• by Siobhan Maclean
  • 31st Aug 2022

Theory of the day: A bit of twitter fun?

I enjoy using twitter as a professional tool, but sometimes I struggle with ideas about what to post. Having a bit more time to reflect and think during August, I decided to try something out. So, each day in the month of August I have posted a photo, asking ‘What’s the theory?’

For many years now, my career has had a focus on supporting students and practitioners to connect theory with practice and I have become all too used to the ‘terrified rabbit caught in the headlights’ look when asking people about theory. I wondered whether some of the key learning points that I try to bring into my teaching about theory might come through in this activity and indeed they did. So, what was the learning for me, from the theory of the day activity?

I decided to try the idea out pretty much on the last day of July, so I didn’t have any time to sit and plan. I just chose a picture each day. Sometimes the picture was prompted by an activity and as I looked at the picture or thought about the activity a theory came to mind. Other times I started with thinking about a theory and then tried to find an object that I could take a photo of. That reminded me of lots of questions and conversations that I have had over the years. “Should I start with the theory or with the practice?” The learning point here is that both can work. As long as there is a connection does it matter where we start?

At the start of the month, so many people posted things like “I don’t know if I have got this right…” Of course, there is no singular answer to the question ‘what theory are you using there?’ everyone saw different theories in the photographs. To be honest, I was sometimes tempted to change the theory that I had planned because some of the suggestions were so interesting, and I thought no one would know if I said it was that one (but I never did!) The key learning point is that when a practice educator asks a student about theory it’s not because there is a single correct answer, but it’s because none of us are mind readers and the practice educator wants to understand the student’s thinking about their work. That is why each day I said the theory that I was thinking about was… the theories that others had mentioned were probably much more useful and relevant.

There were lots of times where the theory that I was thinking of seemed, on the face of it, to have little connection with the picture. For example, on day 29 I posted a photo of a book my daughter was reading. She was using a leaflet about the Hoover Dam which she had just visited as a bookmark, and I posted “My daughter has just been to see the Hoover Dam and she came to stay for a couple of days to tell us about her trip… this is what she is reading at the moment.” The book was by Sheree Atcheson and is about equality and diversity (Demanding More). There were lots of suggestions about what theory might relate, but I’d actually been thinking about social learning theory. I wanted to explain why because I knew it made no sense without some explanation but hadn’t been doing that, so I just left it. My daughter has been brought up surrounded by role models with a commitment to diversity and so that was why I thought social learning theory when I saw what she was reading. No one would know that! The learning point here is that it is not enough to say “I am using this theory / model….” We also need to explain why that theory or model. I like to apply the what? why? how? framework to any consideration of theory. What theory am I using? Why that one? How is it influencing my work?

In fact, some days I did say something about the photograph that I thought might lead people towards a different theory. Often supervisors never meet the people that are being discussed in supervision and what is said might influence their thinking. We need to be aware that what we see in something might be influenced by other factors. The SHARE model (Maclean, Finch and Tedam 2018) helps us to recognise that what we see will be influenced by what we hear, what experiences we have had and what we read. All of the components of SHARE (Seeing, Hearing, Action, Reading and Evaluation) will impact on our analysis.

The first few days, the suggestions about each photograph would almost always include attachment. In some of the images I could see why attachment might be relevant, but others not so much. I have always felt that attachment is the ‘go to’ theory for social workers especially those in children and families and this really did seem to be true at the start of the month. Over time, the references to attachment have become less frequent, leaving me to wonder whether when we talk more about theory it opens up our awareness of different options. I decided very early in the month to end the activity on attachment.

I do wonder about the way that theory is taught and the lack of ongoing refresher training on theory and practice. Theory is so interesting and useful to us as social workers. It can be fun. It should never be boring. I am always trying to find new ways of thinking about, and teaching theory and I have been using techniques helping people to associate theory with other things for some time. This idea seems to have worked well on social media and I loved seeing posts from people saying how much they were enjoying the activity. Thinking about theory really is something we should enjoy.

I particularly enjoy discussing theory with students and practitioners because I learn so much and this month posting the ‘theory of the day’ picture has really enhanced my learning about different theories. Social workers are incredibly busy and unfortunately theory is often one of the first things to fall off the social work professional agenda. It was great to see some people posting that they were discussing the theory of the day in their teams and in student groups. Let’s try to keep regular discussions about theory going.