These three words encompass my experience with the SSWAA Board and Staff this past year. I was elected as the MSW Student Representative in January 2022, excited and curious about what it would be like to join this board of seasoned professionals. As a new social worker, the support I have received from my colleagues on the board has exceeded my hopes and expectations. In many spaces, the newest or youngest voice in the room can be ignored or forgotten. Since my first meeting with the SSWAA board, I have felt seen, respected, and heard. Within our board meetings, conference, delegates assembly, and webinars, know that your SSWAA leaders strive to be fully present, valuing each voice and perspective.
My senior colleagues at SSWAA have shown me that, although what we do as social workers is important, WHO we are is essential. I invite you to pause and consider for a moment how you are uniquely positioned to touch students’ lives in a way that no one else can. I invite you to recognize your presence in your school as essential, your skillset as invaluable, and most importantly YOU as the strongest resource and advocate for your students.
Being on the SSWAA Board has provided helpful perspective that across the country, it is not uncommon for school social workers to have more work than is humanly possible to accomplish in a single day. When I find myself back as the last person on my endless to-do list, it is the example of my colleagues who have persevered in this field that inspires me to take a breath, take a break, and remember to refuel. Being able to keep showing up for my students every day is endlessly more important than doing my job “perfectly”. Seeing others prioritizing self-care makes it easier to believe that I deserve a break too. That what I am doing is enough. That I Am Enough. And I hope to pass along the message to each of you – You. Are. Enough. You can do this work, even if it feels like all odds are stacked against you.
Lastly, I invite you to tap into the resiliency of the SSWAA Community. On this board, I have found not only a group dedicated to social justice but also to upholding the dignity and worth of each individual colleague, client, and member. What will stay with me about this group is their ability to tackle macro-level social justice issues while also navigating the challenges of being school social work practitioners at the micro level. This has inspired my own initiative to encourage resilience among social work students and new social workers. I have seen friends and colleagues leave this field due to burnout, and that a career in school social work is tough to sustain right now. I am wondering, why is the next generation of school social workers choosing this career, and what is needed to make working in our field sustainable?
If you are a school social work student, recent graduate, or know someone in either of those categories, please help spread the word about submitting photos via the survey below! The goal of this initiative is to help improve the sense of identity, belonging, and agency within our school social work profession. The link below includes more information and the consent form to participate: https://forms.illinois.edu/sec/81155562.
As the holidays approach, I wish you each the people, places, and moments that spark joy in your life. I wish you health, safety, and time to heal. I wish you the peace of mind to be present to those important to you, the strength to persevere through any challenges, and the resiliency to return from the holidays refreshed and renewed.
Grace McClowry, MSW, LSW
Grace is the exiting student representative on the SSWAA Board. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with her Master’s in Social Work in May 2022. She currently works as a School Social Worker in the Danville School District, specializing in supporting student Social-Emotional Learning.