School social work practice in Texas : utilization of intervention tasks to enhance school climate

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2011-08

Authors

Gerlach, Bethany Eylan

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Abstract

School social work practice that targets students and schools for change is the most effective approach in removing barriers to learning for all students. 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. Working to create a positive school climate is an avenue for social workers to facilitate school-wide change. This research explores how school social workers employ a practice approach that embraces a broad clinical framework specifically including skills associated with building a positive school climate. The study also analyzes how specific school social worker characteristics are associated with the performance of practice tasks related to enhancing school climate.
The project examines data collected from social workers practicing in Texas public schools as part of an exploratory, mixed method survey. The analysis utilized descriptive statistics and a hierarchical cluster analysis to group the school social workers with similar response patterns for the practice task variables. Descriptive statistics revealed that 93% of the school social workers participated in at least one of eight general practice tasks 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 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.
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 the school climate related tasks across school settings and school social worker characteristics. The research findings place school social worker expertise in a school reform framework and captures how they can contribute to school-wide change within their routine practice duties.

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