Reconstructing Social Work Education. The Path Forward for Holistic Pedagogies



The holistic engagement pedagogies presented in this text offer a compelling invitation to co-construct an innovative approach to evolving social work education to more directly address the whole person, with the whole person, in context, even and especially in the classroom. We have put forth an initial conceptualization of how holistic pedagogies can work, without dismissing traditional social work content. This vision can enhance the capacities of students to access many sources ofknowing, and integrate and synthesize these (dynamic attunement)— body, mind, heart, culture, and spirit—with theory and research, to help inform and improve their practice (integrative capability).

In environments in which modern education, including social work education, emphasizes cognition over whole self knowing, outcomes over process, and status quo over social change, the use of holistic pedagogies can offer a vital antidote that can propel transformative social work practice (Barbezat & Bush, 2014; Pyles, 2013; Reisch, 2013). Furthermore, given the impacts of globalization as presented in Chapter 1, such as increased social disparity, overemphasis on technology for problem-solving, and a sense of disconnection and isolation, such approaches to education are necessary for the transformation of the profession and the individuals and communities we which work (Coates, 2003; Hick, 2009). Indeed, the authors of this volume are trailblazers who are beginning to lay philosophical, analytic, and empirical foundations for what holistic pedagogies can be for transformative social work practice. In so doing, they also acknowledge limits and challenges, recognizing that any pedagogical change happens within diverse institutional contexts.

In this chapter, we highlight some of the common core themes addressed by the authors, especially the idea that social work education is a parallel process to social work practice, and that the creation of democratic classrooms requires openness to a different kind of educational experience—one that values spontaneity and loosening of control. We then consider the diverse pedagogies and methods presented by contributing authors utilizing the Center for Contemplative Mind and Society's Tree of Contemplative Practice image and categories juxtaposed with the four core holistic engagement skills—presence with the whole self, whole self-inquiry, empathic connection, and compassionate attention.

Although the potential impact on students and ultimately the capacity of social workers to utilize holistic engagement skills is clear, this shift requires changes and challenges at multiple levels. We consider the barriers to this change and invite social work educators to utilize organizing and advocacy skills within the Academy to overcome some of these barriers. Thus, we conclude this chapter by offering implications and calls to action at all relevant levels: individual educator, curricular, administrative, and national accrediting bodies. We offer suggestions for further inquiry into the scholarship of holistic engagement and pedagogy that are needed to reconstruct social work education into an endeavor that can nurture transformative practice.

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