Q&A with Dr. Susan Hillock, UTP author of Greening Social Work Education   

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Greening Social Work Education examines how social work educators can best incorporate sustainability content into social work curricula, integrate green teaching methods, and mobilize students and colleagues towards climate action, justice, and leadership. Read the full Q&A about Greening Social Work Education by the editor, Susan Hillock.

Tell us about when the idea for writing this book first came to fruition.  

Despite urgent calls for global action, growth in international sustainable social work practice, and a solid “green” theoretical knowledge base, North American social work and education for the helping professions have been slow to learn from other disciplines/community activists, acknowledge the international climate emergency, mainstream climate literacy, and act collectively to achieve climate justice. As a result, many higher education gaps exist, especially in terms of practical application about how educators can best: teach about sustainability, climate change/action, and environmental racism and injustice; incorporate climate literacy into education/practice; help educators gain confidence in transforming their teaching/curricula; prepare students in the helping professions for future practice in this area; and assist practitioners to develop adequate knowledge/skills to support vulnerable populations most impacted by climate change and disaster. 

Furthermore, to develop ecological literacy and effectively teach this content, I believed that it was essential that social work and the helping professions understand and know about the climate crisis, key issues, and the relevant science. So, I decided to create an inspirational book that provides: a rationale about why climate education/literacy is important for social work and the helping professions; an exploration of what I think every social worker needs to know about the climate crisis; as well as, an examination of the importance of social work taking leadership roles in local and global environmental movements.  

My argument is that, no matter what the individual educator’s/ practitioner’s preference, paradigm, or lens, social workers will have no choice but to act- to deal with climate change, migration, and ecological disasters- as these will soon affect every aspects of our lives. If survival is our goal (and I presume it is), then whatever our political and theoretical stripes, it is imperative that we all incorporate a green lens. Consequently, I realized that what was needed in Canadian social work education was a resource like this book, that not only focused on practical ways to green social work education, but also endeavoured to assist educators build confidence to begin making the necessary paradigm shifts to green their work.   

I decided to produce and edit a 12-chapter collection- Greening Social Work Education (University of Toronto Press, 2024)- the first of its kind in North America. This volume explores the above themes and seeks to aid in the development of a comprehensive green model of social work education. Accordingly, Part 1 of this book embraces Indigeneity and examines key concepts from an interdisciplinary lens, Part 2 presents environmental content necessary for social work education, and Part 3 examines multiple approaches to “greening” social work curricula, teaching methods, and educational process/content.  

Is there a particular chapter in this edited collection that stands out to you?  

Chapter 1- Indigenous Sovereignty is Climate Action: Centring Indigenous lands and jurisdiction in social work education towards climate justice  
Elizabeth Carlson-Manathara & Chris Hiller 

In terms of weaving the above themes across this book, there was no better way to start this book than to embrace Indigenous worldviews- particularly in terms of land connection, sense of place, responsible stewardship, interdependence in terms of our relationships with each other, nature, and the Earth, treaty rights, traditional knowledges, and sovereignty, especially in terms of preparing people to transform their thinking about the environment. 

In Chapter 1, the authors explore the galvanizing cry, ‘Indigenous Sovereignty is Climate Action’, that can be heard, chanted and/or seen inscribed on signs at round dances and protests unfolding across Turtle Island (i.e. North America) and around the globe. This slogan increasingly finds an echo in the words of a growing number of scholars, climate activists, and land defenders, both Indigenous and settler, who assert that Indigenous sovereignty-the enactment of Indigenous peoples’ jurisdictions, authorities, and relations to their lands-is humanity’s best hope for ensuring the planet’s survival. And yet, the authors find that as social work education increasingly engages with the emerging climate crisis, Indigenous sovereignty as a concept continues to be overlooked, sidelined, and confined to the margins of the conversation. Consequently, they interrogate this silence, considering the ways in which settler colonial assumptions and erasures play out in environmental social work in general and in social work education, climate action in particular. Centering the work of Indigenous scholars within social work in Canada, and across a range of disciplines, they put forward that social work curricula responding to the climate emergency must be anchored in education exploring what it means–for differently positioned Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples–to resist settler colonialism and live in Indigenous sovereignty. Such education, they argue, is essential for equipping social work students to be able to understand, honour, and concretely support Indigenous peoples’ struggles to protect and assert jurisdiction over their lands–for the ultimate good of the planet.  

Across the book, as editor, I also argue that a sensible place to start this transformation is by supporting and implementing Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls To Action (2015). Indeed, foregrounding Indigenous approaches, implementing the TRC’s Calls To Action, embracing elder traditions, and learning from and adapting Indigenous ways of knowing (and being) (Rich, 2012) are likely the most effective ways for us to save humanity and the planet. 

Chapter 12- The Red-Green Manifesto For Greening Social Work Education 
Susan Hillock 

I really enjoyed the development of my own chapter in the book. In Chapter 12, I reinforce the book’s major themes by discussing how social work educators can best contribute in terms of initiating and supporting the social and cultural paradigm shifts required to save humanity, more-than-humans, and the planet. To assist the social work profession in mainstreaming these ideas and incorporating this content, I present the first ever Red- Green Manifesto For Greening Social Work Education which summarizes the top 10 things that I think social work education needs to do (now) to make necessary paradigm shifts as well as, mainstream environmental and sustainability content. I also created an Appendix that features lists of climate change solutions, environmental education benefits, transformational teaching/learning supports, book, film, and video recommendations, helpful technology, software applications, websites, successful social change/advocacy examples, and good news stories. 

What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

Not only does social work need to quickly develop an interest in finding solutions to climate crises and building better relationships with other humans and the planet, but the continuation of the search for new and innovative ways to think about and critically analyze key environmental issues and debates relies on the recognition that a multi/inter-disciplinary approach is needed to tackle climate change. To be effective, I believe that this revolutionary work must be done in concert with other academic disciplines, as well as community activists, and social justice groups, initiatives, and movements. 

Greening Social Work Education by Susan Hillock

With this in mind, I wanted to develop a book that highlighted diverse perspectives from various academic disciplines. Thus, the challenge for this interdisciplinary manuscript was to bring together the voices, experiences, and expertise of top Canadian scholars from the social work field, as well as experts from the disciplines of education and professional learning, environmental science, gender and social justice, sociology, and social development, health and community, critical animal, sustainability, cultural, and Canadian and Indigenous Studies. Indeed, more than 20 contributors share their perspectives about how to green social work and the helping professions from their respective fields.  

In the book, I also make the case that, because social work education is still in the initial stages of trying to mainstream environmental/sustainability content and develop its’ ecological literacy, rather than reinventing the wheel, it is time for the profession to break down the traditional silos that exist between academic disciplines (and between the ivory tower and communities), that also keep us isolated from each other and limit the collaborative research and outcomes that we could achieve. Indeed, social work can benefit a great deal from partnering with, and learning/adapting from, our academic colleagues and community activists who have more expertise and experience with teaching/applying this content and integrating this material into their work/curricula. In turn, social work can share its’ own expertise, especially in terms of demonstrating leadership in several key areas: risk assessment, emergency triage, and crisis intervention from our medical, foster care, community, and child protection experience; emotional care work such as dealing with mental health issues like PTSD, anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief/loss work; community development, organization, networking, and mobilization; and expertise in building capacity, strength, and resilience. 

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Greening Social Work Education?

It is my hope that the book provides the necessary tools to: help social work educators gain confidence to start greening their teaching, curricula, and institutions; teach students how to integrate environmentalism and sustainability into their practice; and motivate more social workers to become climate warriors. To this end, this innovative book aims to: transform and “green” social work education (and the helping professions); centre a green social work knowledge base; highlight practical applications; and make concrete teaching/learning recommendations. 

Learn more about Greening Social Work Education, edited by Susan Hillock, here.


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