HUMAN SERVICES AND HOLISTIC SOCIAL WORK EDUCATION
In the introduction to this volume, Pyles and Adam argue that holistic education is an intentional practice necessary to use the whole self to attune into and creatively respond within a dynamic, globalizing social work environment. This pedagogy includes the following four components:
- • Presence with the whole self
- • The experiences of the individual's body, mind, heart, and spirit
- • The individual's awareness of and interaction with the historical and current physical, social, and energetic environments
- • How the individual's own experiences and awareness interact with other individuals' experience and awareness
- • Whole self-inquiry
- • A lifelong authentic and deliberate learning about all aspects of the whole self
- • Empathic connection
- • With whole self presence, intentionally joining with the experience of an other (individual, family, community, and environment) to bear witness to that experience
- • Compassionate attention
- • Seeing things as they are with a discerning capacity to suspend action or judgment en route to uninterrupted presence
Holistic engagement brings together ways of connecting the head and heart, the body and mind, drawn together through a reflective contemplation of the whole self in relation to questions about micro and macro social work practice. To do so, students in my classes are engaged in efforts including reflexive reading, answering questions, journaling, listening to music, watching films, working in groups, getting out into the community vis-a-vis internships, community projects such as community gardening, service learning, breathing exercises, mindfulness, and in class tai chi, among other contemplative traditions, aimed at connecting their lives with their practice and the classroom. All of these contribute important pieces to the developing story.
Each class, comprising 20-35 students, begins with students moving the chairs from a linear arrangement of rows facing the front of the classroom into a circle in which these human services students support each other in an exercise in care and conversation. Doing so, we move the classroom so we are all poised to learn from each other instead of simply from the classroom instructor. Students are encouraged to share comments and questions about their lives and education—their internships and subjects of study. Each class begins and meanders in its own way as the conversation leads us to the topic of a given session of study.
After a check in about the good and bad, painful and/or funny parts of their week, we review their field logs and answers for brain teaser questions regarding topics of social work education, as well as aspects of their lives (emotional self, spiritual self, creative self, embodied self, social self, etc.). Some brain teaser questions address topics related to classroom readings, whereas others involve a disposition regarding social work education. For example, early in my field pract- icum class, I give the students a copy of a sheet of paper with the old saying by Australian Aboriginal Elder Lilla Watson: “If you've come here to help me, you're wasting your time. But if you've come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Students usually have a lot to say in response. Some brain teasers produce big answers; others, such as this one, are the prompts for dialogue and connection. The question seems to give everyone permission to talk about what we need from this work, what brought us here, and the work we still have to do on ourselves as we strive to be healthy, connect with and support others, in collaboration.
As noted in Chapter 1 of this text, bringing aspects of self-inquiry into the classroom encourages student practitioners to ask the simple question: “Who am I in this moment?” In doing so, the practitioner tunes into his or her own feelings, as well as those of others and “the context to gain more clarity and presence, arguably leading to more effective and sustainable practice.” Students are not always ready to participate in all of these ways, so I remind them that they have the power to pass if I call on them. However, they are encouraged to participate and expand their perspectives as we explore. Most do so willingly. Others write thoughtful reflection logs or prefer to share their answers with each other in small groups. Some actively engage questions in class. Others find it more difficult.
“Help her out,” I remind students, if a student is struggling with an answer. This is not a competition. We all have to help each other. After all, we are involved in a field based on notions of mutual aid and support for social outsiders. We all do well to remember this in each classroom. Check in with the body, we remind each other. “How do you show other students you care about what they are saying?” I ask, engaging students in a conversation about practice, self, and other. Each social work student is charged with developing distinct forms ofknowledge, connecting practice wisdom and skills with social work values and ethics, necessary for students to take part in holistic practice. Along the way, students engage the complexity and vibrancy and values that are inherent to this field. Students' views change, evolve, and grow over time as students come to see that social work is not only a profession but also a disposition, a practice akin to art as well as science (Goldstein, 1990). “You are human services students,” I remind students. “How can we embody this in the classroom? What do we do if another student is struggling—Do we lend the student a hand to help support his or her own steadying?”
At some point in each class, I remind students that we are working with an educational process that is parallel to clinical supervision. Here, the instructor assesses each student in class as if the student-practitioner was in practice with clients. The way the student sits, talks, listens, and engages is assessed and supported from this vantage point. Supervision is assumed to be a mirror of their practice. If a student is not modeling effective practice in supervision or the classroom, it is assumed that he or she is not doing the same in the field. Conversely, the effective use of active thinking, compassionate engagement, and support for other students here are thought to be reflective of practice skills from the field. Much of this process takes place through conversations and dialogue between self and other about practice in the classroom (Kadushin & Harkness, 2002).