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SSWAA Staff Fights Loneliness

...and how you can too

SSWAA Executive Director, Rebecca Oliver, Membership Coordinator, Capella Hauer, and Communications and Marketing Specialist, Ali Langen, all met our brand new Professional Development Coordinator, Dr. J.R. Bullard-Batiste at the 2023 conference in Colorado. While we had all been working together remotely for three months, finally being together in person was a much-anticipated moment. During the conference, we were able to bond through the stresses and successes of putting on such a valuable event for School Social Workers from around the world. We noticed when we were all together as a staff for the conference, our ideas and thoughts flowed much easier. When together, we had brilliant ideas and were able to build upon one another’s strengths and talents with ease. While technology has certainly made remote work much more accessible, we know in-person interactions come with a deeper level of communication and connection.


Above: Executive Director, Rebecca Oliver, leads staff in a discussion reviewing SSWAA's Mission Statement

Above: Membership Coordinator, Capella Hauer, adjusts sticky notes full of dreams on SSWAA's 3-year plan


Understanding the importance and impact of in-person meetings the SSWAA staff traveled from around the country earlier this summer for our very first in-person strategic planning. During our three days together the SSWAA staff outlined dreams and goals for the future three years of SSWAA, while also focusing on how to refine and better support our members' experiences. We are thrilled to share new resources and benefits for our members, including access to the School Social Work Journal, as well as our new on-demand learning platform, SSWAAed. We know these two resources will help our members elevate their practice! We are so excited for additional benefits and opportunities to come in the future and keeping it under wraps may be hard for this small but mighty staff!

“It can be so tough working remotely and not being able to connect with your coworkers except with a screen and hundreds (or thousands) of miles in between. The opportunity to plan in person for the future of SSWAA with the team allowed us to build a deeper connection with each other and take a break from our screen fatigue.“

- Ali Langen, SSWAA Communications & Marketing Specialist


In addition to our strategic planning, we were able to connect as a team and have FUN! Earlier this year the United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a new Advisory bringing attention to the significant negative impact of loneliness and isolation, as well as its rise in U.S. adults. We may assume this is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however over half of all U.S. adults were showing marked levels of loneliness prior to the 2020 pandemic. Loneliness and isolation effects our emotional, physical, and social health. In fact, it can increase the risk of early death to a degree similar to smoking each day. In a time of more remote work, less time for friends and family, and increased surface-level connections, (such as social media) it’s no wonder that we are starving for authentic social connection and suffering from loneliness (HHS, 2023).

“Being together with the SSWAA staff helped to instill a greater feeling of connection and intentional collaboration towards curating a 3-year strategic plan based on data and feedback to ensure we continue to position ourselves to fully meet the needs of all members and be the go-to premier professional development hub for all school social workers across the US. We all have different lived experiences and come from different areas of the country, similar to our members, the geographic distance can create feelings of isolation and "siloed" work, which we know in the social work profession is not ethical or best practice. This time provided a concerted effort of true teamwork and allowed for a free flow of information and ideas from all of our own areas of expertise."

- Dr. J.R. Bullard-Batiste, SSWAA Professional Development Coordinator


As our staff ate dinner after a long night of work, our Executive Director, Rebecca Oliver, shared that when she worked as a social worker on campuses she would find connections with her staff through informal meetups in places like classrooms, baby showers, or birthday parties. It occurred to me we don’t really know each other’s birthdays let alone get to celebrate them together, or any other big milestones for that matter. We had a great mini brainstorming session as a result of this realization where the staff shared ideas on how we can continue to fight loneliness in our remote work. While this in-person work week was a phenomenal start, we will be adding to that momentum until we see each other again in March 2024 at our next Annual Conference.


"Being together in person was a huge benefit for our staff. There's a different energy that can take place when you are not collaborating over a screen, and are face-to-face instead. I am still in awe of how well we jive. Even more, I am inspired by the dedication and dreams this team has. I can't wait to see how the next three years unfold for the School Social Work Association of America. Y'all get ready, I think it's going to be powerful!"

- Capella Hauer, SSWAA Membership Coordinator




We as social workers understand the critical need for social connection. We are creatures who thrive on and require socializing to survive. And yet we are often so isolated in our roles. We hear time and time again from our members that they feel stuck on their own island and disconnected from other practitioners. So how can we thrive in our work when we are often the only ones on campus who hold the role of School Social Worker?


"I had a coach years ago who talked about synergy a lot. The idea that the sum is better than the parts. The thought is that coming together and generating ideas/work/strategies/game-plans will yield better results than working independently. This is a challenge when working remotely! Coming together in person was such a valuable time - strategizing together and yielding so many valuable insights, ideas, and strategies! As the Executive Director, it is my great privilege and joy to work with the SSWAA staff. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is quoted as saying, 'A great person (or leader) attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.' I am proud of the people that we have in the "seats" of the SSWAA staff and am super proud of the commitment to each other, to the team, and to SSWAA that has resulted!"

- Rebecca K. Oliver, SSWAA Executive Director


Two of the six pillars the Surgeon General suggests for fighting isolation and loneliness include strengthening social infrastructure and cultivating a culture of connection (HHS, 2023). These are two areas where school social workers can shine. Below are some ideas to bring this to fruition, both personally and professionally.

Above: Staff take a walk after dinner

From left: Dr. JR Bullard-Batiste, Capella Hauer, Rebecca Oliver, and Ali Langen


Join a local club or group. There are a few ways to do this, either through word of mouth or even apps and sites such as Bumble and Meetup. Think of a new hobby or something you would like to try. Maybe there is a great book club at a local coffee shop, or a meetup to practice French speaking! Can’t find something that fits you? Think about creating your own group with co-workers who have similar interests. And speaking of…

Staff get-togethers. Find ways to unite and bring together your campus community. This could be in the form of social hours after work, or even Friday dance parties in the gym after dismissal. Invite someone new to have lunch with you. Work with other leaders on your campus to brainstorm how you can help create a culture of connection on your campus, with adults and kids!

Join SSWAA. Fight isolation by joining your professional organization. SSWAA provides opportunities for networking during conferences and events. Plus, something we are really excited to bring into the new school year is member meetups! This is a great way to network with like-minded professionals and know that you are not alone!

Get creative. And if you are in a district alone, get creative in how you build your community. Perhaps there are other social workers in your area you can connect with for bi-weekly coffee. Maybe you keep in touch with coworkers from previous positions or even University. Whatever you decide to do, be intentional with your social time and try to make it in person as much as possible.


The SSWAA staff hopes to see you at future events so we can all stay connected and unite for our community and our profession!

#SSWAA #SSWAA2023


 

Capella Hauer is the Membership Coordinator for the School Social Work Association of America. She graduated from New Mexico Highlands University in 2015 with her Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work. With almost a decade of experience as a School Social Worker, Capella is a strong advocate for the unique niche of School Social Work and is thrilled to be in a position to help elevate and expand the profession.

 

References

HHS. (2023, May 3). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from hhs.gov: https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/05/03/new-surgeon-general-advisory-raises-alarm-about-devastating-impact-epidemic-loneliness-isolation-united-states.html


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