Oxygen Masks First: Introducing Our New SSWN Super Vision Column
“Self-Care Matters!” graphic by @heyalihearn
Editor’s Note: Welcome to Super Vision, a new column here at SSWN dedicated to school social work supervisors and interns pursuing a school social work endorsement. The content provided herein is designed to help supervisors and interns with helpful questions, challenges and topics for their supervision hour.
In my experience, school social work is a profession that naturally pushes professionals towards their limits. The volume of work and amount of crisis and pressurized situations can swell to such an extent that some school social workers ultimately burn out. It can seem that the times that we are able to ‘stop and smell the roses’ tend to be few and far between. (Although, when they do happen, seeing students succeed makes it all worth it.) I have tended to be increasingly upfront about this reality as a supervisor with my supervisees. I want my interns to know that they will face immediate challenges once they journey out on their own, and to help them prepare for those challenges. I want them to know that this profession can be deeply satisfying and deeply daunting, that way when they face a struggle in their first year, they don’t feel isolated. Additionally, when they face that first big challenge, I want them to know how to thoughtfully navigate it.
That being said, how do we make it through those extra tough days? What do we lean on? The answer comes down to a professional’s personal experience. In order to articulate what we “lean on” to get us through, let’s answer two questions to establish our foundation. Using a pedagogy called “Use of Self” both supervisor and intern can answer the following:
1. How did you get here? (Retrace your steps to the profession and current role)
2. Who are you here to serve?
Note to the Supervisor: In the realm of academia, “Use of Self” describes a pedagogy that uses knowledge, values, and skills gained in social work attained through one’s personal experience. This method’s effectiveness is predicated on the supervisor’s experiences, the relevance of those experiences and their ability to communicate successfully. When applying “use of self” techniques it’s important to identify bias and refrain from absolutes.
I’ll demonstrate “Use of Self.”
How did you get here?
Knowing what I know now, I would have fallen under the protection of the McKinney Vento Act throughout my early elementary years. Without going into detail, our family needed to move several times in order to stay afloat economically. In an effort to break a cycle of poverty for the family, my father made the decision to join the Army during the Desert Storm War. Fortunately for him, that conflict ended as he finished basic training, however, our family journey was just beginning.
My educational career included 13 different schools (K-12). The constant switching between curriculum, pedagogy and classroom dynamics set the stage for my unbridled hatred of school. The sight of worksheets inspired a mischievous spirit that led to several office referrals. The verbal assaults from teachers faded into background elevator music. I learned how to act out just enough so they would not call my dad. School was my personal hell, so I turned it into a circus. It took me several years to put together that my experience in education was so disrupted that I never really had a great shot at loving school. And yet, here I am today working in a school that I love. I didn’t choose school social work, it chose me (care of a professor at Dominican University) and I am forever thankful that it did.
Who am I here to serve?
We are here for the students, especially the ones who are struggling in our school system. However, based on our experiences, each school social worker has certain students that they empathize with on a deeper level (cue transference/countertransference conversation). Hint: This may be why we choose certain grade levels or specific programs to serve. For me, the students that I feel I am able to problem-solve for more effectively are the students who struggled as I did. I tend to connect with students with a rebellious sentiment towards school. The student’s who hate school, reading, worksheets and grumpy teachers. The students who have to move every few years or every few months. My sincerest hope is that my personal experience can help students have a better shot at loving learning and most importantly, themselves.
On those tough days, the ones when I feel like giving up, I try to think of a case where a student went from hating school to loving school. One of the best parts of our profession is that each of us has been built to connect with different types of students. The diversity of our experiences increases the capacity for inclusion. I told both of my interns this year that each of them has the ability to connect with certain students in a way that even I cannot. In the same way that we are able to serve different populations based on our experiences, we also cope differently based on our unique experiences. Our metaphorical oxygen masks may be connected to where we feel most confident or in control. During the height of crises in the year, it’s important to not lose sight of what led you to this point, who you’re here to serve and all the good you have accomplished along the way.
Monthly Supervisor Challenge: Tell your intern about the three most successful cases in your career. Share with them a positive impact you believe they (your intern) have made at your school.
Monthly Intern Challenge: Tell your supervisor about the student you feel you have been most effective with so far or the type of student you believe you connect with most. Share with them a case that you have seen them (your supervisor) make a positive impact.
Join us next month for a Super Vision column that focuses on ethical practice and helpful guidelines related to ethics. In the following months, we will delve into foundational topics that are relevant for both supervisor and intern. Feedback and suggestions are welcome on our https://schoolsocialworkers.mn.co/ SSWNetwork social media platform. SSWNetwork is always free to join, and there’s over 2,200 of us there already!