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“You know nothing Jon Snow”; learning to love conscious incompetence.

At a CPD day for my previous employer, I was asked to present a reflection of my time in the role of Assistant EP. I discovered that I had experienced a fairly important lesson in conscious incompetence, one that hopefully will have prepared me not only for doctoral training, but also for life beyond.

Knowing what I didn’t know

Self-esteem as a learner is an often-discussed topic and mine took an absolute battering in the first half of my contract as an assistant EP. I had a degree of autonomy in this role, and in constructing my own learning framework, I identified my skill gaps and set out to fill them. So, with relatively little experience (and a slight fear) of children aged 0-10 I decided to focus on early years and primary experiences. In my mind, the ‘tree of knowledge’ would blossom effortlessly and fill the gap in my experience, thus providing me with a full overview of development from 0-25 years…

…What actually happened was that I found my self-confidence plummeting, with little prior knowledge or experience to draw on.

This coincided with me applying for the doctorate, where I needed to draw together all of the skills and experience I had into a very tight character count. Needless to say this task, difficult enough already, suddenly felt insurmountable given that I was now almost exclusively aware of only what I couldn’t do.

Nurturing my ‘tree of knowledge’

Hindsight being what it is, I can see now that in separating myself from all areas that I had experience of in order to grow my ‘tree of knowledge’, I had unwittingly hacked at the roots of it and it was becoming very wobbly. With nothing to draw on that I recognised (my previous work has been with teens who have experienced significant trauma and have complex SEMH difficulties) I floundered.

Several personal lessons became apparent as I prepared for the presentation at the CPD day. Firstly, I should keep at least one finger in a familiar pie. In the latter half of my contract I began exploring therapeutic work with primary aged children who were experiencing SEMH type difficulties in school. This blend of an age group I wanted to gain confidence working with, coupled with an approach I felt more confident in allowed me to start scaffolding my learning.

The second part of the lesson for me was that very often one might not be able to see the wood for the trees. This can be the case for some schools, families and children. From the outside looking in, a solution for a child might seem clear, and we may wonder that it hasn’t been obvious to those working within ‘a problem situation’ all along. I hope to remember, as I begin my training, that perspectives are relative and that it is very difficult to see the whole picture when you are part of it. The position we can occupy seems to be a privileged and important one.

Learning through empathy

I want to hold on to the power of those feelings of inadequacy and confusion. To remember how much I worried at home about not knowing what I was going to do next. I want to remember this and consider the children we work with every day. Even with with the opportunity to seek support through discussion with colleagues, applying rational thinking, using tried and tested self-soothing techniques… I struggled. Children often do not have these resources. How much bigger must these feelings be for them in a classroom?

As I finished my last few weeks as an Assistant EP, I felt better prepared for the conscious incompetence I will now face during my training, and undoubtedly during my career. Whilst not the most comfortable place to be, this experience while an Assistant will hopefully have allowed me to more readily learn from those experiences.


About Emma Mercer

Emma has worked with vulnerable teenagers and young adults in a variety of roles for 12 years and is currently in her first year of training at the University of Sheffield.

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One Comment so far:

  1. Lauren says:

    I could have written this post myself following my year as an Assistant before joining the Doctorate course. My reflections amounted to the same comparisons between myself and the children. Something that I will try not to forget. I wonder if it is felt more universally amongst Assistant EPs than I imagined at the time. Interesting post.

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