Education as Practice

DSW Competencies and Practice Behaviors - PDF

Education is a form of social work practice.  Though students are not clients in the conventional sense, we believe that social work education ought to model and facilitate the development of social work practice principles, values and ethics, and that how we teach ought to be congruent with what we teach.  For example, in social work practice we start where the client is. So in this doctoral program, we start where our students are. As with social work practice, our assessment processes are characterized by mutuality and respect, as well as by person-in-environment and strengths perspectives.  As with social work practice, our goal is the empowerment of student learners into transformative teachers and scholars.

Just as in social work practice, transformation takes place in diverse contexts across a range of diverse experiences; that same diversity is evident in both our students and our faculty.  Since the full research spectrum includes research from positivist, critical/ideological, and constructivist ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies, our faculty members bring expertise from various points along that continuum -- and we anticipate that our students will do the same. Navigating these complexities in the context of a hybrid, on-line format is not for the faint of heart. Students and faculty members will need high levels of engagement in the process in order to produce the anticipated outcomes of such a rigorous course of study.

We take seriously the competencies and practice behaviors we’ve identified below, which include identifying as a social work educator, applying critical thinking, engaging diversity and difference, advancing human rights and social and economic justice, and developing leadership, collegiality and stewardship. These competencies and practice behaviors also form the structure of our program assessment.  The specific social work and educational knowledge and skills that will ground the expression of these practice behaviors will emerge from course work, student interest and research, and collegial exchanges and networking throughout the program.

Competencies and Practice Behaviors for Doctorate in Social Work

Social work educators serve as representatives of the profession, its mission, and its core values. They understand the profession’s history, the roles and responsibilities of the professoriate and commit themselves to the profession’s enhancement and to their own professional conduct and growth.   Social work education is a form of social work practice. Identifying as a social work educator means that teaching is about the transformation of learners into empowered practitioners, teachers and scholars.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  1. Develop skill in using theory-based models of social work education
  2. Critique and demonstrate the connection between social work practice and scholarship
  3. Identify and assess professional strengths, limitations, and challenges as a teacher/learner
  4. Develop and maintain empowering relationships with students and peers using the person-in-environment and strengths perspectives
  5. Critically analyze multiple pedagogical approaches, methodologies and practices in social work education.
  6. Understand the critical role that social work educators play in the academy.

Social work educators have an obligation to conduct themselves ethically and to engage in ethical decision-making. Social work educators are knowledgeable about the value base of the profession and its ethical standards.  Social work educators recognize personal values and the distinction between personal and professional values. They also understand how their subjective experiences and emotional reactions influence their professional judgment and behavior. Social work educators understand emerging forms of technology and the ethical use of technology in social work practice and education. The same values and ethical principles that guide social work practitioners also guide social work teaching practice. Social work educators embody these ethical principles in their work with students. Students in this DSW Program will:

  1. Recognize and manage personal values as they guide work with students and colleagues
  2. Tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts
  3. Use technology ethically and appropriately to facilitate teaching and learning outcomes
  4. Apply knowledge of relational dynamics, including power differentials in relationships with students, colleagues and administrators
  5. Conscientiously manage and analyze general and discipline specific ethical dilemmas and behavior.

Social work educators are knowledgeable about the principles of logic, scientific inquiry and reasoned discernment. They use critical thinking augmented by creativity and curiosity. Critical thinking also requires the synthesis and communication of relevant information.  Doctoral level thinking about social work education includes awareness and skill in navigating the complexities of various ontological, epistemological and methodological approaches to teaching and scholarship.  Students in this DSW Program will:

  1. Distinguish, appraise, and integrate multiple sources and ways of knowing
  2. Utilize skills and processes of critical thinking for oral and written communication and decision-making
  3. Engage in critical self-reflective practice
  4. Clearly articulate issues and questions central to social work education and actively engage in addressing them
  5. Create, understand, analyze and synthesize original work.

Social work educators understand how diversity characterizes and shapes the human experience and is critical to the formation of identity. The dimensions of diversity are understood as the intersectionality of multiple factors including but not limited to age, class, color, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, political ideology, race, religion/spirituality, sex, and sexual orientation. Social work educators understand that, as a consequence of difference, a person’s life experiences may include oppression, poverty, marginalization and alienation as well as privilege, power and acclaim.  Engaging diversity and difference in teaching practice means that we attend to the many ways that students differ and create inclusive learning environments that facilitate opportunities for growth and development.  Students in this DSW Program will:

  1. Recognize the extent to which educational structures, culture and values create or enhance privilege and power among student learners 
  2. Critically engage with students in a shared learning process, acknowledging differences in experience, power and privilege
  3. Work sensitively and effectively with diverse student populations, with an appreciation for student strengths across cultures
  4. Identify and respond to student/faculty differences using a strengths perspective
  5. Develop the capacity to differentially apply knowledge related to diverse groups and contexts in teaching practice.

Each person, regardless of position in society, has basic human rights, such as freedom, safety, privacy, an adequate standard of living, health care, and education. Social work educators recognize the global interconnections of oppression and are knowledgeable about theories of justice and strategies to promote human and civil rights.  Social work educators model this practice competency in how they teach their courses as well as in the content they identify in the courses they teach across the social work curriculum.  Students in this DSW Program will:

  1. Understand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination in higher education
  2. Advocate at multiple levels for policy change that improves the lives of students and colleagues as a reflection of institutional mission and professional values
  3. Assess how social work practice and education, institutional and governmental policies impact access to education and its delivery
  4. Advocate for and co-create policies with administrators to create more just educational systems and student services

Social work scholar practitioners refine and advance the quality of social work practice and social work education. They synthesize and apply a broad range of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary knowledge and skills.  Identity as a scholar practitioner is critical to the role that social work educators play in the academy and includes proficiency in multiple approaches to research and scholarship that enhance the credibility of the social work profession. Students in this DSW Program will:

  1. Use practice and teaching experiences to inform scholarly work
  2. Use research findings to inform social work practice and teaching as practice
  3. Engage in critical analysis of research methods and findings across the research spectrum
  4. Use research methodology in evaluation of student and program outcomes
  5. Assume active roles and responsibilities as a scholar practitioner, including the generation of new knowledge and public dissemination of one’s work.

Social work educators are informed, resourceful and proactive in responding to evolving organizational, community and societal contexts. Social work educators recognize that the context of education is dynamic and use knowledge and skill to respond proactively. Social work educators must engage beyond their immediate context, program, and school and integrate with university and higher education systems in order to advance social work practice and education within the academy. Students in this DSW Program will:

  1. Understand the impact of professional and university-wide accreditation
  2. Understand the responsibilities and limitations of academic freedom as it applies to efforts by faculty to advocate for social justice in local, national and international arenas
  3. Critically analyze the factors transforming higher education in the US and internationally
  4. Understand the impact of national, international, political, social and regulatory factors on social work education.

Social work practice includes assessment, engagement through thoughtful participation, informed action and ongoing evaluation.  Leadership in social work and social work education emanates from this core to promote the values of the profession and to motivate movement through vision, collaboration and risk-taking. The leader takes charge in crises to achieve resolution, while balancing individual and collective needs with professional ethics and the common good. Students in this DSW Program will:

  1. Demonstrate flexibility and initiative by taking leadership roles when needed
  2. Work effectively with others in the classroom, university and profession
  3. Uphold academic freedom and support peers in this endeavor
  4. Embody faculty roles and respectfully address issues within the university
  5. Develop a sense of responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the social work profession
  6. Assume responsibility for advancing social work education