I’m a student social worker currently on my first placement. Having spoken to a number of my peers, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and learning since I started placement. Why? Because I am hoping that most share the same experiences. But, mostly because I feel I have learnt so much in such a short space of time. I am thankful for my placement and believe it has developed my confidence and practice skills as a (student) social worker.
So, what have I learnt or observed so far:
Developing Reflective Practice
Whilst the completion of reflective logs is not mandatory for my portfolio, my Practice Educator insisted from the onset that I complete at least three a week. To tell the truth, at first I thought this was unnecessary work. However, as the weeks have progressed, I have come to realise just how important reflective practice and learning is within the world of social work. Not only has it helped with my self-care, it has helped me develop my analytical and writing skills. I am now less descriptive and more detailed in trying to breakdown the “what, where, when and how” in everything I have observed or undertaken. It has allowed me to develop an insight into how evidence based practice can be linked to supporting service users. It has offered me a structure to use in reviewing what I did well and how I can develop skills.
Shadowing social workers & external professionals
I have come to realise just how important it is to shadow other professionals and practitioners in their day to day work. Seeing and witnessing interactions with service users and other professionals has helped me develop my confidence in my abilities as a student social worker. I have been fortunate enough to have shadowed a number of professionals, including social workers, support workers and managers. I have seen what I consider good practice and some not so good practice.
Grab the learning opportunity with both hands
I am a firm believer that you only get out what you put in. I am passionate about wanting to be a “good” social worker. As such, I have taken every opportunity to apply what I have learnt academically into real practice. I am keen to take on new cases and support my service users and colleagues. I believe if I don’t develop good foundations now (in terms of what it means to be a social worker), then I am going to struggle later in my career.
It’s ok to make mistakes
Initially I was somewhat reluctant to ask for support or take on work for fear of making mistakes. However, I have realised that this is a learning opportunity and, whilst I don’t want to make mistakes, as a student it is highly likely that I will. My view now is that I have been encouraged to “give it a go”. I don’t mean doing things that my jeopardise the welfare of service users, I mean don’t be afraid to try and develop your skills. Seek support if unclear on certain tasks or ways of working.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and challenge
Yes, I realise I am fortunate to have a good Practice Educator who promotes me to challenge ways of working in order to my sense of my experiences. My supervision sessions have been fab; she challenges my thoughts and asks me how I have linked theory to practice, what legislation was applicable and skills demonstrated. It was difficult at first as I felt I was being put on the spot. But it has now given me the confidence to challenge her and other professionals; I now understand the importance of asking “why” questions.
Don’t run before you can walk!
Ok, whilst I grab every learning opportunity with both hands, there is a fine line between promoting positive learning and taking on too much. This is where a good Practice Educator can assist in offering a structured programme to help your development. I was able to map my learning and placement journey during the first two weeks. This enabled me to take a step back and develop the foundations of what it means to be a good social worker (student).
Overall, I am thankful for my placement and believe it has developed my confidence and practice skills as a (student) social worker. However, I also understand that I have a long way to go.
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