Hank Bohanon | Sep 21, 2020 | 0
No SSW Magic Required, Just A Commitment To Learn
Editor’s Note: This is the second in our series of “letters to a new school social worker,” this time written by Loyola SMHAPP student and early childhood school social worker Molly Evans, who tells the truth about how there’s no “magic” to what we do even though amazing things do happen with our kids and families when we listen and learn.
Dear new school mental health practitioner:
Welcome to your new career! As a practitioner just slightly ahead of you (I’m starting my third year as a school social worker after a career change) I wanted to offer some thoughts. First, you might feel like you don’t know anything starting this job straight out of school. Honestly, you know more than you think you do but it’s also time to watch, listen, and learn. You may have colleagues who have been in education longer than you’ve been alive, and they will have so much to teach you about working with students and families. You have an opportunity and an obligation to learn as much about the systems your students live in as you can.
If the families you are working with come from very different backgrounds from your own, again, it’s time to watch, listen and learn. Especially in the pandemic, parents may not be as responsive as you would hope. Remember the hierarchy of needs and stages of change, both of which could help explain why a parent might not call in for an attendance or even an IEP meeting.
You might feel like you don’t know anything starting this job straight out of school. Honestly, you know more than you think you do but it’s also time to watch, listen, and learn.
There are so many systemic factors that contribute to a parent’s level of engagement with school. Their own history with school could have been difficult. They might work in a place that will not allow them to make phone calls or attend meetings during business hours. They might not speak the same language as most people in the school. They might not have a smartphone or computer that would let them review IEP documents, and if they do they might not be at a literacy level that lets them understand. They might be on the verge of losing their housing, not be sure where their next meal is coming from, and not in a place where they can sit down and focus on the school’s concerns about their child’s behavior. They might be of a different race than most of the people in the meeting and feel that they won’t be treated respectfully or fairly. Your job is to be the person who thinks about those things and comes up with ideas to break down those barriers, and recognizes and highlights the strengths they have.
Why We Don’t Have A Magic Wand (And Why That’s Okay)
Sometimes teachers or school staff will bring you a child who is struggling – maybe in the midst of a crisis – and expect that you have some kind of magic wand to “fix” the situation. Maybe you can do something the moment to fix things – maybe all that child needs is a calm, loving and empathetic presence. But more often that not your magic wand won’t work – not because you aren’t doing all the right things but because all the systems in which we operate are broken to some degree. Instead you will have to work on lots of little issues with persistence.
Finally, find a team that shares your values, that you can support and get support from, and take the time to care for yourself as much as you care for your clients. And if you work in early childhood, make sure you have extra clothes in your office, because you will get peed on.