Leadership in Social Work Education

Working with the whole person in context is a cornerstone of the social work person in environment identity. As Larrison and Korr (2013) note, the role of professional education is “socializing students into the ways, practices, and habit of a discipline” (p. 195). They further question whether social work's signature pedagogy, currently identified as field education by the Council on Social Work Education (2008), adequately includes what happens in the classroom to foster this socialization. Holistic pedagogies offer a bridge between classroom and field, with focus on developing student capacities to recognize, experience, assess, and articulate complex happenings within and around them.

If our social work practice prioritizes working with the whole person, how can we socialize students to the profession without teaching to and with the whole person? We call on social work leaders to contemplate this and identify how our profession stands out relative to other disciplines that offer field-based learning, such as teacher education (Hart, 2014). Holistic pedagogies offer not only classroom-based fusion of the discipline's practice and knowledge but also the explicit invitation to the whole person experience and critical inquiry we value and strive to meet. Leaders in social work education have the unique opportunity to set the course for training social work professionals and for continuing to differentiate social work as a unique profession. The holistic engagement model serves as one catalyst for these considerations, in the hope of claiming and promoting pedagogies that remain distinctly social work.

This movement requires that social work leaders support faculty in seeking the continuing education and time they need to develop these holistic engagement skills themselves. These can be fostered through retreats, where those experienced with holistic pedagogies can be brought in to facilitate; this also presents a powerful way to partner with community practitioners who are skilled in various transformative, embodied, or contemplative practices. In addition, faculty will need environmental supports for holistic pedagogies, where classroom spaces are accessible and set up for multiple uses—for example, including open space conducive to movement, movable chairs for group circles, and accessibility for community members. Finally, social work leaders can explicitly integrate discourse about the value of holistic pedagogies into program information given to students in order to raise awareness and expectations that faculty will be utilizing numerous experiential and reflective methods.

To engender a supportive team and infrastructure, leaders can specifically highlight faculty innovation in this area and build in group discussion at faculty meetings around the experiences happening in class. Similarly, leaders can benefit from these methods as promoting self-awareness and self-reflection among faculty en route to burnout prevention; they can model this behavior by beginning faculty meetings with an activity that invites presence, connection with each other, and/or deep self- or collective inquiry.

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