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Advice for New School Social Workers

Advice for New School Social Workers

Last week I asked my social networks to share their advice for new school social workers. I’ve compiled their responses below. My apologies in-advance for the 70’s-80’s “gurus”. I just couldn’t help myself.

“Focus on building relationships…..find a connecting point with as many faculty and staff as you can….they will be your team mates, and support you when the trust is sufficiently established….”
  • “You are laying the foundation for your practice
  • identify needs
  • establish positive working relationships
  • develop a referral procedure keeping the RTI process in mind
  • troubleshoot macro building issues to keep referrals authentic and prioritized
  • develop community relations, identify resources that are affordable and reliable
  • realize it takes about three years to have your foundation built strong enough to rely on
  • smile a lot !!!!!!
  • Enjoy the children, parents and staff…”

 “Develop a good working relationship with these key people:

  1. The custodian
  2. The gym teacher (but always refer to him/her as the physical Ed teacher)
  3. Cafeteria staff
  4. The dean”
  • “Do a self assessment of your own K-12 experience. Know yourself in a school setting.
  • See the school & the school district as a client.
  • Do an ongoing assessment of the school & the school district.
  • Give a diagnosis of the school & the school district.
  • Do a treatment plan for the school & the school district.
  • Determine the strengths & the challenges the school & the school district.
  • Monitor the progress of the goals & objectives of the school & school district.
  • Assess, assess & assess.
  • Enjoy the students and the staff! This is such a great opportunity. Enjoy your process!” 
  • “Develop and strengthen internal/external liaisons.
  • Embrace a team approach to your practice.
  • Build a rapport with your students.
  • Adhere to the parameters of your role as it relates to Best Practice.. Avoid distractions that compromise your role.
  • Educate staff/students about your role.
  • Engage in data collection to determine impact of service and promote programme development.
  • Develop a self care plan.
  • Remember the students are the reason you are there.” 
“My advice is take lots of notes about protocol, don’t be afraid to ask questions and enjoy the kids!”
“Be real with them and always try to apply examples to the students lives…make it applicable to them.”


“Make time for your kids. And be there when they need you. And never let them down.”
“Document, document, document”
“Don’t morph into a teacher, disciplinarian or administrator. You are the resident expert on social and emotional functioning.”
Understand your setting, the education setting is host environment (& at times, we are viewed as guests), therefore many do not possess the same perspective of a SW. Use your perspective in viewing the “whole child” as a strength, especially when collaborating with teachers and other resource professionals. Be confident and steadfast in your abilities… do not allow yourself or your assessments to be marginalized. Connect with these people: (1) teachers, (2) administration, (3) counselor, (4) parent liaison and/or parent technician- form collaborative relationships and use those relationships to present information to the staff and/or parents. Join professional organizations, both educational and SW-related. Be flexible and willing to work with a variety of students. Know your resources- school-based and community oriented. Get involved in your buildings…join committees, facilitate workshops, etc. Most importantly…INSPIRE the students and families you serve, after all in the end YOU ARE A SOCIAL WORKER and have a great legacy of trailblazers behind you. Lastly, keep your skills sharp and always be relevant..enjoy the ride!
“If you have time to do any sort of classroom groups (not sure if your school has a character Ed program), do it!! You will get to know the kids and teachers so much better and they will get to know you too!”
“Be highly visible in the building(s).”
Be patient, gain rapport with families as well as the students. As mentioned previously, let your co-workers be your team mates. Depending on what grade/school level you are working with, think of things that they are interested in to assist in winning them over.For example, I worked with High School the last couple of years. I found out what they wanted to do after high school. If it was the military, I brought in a guest speaker from each branch, Nurses, graphic designers, I fed them, I checked in with them, “just because”. I held Saturday school, for those that were behind due to attendance. And I set up two trips as a reward (halfway thru school year/end of school year). They were fun/educational trips. It takes alot of “your” time and creativity. But if you love what you’re doing, the rewards are awesome!!!


“Just remember that every year is hard, but the first year WILL be the most difficult! Enjoy the moments that remind you why you chose this profession  Next year will be easier, but not easy. (Not the advice you were looking for, but it’s true)
All the above and — be authentic! Remember you are there to work with staff, admin, etc., but you are the charismatic, caring adult for many students. My primary piece of advice for new school social workers is: listen. I’ve never, ever regretted listening.
  • “Seek and find a mentoring relationship with other school social workers in your district. Most school social workers do not have the luxury of having a school social work supervisor as their administrator, evaluator, and guide. But, there should be other school social workers around you who have some miles on them, and support to give. Try to find one of these persons with whom you feel compatible and ask them to consult with you.
  • If you are seeking ACSW accreditation, you will need to have hours of supervision with an ACSW social worker. Find one who is a school social worker.
  • And, join your state’s school social work association. There are numerous benefits to doing so among which are CEUs and opportunities to make professional connections with like-minded school social work professionals who can be helpful to you.
  • Finally, you don’t have to know everything. How could you as a brand new school social worker? Don’t be afraid to ask questions of those around you. Ask others, particularly your teachers, what it is they would like from you. What would be helpful to them as they try to deliver curriculum to their students? Evaluate what they are asking of you in terms of 1) does it seem to be appropriately within your role as a school social worker, and 2) is it anything within your skill set? If yes to these…dive in and see what you can do to support the teacher. They will appreciate your concern for them and their issues, and come to understand that you are the mental health “go to” person for ALL the stakeholders in the school community, not just the students. That will go a long way to establishing your position in the building(s).”


Do you have any advice for a new school social worker? Leave a comment below.


About The Author

Scott Carchedi

Scott Carchedi is the founder and co-editor of SSWN. Scott provides technology support and consultative services to school social work associations across the US. Scott is also a practicing school social worker in the western suburbs of Chicago, serving grades 9-12.



    Scott this is truly an excellent gathering of the most valuable advice.  Anything I would add has already been stated, so take what each of these say to heart!  Remember there are no “dumb questions.”  Good luck, and have fun!

  2. ScottCarchedi

    MKLMSW Thank you! I’m glad you found their comments comprehensive. I am going to take as many I can to heart. It’s a lot to remember. Perhaps my favorite comment was, “you don’t have to know everything. How could you as a brand new school social worker? Don’t be afraid to ask questions of those around you.” I have found this advice to be helpful in all of my positions. Good luck to you in the new school year as well!


    ScottCarchedi MKLMSW Yes, exactly.  And for those moments when I either wasn’t sure, or I felt like I needed my idea/response validated, (perhaps just due to the uniqueness or delicate nature of the situation,) I always had one social worker that I knew I could call, in the moment, and quickly run that question by them, hang up and go.  It was understood, we had that kind of a relationship.  When lucky, I had two, so there would be another I could call if the first didn’t pick up.  Someone you respected (as a person and their practice as a social worker) and trusted.  That is a very handy person to have.  That reinforces the “there are no dumb questions” aspect of it.  Find that person(s) and hold him/her dear.

  4. SophieDeleon

    “Just remember that every year is hard, but the first year WILL be the
    most difficult! Enjoy the moments that remind you why you chose this
    profession  Next year will be easier, but not easy. (Not the advice you
    were looking for, but it’s true). This is so true ! I really enjoyed reading this article! 
    Good luck to new social workers! it is a tough and challenging profession but when you look back you will see you did a great choice. 
    Don’t forget that this month is the great opportunity to create awareness about the social work profession. Share, explain your experience with people around you. 
    When young folks are asking me questions about the profession I am using this cool infograohic and resource to give them an overview:

  5. RAM

    Stumbled upon your blog! I have been a school social worker but 7 years at the middle school level and I am interviewing tomorrow for a part-time position I am really excited about. This post had some great reminders for me and inspired me! Thanks

  6. Brenda

    So thankful that I just now came across this! I am going to print this out. I have an interview Monday for an in school therapist position through a local mental health agency. This will help me tremendously!! Thank you for compiling this information!

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