Tag Archives: students

“You Don’t Speak for Me”

There’s a lot that I really love about teaching–the constant opportunity to challenge my own thinking about critical issues, the incentive to read and stay abreast of developments in social policy, the relationships with students who later become colleagues.

But my favorite part?

When students totally blow me away with their commitment to social change, creativity in pursuit of justice, and all-around awesomeness.

In all fairness, this post is not about my students. But I feel like I can claim them just a little bit, because I worked with them in my capacity as an advocate, advising them on their project and connecting them to policymakers and allies.

And because, if I’m really, really lucky, they might end up in one of my classes one day.

I’m thrilled that this group received the national Influencing State Policy award. They completely deserve it. They absolutely did influence state policy, defusing the anti-immigrant argument that, somehow, attacking immigrant kids helps other college students. Their advocacy, including this video and the petition drive that garnered support from college students around the state, shored up Senate supporters of Kansas’ current instate tuition policy and injected a new theme into the media coverage of the repeal debate, both critical to the ultimate defeat of the attempted repeal.

What I love most, though, is that these students not only made an impact on state policy (in a truly beautiful way). They also demonstrated, for other students and would-be activists, that such influence is within reach and that it can be really fun, too.

I always cry at the end of the video, when this powerful collection of students says, essentially, “Hey, when you’re hating on hard-working immigrant students, you don’t speak for me.”

I am so glad that they found their voice.

And I can’t wait to hear what they say next.

Macro Social Work and Maximum Career Success in 2012

My students and I just finished our fall semester. For them, that means a few weeks without practicum or policy studies. I’m sure they’ll be glad to get online without seeing frequent posts from me about new policy developments or insightful new articles that I’m just SURE they’ll love (can you ever listen to too many Robert Greenstein podcasts? I think not.).

For me, the break between semesters means decorating Christmas cookies with the kids, trying to come up with gifts for the dozens of people who help us raise them throughout the year, and catching up on the stack of reading that has grown on my nightstand throughout the fall.

But I’ve also had several conversations with students in the past couple of weeks about their futures, and what the next year may hold, especially given that my Advanced Policy students will receive their MSWs in the spring, in a job market that honestly doesn’t look much better, at least in some sectors, than it has for the past three years or so (which is to say, not too good). Increasingly, my students are getting started early in researching organizations that might provide some career opportunities for them, which just might mean that they’re taking my career advice about seeking a good fit between you and the organizational culture, rather than searching for the perfect job description.

But I’ve been doing some investigation into other resources for young nonprofit professionals, most of which are good fits for social workers, too, especially those who see nonprofit administration as a promising career path. These macro social workers will need to understand how organizations work, and how they should work, what the context of social service delivery will look like, and how to chart a career progression for themselves that will position them for long-term success in an often volatile market.

In this thinking, I’ve benefitted greatly from the wisdom of former students, especially from the recent past, whose own job experiences provide inspiration and comfort to today’s graduates. I’d love to hear from more of my own former students as well as other new social work professionals, regarding these resources, others that you’d recommend, or the advice that you wish someone had shared with you at the inception of your macro social work career. I’m particularly interested in how to help students bridge the direct practice jobs that are somewhat more plentiful to the macro work they seek. It requires finding opportunities to build skills and relationships in one service context that you can leverage in another, and demonstrating leadership in direct service that can lead to opportunities to lead on a larger scale. I don’t mean the assumed “work your way up to management” role, but, rather, intentionally complementing one’s macro social work education with strategic direct practice experiences, in pursuit of an overall portfolio designed to deliver a chance to shape our field.

  • I’ve shared Rosetta Thurman’s blog on my blog roll before; I find her writing topics and style thought-provoking, refreshing, and genuinely additive to the conversation about young people in the nonprofit world. There’s a lot here to prompt all of our thinking (regardless of age) about the future of nonprofits and how to build impactful organizations by investing in people, but, especially for newer professionals, there’s also tangible advice about how to network, which conferences are worth your time and money, and how to build your personal brand. You should also check out her book, How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar. Sometimes we think that someone has to be speaking directly to social workers to have anything to say to us, but I never fail to find something in Rosetta’s thinking that resonates with me.
  • Another blogger with relevant advice for new nonprofit workers is Alison Jones, who blogs at Entry-Level Living. She comments on the state of the nonprofit world, too, but also has advice about how to jumpstart your nonprofit career with formal service programs, how to integrate into nonprofit culture as a new employee, and how to tell the story of your college education in order to win a nonprofit job. Especially in this job market, it’s also critically important not to feel alone, and the community that arises on these two sites can complement the “real-world” support network that job-seekers so need.
  • Some new online forums, mostly completely self-moderated, have popped up for those seeking social work jobs. While there may not be too many actionable tips for social work graduates looking for a specific setting or geography on these pretty broad sites, there is an opportunity for solidarity and a chance to gain a sort of high-level overview of the landscape of the social work job market. One is the Social Worker Jobs Forum and another is the Social Work Job Bank (this last one is affiliated with The New Social Worker Online, and does have a stronger community moderation component).

    Here’s to a very bright new year, indeed, for social work graduates.

  • Futurecasting, My Students, and Our Sector

    In this second post during “Future Week”, here at Classroom to Capitol, I’m sharing an assignment that I created for my two policy classes this semester and how it fits with our critical challenge, as a nonprofit sector, to move beyond strategic plans that assume the world will stay mostly as it is (because it won’t), to instead prepare ourselves (and our future colleagues) to prepare to thrive in a nearly unimaginable (right now) future.

    In both my first-year MSW and Advanced Policy courses, students are required to investigate, analyze, and then comment on at least one macro trend expected to influence their current and future organizations, the realm of public policy in which they work, and their own practices. It’s not a research project, as such, in that no one can definitively predict these impacts, and students’ interpretations of the likely meaning of these trends are taken as valid and worthy of consideration, provided that the are based on sound reasoning and a firm grasp of the current state of their respective fields. They have some leeway to identify the trend(s) they want to study, but some that are suggested include:

  • Increasing representation of people of color in the population and among social work clients
  • Rise of mobile technologies and its impact on the digital divide
  • Declining federal financial aid for higher education and accompanying increasing tuition prices
  • Growth of nonprofit administration degrees outside of social work
  • Climate change (disaggregated in the developing and more developed economies)
  • Growth in the older adult population in the U.S., especially as compared to the working-age population
  • Demographic shifts towards the Southeast and Southwest, and away from traditional population centers in the Northeast

    The Future of Nonprofits stresses the importance of “futuring” for nonprofit organizations, as a way to outline some of the potential scenarios in which the organizations may operate, to identify opportunities and challenges embedded within them. As someone whose feelings about more traditional strategic planning are well-known (!), I really appreciated how the authors distinguish between those rather static exercises and this more freeform thinking about what could be, and what that could mean.

    For my students, once they are freed from the anxiety associated with fearing that they need to have some sort of crystal ball, the opportunity to talk with their peers and brainstorm about what could be coming (and how it might affect them) is pretty rewarding. I’m consistently impressed (and pleased!) with how often they identify the potential in these trends, not just the threats–I don’t know if it’s their youth or their innate optimism or what, but they tend to gravitate, even, towards the hidden good, while retaining a focus on vulnerable populations that could be adversely impacted in various future environments.

    I hope that, as part of our work together, my students develop and maintain a true curiosity about what the world holds, how it got this way, and where it might be headed.

    Knowing where to go, with whom to talk, what to read, and what questions to ask in order to figure out what’s going on with the people we serve, the organizations where we work, and the field in which we operate is integral to questioning the world as it is, and to imagining the world as it could be. It requires approaching life a bit more like my oldest son does–absolutely everything is questioned with a “why?” and a “why not?”–and casting a net wide enough to bring in diverse perspectives that can help us answer those most important questions.

    I think it’s more valuable, for them as professionals and for our profession as a whole, than the concrete knowledge (which will soon be outdated) or even the discrete skills I hope to pass along.

    Because, ultimately, I want my students to not just think about what the future might look like.

    I want them to help shape it, for the better. For all of us.

  • Thankful, Thankful, Thankful

    This is one of my favorite annual posts to write.

    I have so much, really, for which to be thankful, and it’s an important exercise, this thinking through the abundance of good things in my life.

    This year, especially with the relatively homeward-focus of the last several months, my list of those to whom thanks are owed is perhaps a little more personal than last. But there are great joys in the wider world, too, even though, certainly, there are more problems and pains there as well.

    I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for this year, too!

  • My kids, of course, but not just in a “they’re my kids” kind of way. Truly, these particular little ones are such a delight: the way that Sam’s mind works (even when he can’t sleep because there are “too many thoughts!”), the love and joy that spills out of my oldest daughter (even to people at the grocery store), the support role that my youngest son plays so kindly, and so well, the tremendous gift that is a baby sister. Every single day, they teach me something about living, and parenting, and I’m so glad that we have so much time, still, to learn together.
  • The Sunflower Foundation: I’m thankful not just because it’s a wonderful group with which to work (even though I pinch myself regularly that I get paid to think and talk about advocacy with these folks), but also because I really believe in the investments that they’re making in nonprofits in our state, and in the difference that their work will leverage on behalf of vulnerable Kansans. They are courageous and smart and fun, and I’m so glad that they’re on our side.
  • My flower garden: So, right now, it’s not much to look at, but I know that it’s there, tucked away in the ground, and that, come spring, I’ll have bulbs popping up and perennials to tend. At one point, a garden was my strategy place; I remember coming up with the idea of a prayer vigil to put pressure on the Kansas Speaker while training the hyacinth beans to climb the gate. Now, it’s a place where the kids and I can work together, or I can be alone in the early mornings or late evenings. It’s something to look at while I wash dishes at the sink or sit with the kids on the patio. And it’s a visible reminder that my dear husband loves me very much, laid out with his hands, watered regularly according to his timers, and carefully mowed around every week in the summer.
  • Some good court decisions (meaning, of course, that I agree with them!). Thanks, in particular, SCOTUS, for not humoring Kris Kobach’s ongoing attacks against immigrant students. And thanks to the federal court ruling that being gay doesn’t mean that you can’t rule fairly on issues involving gays. We’ve got a lot of strains in our relationship, especially you 9 and I, but there were a few bright spots so far this year, and they have not gone unnoticed.
  • My students: Do they have any idea how much it warms my heart to get an action alert from one of them? How I pick up the phone to call Congress in glee, uber-delighted that they are already making an impact on advocacy? Or how I’d really rather have a conversation about one of their optional readings (That they read! Seriously!) than win the lottery? Or how truly kind it is that they don’t call me on the fact that I start every week of policy class saying that this is my favorite topic of the semester? So thankful.
  • Cold-brew iced tea: Who has time to boil water? No one wants to see me on coffee-strength caffeine, but a little iced tea in the morning makes preparing 8 pancakes every day a bit easier. This stuff is genius, and I am truly grateful that scientific minds lent their mental energy to this particular endeavor. Now, let’s get on the malaria-resistant mosquitoes. And a cure for cancer.
  • The public library, ours in particular. I love Miss Beth, who knows my kids’ names and always has a reading selection. I love the fact that I’m not made to feel guilty for incurring late fines–they appreciate the money. I love how excited my kids are to go somewhere that’s free, and public, and how they’ve learned about the importance of the commons. And I love having new books to entertain the kids on cold and rainy afternoons. Hurray for taxes at work!
  • Our neighborhood: I’m thankful for a neighbor who drove us to the doctor in his 4-wheel drive during last winter’s blizzard, for the built-in babysitters across the street, for the communal kid-vehicle storage in our garage, for the fact that, when I can’t find my husband, he’s almost always in our neighbor’s backyard. I’m thankful that my kids’ best friends live within sight of my front porch, and that they don’t have to knock when they run down the street. I’m thankful that we’re building a community, together.
  • Moderates in the Kansas Senate: I’m hesitant to even put this one down, even though I am so, so, so thankful for those Republicans and Democrats in the Kansas Senate who resisted the worst of the policy proposals in 2011, because I’m afraid that they won’t hold in 2012, and that they may be gone by 2013. But I am thankful for them, enough to put aside money for their reelection campaigns, and I’m committed to showing my gratitude in public, so that their voices of reason and compassion are not overlooked, and then silenced.

    What blessings are you counting this year? What do you hope can be on your “thankful” list in 2012? How will you show your gratitude during this thankful season?

  • Why we need rules, and why rules need you

    Rules are a pretty big deal around our house.

    We don’t really have that many, truly, in part because of my parenting philosophy about letting the kids learn from natural consequences, and part, in truth, because I don’t know that I could be that vigilant in enforcing them all the time (things tend to slide a bit with the 4 kids competing for Mommy’s attention).

    But the rules that we have are important, not just to Mom and Dad (because they are things like “no hitting” and “we only throw balls and beanbags”, without which things would get even wilder around here), but also to our kids. In fact, they are the first ones to invoke a broken rule (by their siblings), and they cling to those rules in comfort to provide some boundaries around their world. One of their most sacred is that they do NOT have to share their “nighttime stuff” (special blankets and animals), even if a sibling asks really nicely, even if it’s not being used right now. They’re just off-limits from the normal sharing framework, and they take that very, very seriously.

    And so our rules around here have me thinking about rules in a policy context, too, and about just how important they are. I found a quote the other day (I’m sure the origin is appropriately cited on a sticky note somewhere around our house, but I know not where), something like “rules define our civilization.”

    And, if you think about it, that’s very true. I mean, our policies are really more about setting our goals, charting our general direction, and expressing our preferences.

    The rules, where everything from definitions to allocations to staffing qualifications to eligibility constraints (and on and on) are decided…that’s really where we set out how we intend to go about living together, and working towards those common (or not so common) purposes.

    It’s how we make society work, within our families, or in our nation, or in the global community.

    Rules are a big deal.

    But they’re so hidden, and so opaque, and so seemingly complex, that we often throw up our hands, even as the most committed advocates, and abdicate this whole arena. It’s almost like at my house; I know that if we had many more rules, I’d have to relax on their enforcement, because there’s just only so much mental energy.

    And, yet, in the realm of advocacy, just as in parenting, we can’t afford to let rules go unpoliced, or to allow rules to distort the intentions over which we so vigorously battled. We can’t ignore the trees, so to speak, if we want to keep the forest from burning down around us. The details matter.

    This month in my Advanced Policy class, then, we focus on administrative advocacy, so that my students (I hope!) are prepared, first, to think about rule-making as an extension of their policy activities, and to bring their considerable skills and talents to this work. We go through the Federal Register and weigh in on rule changes. We identify the state and federal agencies charged with rulemaking and begin to build relationships with those bureaucrats. We explore whether the policy changes they seek alongside those they serve can be accomplished through regulations, and we brainstorm effective ways to engage clients as constituents in the rulemaking process.

    Because that last piece is, I admit, more difficult in the administrative advocacy realm even than in legislative work. And yet it’s critical. Just like with my kids, where we have played a critical role in shaping the rules that govern our lives, we are more invested in upholding them (some might say zealous, if they saw my 3 oldest marking their territory).

    So, as my students integrate this part of their advocacy repertoire into their work, what are your administrative advocacy tips to share? What lessons have you learned? What victories have you won? What has worked to make these efforts resonate with your organization and your constituency? What are your goals for rulemaking in your core issue areas in the months and years to come?

    Because the answer to those questions, really, is the answer to “how do you seek to define our civilization?”

    And I’m certain you have some ideas about that.

    Teaching virtually, not virtually teaching

    It has now been about two years since I first started trying to figure out this “blended” (online and traditional classroom instruction) teaching methodology.

    And, although it risks totally jinxing everything, I think I’m finally getting it.

    This semester has been a sort of revelation to me–that the online and in-person learning do not need to happen in these discrete chunks, but can and, indeed, should truly blend throughout the course so that students become accustomed to learning in both venues simultaneously. I’ve also intentionally sought out materials that engage students in interactive learning online, so that they’re not just responding to my content in virtual platforms, but becoming part of a larger community of interest around policy concerns.

    And, perhaps most significantly, it has dawned on me that, since most of my students will, as social workers, consume much of their policy-related information online (rather than in a class discussion format or a peer-reviewed journal), part of my task in these courses should be to help them develop skills to critically consume this material, so that they can analyze and filter and apply similar information throughout their careers.

    Yes, another inspiration that should have occurred to me a long time ago, but, better late…right?

    My favorite part of the blended classes is probably the discussion boards, because I get so much more participation from some of the quieter students than I do in class. This semester, I’m going to use a more detailed course evaluation that assesses student reactions to those individual components, so that I can get a better sense of which pieces they’re actually engaging with, and how those activities are contributing to their overall learning.

    I am, as always, open to new ideas and critiques, but here’s what I’m doing differently this semester that (again, knock on everything!) seems to be working so far:

  • Utilizing course technology to bring in virtual guest speakers–if we can have half of our course content online, why not get guest speakers from Washington, DC (via Skype) to talk about implementation of health care reform?
  • Requiring students to analyze media coverage of policy topics, to heighten their analytical skills and give them practice searching for the frames in a given coverage
  • Integrating short videos and podcasts on policy topics, and, often, using them to replace traditional assigned readings, because they offer much more current analysis than what the peer-reviewed process can provide
  • Working in at least a few “virtual classrooms”, which are sort of like chatrooms, but not in real-time, so that students have a venue in which to ask questions about the course, share materials with each other, and access me
  • Creating online assignments, including the “wiki” resource guides on policymaking that I used last year, too (to provide a nonprofit organization with resources designed to facilitate advocacy in a particular arena) and a presentation about future trends that will impact policy that, by necessity, has to draw almost entirely on online resources

    I’ve only tried to teach policy courses in this blended format, so I certainly can’t speak to the experiences of those teaching (and taking!) practice classes. And I know that some of my students wish that they had the option to take a traditional format policy course, and I respect that. There’s no question that I miss getting to see my students more frequently; in my ideal (albeit overwhelming) world, we’d still meet every week AND have the additional online opportunities.

    Another reason everyone is glad I don’t run the world.

    But my goal with these courses is to create a policy learning experience that transfers as much as possible, and as seamlessly as possible, to social work practice, and I do believe that the inclusion of the online components increases that likelihood.

    Because the real world, after all, is increasingly online.

  • Economics of Studying Social Work: Guest Post from The Professional Intern

    **Note from Melinda: I was approached for a guest post by Jesse from The Professional Intern, a blog/website written by and for high school, undergraduate, graduate, and adult education students. One of the frequent topics on the blog relates to the financial aspects of higher education, and life beyond, and I think that the resources contained here, and on the site, will be helpful for social work students and recent graduates, too, particularly given how frequently my students’ career decisions are influenced by very real financial considerations. In an ideal world, the important work that social workers do–whether 1:1 with clients or on the macro level–would be compensated so that social workers can take care of their families and pursue their individual financial goals, too. That will take reforming the incentives facing nonprofit organizations, valuing the contributions we make to society, and creating public policies accordingly. Until then, consider Jesse and his colleagues fellow travelers on the quest to “do well while doing good.” Thanks, Jesse!

    People who go to school for social work aren’t in it for the money. They realize they’re facing a lifetime of being underpaid and overworked. But just because you’re never going to strike it rich doesn’t mean you have to carry a load of debt around with you.

    Before you go
    One of the most important decisions you can make when you’ve decided on your career path is where to go for your degree. This is one of those times when you have to be real with yourself. Going to a pricey private college may not be easy for you later if your parents aren’t helping you pay your loans. Admissions counselors will tell you that 99 percent of students will get financial aid. While that’s completely true, they often leave out the fact that this is only a few thousand on a $35,000 price tag.
    A more affordable option is attending a state school. They tend to run at about $16,140 a year. With scholarships, they can often be brought down to about $10,080, according to a recent report. Scholarships will only knock private school tuition down to about $21,020.

    If you need to work while you’re attending college, look into an online degree or a community college. Many state schools can also have more flexible schedules with night classes that will help you in your quest to do it all.

    Once you’re there
    Student loans can often be used for any educational expense. This can be stretched easily to include some things that you might not actually need, so it’s one of those times that we have to apply the advice we often give to others–how should we prioritize our budgets?–to our own financial decisions. Remember that you’ll have to pay this money back sooner than you’d think.

    On that note, any money you take from your technical loan money should be repaid by the time you graduate. If you have loans that charge interest, pay those back immediately. For the loans that don’t accrue interest, go ahead and put the money in a savings account that you can’t access through a bank card. If you need extra help ensuring you don’t spend it, ask your parents to put their names on your account and require that you all be there to remove it.

    Consider signing up for AmeriCorps if there is a program in your area (or another, similar service program). AmeriCorps is a government-funded program that allows people to give back to their community in various ways. In return for your service, you receive a living stipend. Upon completion of the program, you also receive an education award, which can be applied directly to tuition costs or loans. Depending on the amount of hours you put into the program, you could end up with a couple of thousand dollars on top of your living stipend. It’s best to do the AmeriCorps program as an internship, since it will take a considerable time commitment. Many of the projects that members can sign up for are directly related to social work and can provide valuable experience along with the much-needed money.

    And now, the fun part
    The fun, of course, comes from having your degree. If you’re unable to find a job right out of college, take one that you can find and continue searching hard for a job in your field (ML: again–the same advice social workers often give our clients!). With the economy the way it is, even low-paying jobs are sometimes hard-to-find. In the meantime, call your loan provider and see when you’ll need to start paying back your loans. Most have a waiting period of about six months. If you graduate in May, your first payments will begin around December. You can usually find out everything you need to know by going to their website and digging around. However, if you call you will get an opportunity to talk to real people who know your situation and can help. Memorizing the number might be the most important step you can take.

    If you have trouble paying back your loans, here are some options you can take.
    • Defer your loans:
    Deferring your loans is the first step you should take when you lose your job or can’t make payments on a low salary. All it takes is a call to your loan provider and a short explanation of why you need a deferment. You only have a set number of these to go through though, so be sure you’re using them only when absolutely necessary.
    • Extend your payback period:
    If your loans exceed a certain amount, your payback period may be eligible to be extended. Remember that this will make it harder to buy a home and a new car later on down the road, since you’ll have more money already tied up in loans. The amount you currently owe back is also reflected in your credit score, so be sure to check and see how much it’s affecting you before you extend it another 5-10 years. The average loan’s standard payback period is 10 years, but can go up to 15-20 if you meet the requirements.
    • Consolidate your loans:
    In the funny loan world, you can have two separate loans from the same provider, both due separately. If you find this has happened to you, simply call your loan provider to ask them to be combined.
    • Check the time of month:
    If rent is due the same week as your student loans, most companies will allow you to switch the due date. Remember that it will take a month or so to go in effect, so don’t think you can use this to get a couple weeks of free deferment.
    With all of these options available, you should be able to manage loan repayment on even the tiniest salary. Remember to also list the amount you’ve paid towards them on your taxes, as some of that money will be tax deductible. Be proactive about your loans, and you’ll be able to stay on top of them.

    Does anyone else have advice to share? Recent graduates, what are you encountering in the job market, and what has worked for you? Those with longer tenures in the working world, what has this perspective taught you that you wish you’d known before?

    A Bloody Brilliant Idea

    *Honestly, I had kind of forgotten about this until I went through the archives to find posts to use during this last week of my maternity leave. In the intervening years, I’ve seen more of my colleagues bringing clients into the classroom, so that students can gain their perspectives on agencies and social workers, and, almost without exception, students find that extremely valuable. It still falls short, though, of this idea that those who use our services should have some real authority over who and how we deliver them, not just have to volunteer their expertise to try to educate us out of our own worst tendencies. I haven’t done anything to move in this direction, either, but it’s on my list as I head back out into the world.

    When I was pregnant with the twins, I was so exhausted that I really couldn’t move much, but I also couldn’t handle any of my normal, rather heavy reading, so I read a lot of British novels. And, much to my husband’s amusement, he soon had a very large wife who was sprinkling her speech with phrases like peevish and knackered and bollocks. They are just such appealing words!

    Well, consider this Anglophile “mad keen” about what I’ve just discovered: England’s social work degree qualification, adopted in May 2002 and first implemented for the 2003-2004 academic year, requires involvement of what they call “service users” (we’d call them “clients” or “consumers”) in all aspects of social work education (which they call “training”–those crazy Brits!). Yes, ALL ASPECTS. As in, selecting candidates for social work schools, consulting on curriculum, participating in curriculum delivery, evaluating students in the classroom and the field, and design of the overall degree.

    The Department of Health funds the Social Care Institute for Excellence in order to develop a national forum for service users involved in social work education, to promote best practices, and to identify barriers. SCIE’s reports are candid about the fact that there are gaps between the stated ideals and the practice. Service users and their organizations cite lack of training and support, condescending attitudes on the part of academic faculty (No!), questions of access, and concerns about stipends’ impact on benefit eligibility as some of the most vexing concerns, and SCIE and some grassroots groups in the country are working hard to try to overcome these.

    Still, even acknowledging some of the limitations, this is pretty awesome.

    Hey, Council on Social Work Education, we need a similar mandate for social work education in the United States. We need a strategy for how to fully integrate the perspectives of our clients into preparation of students. We need requirements that universities actively solicit clients’ involvement in deciding which students to admit, how to structure education, and who deserves to have the degree that will entitle them to so much authority over the lives of those we serve. We need resources to invest in the organizational capacity of client-driven organizations, both because of how that would prepare them to better participate in social work training, and because our profession should be doing more to invest in the capacity for self-help of those we aim to, well, help.

    Individual programs around the country, are, undoubtedly, doing good work in terms of client involvement–starting community collaborations, building alliances with local social service organizations, sending dozens or even hundreds of great students out to work in practice placements–I don’t mean to discount these efforts. But we need a far greater infusion of energy and resources, and a more strategic and concerted collective effort, if we’re going to fill in the gaps, transcend tokenism, and build real partnerships with our most valuable asset–those who legitimize our profession by allowing us to work with them.

    Ten years from now, I’d like to see us grappling with the problems outlined by SCIE and their service-user organization partner, Shaping Our Lives: how can we ensure that all clients have equitable access to decisionmaking authority within social work education? How can we quantify the types and magnitude of impacts that clients have on social work education? How can we build on the gains made so far in bringing clients into social work education as instructors, students, and ‘expert consultants’?

    Let’s face it, the people who brought us the trifecta of the pub, gravity, and DNA have done it again–shown us the way to the people we are meant to become. I mean, what’s more “American” than the idea of empowering individuals, bringing in diverse perspectives, and highlighting the wisdom of hard-earned experience? We can do this. And we’ll be better for it, as teachers, and students, and as a profession. Thanks, Britain. We owe you one.

    But we’re NOT sorry for that whole Boston tea party thing…

    Guest Post: From classroom to capitol, literally

    *One of my students, Jody McCready, was a Kansas legislative intern this past session (in addition to her practicum and a full load of classes!). She kindly agreed to share her experiences here, and I know that she’d welcome your comments, too! What can you do to increase your engagement with your state legislature? How should our social work curricula be modified to encourage these experiences? Which piece of advice speaks most to you?

    I was interested in interning at the Statehouse this year because I figured given the political environment and economic status there would be much to learn and observe. I was correct in this assumption. Some days I left the Statehouse extremely confused, irritated, and hopeless. I will try to share with you some of the lessons I have learned from my year with the legislature in a precise manner. Here are my top twelve lessons from the Statehouse:

    12. Say “Hi” to everyone in the hallways, and start small talk with other people- even those who you disagree with. Talk to all legislators and develop a personal relationship. While talking to representatives, use your clinical skills and gather information about them- what they are experiencing. Talks should not just revolve around professional topics; really dedicate yourself to getting to know elected officials as the person they are. AND create relationships with the secretaries and support staff- they are the gatekeepers to the legislature.

    11. Sometimes it is all about the money. Unfortunately, sometimes your goals and mission are overriden by the economic status. This year is a prime example. While this is frustrating to experience, you must not give up on educating elected officials about your mission and the needs of the population you are advocating for.

    10. Understand that our representatives are not geniuses, and do not know it all. Many are honestly normal people. While some officials may have higher education, others may just have a high school education. For example, the representative I interned for only has an associate’s degree and has never had experiences with the population I am motivated to advocate for. Other legislators may reference religious morals as a basis for making political policy and votes. We must interact with representatives as if they know nothing about our mission and concerns. We must educate them on the basic concerns and needs of the population we are advocating. We also must know how to manage the topic of religion, especially how its tenets may contradict the realities of our populations. This takes precision and tact when in discussion with representatives who rely on such religious beliefs for policymaking.

    9. Use your listening, paraphrasing, and “clinical” skills. Yup, engaging representatives (or consumers) through meaningful conversations is the way to connect. Your connection with an elected official will benefit you!

    8. Prepare for uncomfortable situations, awkward statements, and boundary violations. It will happen. Some elected officials are not professional, and others may make inappropriate comments about your appearance or work. Be prepared on how you are going to deal with such situations.

    7. Utilize resources supported by the state, like the research office and library. There are many resources supported by the State that are available to the public. Do not be afraid to call the research department when reviewing an issue, or consult the library to find resources.

    6. Present professional, well-rounded information. Present professional-looking materials. Try to supply not only statistical information but also personal stories. Make suggestions for amendments for policies in the works; don’t just present problems. If you have a concern about a policy, don’t be afraid to supply amendments or suggestions to improve the policy. You would be surprised how many legislators are interested in hearing such improvements. Many representatives do want to represent their constituents but don’t how to address the gaps in policies. We as social workers are the experts and can supply suggestions close such gaps.

    5. Don’t discriminate according to party. Just because a representative is a “Democrat” or “Republican” does not mean that they agree with the party’s stance on every issue. They all are humans and their path through life has led them to have different life experiences, just like us. By talking to representatives you never thought would support your cause, you may surprise yourself and find a new supporter.

    4. Know yourself and what topics trigger you! Prepare yourself for stereotypical statements and testimony that will flat-out infuriate you. Prepare for this, create a plan on how to deescalate your feelings when you are getting worked up while in a professional environment, and how to deal with the stress that follows when you leave for the day.

    3. Volunteer to attend political events, forums, and to assist in campaigns. I am volunteering to help a representative out of Overland Park this summer just to gain more experience. There is much to learn while interacting with representatives on their campaign, and vice-versa. Representatives do have much to learn from social workers given hot political topics.

    2. Constituents need to be present and visible in the Statehouse. Bottom line- constituents are the most effective way to get a representative’s attention. Elected officials are devoted to their constituents and by bringing a constituent to them who can speak to your mission will achieve much.

    1. Social workers are needed in the Statehouse DAILY. Social workers need to be visible and available to legislators. Being at the capital for one day does not create a lasting impression with legislature. You want to cultivate a relationship with a legislator? Be visible, available, and constant in the legislator’s day.

    I personally suggested to the Dean to make capitol experiences a focus in our school intern curriculum, even for clinical workers. As social workers we learn the needs and concerns from our community through direct experience; this is why we must also have direct experience in the legislature. All social workers have much to learn from direct observation and presence in the legislature. We as social workers need to be present in the legislative session to fill the role of liaisons from policy development to current functioning of our communities.

    I also feel that organizations need to continue contact with representatives after session. Organizations must invite legislators to educational events and trainings to inform them of their organization’s mission, concerns, service, and population’s need. There is just not enough time to do this while in session; therefore we must maintain the relationship with our elected officials and continue education with them as much as possible after the end of the legislative session.

    Guest Post: What a long, strange trip it’s been: The winding job search of one macro social worker

    **Graduation at our School was about a week ago, and many of my former students are in full job-search mode. To both honor their accomplishments and equip them for the weeks ahead, I asked one of my favorite former students, whose job search I witnessed, to share his story with us. He has such passion and talent for social justice work, and I know that we’ll continue to see more of his impact on our world. I’m so glad he chose social work, and so glad that I get to observe his journeys. Thank you, Jason!

    Several weeks ago, Melinda wrote a blog post with this piece of advice for new grads seeking work: Choose an organization that you’re excited about, not a job description that sounds good. No nugget of wisdom better sums up my experience job searching last year with a fresh SWAAP (Social Work Administration and Advocacy Practice, our School’s macro social work concentration in the MSW program) degree in hand and a social work job to find.

    I was optimistic starting out (which never fully waned). I knew I would be moving to Chicago at the end of the summer so I figured I had all the time in the world. I didn’t. I was working part-time in Kansas City and I spent many of my days drafting cover letters and formatting resumes for positions as a Policy Analyst, Administration Coordinator, Outreach Manager. These jobs sounded wonderful, but I had little experience outside of class time, no connections, and little understanding of how Chicago social services work or look, apart from a couple informational interviews I’d done during a spring visit.
    Applying for jobs in Chicago while living in Kansas City was tough. I think only one employer even gave me an interview. And they weren’t even hiring for the position any longer! It turned out that the hiring manager was Mennonite (my particular brand of Christianity) and recognized a denominational service program I had done. This was literally the only reason he (pre-) interviewed me. It went well and it was great practice. I kept in touch with him throughout my job search, but he never did have an opening.

    I finally moved to Chicago in late August and for 2 and a half months I was in full job search mode. Most of the time. I never before knew how difficult it was for me to stay motivated on a single task. I had one purpose: find a job. But I felt completely unable to control that outcome. Though energy was much more frenetic than it had been in Kansas City and there were times of euphoria (an informational interview with the director of an advocacy group who had a position that was PERFECT for me and promised an interview; three interviews with one organization; completing my side project: running a marathon), there were also times of despair (the promised interview never happened despite my best attempts to seek follow through; the third interview was a complete nightmare; after the marathon I still didn’t have a job… or a marathon to train for).

    In desperation I agreed to work for a friend’s friend’s Halloween store, which had me standing on a street corner dressed as a Smurf for a couple of late-October weeks. It was during this time that I received a second interview (the first had been two months prior, and I hadn’t been chosen for a second at that time) with Inspiration Corporation, a north-side non-profit specializing in job skills, a culinary training program, and services for the homeless. Though I’d initially applied for one position, that had been filled by someone internally, which led to my rejection. After a few weeks passed, another employee (who had the position I have now) decided to leave the agency, as did the person who received the job for which I initially applied and was rejected.

    This time I got the job, which I’ve now held for six months.

    As a Career Specialist, I meet with 4-6 people every day, each of whom are either homeless or at risk of homelessness, to discuss their lives and provide support, advice, and guidance on their job search or quest for further training. Though it’s work I’ve done in the past (and doesn’t require my MSW or have a strong focus on policy or advocacy), I’m passionate about the mission of the agency and appreciative of the structure and initiatives it has taken to impact homelessness in Chicago. Inspiration has a stellar reputation and I work with the most passionate people I could dream of to deliver services to some of the most talented and underappreciated citizens of Chicago.

    It’s not what I would have considered my dream a year ago, but it’s exactly the entrance to social work (and post-MSW professional life) in Chicago I need. My policy and advocacy interests are only strengthened by the exposure to people’s real lives I’m witness to, and I hold on to hope that I will be interviewed for the Policy Analyst and Outreach Manager jobs. Likely soon.

    I know the job search isn’t easy, but there are ways to survive. I’ve compiled a few tidbits and learnings here. Some are obvious. Hopefully some aren’t.

    ● Have someone edit your cover letters, someone from whom you don’t mind receiving criticism. They will be stronger for it, and they’re not as easy to write as you might think. And read them out loud to yourself to make sure everything flows.
    ● Send your resume as a PDF and your cover letter as the text of your e-mail.
    ● Informational Interviews matter. Eventually someone I interviewed with told me they’d heard about me from someone else. It’s about networking, but it’s also about sanity. When I was down (and I spent a lot of time feeling down), a good informational interview snapped me out of it and re-instilled hope, knowing someone out there had made a life of doing the kind of work I wanted to do.
    ● It’s easy to dismiss “networking” as overblown and overrated, but it turns out I met the person whose position I eventually received after he received a job at another agency at a friend’s barbeque for the homeless group she works with during one of my summer visits. Pretty random, right? But those are the effects of making connections in the relatively small non-profit world (especially around issues of hunger, poverty, and homelessness).
    ● Don’t take it personally when you hear nothing back, even though that’s next to impossible. You’ll usually hear nothing back.
    ● Give yourself a break. Go to a museum. Find free events. Read a novel. Even watch some TV on Netflix or Hulu. Budget your time wisely, but give yourself some fun.
    ● Brush up on local licensure policies. I worked with kids in a residential setting in Kansas City, so I thought it’d be a no-brainer to apply for those jobs (and get them) in Chicago. I didn’t learn until much later that all of these jobs required a particular city-certification for child welfare that I did not have.
    ● Connect with Social Work PRN. They’re completely wonderful (and had I not received this job shortly after I connected with them, I’m confident I’d have received some temp work). They are more focused on the clinical side of social work, however.

    Congratulations on graduation and happy job hunting!