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Home arrow Sociology arrow Holistic engagement : transformative social work education in the 21st century


To employ holistic pedagogies requires attending to the emotions, body, mind, culture, and spirit in relation to the world around us. In addition to field internships, social work educators can and are engaging in creative pedagogy that allows students and educators (1) to inquire into and reflect on the emotions as a way to strengthen professional self-awareness; (2) to bring attention to the body as a source of oppression and liberation; (3) to analyze social problems and envision new transformative solutions; (4) to engage in cultural and artistic endeavors that facilitate deeper connections; (5) to develop more awareness and growth of the spiritual self; and (6) to learn in relationship with other students, diverse communities, and the natural world. Throughout the remaining chapters in this text, we join with innovative colleagues in social work education who are employing these and other methods toward the articulation of pedagogies of holistic engagement. Their work demonstrates the application of this shift in pedagogies at micro, mezzo, and macro practice levels, undergraduate and graduate levels, traversing the terrain of social work practice, theory, and policy.

The following are some of the key considerations that the educator-authors of this book explore:

  • • What role do holistic pedagogies play in developing social work practitioners who are able to respond to changing environments in creative ways?
  • • In what ways can holistic education deepen student connections with marginalized “others,” including fellow students and clients/community members?
  • • What role can Freirian and popular education approaches from social movements play in transformative social work education?
  • • How can educators employ the arts (e.g., theater) to teach students about oppression and transformation?
  • • How are educators incorporating mindfulness-based and movement practices, such as meditation and yoga, into the classroom to facilitate learning goals that embody a transformative approach to social work and human services?
  • • What challenges do holistic pedagogies pose in the contemporary university context as well as the current social work and human services practice environment?
  • • How does the construct and practice of “holistic engagement” enrich the learning environment for both learner and teacher?
  • • How does holistic engagement expand the roles, responsibilities, and ethical duties of educators?
  • • What practical methods can be employed to develop holistic engagement in educators and in students?

This book introduces social work educators to ideas and case studies concerned with the innovative concept of holistic engagement, including philosophical, empirical, and personal accounts. Indeed, these accounts are often at once ethnographical and auto-ethnographical as educators offer “thick descriptions” of course material, classroom spaces, and student reactions, as well as reports of their own inner and outer journeys (Geertz, 1973). New and seasoned social work educators interested in embodying integrative and transformative approaches to professional education in the classroom and beyond will find these essays particularly engaging and useful in their teaching and scholarship. The collection is organized into four parts, each designed to elucidate core aspects of holistic engagement in transformational social work education. Each section is briefly introduced next, followed by an overview ofthe chapters included in each section.

Part I: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Holistic Pedagogies lays the foundation for a conceptual framework that offers some parameters for what holistic engagement means. This is initiated through an analysis of macro and micro contexts that invite evolution ofsocial work pedagogies. We (Loretta Pyles and Gwendolyn Adam) have set the stage for the volume in this chapter, beginning with an affirmation of what is beneficial about and a critique of current global contexts and traditional pedagogies, articulating the need for alternative ways of teaching in the current academic and human services climate. It has culminated with a review and analysis of the empirical and evidence-based literature around holistic practice and pedagogy, and it has established the need for an alternative educational conceptual framework, providing a launching point for author contributions. In Chapter 2, Adam and Pyles build on the foundations outlined in Chapter 1. The authors offer a conceptual framework for thinking about holistic engagement in social work education, informed by the science of mindfulness, popular education, and contemplative education models. The chapter sets forth core definitions ofholistic engagement and introduces the skills and potential for its integration in the classroom. The authors affirm that social work education is a creative endeavor co-constructed by teachers and students requiring self-reflection toward the end of personal and social transformation.

Part II: Dialogue, Participation, and Critical Pedagogy explores the ways that honest communication is a prerequisite to self-knowledge and connections with others that are vital to holistic engagement. Contributions highlight vulnerabilities and assumptions at work in the classroom and their roles in limiting or shaping and enhancing professional development. Creative methods for catalyzing participatory action and dialogue that transforms vulnerability into empathy and understanding are presented through holistic approaches. In Chapter 3, Terry Mizrahi, Esperanza Martell, Kate Cavanagh and Allison Weingarten draw from an 18-year experience of teaching an undergraduate course that introduces students to community organizing. The authors reflect on this iterative experience that has sought to bring Freirian and feminist principles to the fore as a way to foster greater participation and empowerment of students. With a similarly strong emphasis on democratic social change, Steve Burghardt (Chapter 4) examines a 40-year teaching career discussing a process of encouraging mindfulness of discomfort in the classroom, whereby the ability to hold multiple truths and embrace vulnerability are seen as strengths in the co-creation of a democratic classroom and community. In Chapter 5, Benjamin Shepard offers a personal account of facilitating conversations that emphasize listening and supporting fellow undergraduate human services students as they navigate their own complex urban environments. The chapter explores how conversation, community engagement, and authenticity about one's whole life (including the instructor's) can transform human services' classrooms and practice. In Chapter 6, the final chapter of this section, Mette Christiansen introduces the hidden curriculum framework, which provides a lens to examine what occurs during the educational and professional socialization process; she draws from her experience using European social pedagogy and the Common Third, a shared activity used to strengthen a relationship, in an undergraduate human services program.

Part III: Theater, Arts, and the Human Spirit reveals the importance of experience in transcending the traditional limits of knowing, expanding to the full creativity and humanness of spiritual “whole self” learning as fundamental to holistic engagement. Through experiential methods of art, performance, and expression, the synergy of body, emotion, and spiritual experiences are developed as foundational for professional practice. Phillip Dybicz begins this portion of the collection in Chapter 7 by adding to the theoretical development ofholistic education by introducing the postmodern theory of mimesis. Mimesis is a theory of human behavior that accounts for the creative power of human imagination, the power of heartfelt values, and the role of hope in kindling the human spirit in order to produce change. He applies these ideas to the social work classroom as a way to help develop the identity of students as social workers. In Chapter 8, Uta Walter brings her theater and social work educator backgrounds together to introduce “improvisation” as a concept central to the practice of teaching and learning social work. To this end, she explores how improvisation is part and parcel of what she considers good teaching and how principles and exercises from theater improvisation may prove useful for inspiring a playful, cooperative, and experiential form of learning that encompasses both creative and critical praxis. In Chapter 9, Juliana Svistova, Lara Bowen, and Meera Bhat explore how the use of Paulo Freire's techniques of social inquiry and Augusto Boal's activities traditionally associated with theater may be incorporated into social work education as a method of teaching to the holistic self. They seek to make a connection between a multisensory teaching model used for an undergraduate community and organizational theory class and recent advances in the neuroscience oflearn- ing. Finally, spanning the divide across this part of the text and the next part that focuses on mindfulness, David Pettie (Chapter 10) takes us through his journey of redesigning and implementing a master's level social work practice course, documenting a transition from its more traditional origins to a course emphasizing self-awareness and action methods based in psychodrama, sociometry, sociodrama, and mindfulness.

Finally, Part IV: Mindfulness and Integrative Helping develops the nexus ofself and holistic engagement through contributions on mindfulness, self-awareness, and integration of self in teaching and learning. Threats and supports to grounded empathy and whole self data use orient the reader to how this holistic engagement approach shifts the sources of knowing explicitly and purposely to the self. Contributors present considerations in claiming and articulating holistic engagement methods in diverse and often skeptical settings. Chapter 11, written by Robyn Lynn, Jo Mensinga, Beth Tinning, and Kerry Lundman, begins this section with a critical reflection on often unspoken areas of philosophical and ethical ambiguity when incorporating mindfulness into social work education and training. Drawing from the journal entry of a student participating in a workshop on mindfulness-based relapse prevention, the authors use a structured critically reflective collaborative dialogue to explore this in the following contexts in order to identify the implications of this experience for social work: (1) introducing other ways of knowing into the social work profession; (2) mindfulness as a spiritual, natural, and cultural process; and (3) issues pertaining to cultural colonization or convergence. In Chapter 12, Salome Raheim and Jack J. Lu offer critical and reflective analysis of the operations of power that subjugate holistic practices and holistic education—ways of being, knowing, and learning that are outside of the dominant paradigms of the academy and biomedicine. In part, the chapter explores the authors' own journeys of “coming out” as holistic practitioners in the academy, specifically in social work education. In Chapter 13, Alyson Quinn offers an innovative social work practice model, the experiential unity theory and model, as an antidote to the culture's tendency toward disconnection and numbing. She shares her experiences with teaching this model in a social work class focused on advanced interviewing skills.

In the concluding chapter (Chapter 14), we (Pyles and Adam) integrate the previous chapters through the holistic engagement pedagogy framework; we do this by offering a matrix that cross-references the core dimensions addressed through holistic engagement and specific chapter content within the context of contemplative practices. We articulate the implications for social work pedagogy, offering recommendations for individual educators, curriculum development, social work educational leaders, and national accrediting organizational bodies, delineating opportunities and challenges. Thus, the chapter summarizes and integrates the previous chapters utilizing the holistic engagement framework and articulating a way forward, ultimately serving as a call to action for social work education.

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