If employees are happy, I feel that they tend to have more motivation to do the best that they can each and every day. If someone is unhappy, I think that they probably dread coming into work every day and they will only do what’s needed to get by. There can sometimes be a fine line to balance ensuring happiness vs. ensuring the job is done to the maximum potential. I absolutely feel that a curriculum focusing on work enjoyment would be extremely beneficial.
Carly: We’re fortunate to have a great team of very passionate support coordinators who love what they are doing. We do encourage individualism and creativity so I believe that this helps with enjoyment.
Jennifer: I face a few challenges in making work enjoyable for our DSP’s. One is that this is really a case management role and there a few things that most coordinators find tedious (such as paperwork) that just have to get done. The biggest challenge is usually helping them see that the less interesting things about their job really do allow people to get what they need and makes the creative solutions for them possible. The other problem is that we work with some families facing some really difficult situations and some individuals who are dually diagnosed with a mental illness and intellectual disability. It’s not always easy to work with families in this situation, but I have found that listening to coordinators really helps and helping them find their own sense of empathy for what is the person they are supporting is going through can also lessen their stress.
Carly: The trainings that support coordinators attend are those that are required by the state (ex: CPR/1st Aid, seizure recognition, BPS, etc.), as well as any trainings that relate to increasing their skill set for the people they serve (ex: trainings about autism, educational advocacy, person centered planning, etc.). I believe that any trainings that can assist to improve the quality of work, including their personal outlooks, is deemed beneficial.
Jennifer: Our support coordinators go through all of our DDA mandated trainings, but also pretty extensive training with their supervisor and other coordinators within the agency on different resources and programs. I think this really promotes a team atmosphere and helps new coordinators get a sense of support from their first day. I always think additional training on the professional role of DSP’s and their importance in helping people live their dreams is always a good idea.