Teaching Social Work: Reflections on Pedagogy and Practice

Most social work instructors learn to teach through trial and error, bringing their own style, experiences, and preferences to the endeavour rather than having a formal program of education and instruction on how to best educate and instruct. Teaching Social Work: Reflections on Pedagogy and Practice brings together thirty experienced professors and practitioners to address the often complex and uncertain field of social work education. In this post, editors Rick Csiernik and Susan Hillock tell us more about their edited volume and the framework they have created for social work educators to reflect on how they teach, why they teach in specific ways, and what works best for teaching in the discipline of social work.

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By Rick Csiernik and Susan Hillock

In early 2021, our book Teaching Social Work: Reflections on Pedagogy and Practice was published. We chose to take on this research project because, historically, Canadian social work educators have had limited, if any, prescribed training in teaching and likewise limited, if any, formal exposure to educational theory and methods. Indeed, for most, little time is devoted to learning how to teach social work in schools and faculties of social work. What Canadian social work educators have in common is that we all learned to become educators in the field of social work without a dedicated book written for our profession by members of our profession. This gap in social work training is more glaring when one considers that social work tends to have more rigorous standards than many other programs, as it is not only an academic discipline but also a regulated profession that has been tasked with serving vulnerable populations.

This book is important to the social work profession because it brings together the wisdom of 30 experienced Canadian social work professors and practitioners to provide a reflective framework about how they teach, why they teach in specific ways, and what works best for teaching in the social work discipline. As such, this book highlights a myriad of voices, ideas, and recommendations from those who, it could be argued, are ideally situated to explore, evaluate, and challenge what and how we teach social work. This, in turn, will hopefully allow readers – whether they are beginning their academic career or have years of experience – to think about their own teaching pedagogy and practice in a more in-depth, comprehensive, and evidence-informed manner. As a foundation for teaching social work, reviewers stated that, “this manuscript [is] important for diverse audiences – e.g. for tenure track faculty but also the sessional instructors who are increasingly being hired to teach in post-secondary social work education.”

Click the image (right) to view the table of contents and list of contributors.

Across the book, three main themes that examine modern trends in social work education are interwoven: introducing and critically examining diverse pedagogical perspectives; exploring how best to prepare students for practice; and discussing current issues in teaching.

This book centres:

  • The practice of critically reflective analysis;
  • Indigenous worldviews in teaching social work;
  • A new way to think and approach teaching based on feminist theories, principles, and methods: Femagogy;
  • Reconceptualizations of what anti-oppressive practice and teaching mean in practical terms.

The book also addresses social work education challenges including:

  • How can we dismantle the barriers to transforming social work education away from the dominant neoliberal paradigm?
  • How do we support social work students, who have been taught to compete and succeed in competitive systems, to be collaborative, communitarian, and collegial, instead of worrying solely about grades?
  • How can we promote and incorporate progressive social justice-based approaches in social work education?

In addition, the book also provides new and established social work educators with practical ideas on teaching practice, mindfulness, research, and dealing with our proverbial nemesis – the micro-macro divide. There are also chapters on developing university-community educational partnerships and working with diverse student populations. The book closes by examining several twenty-first-century educational concerns including how we can best understand and respond to student anxiety, triggers, bullying, and incivility, and contrarily, also ensure the safety, retention, support, and development of faculty (particularly those who occupy marginalized social locations and identities.) As we move into this post-COVID world, with its growing social and economic inequality, environmental racism, and climate crises, we recognize the need for social work education to continue to self-consciously and critically review its mission, theories, and methods. Our hope is that this reflection and exploration will have a long-lasting influence not only on the students that we are now teaching but also on the thousands of service users that the students will potentially reach over the course of their professional practice lives.

We would be happy to talk with you about the book or connect you to any of the contributors for further discussions to enhance your teaching or for you to inquire, and hopefully, challenge our views on teaching social work.

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About the Editors

Rick Csiernik (BSc, MSW, PhD, CCAC, RSW) is a professor in the School of Social Work, King’s University College, and has written and edited 14 books, authored over 200 peer reviewed articles and book chapters, and presented at over 200 national and international conferences, workshops, and seminars. He has been part of research teams that have received over 4.5 million dollars in funding and has been the recipient of both the King’s University College and McMaster University Continuing Education Teacher of the Year awards.

You can reach Rick at rcsierni@uwo.ca.

Susan Hillock is a professor of Social Work at Trent University in Durham, Ontario and a faculty member of Trent’s Graduate Studies and Master’s of Education program. Her education, research, and direct service methods stem from, and build upon, experiential, liberation, and anti-oppressive theories including eco-socialism, feminist, anti-racist, and critical theory, structural social work, and queer theory. She was recently awarded the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association (OCUFA)’s Status of Women and Equity Award of Distinction for outstanding contributions of members whose work has contributed meaningfully to the advancement of professors, academic librarians, and/or academic staff who are Indigenous, women, racialized, LGBTQ2S+, living with disabilities, and/or belong to other historically marginalized groups. Her solo-edited book, Teaching about Sex and Sexualities in Higher Education (UTP, forthcoming), and her other co-edited book, Queering Social Work Education (UBC Press, 2016), are the first of their kind in North America.

You can reach Susan at susanhillock@trentu.ca.

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Click here to find out more about Teaching Social Work: Reflections on Pedagogy and Practice.

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