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About this book

Learning and self-development is a continuous process for social workers, and practitioners must keep abreast of new knowledge, guidance and legislation in order to keep growing professionally.

In this innovative text, an expert group of authors from a range of academia and practice settings highlights the importance of traditional approaches to learning, such as reflective practice and motivation, and introduces more contemporary methods such as coaching, service user participation and developing digital competence.

Strongly practical in its approach, the book enables the reader to engage with the content in bite-size pieces, encouraging them to learn in whatever way works best for them. Features include:

• Over 40 reflective tools, exercises and templates that can be used by learners and educators independently or in groups, in the classroom or the workplace
• A wealth of case material to illustrate key points
• An inspiring collection of first-hand narratives from social workers learning and developing in the field.

This is an invaluable resource for educators and a must-read sourcebook for learners – be they students, newly qualified social workers or practitioners wishing to attend to their own professional development.

Table of Contents


Initial social work qualifying courses provide the basic foundations for social work knowledge, skills and values, and successful completion of these courses enables individuals to apply for registration as social workers. Qualifying courses therefore provide social workers with a good initial educational experience before beginning their journey into social work practice. However, such social work programmes do not equip individuals with everything they will ever need to know as social workers, nor do they train for specific social work roles. Social work practitioners need to keep abreast of the latest developments in knowledge and policy, consolidate the values that underpin practice and continually develop the requisite skills. For example the laws that govern social work practice change and the new knowledge generated through research shapes practice guidance. Therefore keeping up to date is an ongoing task throughout one’s career.
Clare Stone, Fiona Harbin

1. The Transition from Student to Practitioner: Managing the Social Work Learning Journey

This chapter explores the challenges faced by newly qualified social workers (NQSW) entering into the workplace as qualified practitioners. Consideration is given to the role of higher education institutions and their necessary focus on education for the profession rather than training individuals for specific social care jobs. The chapter explores the pathway between the two settings and how this can be successfully negotiated, not only through a supportive working environment but also through the use of critically reflective tools during the transition period and beyond. Social work takes place in diverse settings and individuals need to learn in practice - building on, and supplementing their formal teaching foundations. Social work, by its very nature, places the practitioner in a challenging and often emotionally demanding position.
Fiona Harbin

2. Embedding the Principles of Adult Learning

Initial training provides the foundations of generic social work knowledge, an exploration of values for professional practice and the opportunity to develop the skills required to begin a first job. However, graduating social workers will not have a complete toolkit to steer them through the complexities of social work practice. Social work is recognised to be a fluid and ever changing profession and an individual needs to continually learn and relearn (Dickens, 2011). The political, legislative, financial, cultural and social contexts that underpin and shape practice are always changing and practitioners need to keep abreast of developing research and knowledge. In addition to developing knowledge, social workers also need to bolster their skills and reflect on the values that consolidate their practice.
Clare Stone

3. Fostering Emotional Intelligence Within Social Work Practice

Emotional intelligence is the ability to read our own and other people’s emotions and to handle ourselves, and our interventions with others, appropriately (Goleman, 2004a, 2004b; Howe, 2008; Mayer et al., 2012). This includes understanding our own emotional responses to situations and being able to keep them in check to elicit a professional and appropriate response in a given situation. Emotional competence goes beyond putting people at ease and asking open-ended questions, as it requires a deeper level of understanding, compassion and engagement. Social work is a profession where the use of self is often the only resource available to draw upon and therefore ‘tuning into’ others is essential (Douglas, 2008:382). ‘Competent practice is more than the application of techniques’ as it requires ‘integrated embodiment’ through the use of self which fills the gap between knowing what to do and actually working with individuals in a skilled and effective way (Larrison, 2010:8, 6).
Clare Stone

4. Developing Resilience for Effective and Safe Practice

Resilience is being able to adapt to internal and external stressors (Collins, 2007). It is also ‘the ability to recover rapidly after experiencing some adverse experiences’ (Saarni, 2000:81). Resilience is a term often used in social work practice as it is an ‘emotionally and morally demanding’ profession and practitioners need resilience and strategies to cope (Morrison, 2007:14). Resilience is being able to cope and deal with pressure and to not suffer longer-term consequences as a result. Social workers need resilience because of the nature of the work they do, of the stresses caused by working in social work agencies, and they need to be able to do a professional job every day despite what is going on in their own private life.
Clare Stone

5. Engaging in Reflective Practice

In social work we frequently use the term ‘reflection’ as shorthand for acknowledging the need to stop and think about something or to suggest that we have indeed thought a bit more deeply about a particular issue. The terms self-reflection, reflexivity and critical reflection are often used interchangeably and the following basic definitions may help in seeing the similarities and differences between these terms. Self-reflection can also be called ‘reflexivity’ and it means to focus on the self. Illeris (2002) suggests that ‘no clear boundary can be drawn between personal development and reflexivity, but one could perhaps say that personal development increasingly takes place through reflexivity’ (Illeris, 2002:95). This is because reflexivity is self-reflection and akin to looking into a mirror with the purpose of self-analysis. The aim of this self-analysis is to assist in understanding oneself and to generate new insights for learning and self-development.
Clare Stone

6. Advanced Critical Reflection Through Narrative (Re)Construction

This learning methodology involves constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing a narrative to explore dominant ways of thinking with the aim of bringing about change. Put simply, this involves speaking about something from practice with the aim of better understanding those aspects that hinder progress, and these insights are used to consider a more advantageous way of re-approaching one’s practice. The narrative approach can identify positive aspects of practice but the main purpose is to expose the discourses that have a negative influence. In social work we may find that previous training and experiences do not adequately equip us to ‘manage the uncertainty and complexity’ of a practice situation (Fook & Gardner, 2007:9). We therefore need to critically reflect in order to expose the challenges and dominant ways of thinking so as to provide the opportunity to reconstruct more advantageous language, approaches and strategies for social work intervention.
Clare Stone

7. Supervision for Transformative Learning and the Development of Practice

‘Supervision is a process by which one worker is given responsibility by the organisation to work with another worker(s) in order to meet certain organisational, professional and personal objectives which together promote the best outcomes for service users’ (Morrison, 2005:32). Social work is a profession that has to pay attention to the doing, thinking and feeling of its tasks. Supervision if delivered well is recognised as a valuable medium for developing and supporting social workers to be capable and confident professionals. ‘Good quality, professional supervision recognises the interplay of cognition and feeling and the use of self in social work. ‘Supervision is a professional conversation which should promote learning and reflective practice’ (Carpenter, Webb, Bostock & Coomber, 2012:7).
Pam Snowball

8. Coaching for Social Workers

Coaching can be described as a process of asking a series of questions in a non-judgemental manner in order to work through and explore different perspectives and discover one or more options for the way forward. It could also be described as a conversation with a purpose. It is a forward-looking approach to facilitating a person’s thinking in order to help them to move forward and create change. It is common practice in business and sport to procure the services of a professional coach for significant problem solving, career management, confidence-building, personal brand management and when making transitions to new levels or sectors. That said, it is a highly pragmatic and valuable tool, whether or not you are able to secure the services of a coach. For the purposes of this chapter, there are two methods to coaching. First, the principles discussed here can also be used with a colleague willing to be your coaching partner, where you offer each other the opportunity to be coached. Second, the same principles can be applied to improve your self-coaching ability.
Bobby Chatterjee

9. Learning About and Learning From Service Users

Although the term ‘service user’ can be contentious, it has become common parlance within social work (Beresford, 2012:27). Service users are ‘people who receive or are eligible to receive health, social care and welfare services either on a voluntary or compulsory basis’ (Fleming, 2012:54). This can include those who approach a social care agency for advice and guidance, where the contact may not extend beyond one short telephone call, through to those who have engagement with a variety of services over many years. Informal carers and foster carers may be considered as a separate category from service users but within this chapter the term ‘service user’ is used as a generic term to cover both the users of services and their carers. This is because the social worker uses many of the same principles of assessment, support and engagement regardless of whether the individual is a service user in the traditional sense, or a carer of that person or even an extended family member. In a fostering team, for example, the practitioners may work with the looked-after child but the users of the service by and large are the foster carers, who are supported in their role as carers through training programmes and supervision.
Clare Stone, David R Catherall

10. Developing Digital Competence for Practice

Social work practitioners engage in practice that is complex and uncertain. They work with all manner of problems as they arise and they meet these challenges head-on with determination and creativity. They are frequently introduced to information and circumstances that take them out of their comfort zones and adjust and adapt as necessary to issues that require new ways of thinking and working in conditions that are shaped by what is changing within the practice landscape. Digitalisation is one such change. The digital era is characterised by the increasing use of technologies, which are becoming more and more integral to the lived experience. This requires a practical and ethical response from the social work profession that is both competent and confident in nature. We pause at this point to offer definitions and outline our understanding of key terms.
Joanne Westwood, Amanda M.L Taylor

11. Book Groups and Fiction: A ‘Novel’ Approach to Teaching and Learning

As Addison explains, ‘reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life’ (no date, cited in Sousa, 2011:137) and in social work we are finding that fiction can provide us with an immeasurable amount of material in relation to the human condition, and an insight into the lived experiences of others. Books can draw the reader into spaces and places where all nature of thoughts, feelings, emotions and challenges are felt. They can confirm, and also confront, our ideas, ideals, values and beliefs and force us to question the world and how we fit within it. They replicate almost every aspect of life possible, with some even impossible to imagine, or so one might think. They allow us to feel, at times when our feelings are inaccessible, they keep us safe when we might need to escape; there is little that cannot be found within their covers. Indeed as Petrosky (1986) states, it encourages, ‘Critical thinking [and] makes meaning [through] correlating it to life experiences’ (p.3).
Amanda M.L. Taylor

12. Social Work Narratives: My Learning Journey

In this reflective narrative I share with the reader some of my experiences in undertaking a BA Hons Social Work degree and the subsequent transition from social work education into the role of newly qualified practitioner, embarking on my Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE). The motivation to work with children and families through the medium of social work arose through a life-changing personal experience involving the loss of a family member and coming into contact with many different professionals and service users. However, reflecting as I write, I understand from the learning that took place over my three-year degree course, that it could be argued the journey to become a social worker began many years before, with the separation of my parents and sibling group at a very early age.
Sue Gardner, Heidi Harbin, Amanda Murphy, Susan Woods
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