Preparing yourself for your position can seem like a lot. With or without experience, there is so much unknown. You might wonder what things look like day-to-day or how the social worker is used. I get asked about this all the time! Including my internship, I have experience in 3 different districts. All of them were different. From how things generally run, to the population and demographics. Keep in mind that every school is different. So while there will be overlap with some things, other aspects might be different than your current experience. With that said, I want to try to give some insight based on my personal experiences and what I’ve heard from others. Whether you’re new or thinking of entering a new district, this post is for you. I hope you will find some of my tips and information to be helpful.
Let me start by outlining the 3 positions I have been in, starting with my current position.
My position now is my second job. I work in a small, rural, district with students PK-8. I am the only social worker and am split between 2 buildings, which seems to be common for districts my size. My caseload ranges from 40-60+, starting lower and picking up students as the year goes on. A typical day for me includes social skills lessons, individual sessions, and some small groups. About 1/3 of my caseload are special education students, with the rest regular education. Individual and group sessions are 20-30 minutes once per week, depending on the needs and age of the student.
My overall responsibilities include: Individual and group social work, check-ins with students, crisis management, biweekly social skills lessons PK-5th, I&E (an enrichment period) 6-8th, Red Ribbon Week lessons, organizing and implementing Kindness Week, presenting Erin’s Law (safe and unsafe touch), observations, data collection and monitoring charts, push-in groups in the elementary special education classroom, writing and monitoring FBAs and BIPs, Medicaid billing, early childhood/developmental kindergarten evaluations, IEP evaluations, re-evaluations, annual reviews, and providing resources for families. I am also a member of the building leadership committee, wellness committee, MTSS teams, and chairman of our crisis team.
My First Job
In my first job, my caseload was 70+. Individual and group sessions were 25-30 minutes once per week. I serviced students in a larger, PBIS school (if you don’t know what PBIS is, I suggest looking into it). At the time it housed PK-5th grade, with 3 social workers total. One social worker for PK-2nd, one for 3-5th (myself), and one for 6-8th.
My responsibilities in that district included: Individual and group social work, check-ins with students as needed, crisis management, social skills lessons as needed, Red Ribbon Week as a whole with the other 2 social workers, presenting Erin’s Law (safe and unsafe touch), observations, data collection and monitoring charts, push-in groups in 2 special education classrooms, a push-in group to the Life Skills classroom, writing and monitoring FBAs and BIPs, Medicaid billing, and part of IEP evaluations, re-evaluations, annual reviews for my grade levels, and providing resources for families. I was also the 504 case manager and McKinney-Vento Liaison.
My internship was located in a suburb and more equivalent to the population size of my first job. Students there ranged from early childhood and developmental kindergarten to 2nd grade. Individual and group sessions were around 20 minutes, once per week. The overall caseload size was 30-50+, lower in the beginning, and increasing throughout the year.
While there, I was responsible for individual and group sessions, lunch bunches, Red Ribbon Week, push-in groups in the self-contained classroom, social skills lessons as needed, monthly character lessons for each class, crisis management, and IEP evaluations, re-evaluations, annual reviews, and providing resources for families. My supervisor also implemented a school-wide character program and rewarded students at monthly assemblies. She had other responsibilities not listed as well.
This is just a general outline of the 3 different schools I have had experience in, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some things. But for the most part, there was a lot of overlap in my responsibilities.
My Suggestions For Entering a New Position
It starts with the interview! ASK QUESTIONS. They are interviewing you to see if you are a good fit for their school. Make sure you “interview” them to see if they are a good fit for YOU. If you get the position, that information could also help you start with some understanding of how things run.
Things might run differently. Don’t assume anything will be like your internship experience or previous district. It took a while for me to figure out that special education classrooms might look different. In my internship, the special education classroom was more self-contained. Resource instruction was provided in another classroom, by another teacher. My first job had 2 different special education rooms that were mostly resource. There was another classroom with a Life Skills program that provided more of a self-contained environment. The district I work in now only has one special education classroom in each building. That classroom supports students who are more self-contained and students who need resource instruction.
What may run differently might include other things too. Examples could be general procedures, software, and documentation. Make sure you also know who you can collaborate with. In 2 of my experiences, I worked closely with a behavior specialist. But this was someone who came in from the cooperative, and I needed to know to request them.
Get to know the staff. I’ve always heard “your first year in a new school should be your quietist.” And honestly, I do agree with this statement. But you can keep to yourself and still begin forming relationships with staff. You want them on your side. Talk with them in person instead of email. Observe in their classroom (ask first!) to understand their teaching style. Understanding how a classroom runs includes what you know about the teacher too. For me, learning about their teaching style is key when coming up with interventions. You will get more buy-in providing an intervention right off the bat that fits how they run their classroom.
Know that your list will never be complete. You will never be caught up. There will always be something else you still have to do. And you know what? Most of the time it can wait until the next day. I always say that if it was that important, I would’ve made sure to get it done at some point throughout the day.
Lastly, don’t forget to practice self-care. A new position can be stressful and exhausting. It’s important to set boundaries and remember to take care of your own needs. Including self-care into your routine on a regular basis will reduce stress and help prevent burn-out.
I hope you found this information helpful! If there is any advice you would add, I would love to hear about it in the comments! Does your state have a school social work association? This is another great place to find information. You can view the job description on the Illinois page here. Struggling to design your daily schedule? You might find this post helpful: 8 Tips For Creating a Social Work Schedule