A Survey of Thoughts:* advice in hindsight, to newly qualified social workers

If you could go back in time and talk to yourself as a newly qualified social worker, what is the most important piece of advice you would give yourself?

By Birungi Nakiwala The Loop co-editor Year 2 MSc Social Work at London Metropolitan University

I am a firm believer in drawing from the experiences of others. We each have our own unique journeys and circumstances but once in a while I believe it is possible to extract some pearls of wisdom from another person’s story and use these to guide our own. With this in mind, I posed the following question to our social work teaching staff, to give us students the opportunity to get to know our educators a little better, whilst collecting valuable advice that will likely benefit us in our future careers:

Now I won’t pretend that it didn’t bring me a tiny ounce of pleasure to essentially assign a homework question to our teaching staff (#payback) but I was mindful that I was asking a group of very busy people to give up their valuable time to contribute to this piece, therefore I graciously gave them the option of providing brief one-liner responses. I had clearly forgotten that I was addressing seasoned social work practitioners, academics no less, who would never dream of responding to such a profound question (if I do say so myself) with a one-liner. As you will now see, each response was rich with reflective insight and went above and beyond my expectations!

Dr Katrin Bain

Associate Lecturer Social Work

My advice to myself would be: • Read daily.
• Trust that things are always working out for you.
• Be brave in gripping opportunities that come your way and then give it your all.
• Always remember that in social work your work is somebody else’s life!
• If you want to make a positive impact in a child’s and family’s life, be fast and persistent.
• You can have a lot of life experiences just not at the same time so enjoy the season you are in.

Andrew Maynard

Associate Lecturer Social Work

I would advise myself to go beyond what I learned on the course and to develop additional skills and expertise that would enhance my knowledge base. I would also develop an area of specialism in which I can grow and develop.

“Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.” “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

I would always reflect upon this.

Jacqueline Spooner

Associate Lecturer Social Work

I will need to consider this carefully as it’s a great question. One I’m not sure I have an answer to. Social Work chose me as a conduit and vessel. Many of my interventions over the years are guided through my spiritual understanding of self and heart. This is a very different starting point as it gave permission to work/intervene at a much deeper level, and to connect with that awareness. Allowing me to honor the sacredness in everything and all situations.

Greg Ryan

Senior Lecturer Social Work

If I could give a message to myself as a newly qualified Social Worker, I would say, “Greg, remember to take into account all the things you’ve done, as well as listing all the things that you have yet to do.”

As an NQSW, I was a devil for making To Do lists. At the start of each day, I would make lists of all the things I planned to do, emails to send, people to phone, records and reports to complete. Inevitably, as the day progressed, stuff I hadn’t planned for would come up that needed my attention, and by the end of the day my task list wouldn’t all be ticked off, and I would give myself a hard time about it.

I felt quite down about this and I spoke about it with a wise Senior Practitioner. She sat me down and got me to look again at my lists. She asked me to talk through all the tasks that I had completed, and also to recognise the other things that I’d

managed to do in the day that weren’t even on the list!

As Social Workers, there are always more things to do, so it is important from time to time to pause, and to recognise where we have made a difference in the lives of others and to celebrate the things we have achieved.

Dr Stephen Cowden

Associate Lecturer Social Work

Firstly I think it is crucial to always remain human to the people you are working with.

ocial Work is a hard job – that goes without saying – but one of the hardest things is mediating between the needs of the service user who you are there to support and the requirements of the organisation which employs you. It can be really easy to become so preoccupied with the latter that you prioritise that over the former. Whenever I did things I later regretted it was because I allowed myself to be too worried about the organisation and not worried enough about service users and their needs and issues.

The other thing I think that’s really important is to keep believing in Social Work; not that everything that

happens in the name of Social Work is wonderful, but that we keep alive the sense of hope that Social Work seems to me to represent. This is important because in a climate of austerity and managerialism it can be easy to become burnt out and disillusioned – there is too much of this. The German philosopher Ernst Bloch talks about ‘Hope’ as a principle and he wrote ‘It is a question of learning hope. Its work does not renounce… Hope, superior to fear, is neither passive like the latter, nor locked into nothingness. The emotion of hope goes out of itself, makes people broad instead of confining them. The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong. Thinking means venturing beyond. But in such a way that what already exists is not kept under or skated over.’

So in this sense the other piece of advice I have to always keep giving myself is to keep hope alive.

Donna Jones

Principal Lecturer Head Of Social Work

“Hello idealistic Donna. Firstly, I would advise you to stop fiddling with your first local authority ‘Social Worker’ ID badge to ensure it is round the right way so everybody can see from your smiling photo that you are, indeed, a qualified social worker. Your colleagues already know that, so…

Secondly, please remember that the art of critical reflection is not a backpack to be deposited at the doorway of qualified practice as you step through it. Critical reflection is not something you leave behind because you are suddenly busier, with a heavier caseload and more demands and pressures on your time. I found, in later years, that it was exactly because of the heat of qualified practice, that reflection was so important to hold myself accountable and my families at the forefront of my mind and actions. Critical reflection is not a luxury reserved for student social worker status – it should be transformative in how you see your world and how you try to understand the world of your families and the vulnerable people

you are working with and for.

Finally, you may want to consider switching your after work drinks from the pub on the corner of Balls Pond Road to the one with all the boarded up windows, Angel ends (but leave your bike outside work and jump the bus, as it gets nicked…) Mr Bingley, the guy who has deep-seated mistrust issues of social workers and who you will be doing an assessment with in a couple of weeks, will start to frequent it at around 6pm as of tomorrow. Just saying…

Final thoughts from Birungi

I would like to thank each member of staff who participated, for their generous contributions to this piece and for allowing students to benefit from the wisdom that they have accumulated throughout their careers. Reading through these responses, I couldn’t help but think about PCF 9 – Professional Leadership and how this can be demonstrated in our practice through the simple act of sharing the lessons we’ve learned along the way, with one another. You never know how the advice you would give to your younger self could positively impact someone else and change the course of their career.*This was described by one of the respondents as a “delightful survey of thoughts.” At that very moment, the title of this piece was born (Thanks J Spooner!)

Originally published in London Metropolitan University’s Social Work student newsletter , December 2020

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