Sandra Wilkinson, Lecturer in Social Work, University of Wolverhampton
Social work is a vocation of possibilities, well at least I believe so, and it has afforded me a range of possible career options and avenues in which to work. It is no small surprise then when I heard University of Wolverhampton’s (UoW) mission statement which centres on ‘opportunity’, ‘innovation’ and ‘enterprise’; I knew I would want to participate in such an organisation. One of the ways the university executes this statement is through a strong commitment to providing social work courses which prepare students for practice within today’s multifarious and evolving communities.
As a new lecturer within the Social Work department at UoW (Faculty for Education, Health and Well-Being), I have experienced first-hand the passion and enthusiasm of colleagues dedicated to sharing knowledge and facilitating learning with social work students.
No two days are alike; each day holds a plethora of opportunities to draw on the vast array of social work knowledge, skills, theories and all important values and ethical considerations which underpin and make social work invaluable for today’s society. Let’s have a look at one of those days...
It is an exciting time in the social work department as we are getting ready to launch our new Social Work Apprenticeship course in September 2019. This is a three year course for students sponsored by their employers to undertake the training, resultant in a Bachelor of Arts Degree. On this particular day, I have spent most of the morning looking at the new modules alongside colleagues and brainstorming innovative ideas for delivering the course to students.
My role includes teaching and facilitating on two subject areas for the apprenticeship plus teaching on some modules for the customary BA course. The department also offers a high quality learning experience within MA Social Work and continuing professional development (CPD) courses in Mental Health. These are the Approved Mental Health Professional, Best Interests Assessor (soon to become Approved Mental Capacity Professional) and Decision-Making. The CPD courses are populated with post-registrant students who are qualified professionals seeking to enhance their skills and knowledge.
Skills and Expertise
It is vital to possess good communication, negotiation and all round good humour as a lecturer in any field. In social work education, amongst many others, there is an expectation for a lecturer to serve as a good role model in professional conduct coupled with research informed knowledge, underpinned by ethical standards in practice.
My own experience lies within the areas of occupational therapy services, children services, adult mental health and most recently forensic mental health. The predominant feature of my practice has involved the resettlement of people from all age groups and cultural backgrounds, which has afforded me an insight into numerous ethnic groups, their traditions and lifestyles. This particular exposure increased the ability to be culturally conversant which I believed would be useful when meeting with students from a variety of backgrounds.
One regular feature of my day will be planning or meeting with students in tutorial sessions which is one of the activities I most enjoy. Pastoral care is vital in any academic arena and it is here where I can help students to acknowledge their own skills and abilities. It is a powerful moment to assist a student in realising the learning garnered from academic writing or working within a social work placement. I seek to make those sessions a safe place where students can be vulnerable and honest, talking through the real frustrations of the academic journey as well as its successes and joys.
These sessions will often be followed up with ad-hoc sessions with social work colleagues, sharing experiences and expertise on creative ways to assist students in approaching an assignment or innovative ideas on teaching techniques. Such conversations underpin the overall team morale and remind me of the privilege I possess in shaping the practice of future social work professionals.
Our team are fortunate to share a working space with the Social Care team who also offer excellent learning experiences within the arena of Social Care and Health. It is a privilege and pleasure to work amongst colleagues who are highly proficient in their areas of expertise, not to mention generous in sharing that expertise.
Our students have the excellent opportunity to work with real service users from our SUCCESS group who work in partnership with the social work department in delivering high quality services for students. They often co-facilitate our skills sessions which consist of a face to face or telephone assessment in one of our simulated environments. UoW has an entire community flat for this purpose which consists of a bedroom/living room/kitchen and utility areas. Students are able to engage in role plays with service users to develop their assessment skills. These sessions are recorded (with consent) and the student receives feedback from academic staff as well as vital feedback from the service users. The student keeps a recorded copy which serves as a learning and reflective tool.
The learning experiences we offer would suffer exponentially without the input of this team of service users. They not only possess the lived experiences of services, but an insightful, honest and expert opinion on what prospective students need to be armed with if they are to be holistic practitioners.
Finally, no day is complete without this...
No day is complete without engaging in reading a new piece of research or being informed about new literature (or old) available through the varying online mediums – (UoW has an excellent library service). It is important as a lecturer (particularly a new one) to keep abreast of current research as this informs and enhances the knowledge dissemination across the student body.
Within the practice arena, the acquisition or distribution of research is often limited to your specific work arena. However, since arriving at UoW, I have had access to many varying forms of research pertinent to the social work field, so I often feel like a little girl in a sweet shop!
However this can also be overwhelming, particularly when choosing which materials to include for modules. Nonetheless, I am learning how to pace myself in this area as well as many others and I am enjoying the transition from practice into the world of academia.
Social work practice can be extremely stressful and complex, with days where I often questioned whether I was making a difference, or whether I would reach the end of my ‘to do list’ (does anyone?) - versus days where I celebrated a success with a service user or a team member. The one thing I never experienced in practice was ‘boredom’ and I learned something new every day – I can say with some certainty that the lecturing journey will carry the same features.