social work outdoor

A Natural Partnership

Students of social work and education have much to learn from each other’s field. A series of new initiatives seeks to amplify the benefits.

Kelly Gavin Zuckerman, a visiting assistant professor in the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program, sees a “great synergy” between social work and education. “They are both intellectual domains but also practitioner-based, human-facing work,” she says.

GSSWSR Dean Janet Shapiro agrees. Faculty in both social work and education, she says, are “committed to tackling structural inequities that lead to disparities in outcomes.” They also share an interest in how research is used to inform community-based practice, as well as an interest in trauma-informed approaches. Both programs, adds Alice Lesnick, director of the Education Program, adopt a “healing justice approach, a concern across our entire enterprises with power and privilege, their analysis and their interruption and transformation.”

Faculty from the two programs are now actively seeking out opportunities for collaboration. The Education Program, for example, hired a GSSWSR student this past summer to build community with social work doctoral students with the goal, says Lesnick, of “learning more about their areas of research, and ways in which they might contribute as guest speakers to our classes, or perhaps mentor our students.”

A direct alliance between the Education Program and the GSSWSR already occurs every fall when social work doctoral candidates take a required course on pedagogy that was developed by Mary Katharine Woodworth Professor of Education Alison Cook-Sather and is now taught by Zuckerman.

The course, which consists of 13 two-hour workshops, is also open to undergraduates interested in exploring what pedagogy looks like in a higher ed context. “I might have a class with people who have gone straight from undergrad to grad and other people who’ve been in the field and client-facing for a while,” Zuckerman says. “For undergrads, it might be the first time they’ve been in a space that is intergenerational, and for those in social work, it’s an opportunity to really think about teaching and learning with and from undergraduates.”

The course begins with a workshop on conceptions of education, extends to the nitty gritty of syllabus design, and includes sessions on how to create community among a diversity of learners.

Even for social work students who are eyeing a research or executive-level administrative position rather than one involving significant teaching, the pedagogy course is still relevant, Shapiro says. “Yes, the course is about pedagogy, but pedagogy itself is really important to thinking about leadership styles, particularly in the context of innovation and issues around equity and inclusion.”

The collaboration reached a new level this spring when Christina Belknap, a licensed clinical social worker and second- year doctoral candidate who had joined Zuckerman’s class as a student in the fall, gave a lecture in a senior seminar Zuckerman offered on theories of change.

“I asked Christina to join that class as a guest lecturer to share her own theory of change in her clinical practice,” Zuckerman says. “I was learning from her, and the students were learning from her. The student became the teacher, and the teacher became the student.”

As Belknap notes, “There’s a lot of overlap between social work and education, especially when you’re talking about development and life stages. Teachers aren’t just teachers anymore. They’re part parent, part therapist, part counselor—they’re doing it all. So, there’s a lot of natural space to collaborate when we’re talking about having a relational approach.”

Taking Zuckerman’s pedagogy class in turn gave Belknap a framework and language around learning and brain processes that benefits her as a clinician, she says.

As Lesnick also points out, students in the Education Program are aiming for careers not just as traditional teachers, but also in access and intervention work, organizational leadership, educational research, or allied work such as counseling or school counseling. “We’re preparing people to rethink what teaching is and to see where it occurs,” says Lesnick.