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Top Five Tips for New Graduates: Real World Advice

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Another graduating class is walking across the stage with their degrees and turning their tassels as new graduates. You are now equipped with the knowledge, skills, and training from your respective majors/specializations.  After celebrating such a humongous life milestone, reality slowly starts to creep in as you recognize that you are one of thousands new graduates.  You have now completed 2-4+ years of higher education to obtain a piece of paper in a field you (will hopefully) enjoy with the seal of your learning institution… now what?  The “now what” part has baffled many who have been in your shoes, including yours truly.

degreeThis is a very important time in your life, especially if you are one of the 50+ million Americans who are under the age of 30.  This is the time where you decide what direction your life goes, how you will begin to develop your career path, when you want to start a family, gain a better grasp of your life’s mission, where you would like to live (within the country and/or abroad), and other major life decisions.

I recently came across Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay’s video on TED.com titled, Why 30 is not the new 20.  Her message was a real eye-opener for myself, and it allowed me to realize that I have been viewing my 20s in the right perspective.  Your 20s are the stepping stone into adulthood, and what you accomplish or do not accomplish during this time can (and from Dr. Jay’s message, will) greatly affect your life circumstances in your 30s, 40s, and beyond.

I strongly urge all new graduates to view this video as it was impactful enough on me to begin writing this article.  It revealed to me the real world advice I am about to share (that stemmed from my own experiences) with you was greatly needed, and I hope that this advice will be helpful to my fellow 20-somethings (and those young at heart who are also embarking on new career paths after obtaining their degrees).

Real World Advice #5:  Begin to save for retirement now!

When you get that first job, try your hardest to save, save, save, as much as you can.  Though you may not believe that you are earning enough to save (especially if you have student loan payments, car note and insurance, rent/mortgage, paying high gas prices, buying groceries, and trying to maintain a social life), saving what you can now will definitely benefit you later on in life.

As reported in USA Today, Millennials seem to be better at saving for the future than Baby Boomers were during this particular time in life.  One of the main reasons for this is the uncertainty of Social Security still being available for Millennials in 30-40 years when we reach the age of retirement (which is likely to rise as we are living longer).  Though those in the news article have saved a substantial amount for someone in their 20s and early 30s, this should not discourage anyone from beginning to save what you can now.  Even if you were to save $100-$300 (I am aware that this amount may not be very realistic for some of you, but continue to follow my point) every pay period, that would jump start a nice savings “nest egg” for you.  This nest egg could make the difference in how you view an unexpected layoff or having to replace the battery or tires on your vehicle.

Real World Advice #4:  Learn about the Federal Student Loan Repayment options NOW!

It amazes me how little college graduates and graduate students know about the repayment plan options offered by the Department of Education when it comes to subsidized and unsubsidized student loans.  When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 2008, there were not many repayment options available outside of standard, extended, graduated, forbearance, and deferment options.  Now, because of the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), there are several new repayment plan options that correlate with how much you are making (or not making) once you graduate.  These new repayment plans are:  the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan, the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan, the Pay As You Earn Repayment plan, and the Income-Sensitive Repayment plan.  If you meet the income qualifications, these plans may lower your repayment balance to an amount that is more financially feasible (and most importantly, keep you from defaulting on your student loans).

Remember, it is easier to get debtors (whether it is the federal government or other collectors) to understand your financial situation BEFORE you owe them (or are late in making a payment) than when you’re on the brink of defaulting.  As with the saving tip, being financially responsible is imperative to having a good credit score, as well as to being able to afford that dream home and providing yourself and your future family with the necessities and (every now and then) luxuries in life.

Real World Advice #3:  Learn all you can on your first job, even if it is totally the opposite of what you really want to do in your career.

Some of you may find yourself accepting a job offer that is totally NOT want you had envisioned after obtaining your college or postgraduate degree.  There could be a number of reasons for this:  the position has NOTHING to do with your major/degree specialization; you are earning pennies to what is average for someone with your education and training; you have spotted the dysfunctions within the work environment (remember, every workplace has its quirks, but you quickly recognize the difference between quirks and just downright unprofessional, unethical, and self-esteem draining environment); not within your interest scope; leadership is questionable and/or nonexistent; or you just do not see yourself lasting more than 2-3 years (which may be a generous time estimate).

We have ALL been there, wondering what in the devil am I doing in this place, for “x” amount of hours, 5-7 days a week?  If this is you, then know that you are not alone.  Even if your current job is truly the pits, there is something to be learned from this experience.

For example, let’s say that you have noticed the lack of strong leadership with your supervisor or a lack of cohesion within management in regards to the way the agency/company operates.  It is hard to learn from that kind of setting while in the thick of things, but YOU CAN.  If you desire to incorporate your own business one day, then take note of what is going on with the leadership.  Where does the dysfunction exist?  Is there a lack of support between team members?  Are there communication issues?  Do people expect others to “worship” them because of the position they hold (basically, the egomaniacs)?  Is there a lack of support if there are issues/concerns – is the infamous “open door policy” nonexistent?

If any of these, and more, are some of the issues you have spotted within management, take away the key learning points.  You realize the damage these issues will have on the teamwork, work morale, and overall operations within an agency; do your best to keep the company you want to develop from going down the same path.

Do realize that your first job will not be your ONLY job, especially as Millennials are known to be the generation that will pursue several different career paths during our lifetime.  If your first job post-graduation is not what you had hoped for, remember that the skills, knowledge, and training you acquire while employed will help you establish yourself further as a professional and better prepare you for that next employment opportunity that will better suit your professional interests.

Real World Advice #2:  Being an individual is NOT a bad thing; go against the grain.

This one is key – sometimes you have to stand alone in what you want to do in order to make a difference.  This seems to be so cliche, but trust me, it is VERY true.  It is easy to get caught up in a routine:  wake up, go to work, come home, eat, chat, and watch tv, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day.  What fun is that, really?  Why become a “manufactured” being?  Why not branch out and do something new and innovative?  “New and innovative” does not mean that your work has to be ground-breaking; it means that you are establishing/creating/developing/implementing something with the idea of it having a positive impact on the world, once you are no longer here.  Be reminded that being a trendsetter/originator does not occur overnight; it may be a slow process, but the work you will accomplish at the end is well worth the long hours, sleepless nights, stress, and miss spending your free time with family and friends.  One of my personal goals is when I come to the end of my life, I hope that forcing myself to be an individual and ensuring that my actions and work to empower and uplift others would have afforded me the opportunity to leave a positive mark (or in my case, tire mark) on the world.  I am aware that developing the career and life that I desire will come with sacrifices, but I am willing to endure those sacrifices if it means that my presence and determination has affected the lives those I serve in a meaningful way.

Real World Advice #1:  While job searching, figure out your real passion.

For some of you, you may be lucky to have a job lined up before you walked across that stage.  For a good majority, however, you may be on several job search engine websites applying for a plethora of jobs day in, day out.  The stress of job-searching can be hard, especially when you see your classmates and friends expressing their happiness about getting the confirmation call about the job they interviewed for on social media.  Deep down, you are happy for them, but a tiny part of you is wondering, “when is my breakthrough coming?”  Trust me, I have been there.  When I graduated with my Master’s last year, it was difficult witnessing others gaining employment while I was stuck at home putting in application after application for jobs that I really did not want, or being called for interviews for positions that paid way less for someone with the level of education I had.

Inbetween applying and going for interviews, I took the time to figure out what made my heart sing, a popular statement uttered by one of my graduate professors.  One thing that I started was my Tumblr blog; I always loved writing (and received positive remarks from professors and friends about my writing), so I thought, why not share my thoughts/ideas about the world around me to millions online?  I also began volunteering for the Presidential campaign, since I wanted to become more community-focused (I’m a Macro Social Worker through and through).  Taking the time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my degree and my overall career goals made me realize that none of the jobs I had been applying for fit within the macro social work mold I loved.

So I am urging each of you to do what I did – use your free time to develop your passions, and see where they may lead you.  Who knows, you may wind up pursuing your passion as a career choice.

I hope that my advice will help those who are nervous, anxious, and worried about the future after graduation.  The reason we worry about the future is because we do not have control over it or know what to expect.  It is only after we learn how to learn to let go and be conscious and realistic about what we can and what we cannot control, is when we will effectively release that feeling of anxiety about the unknown when it comes to our future.

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17 Comments

No tips ever prepare you x

Kersh Givens Kersh Givens says:

Article was ok. But fyi not all new grads are in their 20’s…

Thank you for sharing….I think social workers should have more classes in our education that develops business acumen. This is good information.

susana says:

Real World Advice #5: Begin to save for retirement now!

Why is it important? Last week, I had the opportunity learn from the honorable Henry Cisneros of CityView, who spoke about income, wealth, and the bottom line – our need to save for retirement. Mr. Cisneros was the keynote of a well-attended retirement symposium sponsored by the County of San Diego. He emphasized the importance of understanding the difference between earning an income (spending for necessities) and obtaining wealth (anything you have as holdings, savings, stocks, bonds, insurance, paid off items – car, house, etc). It’s a conversation; we need to have more often as social workers to empower the people we work with and to establish and safe, secure and stable “quality of life” for ourselves upon retirement. This is particularly important for people of more color (esp. Blacks and Browns) because County Tax-Collector Treasurer Dan McAllister showed some dire stats which highlighted the fact we are simply not saving and investing enough for our futures according to the 2010 Ariel Black Investor Survey that was presented by Mellody Hobson at a previous symposium. Black and Latino investment participation rates were at 68% and 66% respectively compared to Asian Americans who invested at 80% and Whites followed at 79%. I should point out this national survey focused on middle income earners, but I firmly believe we have to move beyond economic class when it comes to establishing savings, financial planning, and positively shaping our economic future. The time to save more is now. What’s next? Learn more about Planning for Retirement here and have conversations with those you engage and see what can be applied so we can secure a comfortable future.

Click the link to view Surveys re: the Savings Disparities Across cross Racial and Ethnic Groups: http://www.arielinvestments.com/landmark-surveys/

susana says:

Top Five Tips for New Graduates: Real World Advice by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW http://t.co/X2kd9tr99v #socialwork #advice #future #passion

Rachel West says:

RT @swhelpercom: Top Five Tips for New Graduates: Real World A… http://t.co/YPzjzi184o via socialworkhelper

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SWhelper says:

Thank you Charlene….I will make note of this to get an article out on compassion fatigue and vicarious Trauma. This is something sws encounter all the time but is often left to identify and treat themselves.

Charlene Richard says:

Great tips – I wish I had of read this after graduation! And please please please learn about Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma. Keep yourself safe and healthy while you empathize with people.

Top Five Tips for New Graduates: Real World A… http://t.co/YPzjzi184o via socialworkhelper

Timothy Hill says:

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V. Thompson, LMSW says:

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Roxy says:

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Education

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

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It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

What happens during a fire drill?

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

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Education

Tough Conversations: A Tool for Parents, Part I

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The “Courageous Conversations Compass,” a tool for ensuring that conversations around race and culture are productive in the workplace, was designed and shared by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton to promote courageous yet respectful dialogue.

Public school personnel, especially Montgomery County Public School teachers, are probably familiar with both Courageous Conversations and Singleton and Linton’s compass. I personally have encountered instruction or reference to the compass on several instances during professional development classes and trainings, staff meetings, and parent conferences.

What began as a tool for the education realm has evolved into a helpful resource for several different types of conversations requiring courage, honesty, and perspective-taking. For struggling parents, an understanding of the compass and the philosophy behind its methods could certainly help facilitate communication with their teens.

What is the compass?

The compass, pictured below, is a visual, symbolic reference point that participants use to assist in communicating when conversations and viewpoints are not only difficult, but divergent. The four points of the compass, which help to identify from which perspective a participant is entering the conversation, are moral, intellectual, emotional, and relational. When we speak to others, especially about controversial or deeply personal topics, we typically go into the conversation with a certain mindset. The axis from which we enter a conversation depends on our experiences, values, beliefs, and opinions.

Additionally, we may enter a conversation from a combination of two or more points on the compass; it all depends on our thought processes pertaining to the specific topic of discussion. For example, on the very relevant topic of violence in schools, the discussion can quickly morph into a debate, which can then digress into an all-out argument. The reason that a controversial conversation like this would escalate quickly is because participants are entering the conversation from several different points on the compass.

For instance, a family member of a victim of gun violence would likely enter the conversation from an emotional standpoint—the topic resonates with their feelings because of their personal experiences. These feelings will conflict with or push back against a person who enters the conversation on the intellectual axis because it is hard to separate logic and emotion objectively. Therefore, the person who enters from an intellectual standpoint may try to use statistics, data, or trends to argue that guns do more to protect or defend people than to hurt them. However, this is a futile attempt for the intellectual if trying to persuade or counter a person’s emotional viewpoint. Likewise, people entering from the emotional axis will tune out the statistics—a statistic does not account for their lost loved one.

While this is just one example of how we enter the compass, the true value of the conversation strategy is that it allows us to recognize and reflect on why we may converse, debate, or argue the way that we do. It also allows us to gauge how and why another person would express themselves in such a vastly different way. The compass allows us to see, not only where we are coming from, but where the “other side” is coming from. At the root of this method is a deeply reflective practice in perspective-taking.

The compass shows us that neither opinion is incorrect or invaluable; instead, it highlights why we disagree when it comes to such contentious topics. So how can we utilize this tool when speaking with our teens? Read ahead to learn how to implement methods for productive conversations using the compass.

 

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NASW Highlights the Growing Need for School Social Workers to Prevent School Violence

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – School social workers play a critical role in schools. They serve as the liaison between school, home, and the community. The underlying premise of school social work services is based in strengthening students’ academic progress by removing barriers to learning including meeting their basic physical and emotional needs.

Any form of school violence, including the mass shootings at schools around the country such as the recent incidents Florida and Maryland, prohibit students’ sense of safety and their learning. School social workers work to prevent mass killing in schools as well as guide schools in recovery after a crisis has occurred. Today more than ever, there is a growing need for school social workers to help prevent school violence and to support students in moments of crisis.

Unfortunately, school social work positions across the country have been eliminated or replaced by other professions. Due to extensive financial deficits and constraints, as well as competing priorities, local education agencies are often unable to hire enough school social workers to adequately meet the needs of the student population. In many instances, school social work services are eliminated altogether.

School social workers work in preventing school violence. They are trained to understand risk factors and warning signs of violent behaviors. They are knowledgeable in classroom management and behavior intervention and can assist teachers and school personnel in identifying concerning behaviors of students and developing supportive intervention plans. They are experts in research-based school discipline policy development that can increase school connectedness and decrease incidents of school violence.

School social workers work to provide support after a crisis. They are extensively trained to manage and deal with crisis and are equipped to assist school administrators and teachers.  School social workers are experienced in delivering difficult and sensitive information and can assist in developing messages that are age-appropriate and culturally sensitive.  In addition, they can lead the development of strategic plans that prepare other school personnel to respond adequately during the times of chaos and crisis.

School social workers can link students and their families to community resources. They are well-informed regarding relevant resources in the community and online and can aid in connecting students and families to the appropriate resources during times of crisis.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) advocates for ratios in its latest revision of the NASW Standards for School Social Work Services that reflect the need for an increase in social work positions across the nation in all schools:

School social work services should be provided at a ratio of one school social worker to each school building serving up to 250 general education students, or a ratio of 1:250 students. When a social worker is providing services to students with intensive needs, a lower ratio, such as 1:50, is suggested (NASW, 2012).   

Violence in schools has increased dramatically over the past decades and is seen by many as a public health issue. School social workers aid in the prevention of school violence and provide much needed services and support after a crisis has occurred. NASW strongly urges the funding for an increase of school social workers in schools across the country to adequately meet the needs of students and decrease school violence.

NASW is in partnerships with coalitions that are working to support school social work positions. We urge our members and the larger social work community to contact their elected officials to advocate for school social work positions in schools. For more information contact NASW Senior Practice Associate Sharon Dietsche, LCSW-C, LICSW, at sdietsche.nasw@socialworkers.org

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Diversity

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

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A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County.

It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administrators, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them.

Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.”

Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have.

Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore.

Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate.

For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

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Diversity

Teaching Inclusion in the Classroom

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General education teachers are tasked with keeping many balls in the air, which is half the fun of working in a classroom—there are so many constantly moving and evolving pieces for which to account.

One of these essential pieces to ensure equitable learning for every student is inclusion. Of course, this term is nothing new to educators—we work to create an inclusive environment on a daily basis. What might be new, however, are the many ways in which we teachers can look at inclusive practices. Since every child is different, we must continue our exploration of strategies and practices that best suit the needs of all students.

One best practice that supports inclusion is to vary the output of information. By this, we mean that teachers should relay content and instruction in different ways. Some students, especially those with auditory processing difficulties, find that verbal instruction is hard to grasp. To ensure inclusion for these students’ special needs, teachers should try to present information in visual or tactile ways, in addition to the verbal instruction.

Depending on the class or lesson, this might take the form of a demonstration, video, or hands-on activity. Some skills or lesson objectives may even lend themselves to a more kinesthetic or tactile approach. Even students without an auditory processing deficiency would find it confusing to listen to a verbal explanation of cursive letter formation. A demonstrated approach to writing using clay, beads, shaving cream, etc., makes more sense.

Similarly, when teachers are introducing concepts like grammatical conventions or figurative language devices, an audio or visual approach might work better than a written explanation of how a properly formatted sentence should sound. Teachers should also practice inclusion by encouraging students to demonstrate their learning in various ways.

This means that not only is the presentation of information different for each child, but the means by which a student exhibits mastery should be individualized, as well. Some students might prefer to write a formal, organized research paper to convey their knowledge of a subject, while others might feel most comfortable presenting a visual demonstration of their topic. The key is to provide multiple opportunities for students to display their knowledge so that everyone’s learning styles are being incorporated.

Another way to look at inclusion is to utilize multiple means of engagement. For students with attention issues, memory difficulties, or other learning disabilities, engagement in the classroom can make all the difference. Engagement might mean listening to music to identify metaphors, similes, or narrative voice. A film study might help students understand a new culture or part of the world. An analysis of a slow motion field goal might help students understand kinetic energy, velocity, or other properties of physics.

The point is, when students are engaged, learning not only flourishes but behaviors and attentiveness increase, as well. Engagement also assists with moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory. Inclusion, with regard to engagement, means that teachers are not only teaching with methods for each type of learner but also appealing to each learner, so that memory of the information or skill can solidify. In order to provide engagement, there must be a level of interest on the student’s end. As different as each student’s learning style may be, so maybe their interests.

This is where building relationships with students become essential for inclusion. Cultural inclusiveness provides students with a platform to express themselves on a more personal level. This also promotes a positive classroom environment, one in which students feel heard, understood, and accepted. Cultural inclusion allows students to see beyond themselves, as well, which fosters perspective-taking.

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Non-traditional Students Require Non-traditional Policies for Field Placements

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I am only six weeks away from completing my BSW degree; a degree that has taken nearly twenty years to complete.  As I am nearing the end of my current educational journey and in the final hours of my field placement, I have found myself becoming quite reflective about my educational experience.

Now, I am not your traditional BSW student, and as such, my experience is dramatically different from many individuals who enter a BSW straight out of high school.  I have never sat in a physical class or classroom; I have never met any of my classmates and my professors or instructors face-to-face.  I am thirty-six years old with two children, and I work full-time in a field where I have spent the last sixteen years in.  No, I am not your traditional BSW student; I am a new breed of student, an older nontraditional online student.

Advances in technology have flung wide the doors of innovation in higher education. Online programs, developed in the last ten years and refined in the last five, have drastically changed the face of higher education for non-traditional students like me, who would have had no other opportunity to complete a degree.

Due to their ability to offer flexibility to students, online programs have become a permeant feature on the higher education landscape, and their popularity and student population are growing at an exponential rate. The academic training of future social workers has not been exempted from the advancements in technology and education. My soon-to-be alma mater and one of the leading online social work programs in the nation have reported a 34% increase in the number of students enrolled in the online BSW program this year alone.

While there have been major leaps forward in distance learning and online education, there has been little to no innovation regarding CSWE accreditation policies concerning this new breed of students, especially as it pertains to their field placement.

As it stands, all CSWE accredited schools, including non-traditional online programs function under the same blanket policy regarding field placement. Students enrolled in BSW programs are required to perform a minimum of four hundred unpaid hours of field placement at a social service agency. The policy also requires that field placement hours be served in conjunction with educational direction.

The CSWE considers field placement the “signature pedagogy” of social work education as it offers future practitioners the opportunity to apply theories learned in the classroom by exposing them to all sorts of problems and situations.  There is no debate concerning the importance of the field placement experience.  Incongruence occurs, however, due to a lack of nuance in policy when it comes to the unique needs and strengths of non-traditional learners.

Many non-traditional students, like me, who find an educational home in online BSW programs, are typically older adults either seeking to complete a bachelors degree they forsook earlier in life, seeking to further their current career, or shift their career entirely into a new filed.  While the reasons non-traditional students have for returning to school through an online program vary, one thing is common for us all.  Each student brings many years of life experience and employment history to the program.

Personally, when I started my online BSW program, I had over sixteen years of social services experience; working for years in a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers on the verge of incarceration, pastoral ministry, and serving as the Executive Director of a large non-profit social services organization.  I am not alone in bringing this level of experience in my current distance learning program.

In an informal survey conducted by current and former students of my school’s online BSW program, sixty percent of students reported that their resumes reflect positions comparable to that of social workers with fifty percent of responders stating they were employed by a social services agency while also performing their field placements. Students reported they have or are serving in capacities such as SUD Therapist, Program Coordinator, Outreach Specialist, Case Manager, Addiction Recovery Specialist, Youth Career Specialist, and Parent Mentor.

It is safe to assume that students from other online programs would report the same data. As such, it is important for the current CSWE and school policies concerning field placement for online programs be reviewed and discussed to create the most effective learning environment for these unique students. If the current policies are followed, older non-traditional students will not have the desired experience as CSWE and accredited schools for BSW students.

If there is no change in how these students are viewed and the policies surrounding their placement, the CSWE and institutions of higher learning run the risk of non-traditional students viewing their service hours as a mere assignment that must be completed to graduate.

To be honest, this has been my thinking on more than one occasion during my field placement. While I have learned a substantial amount about the agency I have worked in and it has been truly informative, I have also found myself questioning whether this experience was truly fulfilling the mission and vision the CSWE and my school had in mind when policy was crafted concerning BSW field placement making it the signature pedagogy.

Often times in my placement, I found that due to my life and employment experience, I was more qualified to perform the duties and tasks than those I was shadowing and being supervised by. I do not relay this out of a sense of arrogance, but sheer professional experience.

Due to the nature and requirements of my field placement setting, I have spent a majority of my time shadowing new social workers or others who do not have a BSW at all. There is much to be gleaned by working with these individuals in an agency setting and hearing about their roles and responsibilities.

There is also great value in navigating through interpersonal issues that arise in a field placement setting. This aspect of placement has been invaluable to me.  What has become cumbersome, however, is trying to relate to my agency, my placement, and my future practice of social work as if my life experience and employment history were non-existent and as if the position I may potentially secure after placement will be my first professional job.

The current framework concerning BSW field placement is to provide students with experience in generalist practice with the hope that after field placement and graduation, students will secure jobs in social services agencies as entry-level generalist social work practitioners. This is a fine and noble objective to have, but the reality is a majority of older non-traditional students will not seek entry-level positions.

As their resumes reflect extensive knowledge and experience, the addition of a BSW degree will only elevate them to higher levels of employment.  To use a professional metaphor, these older non-traditional students will most likely not be starting at the “bottom of the ladder.” With that being the case, it would be prudent and wise for these students to be placed in advanced practice settings with more intensive supervision, settings that will mirror the level they will be entering the profession of social work in.

While this may not be true for everyone enrolled in online programs, it is true for many; and those individuals deserve to have a field placement setting and experience that will rightly prepare them for the work they have before them in the professional field.

I am by no means suggesting for a cessation of field placement for older non-traditional students. Field placement is imperative and a means by which students safely test theories and gain invaluable experience.  I desire to open a dialogue concerning the needs and strengths of the non-traditional students and how to best serve them during this crucial time of learning.

However, a new examination of the CSWE requirements, policies, and procedures of institutions of higher education with a manner of nuance should be given to this growing student population. It will ensure these older non-traditional students who are finishing their degree and entering the practice of social work receive a placement that meets their educational and professional needs rather than being an exercise in futility to complete a requirement.

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