Understanding Socialization of Teachers and Social Workers: Groundwork for Collaboration in the Schools

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1 SCHOOL SOCIAL WORK Understanding Socialization of Teachers and Social Workers: Groundwork for Collaboration in the Schools Laura R. Bronstein & Julie S. Abramson Abstract Collaboration between social workers and teachers is critical in order to maximize students achievement in school. These professional groups share attributes including their status in professions where women predominate, whose practice occurs in a bureaucratic setting and whose professionals hold a service orientation. Despite these similarities, differences occur in the socialization of the two professions in relation to: the processes of selfselection to the profession; education and training; and in their orientation to and experiences within the organization of the school. This article articulates these differences and similarities and examines their impact on the processes of collaboration between social workers and teachers. In addition, strategies for bridging the differences are presented and illustrated with examples of successful interdisciplinary collaboration in schools. ALMOST FORTY YEARS AGO, POPPER (1965) referred to the need for interprofessional collaboration between education and social work as one of inescapable urgency. He went on to state that if we fail to plan for this collaboration, the two sets of professionals will be forced to learn more about one another s process but in a diffused and ad hoc fashion (p. 169). The need for this collaboration is more urgent today than ever. Schools are encountering challenges posed by increasing numbers of immigrants, non-english-speaking students and families as well as increased numbers of students from single parent and poor families (Pallas, Natriello, & McDill, 1989). As entitlement programs shrink and the income gap between rich and poor continues to widen (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2000), it becomes vital for teachers to have support in addressing psychosocial issues that arise in the classroom and impede the educational process. Providing such support is the central task of school social workers in their collaboration with teachers. Many argue that the skills and knowledge necessary to enhance this collaboration need to be communicated and taught early on in professional training (Jehl & Kirst, 1992; Levy & Shepardson, 1992; Lopez, Torres, & Norwood, 1998). While social workers must build individual relationships with teachers in their schools, a better understanding of teachers preparation and socialization for their work in the classroom can provide a stronger starting point for productive relationships. This paper compares the professional socialization of teachers with that of social workers, discusses differences and similarities in their socialization and professional roles, and then suggests collaborative strategies. It should be noted that while this paper focuses specifically on the relationship between social workers and teachers in the school, successful collaboration on behalf of students necessarily involves all who are relevant to a student s care, especially (but not limited to) school administrators and students families. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services Copyright 2003 Alliance for Children and Families 323

2 FAMILIES IN SOCIETY Volume 84, Number 3 Teachers and School Social Workers: Similarities in Professional Roles In looking at the professions of teaching and social work, it is easy to note common characteristics that distinguish them from other professional groups such as medicine and law. In both cases, true professional status has been debated. This debate has been settled in some circles by referring to social work and teaching as having certain common characteristics that qualify them as semi-professions. Etzioni (1969) noted these characteristics as including a shorter training period, lower status, less right to privileged communication, less of a specialized body of knowledge, and less autonomy from supervision or societal control than the full professions. Lortie (1969) added low salary as another factor. When comparing lifetime earnings of social workers, teachers, nurses, lawyers and physicians, social workers and teachers are within $5,000 of each other, but nurses lifetime earnings are a full $40,000 higher; of course, the earnings of physicians and lawyers are much higher than any of the others (Ozawa & Law, 1993). The following sections discuss other commonalities of these two professional groups, including the predominance of women, practice in a bureaucratic setting, and a service orientation. Female Dominance Since women predominate in both teaching and social work, these professions are thus composed largely of professionals who encounter challenges resulting from work and home as areas competing for attention. Currently in the workforce are over 57% of women with children less than 6 years old and over 70% of women with children between ages 6 and 17 (Olarte, 2000). While the number of employed women with children continues to grow, childbearing practices are still mainly based on a traditional division of labor along gender lines (Olarte). A recent study of men and women with children and in the same job revealed that women spend about 80 hours per week on combined work and home responsibilities, as compared with an average of 57 hours for men (Department of Labor Women s Bureau Report, 1995). In a 1994 study of approximately a quarter of a million working women, respondents repeatedly described a work world that compensates women in almost every job and profession at a lesser rate than men, defines jobs done primarily by women as less valuable, and fails to acknowledge that women are mainstays in both the workplace and the home (Department of Labor Women s Bureau Report). Therefore, the majority of teachers and social workers not only face dual time commitments but do so with minimal financial resources. In addition to doing more with less and stretching themselves thin, social workers and teachers are forced to balance different roles and competing demands. The organizational and interpersonal skills that serve in juggling work and home are similar to those necessary to manage the complex, competing demands of interdisciplinary collaboration. Thus social workers and teachers are likely to have a broad vision of their responsibilities, time management skills, a sense of priorities, and an ability to know what can be accomplished on one s own and when to rely on others. Practice in a Bureaucratic Setting Social workers and teachers also conduct their work in bureaucratic settings where they have little control over many aspects of their practice (Gartner, 1976a), including who will be their clients or what services and/or curriculum is offered. In other words, social workers and teachers practice in settings affording them little autonomy. This is increasingly an issue as academic standards and testing are determined at the national level, serving to decrease teachers ability to decide how best to implement the specifics of curriculum standards. This lack of autonomy is most often perceived as a detriment, leading professionals to feel less potent in their work. Yet it could hold potential for collaborative relationships. Whereas having professional autonomy can foster cohesion within a professional group, not having autonomy can foster the more permeable professional boundaries necessary to move beyond a unitary professional vision and thus enhance motivation for interdisciplinary collaboration. In struggling with the demands of a bureaucratic setting that affords little power and autonomy, social workers and teachers can support each other in maximizing their effectiveness within existing constraints. Service Orientation Both school social workers and teachers come to their work with the shared mission of helping children and shared personality attributes of helpfulness, thoughtfulness, consideration of others, and cooperation (Hogan, Hogan, & Busch, 1984). This common service mission also fosters the development of interdisciplinary collaboration (Brown, 1995). As outsiders in the school setting, social workers soon learn that in order to fulfill their desire to serve, they must support teachers in their mission of educating students. Teachers, too, frequently realize that they are increasingly less able to fulfill their service mission alone, especially when faced with the goal of educating students who present with an array of distracting physical, economic, and emotional problems. Despite barriers to working together, the two professions shared mission and understanding of mutual goals can provide an important platform for collaboration. Teachers and School Social Workers: Differences in Socialization to Professional Role Professionals differing experiences early in their lives, in their academic training, and upon their entrance into the 324

3 Bronstein & Abramson Teachers and Social Workers: Groundwork for Collaboration in the Schools school point to potential challenges when the two professional groups attempt to collaborate. Early Socialization and Professional Self-Selection Research has shown that the socialization of both teachers and social workers begins long before entrance into a professional training program (Cuban, 1993; Judah, 1979; Lortie, 1975; Su, 1992; Zeichner & Gore, 1990). Cuban found that the personality traits and values that characterize teachers develop not only through professional socialization, but are attributes and values of those recruited into the profession. Su s study of approximately 3000 education students across the country revealed that the course curriculum in teacher education was definitely less influential than students prior socialization experience and their families, friends, and relatives (p. 245). She asserts that many researchers have come to the conclusion that teacher education has no more than a small impact on a number of the values, beliefs, and attitudes that students bring with them into their teacher education programs. Even after they become teacher candidates, they still frequently refer to the continuing influence of their own public school education as a strong, early socializing agent. Judah s (1979) research on the socialization of social work students uncovers a pattern similar to that found by Su s (1992) study of teachers training. She raises the question as to whether early socialization may have more to do with the inculcation of social work values than does the formal process of social work education. If an existing set of values and ethics are what helps steer people into particular professions, it is important to distinguish these particular values and ethics and their impact on the entrance into an educational program and career. McMichael and Irvine (1983) compared differences in values and attitudes between social workers and teachers, concluding that social workers show a greater tendency to radicalism. Social workers often are seen, and see themselves as members of a dissenting profession. Cooper (1977) describes social work s unique dissenting role when she says society must have a mechanism to nudge it to the change that, paradoxically, is necessary to preserve it and its institutions. We who are in social work provide that mechanism professionally (p. 363). In contrast, Cuban (1993) describes a conservatism that characterizes those recruited into teaching, In addition to their differing emphasis on the impact of multiculturalism and oppression, teacher education and social work education differ in their explanations for the source of student problems. which is enhanced by professional socialization in the school setting. But even if early socialization predisposes certain types of individuals to enter these professions, much can be done in academic training and the workplace to enlarge, reinforce, and/or challenge these values and beliefs. Academic Preparation in the University or College Classroom University or college education for prospective teachers focuses primarily on developing expertise in subject area content and delivery. Educational theories and alternative teaching methods and techniques are secondary areas of expertise for completion of teacher training programs (Comer, 1993). While the code of ethics of the education profession states, the educator strives to help each student realize his or her potential as a worthy and effective member of society (Casto, 1994, p. 142), this is not emphasized in teacher training. Indeed, Ginsburg and Clift (1990) note that teacher education programs promote the status quo by giving only limited attention to social issues such as class, gender, and race. Howey s (1989) random national survey of 250 education faculty revealed that less than one in four believed that students preparation for teaching in culturally diverse settings was better than average; a third of these faculty indicated that their students preparation to teach in diverse settings was inadequate. While the new National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) accreditation standards require attention to diversity (NCATE, 2001), many practicing teachers do not earn degrees from NCATE certified institutions. Currently, increasing numbers of states have emergency licensing provisions that allow school districts to circumvent state standards, with the result that an increasing number of unprepared personnel are in classrooms nationwide (NCATE, 2001). While teachers may value attention to individual learning plans, novice teachers report that their training is especially inadequate for teaching students with disabilities, those with limited English proficiency, and those lacking family support for learning (Stuart & Thurlow, 2000). Although NCATE includes commitment to diversity as a part of their standards, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) (Council on Social Work Education, 2001) emphasizes this commitment as an overriding influ- 325

4 FAMILIES IN SOCIETY Volume 84, Number 3 ence that is central to all professional training. CSWE requires that all accredited MSW programs provide a learning context in which there is respect for persons of all backgrounds (including age, class, color, disability, ethnicity, family structure, gender, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation) (CSWE, 2001). This different emphasis is often apparent in the school when teachers and social workers attempt to work together. It is not uncommon for teachers to feel that social workers give too much weight to students oppressive circumstances and for social workers to believe that teachers focus too much on fitting all students, irrespective of circumstances, into the same curriculum standards. In addition to their differing emphasis on the impact of multiculturalism and oppression, teacher education and social work education differ in their explanations for the source of student problems. Research on teacher education has shown that those studying to be teachers are taught a cognitive style that directs them to perceive something in the student as the source of difficulty rather than within the institutions in which they work (Zeichner & Gore, 1990). While it is not the intent of this focus to blame children for their circumstances, the nature of the school environment and the tasks at hand demand this narrower focus on the individual. This leads teachers to utilize school social workers when educators encounter difficulty with a particular student or family. In contrast, the ecological perspective that is preferred in social work training teaches that the focus should go beyond the individual student because social and organizational issues and individual needs and problems are inextricably connected. Thus, school social workers are trained to utilize their skills beyond counseling individual students in such roles as conjoint work with teachers in the classroom, work with families and community services, program development, in-service coordination, and development of school policies. When Dupper (1994) asked social workers about the appropriateness of their involvement in programming in the schools, a common response was that we are the experts of systems, whether they be school, family, or community, and how they affect the student (p. 118). This ecological philosophy contrasts with a long tradition in the United States that holds that schools focus solely on academics. However, the problems facing children and families today are systemic; a residual, case-by-case perspective is not adequate to assure that students are ready to learn. Even when teachers are committed to a larger perspective for their work, it is difficult for them to maintain this in light of the demands of the school environment to conform to the school s norms. Although teachers often welcome the broader perspectives of social workers, the discrepancies in the worldviews of social workers and teachers can bring them into conflict. One last critical difference in teacher and social worker training is the role of values in the curriculum. As do most professional training programs, teacher preparation programs emphasize acquisition and integration of knowledge and skills. Faculty in education programs discuss teaching of values as something that occurs informally through their interaction with students and through role modeling (Su, 1992). In contrast, social work education places values at the core of the curriculum. Indeed it has been argued that values are often proclaimed as a major distinguishing characteristic of the social work profession, perhaps more important than its knowledge base or methodologies (Asamoah, Healy, & Mayadas, 1997, p. 394). Central values formally taught in the social work curriculum include a client s right to confidentiality and self-determination. While confidentiality is a critical component of the codes of ethics of both teaching and social work, social work education emphasizes this by affording it more time and attention, as is the case with other values in that curriculum. The emphasis workers put on values and ethical decisions can place them in conflict with teachers, whose primary emphasis is on creating an environment that maximizes teaching and learning. It is easy for teachers to view social workers focus on values as a holier than thou attitude that diminishes efforts towards collaboration. Social workers can contribute to this impression by behaving as if their position is the morally correct one or by sounding selfrighteous. The differences in emphasis on values between the two professions can be a source of conflict, but these can also provide social workers and teachers with complementary perspectives. For instance, a social worker s attention to self-determination might lead to involving the child in development of an individualized learning plan. While a teacher might initially be concerned about the time involved in such individualization and its impact on other students, it is up to the social worker to structure this so that it ultimately improves learning and, perhaps, student behavior. Orientation to the School Through Internship and Early Work Experience Despite the impact of professors and educational curriculum, the organizations that one first enters either as an intern or in professional practice play a tremendous role in the process of professional socialization. Van Maanen and Schein (1979) highlight three aspects of organizational socialization relevant to teachers and school social workers: (a) socialization, although continuous throughout one s career, is most intense just after a boundary passage, i.e., entrance or promotion; (b) the organization s impact on an individual is most significant during these passages; conversely, the individual s influence on the organization is most significant well before and well after such movement; and (c) acceptance of the organization s socialization is most critical for those who are at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy, since this acceptance is necessary for moving up. Simply put, rather than wanting to make an 326

5 Bronstein & Abramson Teachers and Social Workers: Groundwork for Collaboration in the Schools impact on the school by drawing on the knowledge, perspective, and skills they have gained in the university, new employees are more susceptible to being socialized to a school s prevailing norms. Billups (1987) argues that a key factor in a participant s effectiveness as a member of an interdisciplinary team is the ability to maximize the benefits and minimize the constraints of agency influences on practice. Both Lortie s (1975) research on teachers and parallel findings in social work (Bronstein, 2002) indicate that the internship is an important entry point for encouraging positive experiences in interdisciplinary collaboration. Classroom and internship professors can reinforce this by paying attention to the intern s experience in collaboration rather than focusing solely on work with clients/students in the school. Kuzmic (1994) found that students and beginning teachers who come to their professional task with liberal attitudes develop more conservative attitudes, behavior, and perspectives during their early years of teaching. Other literature on teacher education reveals concerns about students successfully reconciling their often more liberal academic classroom training with the realities of the field (Hall, Johnson, & Bowman, 1995; Su, 1992). Many educators and researchers argue that the influence of the school as an institution is so powerful that it can undo the socialization provided by academic training (W. Ross, personal communication, April 2001). Once teachers enter the school setting as professionals and the influence of their more progressive academic training fades, it becomes more difficult to develop and implement new ideas. In Su s (1992) national survey of students and faculty on factors that influence teacher socialization, she found that some teachers openly declared that they did not like to see change and would not allow their student teachers to experiment in the classrooms. Cuban (1993) argues that the act of teaching within a self-contained classroom does little to foster innovation. Tabb (1984) found that teachers focus on what works to maintain classroom discipline and student motivation. When teachers manage This leads teachers to utilize school social workers when educators encounter difficulty with a particular student or family. In contrast, the ecological perspective that is preferred in social work training teaches that the focus should go beyond the individual student because social and organizational issues and individual needs and problems are inextricably connected. their classroom well, they often feel that the environment for learning is enhanced. Interestingly, Ross (1987) found that teachers working with innovative programs that are related to community involvement hold values similar to those of social workers. Therefore, even though teacher candidates tend to be socialized into the more progressive and liberal beliefs and values about teaching and schooling on the college and university campuses, once they begin student teaching they are likely to be re-socialized into the existing culture of the school. To counteract the powerful influence of the organization, Kuzmic (1994) notes the need for teacher education programs to place greater emphasis on the impact of the bureaucratic educational setting. Zeichner and Gore (1990) state that teacher educators must work to alter the institutional, social and political contexts and the principles and practices of authority, legitimacy and control underlying them (p. 343). If not, as Colbert and Wolff (1992) have noted, teachers often leave the profession because teaching has been slow to develop a systematic way to induct beginners into the complexities of a job that demands hundreds of management decisions every day. They assert that beginning teachers need structured, intensive, and ongoing support and assistance during the induction years. Social workers, too, need attention as they enter the work world. As outsiders to the system, they are especially susceptible to problems that Dane and Simon (1991) have found for social workers in host settings, including discrepancies between the majority s professional mission and values and those of dominant individuals (in this case, educators) in the employing institution; being accorded token status within workplaces that employ few social workers; and role ambiguity and role strain (p. 208). A school bureaucracy that makes it difficult for the voice of front-line professionals to be heard compounds these problems. Abramson (1993) outlines a process for orienting social work employees in host settings like schools to address the issues noted by Dane and Simon. This orientation includes 327

6 FAMILIES IN SOCIETY Volume 84, Number 3 establishing a social work perspective in the face of competing ideologies and building commitment to and understanding of the organization, in this case, the school. Such an orientation could support the transition from a university to a school setting and enhance social workers ability to apply their knowledge of systems to school-specific issues. Social workers may find it easier to hold on to professional knowledge and values when they enter the school because they are guests in the teachers host setting (Dane & Simon, 1991). This status limits their full identification with the school and keeps them from losing their individuality to the institution as easily as do teachers. Whereas being less identified with the school may help social workers more easily resist and question the school s institutional norms, it brings a different set of challenges. Since those services provided by social workers are not clearly central to the primary mission of the school, their importance is often questioned. The difficulty of defining what social workers do, even by the social workers themselves (Condie, Hanson, Lang, Moss, & Kane, 1978; Gartner, 1976b; Gibelman, 1995; Ross, 1987) also contributes to poor understanding by teachers and others as to their function, which can lead to the social worker s being underutilized or even misused and to possible resentment if an administrator decides to hire a social worker instead of a teacher. For instance, a teacher may attempt to utilize a social worker s expertise and then become upset when the social worker s attention to confidentiality does not provide the teacher with the information she was looking for. Accordingly, the conflict between teachers who need to pay attention to classroom management and social workers whose roles in the school are often ambiguous and poorly understood, makes it critical for these two professionals to see that they share common ground in terms of motivation and mission, if these professionals are to collaborate. In summary, the literature cited above suggests that while prospective teachers enter the university setting with more conservative views than social workers, both sets of professionals experience progressive ideas in their academic setting. Yet, teachers appear to be more affected by the norms of their particular schools than are social workers, who are somewhat protected by their outsider status. School social workers must seek opportunities to present policy and program initiatives that teachers feel enhance their role. Teachers need to believe that school social workers support the primary emphasis on academics. Implications and Strategies for Social Work Practice in the Schools This paper has raised a number of important points regarding professional socialization and roles to consider in attempts to foster collaboration between social workers and teachers. Both social workers and teachers share similarities including being members of female dominated professions, practicing in a bureaucratic setting, and having a service orientation. These similarities can help each professional group to understand and relate to one another. Understanding among colleagues has been linked to successful interdisciplinary collaboration (Abrasion & Mizrahi, 1996; Bronstein, 2002; Brown, 1995). While emphasizing these similarities effectively builds interprofessional bridges, it is also essential to draw on the differences between them to enrich the collaborative process. Social workers need to utilize knowledge of these differences to find ways to enhance their relationships with teachers. For example, they need to clearly, consistently, and frequently educate teachers about their roles, not only by taking on roles in support of teachers but in articulating and explaining these roles such that teachers learn about them and are encouraged to ask social workers for their assistance again. This could begin in interdisciplinary classroom training in universities that offer education and social work programs. Classes could be designed specifically so the two groups of professionals learn together about relevant areas and roles for practice in the schools, such as school-linked services or special education. An exchange might be set up where a social work instructor takes over teaching a component of a course in education and an educator is a guest lecturer in a social work practice class or coteaches an elective course in social work. Such an approach would provide opportunities for students to learn from each other and for faculty to enhance understanding of each other s profession. Faculty in both professions thus would be better able to teach students more accurately about the roles of social workers and teachers. Their role as resident guests gives school social workers unique opportunities to serve as a support for teachers. This work needs to begin with social workers asking teachers about their views of the school, their classroom, and individual students and about how teachers think that the social worker can help. From this position, school social workers 328

7 Bronstein & Abramson Teachers and Social Workers: Groundwork for Collaboration in the Schools can be a resource to ease teacher workload, thus avoiding the misunderstanding that they take away from the fundamentals. Social workers need to offer information and provide concrete help that teachers find indispensable in doing their jobs. For example, social workers can arrange meetings between teachers and parents during school time and then cover the classroom for the teacher, who then does not have to meet with parents either before or after teaching time. In this way the social worker is perceived as providing concrete help, teachers and parents are brought together to jointly help students, and the social worker has access to the classroom to observe dynamics and share these helpful observations with the teacher. Social workers need to let teachers know that their training in group work makes them qualified to address classroom management issues. By working collaboratively with teachers in classrooms, school social workers can also attempt to alleviate the burden of high student teacher ratios. It should also be made clear that social workers are supporting teachers through their out-of-the-classroom activities in students homes, in the community, and in other areas in the school. For instance, one of the authors worked at a school of social work in Miami-Dade County where grant money was secured for an after-school program at an elementary school in Miami Beach. Although a primary focus of the program was preventing alarmingly escalating gang involvement, social workers in the school also used the program to respond to teachers growing frustrations with neglected homework. The school s social work interns elicited teachers help in crafting a homework club as part of the after-school initiative, and kept teachers current with students progress, thereby providing an activity that helped to divert youngsters from unproductive community activities while also responding to teacher concerns about academics. School social workers can complement teachers roles and expand their vision through many venues. As facilitators of in-service programs, social workers can bring information about the impact of multiculturalism and oppression to teachers attention. They can share techniques that are multiculturally sensitive to help teachers reach more students and increase achievement of academic goals. In addition, workers can offer information to teachers informally. For example, a social work field education unit was established in an elementary school in Dade County, Florida, where there had been a large influx of Haitian immigrants whose lack of involvement in their children s education was frustrating teachers. In conducting home visits, social workers learned that in Haiti parental involvement was seen as interference with the school. The social work interns brought parents into the school for meetings that helped teachers to understand their different perspective; bridges were built between parents and school and between social workers and teachers (Bronstein & Kelly, 1998). In addition, school social workers must find ways to pursue their institution changing goals so as to not appear to teachers as threatening their ability to teach. School social workers must seek opportunities to present policy and program initiatives that teachers feel enhance their role. Teachers need to believe that school social workers support the primary emphasis on academics. To bring that about, social workers will have to help them understand the connection between psychosocial intervention and improved academic performance. School social workers need to consistently present their ideas to teachers as means in the service of academics rather than as ends in themselves. For example, when encouraging teachers to participate in meeting with parents, social workers should assure teachers that the meetings are not solely to gain sympathy for a child and family s circumstances, but to find ways that this understanding can be used to find solutions to enhance classroom learning. Such an approach to collaboration needs to be actively taught to social work interns as well. In addition to their day-to-day work with students and teachers, social workers are in a key position to help establish ongoing interdisciplinary continuing education programs in which all school professionals bring ideas from their academic training into the school to keep these more progressive ideas alive over time. By viewing socialization as an ongoing and dynamic process (Waugaman, 1994) rather than a one-time occurrence in professional training, school social workers and teachers can build on the strengths of the other s profession to build stronger, wider, and more creative bridges for collaboration. References Abramson, J. S. (1993). Orienting social work employees in interdisciplinary settings: Shaping professional and organizational perspectives. Social Work, 38(2), Abramson, J. S., & Mizrahi, T. (1996). When social workers and physicians collaborate: Positive and negative interdisciplinary experiences. Social Work, 41(3), Asamoah, Y., Healy, L. M., & Mayadas, N. (1997). 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