Going The Extra Mile For Our Families: Letter To A New Practitioner by Emily Stratton
Dear Future School Social Worker,
Congratulations on choosing a potential career and returning to higher education where you dedicate your time, energy, and passion to a field that is fulfilling, evolving, and challenging! School social work is a very special position in which you will connect with students and their families while contributing to environments that will support their academic and personal growth.
Looking back now, there are a few things I wish I had understood, or wished someone had told me, about the position. I wish I knew what a crisis really was and how important the ability to deescalate a student is. Part of your job might be responding to escalated students 5, 10, 20 times a day. It might be how you spend your whole day (not as an intern, but later on). Having established relationships with not only the students on your caseload, but the whole student body is a helpful tool in these situations. I also wish I had understood the strength of our role in the special education process. When I started, I did not realize how much I would be able to advocate for students and their families during special education evaluations. Another thing I wish I had understood is how much planning for lessons prior to seeing my students improves the quality of lessons I give (it seems obvious but it is hard to be ahead of the game all the time!)
Make The Choice To Go The Extra Mile For Your Families
I wish that someone had told me that it is a choice to go the extra mile for families. It is not inherent in the title of School Social Worker. I choose the quality of support I give my students, families, and teachers. It is easy to get lazy, tired, or say, “That’s not my job.” When I feel that way, I refresh and reframe what’s going on. I implement whatever strategy I need to in order to keep doing the right thing. Finally, I wish someone told me to have a pen and paper around me at all times! In this position, you serve your entire student population, which means you have your entire teacher population telling you “that one thing they were going to tell you” as soon as they see you. It’s easy to forget things if you don’t write them down!
I wish that someone had told me that it is a choice to go the extra mile for families. It is not inherent in the title of School Social Worker. I choose the quality of support I give my students, families, and teachers.
To be a school social worker that serves your students, I believe that you need to have unconditional positive regard for them and their families. It is easy to believe that students act a certain way on purpose, or that it’s the parent’s fault. Operate from a place of caring and patience. Being a good school social worker does not mean working late into the night every night. I believe that it means demonstrating appropriate boundaries and taking care of your health. This job is so special because you hold so many positions in one: special education service provider, mental health practitioner, program creator/implementer, champion of data, community resource coordinator, and more. You will feel like you are treading water at first, but with every year you practice, you will gain more skills and knowledge and feel a little more confident. You’ve got this!
School Social Worker