top of page

Leadership in School Social Work

By Corrine Anderson-Ketchmark, MSW

My Journey in School Social Work Leadership

When I graduated from my MSW program (1987) I knew I wanted to work in schools. I did an internship in a rural school district that confirmed my decision. Previously I had worked for 15 years in the state Child Welfare system and learned that there was important work with children and families to prevent involvement with child welfare that needed to be done in the school setting. My first job in the Washougal Public Schools was to secure community resources for families that included mental health services. I developed an interagency collaboration committee with the help of the Special Education Director who saw the need for a direct connection with social services in the schools. Five different service administrators and providers along with law enforcement began meeting monthly to discuss the needs of students and families. We developed a Social Service Resource center in the small rural town of Washougal to provide not only mental health, but drug and alcohol, public health, and financial/welfare services. These services were determined necessary by a survey that the district conducted as the resources lacking in the community given the rural location of the schools. I provided coordination of the Resource Center for two years until it could be a self-sufficient entity. This Resource Center eventually served the neighboring city and general area of the eastern County.

My next assignment was to be the program coordinator for the new regional Day Treatment for students who needed a specialized educational program which within two years moved off-sight into a larger facility. The Washougal Administration determined that a rural location was still needed so I was assigned to develop a Day Treatment program located within the district. I hired the staff, provided training, in coordination with community mental health professionals. I coordinated the program for five years. Among my many other responsibilities I served on the district’s MDT’s in the five schools within the district to assist in writing IEP’s and staying in compliance with Special Education laws. I attended Special Education School Law conferences, developing an expertise in special education law. I was designated as a special education legal consultant.  Along with the Special Education team, I provided training for staff to update them on the changes in the law and practices required by the law. I also participated as an instructor in a new training program for Staff Assistants or Para Educators. I taught a range of courses from Child Abuse Prevention and Mandated reporting, signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse, writing behavior goals and objectives on IEP’s, behavior interventions and understanding when mental health interventions were needed. I also was an instructor for the Regional Education Services District (ESD) for Child Abuse/Neglect mandatory reporting, Para Educator courses and Trauma Informed/Sensitive Schools.

I realized that I was often expected to provide a level of leadership in program development, and training that I had not expected to be a part of my practice in School Social Work. I was the first School Social Worker in the region, so I was called upon by a number of different administrators and school districts to consult with them about School Social Work. Since I was new to the position and learning what School Social Work was, I quickly reached out to the State School Social Work organization, Washington Association of School Social Workers. I attended the state conference and the next thing I knew was recruited to serve on the board. I definitely learned a lot about school social work from that conference, but little did I know was about to embark on a journey of learning about the importance of Leadership in School Social Work.

Association Leadership

After serving on the WASSW board as the Union (WEA) representative for two years, I was asked to run for President and was elected. During this time the current President Frederick Streeck had been attending the Midwest Council meetings and invited me to attend the next meeting. I had never been east of Utah, so traveling to Chicago was a huge deal for me. I felt overwhelmed yet felt a sense of comfort being in the presence of seasoned leaders in the field of School Social Work. I was intrigued and excited by the business they were conducting and how I could glean knowledge and a sense of leadership from them. As time went on it became clear to me that my involvement in the Midwest Council brought great benefit to my leadership on the state level. But even more so as they entered their struggle with NASW I realized I had become a part of a greater goal to help develop a School Social Work National Association that became the School Social Work Association of America.

By following the lead of Frederick, Randy Fisher, Vaughn Morrison, Bob Goodwin, Jim Clark, Sally Carlson, Bev VanDyke, Richard Spring, and so many more, I saw a vision taking form.  I was able to take back to WASSW how to grow the organization and put on conferences that could appeal to School Social Workers and make a profit. I encouraged the WASSW board to develop goals that would strengthen the organization and develop a succession plan for continuous leadership. As SSWAA was in the development stage an ad hoc committee was formed, and I was appointed and agreed to be secretary. I learned about the pillars of what a professional organization needed and the people that could implement the plan. I was on a very sharp learning curve but up for the challenge given who I was working with in the Midwest and Frederick. A powerful contribution to SSWAA was Frederick’s efforts to develop the Western Regional Alliance modelled from the Midwest Council. As SSWAA was developing, he worked with other regions to develop their own regional association. The Southern and Northeastern Regions came together respectively to bring their leadership to SSWAA. As a result, SSWAA truly was represented across the United States with strong leadership that has over the years served on the board to this day. Over the years the development of SSWAA strengthened the Regional Associations were less needed and have since dissolved, with the influence of the regions remaining.

Leadership took on a greater meaning as time went on, serving on the SSWAA ad hoc board then the official board as secretary then President for two terms. The growing pains of a new organization can be thrilling and frightening. It often felt like I was on a roller coaster, but mostly we persevered and achieved most of what we had set out to do. We were in forward motion most of the time, especially as the membership grew and the conferences were successful. Randy was a force that knew what to do along with listening to those of us who would contribute to the vision and mission. As I took on board positions with SSWAA it was clear I needed to hand off the Presidency of WASSW which was a smooth transition. I immersed myself into the growth and board management of the SSWAA. Randy took on the role of Executive Director managing the conferences and other business aspects of the growth of SSWAA and I was elected President. Leadership challenges of implementing the constitution, vision, mission, the board business, the interpersonal dynamics, committee work and moving the Association forward to be responsive to the membership were daunting most of the time. I learned what worked and what just didn’t from feedback and criticism from board members. I once said to Vice President Gloria Black from Texas, who had much more experience than I, “you should be president,” she said, “oh no, you are learning and I am here to have your back”. We along with the board members were a good team that continued moving SSWAA forward. One of the critical areas of growth that really put SSWAA on the map was the leadership of Richard Spring (MI) and his partnership with Myrna Mandlawitz (Government Relations) who developed the legislative agenda, made important contacts in Washington DC, and provided the annual trainings and conference workshops. The Capital Hill visits for the board and members were life changing in so many ways, giving a sense of empowerment to members for a greater understanding of how government, funding and politics work. SSWAA members were able to take this empowerment back to their state organizations to provide an essential element of leadership for their members.

The Need for Leadership Training

Leadership is not something we are taught in our MSW programs, and very few professional development classes are provided on the elements of leadership. As I have learned, leadership can be something you are inclined towards, you can learn, or it just happens. It can be intrinsic, studied, and/or acquired.

One reason I wanted to tell my story and share my experience is that it may be similar or very different from other’s experiences. Either way it was significant to be me based on what I have learned is that the Midwest experience that moved towards a National Association was great training with on the ground learning. I do believe our profession could benefit from more formal training and internships in gaining leadership skills. As I described in my first few years as a new school social worker, I was expected to provide a level of leadership in numerous ways that I wasn’t always prepared for. My MSW major was in Planning, Administration and Management which is the closest you can get to any leadership training. I knew I wanted to do program development and administer resources and services. Leadership was never mentioned or if it was, only in a minor way. I remember being told that School Social Work operates behind the scenes in the schools. It seemed odd that something so significant would be only behind the scenes when in fact I found myself front and center in the school district to help them find a clearer direction to address mental health, drug and alcohol, financial needs and how to help students with special needs learn and thrive. I want to believe that this is part of why I was drawn to a leadership role in WASSW and SSWAA, then later with NASW.


Developing leadership skills is in my mind critical for moving the profession forward and strengthening National and State Associations. Adhering to the fundamentals of being board members that follow Roberts Rule of Order in conducting business is key to the structure of responsive leadership for the membership. Membership support by Professional Associations is key to the promotion, strengthening and growth of the profession. Leadership skills are also essential in the practice of School Social Work in the districts where we are hired. We are often the ones who are involved and can shape the climate and culture of the districts and school environments. Developing leadership skills empowers social workers to believe in themselves and to contribute to better working conditions and services for students, parents, and teachers. School Social Workers often become principals and administrators that guide and promote the direction of the educational process. As an example, Social Emotional Learning has taken a greater role in education and School Social Workers are the most qualified to lead on moving this into a greater role in education of students and to support staff and families. Leadership is necessary to ensure that the curriculum includes the learning and teaching of skills necessary for students to become resilient lifelong learners.


There are many types of leadership styles and a vast array of leadership skills all based on the tasks, goals, and objectives of what leadership requires. The leadership that I have tried to describe through my story is of program development, organizational development, strategic planning, and interpersonal interactions. These leadership skills are essential to supporting and moving School Social Work forward. Since my retirement I have been involved in promoting, training, and teaching in the area of Trauma Informed Systems that include schools and how School Social Workers can provide leadership in schools to bring this important information to impact education.


I hope this is helpful to those in leadership and those who are just beginning. The leadership efforts that created and built SSWAA were based on a strong desire for a National Association to support School Social Work. While over the years SSWAA has had its leadership challenges, there were always those School Social Workers who stepped up and carried the Association forward to where it now thrives under continuous leadership.


Well done SSWAA and all the School Social Work Leaders who work to keep the association strong!!


Corrine Anderson-Ketchmark - SSWAA Founding Member and Past SSWAA Board President

Corrine Anderson-Ketchmark, MSW, started her service with SSWAA in 1996 when she was elected Secretary and then served on the board until 1999 when she was elected President and served two terms (2000-2004). The ten years from the beginning to the end of her term as President she states was a sharp learning curve but served with the help and support of the many school social workers who helped form SSWAA. Corrine comments, "I feel honored to have been a part of the formation and development of SSWAA. In 2018, I was honored by SSWAA with the career achievement award."

967 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 commentaires

Based on the responsibilities, goals, and objectives Dordle of what leadership demands, there are many different styles of leadership and a wide range of leadership talents.


Rivia Mind has implemented various measures to create a culture of excellence, including ongoing training and support for staff, fostering a supportive environment where everyone feels valued, and maintaining a commitment to delivering trustworthy care and treatment, neuropsychological evaluation nyc.

bottom of page