The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

School Social Work and School-Wide Change: Utilization of Practice Tasks Related to Enhancing School Climate

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Beth Gerlach, PhD, Research Associate, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Purpose:  School social work practice that targets students and schools for change is the most effective approach in removing barriers to learning. However, research on the profession has found that school social workers tend to focus on traditional clinical work with individual students and families, often to the exclusion of broader system level interventions.  The literature has made a clear call for practitioners to be more involved in efforts of school reform.   Working to create a positive school climate is an avenue for social workers to facilitate school-wide change.  A number of education reform initiatives that address school climate include tasks and skills that overlap with school social workers’ expertise, like building relationships and creating a safe environment.  Furthermore, with the current trends of accountability and evidence-based practice, it is worth noting that a positive school climate has been linked empirically to improved academic outcomes for students. Therefore, this research investigates to what extent school social workers employ a practice approach that specifically includes skills associated with building a positive school climate.  The study also analyzes how specific school social worker characteristics, like employment configuration, professional traits or student population, are associated with the performance of practice tasks related to enhancing school climate. 

Methods:  The project examines data collected from social workers practicing in schools as part of the Texas School Social Work Survey (TSSWS).  The TSSWS is an exploratory, mixed method survey that gathered data from 177 school social workers in Texas public schools. The respondents were asked to indicate if they participated in eight task categories with 45 specific practice tasks related to empirically validated dimensions of school climate. The analysis utilized descriptive statistics to understand the prevalence of the participation in the practice tasks. A hierarchical cluster analysis was used to group the school social workers with similar response patterns for the practice task variables.   ANOVA tests were used to assess differentiation between clusters and for a series of post-hoc analyses to profile the clusters by school social worker characteristics.

Results:  The school social workers responded overwhelmingly that they do perform tasks related to building a positive school climate. Descriptive statistics revealed that 93% of the school social workers participated in at least one of eight practice categories related to school climate dimensions and 77% participated in at least four of the eight.  The cluster analysis yielded a solution that grouped the participants into four clusters.  Once the clusters were profiled, three of the 16 school social worker characteristics were found to significantly relate to the completion of tasks associated with school climate:  perception of autonomy, job structure and years of experience. 

 Implications:  The results show widespread use of practice skills that target multiple dimensions of school climate.  The findings lend support to the feasibility of participating in school climate related tasks across school settings and school social worker characteristics.  Furthermore, it demonstrates real-world implementation of skills associated with building a positive school climate and, thus, facilitating school-wide change as part of school social work practice.