by Rebecca K. Oliver, SSWAA Executive Director
Some years ago, a dear friend and colleague of mine came into my office at our elementary school early in the morning. She had a smile on her face and a chuckle in her voice. It seemed that she had a funny story to tell. When working at this wonderful elementary school, we were not at a loss for humor and fun. So often our students would do charming things or make silly comments that kept us laughing. I anticipated a story of some cute interaction with a child. Instead, my colleague showed me her shoes. She said, “Look!” I glanced at her shoes but really did not find the humor in the situation. She went on to explain that as she was getting ready that morning, she had not turned the light on. She was getting ready and quickly darted into her dark closet to grab her shoes. She put them on in haste and headed off to school. What I had not noticed was that she had on the same shoe – but one shoe was black and the other was navy blue! Since she had the same shoe in two different colors, she did not notice the difference in color while in her dark closet resulting in mismatched shoes.
When in college, I had a dear friend who was color-blind. He would hold up socks when doing his laundry just to check that the two socks matched. Sometimes they did … other times they did not. I will also remember the laughs that resulted when he held up a tie and declared that this tie was his favorite color. When I asked, “what color is that?" He said very firmly, “My favorite color is pink.” The tie, however, was deep purple!
These two memorable exchanges made me think back to science lessons in school. I remember learning about how the eye detects color. I remember learning about rods and cones that play a part in perceiving color. But, in simple terms, “Color originates in light. Sunlight, as we perceive it, is colorless. In reality, a rainbow is testimony to the fact that all the colors of the spectrum are present in white light.”¹ The light shines on an object and the object absorbs some light rays and reflects others. The rays that are reflected are perceived by our eye and determine the color we perceive that object to be.
My friend with the mismatched shoes had this issue because without light in her closet, the color of the shoes could not be perceived by her eyes. Have you noticed that to be true for yourself? Have you noticed how on a dreary fall day, the colors of the turning leaves are less varied and vibrant? Have you notices how in a dark room, the objects in that room appear to be in various shades of gray? Without light, we cannot see the variety of hues and the vibrancy of our surroundings.
The word “beacon” is a noun meaning a fire or light set up in a high position as a signal, warning, or guide. As we consider School Social Workers as beacons of hope – there are a few applications to how our role of shining light serves as a signal or guide in our schools and for our students AND how our shining light can help spotlight the variety of hues and the vibrancy of those with whom we work.
1. Uniqueness of individuals – Just as colors come in a variety of hues, so our students and families have a variety of unique characteristics. Through our work as School Social Workers, we are privileged to learn of the unique talents, characteristics, interests, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and viewpoints of our clients. As we discover this variety, we can help acknowledge the unique contributions of each individual and family and build on the strengths of each unique person.
2. Beauty of diversity – School Social Workers often teach tolerance and acceptance in a variety of ways through our work in schools. Tolerance is defined as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions, beliefs, and practices that differ from one’s own”.² School Social Workers can go a step further by showcasing the beauty of diversity and helping others see the strength and vibrance that come in diversity. The beauty of artistry in a mosaic or tapestry is often due to the vibrance and diversity that each color or piece plays in the creation of that work of art.
3. Hope and healing – Just as there is an analogy to a variety of hues being offered as a positive side of diversity, there is also the reality that sometimes individuals are picked on, bullied, or treated as an out-cast for his/her differences. School Social Workers have the privilege and responsibility to come alongside those individuals, offering them a safe harbor, giving voice to their feelings, and contribution hope and healing for those that are devalued, anxious, picked-on, or outcast. This is the School Social Work unique role of addressing issues of social justice while promoting the mental health and well-being of the youth with which we work.
Throughout our work, School Social Workers have the opportunity to shine light into the lives of our students and families. This light can bring out the vibrant hues that exist in our students, families, schools, and communities. #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 dogs, Abby & Buddy.