5 Things Every Social Worker Should Know About Being a School Social Worker

Embarking on a career as a social worker means that you often have to deal with the unpleasant and darker aspects of people’s lives, which can be challenging. And when you work with children in the role of school social worker, you may need to adapt to a different set of challenges. If you’re considering taking on the possibly difficult but rewarding task of social work in a K-12 setting, keep the following five ideas in mind.

1. Every Student Is Unique

While this may seem like a no-brainer, when you’re around hundreds of students every day who are on similar learning paths and who are required to adhere to a standard dress code, it can be difficult to recognize the subtle differences in your students. Even in small school districts where the majority of students come from similar socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, each student faces his or her own unique obstacles both at home and in the classroom. Every student will have a different coping mechanism as well. Your primary job as a school social worker is to listen to your students to better understand who they are as individuals and discover the best ways to help them succeed in life.

2. You May Feel Disconnected from Your Colleagues

Especially in smaller school districts, there may only be a single social worker on the staff. It is a role that bridges the gap between administration and instruction, which can sometimes lead to a feeling of isolation and separation from your colleagues and even your supervisor.

According to Gary L. Schaffer, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as of 2007, “National and regional studies indicate that less than a third of school social workers have a supervisor who is also a social worker.” This means that you may have more direct industry experience than your superiors, and therefore may be on your own when it comes to important decisions in the field.

3. You Will Be Challenged Every Day

Building trust in the students you work with is paramount to both your success and that of the children. Some students may open up to you immediately, and you may find that your personality “clicks” with those students as you share stories and discover common interests, such as reading or a favorite musical group. Other students, especially teens and those who have experienced some type of abuse, may be distant and distrustful, even after several sessions.

4. Knowledge of Relevant Local and State Laws is Imperative

Your role as a school social worker means that you will serve as an advocate to children who may be in dangerous or neglectful situations. A great social worker is one who understands confidentiality laws and knows when to refer a situation to the relevant authorities. For this reason, many social workers choose to pursue a double degree in college, studying law while earning their BSW or MSW. If this realm of study is not an option, becoming familiar with school-based and local authorities may be advantageous.

5. You Won’t Be Able to Fix Everything

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to connect with students and help them to rise above adversity and achieve their goals, it may not be enough. Always remember that there are some aspects of your students’ lives that are beyond your control, such as a negative influence in the form of a childhood friend, or a neglectful parent. Rather than focusing on what you perceive as failures, channel that disappointment into helping your other students thrive.

While a MSW or BSW degree may lead to gainful employment and a fulfilling career, you likely chose this type of work because you want to make a positive impact in people’s lives. Taking on the task of a school social worker allows you to do just that, and although you may have a few roadblocks during your journey to success, you will reap tangible rewards as you watch your students grow and overcome adversity.