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You never stop learning as a social worker - but a good start helps

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Education and training, Knowledge and skills, Our profession

I recently attended the London Borough of Bexley Adult Social Work forum where I was delighted to meet consultant social worker, Nicola Shawyer. Her story of continuous professional development (CPD) to improve her practice, that of the students she supervises and its impact on improving outcomes for the people we serve, exemplifies why it is a major priority for the profession. Over to Nicola!

Nicola Shawyer on her graduation day, throwimg her mortar board high in the air and smiling
Nicola triumphant! Graduating is not the end of your learning, you've only just started!

Finding your path

This year, I will have been qualified as a social worker for ten years! As clichéd as this sounds, I’m still learning and developing, and enjoying my work.

I remember waiting outside for my interview with Canterbury Christ Church University in 2009. Two prospective students were discussing ‘oppression’ and it seemed like a complex, alien concept I’d never heard of.

Up to this point, my employment history included roles as care work youth worker, mental health support worker and dental nurse. I knew I wanted to help people but I wasn’t sure how.

A little red faced, I decided to ask them what oppression meant in the context of social work, in case it came up in the interview. They explained it’s when individuals are treated unfairly and how this makes accessing opportunities incredibly difficult – even impossible. I thought, if that’s what social work is I’m in – that’s how I want to help people! This concept remains the foundation for my practice and drives my determination to transform lives.

One of the aspects I like about being a social worker is the continual professional development and learning our profession offers. Social work is a vocation; it requires dedication and a strong value base – the reward is a wide variety of career paths to choose from.

Man with briefcase standing on a path which splits into arrows pointing in multiple directions
Very few professions have the diversity of roles, challenges and environments that social work offers

Dynamic, diverse and never routine

My career has thus been pretty diverse – I’ve worked in several teams in various mental health settings. I became a senior social worker, undertook a four-month project with primary care, and held lead safeguarding roles.

I find social work practice to be dynamic, complex and always changing, and I enjoy keeping abreast of emerging knowledge.

It’s not just a need for information. For me, this is about having the motivation to practice in the best possible way to serve the complex and changing needs of vulnerable people.

With all this in mind, I decided to complete my masters and undertake a service improvement project to improve student’s inductions.

Welcome writing in lightbox lying on wooden desk with office supply and coffee cup as flat lay from bird's eye view
Effective inductions require more than welcome notes and stationary - they must be bespoke and build confidence in new starters

In search of the perfect induction

I chose inductions because it’s underestimated just how influential they can be on a person’s career trajectory. My rationale was that a high quality, thoughtful and well-planned induction pack would improve identity, encourage team working and promote emotional equilibrium. (You’ll find my sources of inspiration at the bottom of this post.)

My findings highlighted that the induction pack achieved all these things. It helped students feel more like adult learners through completion of learning styles questions, having control over their own induction, and gaining a better sense of the impact of transition. They also felt better supported by their practice educator.

The one limitation they reported was around team involvement. Although the students expressed greater confidence, the pack didn’t do enough to reinforce this need for whole team working.  I’ve taken this feedback onboard and will develop this aspect for future versions.

Looking back at myself as a student – enthusiastic, but without the knowledge base to support it - I think having this induction pack would have really helped me. Social work is a demanding but highly rewarding job. Given the right start, it can lead to a flourishing, varied and exciting future.

Find out more

I found the following resources invaluable in the induction pack's development:

  • Plan-do-study-act model (1000 lives 2011)
  • Humanistic theory of learning (Parker 2004):  'The Story of Six Words' and the 'Induction of the city' both by Eno's 2015 and also the SWOT (Mindtools)
  • Cognitive theory (Parker 2004) of learning by incorporating - adult learning theory (Knowles 1950), learning styles questionnaire (Honey and Munford 1992)


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