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The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What Makes a Social Work Supervisor “Great?”

A new school year has begun and thus begins another round of interns for me. For the first time, I have social work interns, which I am really excited about, though I also have more nursing students and I am thrilled to improve upon the experience I gave to last year’s students. In NY, anyone supervising social work interns must complete a 2-semester course on supervision in field instruction (SIFI), which I attended the first session of last week, before the interns began.

Let me be very blunt… in the first SIFI class, I couldn’t figure out why I had to be there or what the teacher could teach me, considering that this class was meant for beginners. I have a teaching background, after all, and I’d mapped out an entire plan for my students months ago. I’d considered my personal experiences in internships, I’d chatted with former classmates about their internship experiences, I’d read articles about supervision, I’d made sure the internship binder I’d created was labeled and had proper tabs and was color-coded, I had their ID badges laminated and set out on my desk the day before their first day. I.Was.Set. …

Until the students arrived.

Suddenly, I found myself being asked logical questions for which I didn’t have all of the answers. I was given paperwork from the school that asked for information I didn’t have. The assignments in the binder didn’t match up as perfectly as I’d hoped to the clients’ choice to come to our agency at any given time. In short, I went from feeling on top of the world, Madame Preparation, to feeling like I was starting the race from 10 feet behind, Mrs. Oh… I Hadn’t Thought of That.
Well, we’re now a few internship days in and things are beginning to settle down. Anxiety levels are dropping for all involved and the students are beginning to ask questions and follow them up with ideas on how to make things better than the answer provided to them. Clients are becoming more familiar with new faces and are starting to open up. Those fancy binders I worked so hard on are now becoming living works, being altered and tweaked as life requires.

But no matter the ease we’re baby-stepping into, I remain humbled by the experience. So I write to you all this week with my mouth shut, ready to listen to what the genius SIFI professor has to teach me, ready to listen to what my quick-thinking interns teach me through their experiences and questions, and ready to listen to your thoughts on what makes a supervisor great.

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