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Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


DSW Education as Practice: Competencies and Practice Behaviors

In the context of Education as Practice, the St. Thomas DSW Program has adopted a set of core competencies and definitions that are congruent with the Council on Social Work Education. The competencies and associated practice behaviors are threaded throughout the curriculum and form the basis for the assessment of students' progress throughout the program.

Educating social workers is a form of social work practice. Though students are not clients in the conventional sense, we believe that social work education ought to model and facilitate the development of social work practice principles, values and ethics, and that how we teach ought to be congruent with what we teach. For example, in social work practice we start where the client is. So, in this doctoral program, we start where our students are. As with social work practice, our assessment processes are characterized by mutuality and respect, as well as by person-in-environment and strengths perspectives. As with social work practice, our goal is the empowerment of student learners into transformative teachers and scholars.

Professor Catherine Marrs Fuchsel talks with a student

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Just as in social work practice, transformation takes place in diverse contexts across a range of diverse experiences in all areas of research. From positivist, critical/ideological, and constructivist ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies, our faculty members bring cross-continuum expertise.

Competencies and Practice Behaviors for Doctorate in Social Work

We take seriously the competencies and practice behaviors we've identified below, which include identifying as a social work educator, applying critical thinking, engaging diversity and difference, advancing human rights and social and economic justice, and developing leadership, collegiality and stewardship. These competencies and practice behaviors also form the structure of our program assessment. The specific social work and educational knowledge and skills that will ground the expression of these practice behaviors will emerge from course work, student interest and research, and collegial exchanges and networking throughout the program.

Social work educators serve as representatives of the profession, its mission and its core values. They understand the profession's history, the roles and responsibilities of the professoriate and commit themselves to the profession's enhancement and to their own professional conduct and growth. Social work education is a form of social work practice. Identifying as a social work educator means that teaching is about the transformation of learners into empowered practitioners, teachers and scholars.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  • Evaluate teaching for quality improvement
  • Live the mission of the social work profession in the role as a teacher-learner
  • Maintain empowering relationships with students and peers using the person-in- environment and strengths perspectives
  • Critically analyze pedagogical approaches in social work education
  • Reflect the critical role that social work educators play in the academy

Social work educators have an obligation to conduct themselves ethically and to engage in ethical decision-making. Social work educators are knowledgeable about the value base of the profession and its ethical standards. Social work educators recognize personal values and the distinction between personal and professional values. They also understand how their subjective experiences and emotional reactions influence their professional judgment and behavior. Social work educators understand emerging forms of technology and the ethical use of technology in social work practice and education. The same values and ethical principles that guide social work practitioners also guide the practice of social work educators. Social work educators embody these ethical principles in their work with students.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  • Manage personal values as they relate to work with students and colleagues
  • Tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts
  • Use technology ethically to positively facilitate learning outcomes
  • Apply knowledge of relational dynamics, including power differentials in relationships with students, colleagues and administrators
  • Conscientiously manage general and discipline specific ethical dilemmas and behavior.

Social work educators are knowledgeable about the principles of logic, scientific inquiry and reasoned discernment. They use critical thinking augmented by creativity and curiosity. Critical thinking also requires the synthesis and communication of relevant information. Doctoral level thinking about social work education includes awareness and skill in navigating the complexities of various ontological, epistemological and methodological approaches to teaching and scholarship.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  • Apply the principles of logic and scientific inquiry in the role as social work educator
  • Navigate the complexities of various ontological, epistemological and methodological approaches to teaching and scholarship
  • Demonstrate critical thinking skills in written communication
  • Demonstrate critical thinking skills in oral communication
  • Synthesize original work in building evidence for scholarship

Social work educators understand how diversity characterizes and shapes the human experience and is critical to the formation of identity. The dimensions of diversity are understood as the intersectionality of multiple factors including but not limited to age, class, color, culture, disability, ethnicity gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, political ideology race, religion/spirituality, sex and sexual orientation. Social work educators understand that as a consequence of difference, a person's life experiences may include oppression, poverty marginalization and alienation as well as privilege, power and acclaim. Engaging diversity and difference in education as practice means that we attend to the many ways that students differ and create inclusive learning environments that facilitate opportunities for growth and development.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  • Evaluate the extent to which culture enhances privilege among student learners
  • Critically engage with students in a shared learning process, acknowledging differences in experience, power and privilege
  • Highlight strengths across cultures in work with diverse student populations
  • Foster inclusive learning environment with students and colleagues
  • Address student needs based on their unique backgrounds

Each person, regardless of position in society has basic human rights, such as freedom, safety privacy, an adequate standard of living, health care, and education. Social work educators recognize the global interconnections of oppression and are knowledgeable about theories of justice and strategies to promote human and civil rights. Social work educators model this practice competency in how they teach their courses as well as in the content they identify in the courses they teach across the social work curriculum.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  • Differentiate forms of oppression in higher education
  • Assess the mechanisms of oppression and discrimination in higher education
  • Advocate for policy change that improves the lives of students and colleagues at multiple levels
  • Assess how governmental policies impact access to education and its delivery

Social work scholar practitioners refine and advance the quality of social work practice and social work education. They synthesize and apply a broad range of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary knowledge and skills. Identity as a scholar practitioner is critical to the role that social work educators play in the academy and includes proficiency in multiple approaches to research and scholarship that enhance the credibility of the social work profession.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  • Use teaching experiences to inform scholarly work
  • Apply research findings in the role as social work educator
  • Evaluate different research methods and findings
  • Assess the strengths and limitations of different research methodologies
  • Generate new knowledge through the research process
  • Disseminate scholarly works through peer-reviewed means

Social work educators are informed, resourceful and proactive in responding to evolving organizational community and societal contexts. Social work educators recognize that the context of education is dynamic and use knowledge and skill to respond proactively. Social work educators must engage beyond their immediate context, program and school and integrate with university and higher education systems in order to advance social work practice and education within the academy.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  • Assess the impact of professional and university-wide accreditation on social work programming
  • Practice academic freedom in the roles as an advocate and social work educator
  • Critically analyze the context of higher education in the U.S. and internationally
  • Appraise the impact of national regulatory factors on social work education
  • Appraise the impact of the international context on social work education
  • Appraise the impact of political factors on social work education

Social work practice includes assessment, engagement through thoughtful participation, informed action and ongoing evaluation. Leadership in social work and social work education emanates from this core to promote the values of the profession and to motivate movement through vision, collaboration and risk-taking. The leader takes charge in crises to achieve resolution, while balancing individual and collective needs with professional ethics and the common good.

Students in this DSW Program will:

  • Embody flexibility and initiatives in leadership roles in social work education
  • Work effectively with others in the classroom, university and the profession
  • Respectfully address issues within the university in roles
  • Assume responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the social work profession
  • Assume responsibility for advancing social work education