There is such excitement when going back to school. Each year as I entered my school building for another year of work with students and families, time would be spent developing goals and plans for the year. Services offered to students, programming focused on families, campus-wide prevention efforts, and staff development training for staff were consistently a part of my work and subsequent goals.
Regularly, I would be called upon to contribute to some of the back-to-school training for teachers and staff. Sometimes the training would be related to district initiatives, other times it was related to a campus program offered. Regardless of the topic, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs often found its way into my presentation at some point.
It has been 80 years since Maslow published his psychological theory about human motivation, behavior, and a hierarchy of human needs. Yet, a quick google search will show that current researchers and organizations still refer to and hold high this theory. According to Medical News Today, “Researchers today consider it one of the most impactful ideas in personality science and motivation psychology.”¹
When talking with teachers or school staff during those in-service days, discussing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs opened the door and gave some additional understanding about my role as the School Social Worker. It seemed that much time was needed, especially in the first 5 years of my tenure, to explain, educate, and create understanding and support for my unique role in the school setting. Often, reference back to this well-known psychological theory was a way to stimulate a discussion around the needs and challenges that many of our students faced, that were likely hindering their ability to focus on schoolwork. These challenges are ones that School Social Workers address on a daily basis: lack of adequate housing or food, exclusion, bullying and harassment, sadness and loss, low self-esteem or lack of confidence, family or community violence, and the like.
School Social Workers have a slightly different mindset or approach when working in schools than traditional school professionals. While academic learning is not our direct focus, academic achievement and school success are certainly priorities. School Social Workers address social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs in order to support academic achievement. However, student learning (self-actualization in Maslow’s Hierarchy) can be stifled when other needs are not being met.
Clear communication of the role of the School Social Worker and educating colleagues and stakeholders in order to bolster buy-in is vital to our effectiveness and impact in the school setting. SSWAA provides a number of tools and resources to assist as you work to educate stakeholders about the valuable and vital role of School Social Work. SSWAA has created a variety of Resolution Statements that support the articulation of our role and other key topics related to School Social Work practice.
One such statement is the SSWAA Resolution Statement on the School Social Workers’ Role in Addressing Students’ Mental Health Needs and Increasing Academic Achievement.² This statement is a tool that can provide guidance and useful information as you educate others in your school community about your professional role. The statement highlights the specialized skills and expertise held by School Social Workers that situate us well to contribute in the school setting. Additionally, School Social Work training is unique and centered in Social Work values which empower us to address barriers to student learning and confront systemic issues of inequity. The statement also highlights our unique role as the link between home, school, and community. The referenced statement also provides rationale as to how School Social Workers address student needs by highlighting our work in multi-tiered systems and through a collaborative team approach with other school professionals.
How might you use the SSWAA Resolution Statement on the School Social Workers’ Role in Addressing Students’ Mental Health Needs and Increasing Academic Achievement in your own practice? Some possible ideas include:
Use the statement and reference it in a written introduction of yourself to your new school staff.
Create a short presentation for parent orientation referencing key points about your role and introducing yourself as a resource for families.
Develop information for your website or for a service brochure referencing the statement and outlining your role on campus.
Collaborate with other School Social Workers in your district and make a presentation to your district School Board, sharing this document as support for the role of School Social Work in your district.
Refer to it to guide your own self-reflection, growth, and development as a professional, referring back to the foundational tenets of our profession.
The SSWAA Resolution Statements are a hidden gem on the website, aimed at offering answers to tough questions that you may encounter in your work. Most recent statements are always included on the home page in the “News & Updates” section and a treasure chest of others can be found under the Advocacy Tab.
Rebecca K. Oliver is the Executive Director of the School Social Work Association of America. Prior to becoming the Executive Director, Mrs. Oliver served on the SSWAA Board of Directors and has over 20 years of experience working as a school social worker. In her current role with SSWAA, Rebecca is able to support school social workers across the nation and advocate for the profession about which she is so passionate. When not working, Rebecca enjoys traveling with her husband Jon, singing, running, reading, doing home improvements, and outdoor activities including walks with her two dogs, Abby & Buddy.