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Face to the Sun

by Rebecca Oliver, SSWAA Executive Director

There is a story that has been circulating on social media which suggests that sunflowers turn to each other on cloudy days. The sentiment shared is that when there is no sunshine or light to turn to, the sunflowers turn to each other to share their energy/light. While this is a sweet story, sadly in doing some fact-checking, it seems that story is not true.

What seems to be more accurate, is that sunflowers follow the sun throughout the day. Like other plants, sunlight is necessary for their growth. At the end of the day, when the sun sets, the sunflowers turn back to the east, anticipating the rise of the sun the next morning.

In gathering information about sunflowers, there are some other interesting facts to be learned. According to the Science Kids website¹, “the sunflower is a large inflorescence, this means the flower head is actually made of many tiny flowers called florets. Central florets look like the center of a normal flower while the outer florets look like yellow petals and together they make up a ‘false flower.’” Additionally, sunflowers can grow to be quite large and hearty. The sunflower stem can grow to be about 10 feet tall and the head of the flower can exceed 10 inches in width. If the sunflower has the right conditions, in a very short time (about six months) the flower can grow 8-12 feet tall! The tallest sunflower noted in the Guinness World Records grew in Germany and was recorded at 27 feet tall! Aside from their large size, the sunflower is quite beautiful and has been the subject of many photographs and artwork. Additionally, the sunflower has many uses including its use in cooking oils, snacks, as a peanut butter substitute, mixed with other grains in breads, as a medical ointment, and even in dyes.

What stood out as a unique feature is the fact that the sunflower follows the sun. This fact substantiates what we all learned in elementary science class – that plants need sun, water, soil, and air as the basic nutrients to support growth and vitality. Add to that the unique feature of turning back to the east at night in anticipation of the return of the sun. These two points, following the sun and returning to the east in anticipation of the sun’s return can have symbolic meaning for our work with students and families.

What essential activities do we offer that support a student – providing nutrients to their growth and development?

Encouragement – We know that there is great power in words. Some research indicates that children/youth need to hear 5 or more positive comments for each negative comment. Words can tear down or can build up. Words are indeed a type of nutrient to the child/youth’s self-esteem and as School Social Workers, we can give encouragement through our words. Additionally, we can encourage our students by offering hope through goals and workable solutions/skill building to challenges the students may be facing, whether that is learning goals, behavioral goals, or social/emotional goals. We can work alongside that youth offering support to meet these goals.

Listening – Another way School Social Workers can nurture a young person and his/her growth is by listening. What a powerful gift it is to truly listen to another! Too often it seems, our culture is about crafting a response while “listening” rather than truly listening. Too often our world seems too rushed to slow down and take the time to listen. Too often children and young people may feel that their thoughts, ideas, feedback are not valued. What a meaningful exchange can take place when we truly stop and listen to the young people that we serve.

Dependability – Just as the sunflower turns back to the east at night, in anticipation of the sunrise, our students also look to us for dependability. The School Social Worker’s role is built on relationship. When in relationship with anyone, being able to count on that person as a friend, family member, or colleague, is essential. As a School Social Worker, our relationship is a bit different as it is a professional relationship with certain professional boundaries. However, being dependable and “there” for our clients is certainly an essential part of our professional relationship with students and families. Just like the sunflower turns back anticipating the sun, so our students turn to us in anticipation of our listening ear, encouragement, support, and dependability.

Our role can be draining and exhausting. Often, School Social Workers leave at the end of the day feeling drained and spent. Self-care is critical. We must find the time and prioritize self-care. School Social Workers are valuable! You are valuable! What you do matters! We must find the time (make the time) to rest, rejuvenate, and refocus. Why? Because your health and well-being matter. And, also, because tomorrow, when you return to your school, whether in person or virtual, your students will have turned to the east, anticipating your return, and looking to you for light and hope. #BeaconofHope #SSWAA



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 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 "fur-babies," Abby and Buddy.

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