In search of quality and competence : practice teaching/field instruction in social work education : a study of training programmes for practice teachers in the United Kingdom and field instructors in Canada
An integral feature of education for the social work profession in the United Kingdom and in Canada is preparation for practice. This requires a curriculum design that combines classroom instruction with supervised social work practice opportunities. Throughout the historical development of the profession of social work on both sides of the Atlantic, practice learning and practice teaching have been an essential element in the education and training of social workers. This element relies, in part, on social service providers who offer students practice placements within their agencies, and, in part, on experienced social work practitioners who provide an environment whereby students, under their tutelage, can acquire the requisite practice knowledge, skills and professional identity for the social work profession. Social workers who take on the role of practice teacher provide a major contribution to the professional preparation of social work practitioners and have a profound influence on students' professional development. Pivotal to the success of a student's practice learning experience is the ability of his/her practice teacher to direct and facilitate the educational process. To do this competently requires from practice teachers an understanding of the complexities of learning and teaching adults in a social work setting. Thus, to acquire competence in the role of practice teacher, the skills of an adult educator need to be included in his/her repertoire of professional knowledge and practice abilities. As competent practice teachers are salient to preparing students for professional social work practice in the United Kingdom and Canada, a quality practice teaching programme includes training for practice teachers. This research has investigated how practice teacher training is conceptualised and delivered by inquiring into the extent, structure, content and process of existing training courses for practice teachers and by incorporating the perceptions of practice teachers about their experience on training programmes in each country. This study has examined the existing knowledge and practice base with reference to models, methods and meanings of practice teacher training from theoretical, empirical and practical perspectives. It has considered the perspectives of course directors of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) approved practice teacher courses in the United Kingdom and field directors of Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work (CASSW) accredited schools of social work in Canada; and practice teachers / field instructors in each country who have shared their training as they were experiencing it. The findings describe the current state of training for practice teachers in each country. They present a full picture of what training programmes look like and what they contain, who participates in training and what is expected of the participants as a result of training. Cases of training programmes in each country were studied to obtain the view of practice teachers who were engaged in a training process. A description of the training experience at its beginning set the scene for analysing and understanding participants' perceptions and opinions, thoughts and feelings at the end of the course and approximately six months later. Both descriptions, the national scene and the case studies, were a precursor to uncovering the principles and theories informing the practice of preparing practice teachers. Also identified were critical issues and assumptions located in the historical, social, political and cultural contexts in which social work practice and social work education are embedded and which need to be confronted if the profession of social work is to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This research has endeavoured to search for elements of quality and competence in practice teaching that can inform the preparation of practice teachers and thereby contribute to improvements in the practice of practice teaching and the education of social workers. It suggests that training for practice teaching must be reconstructed by shifting paradigms and reasserting the importance of collaborative learning. It is argued that practice teaching has a distinct and distinguishable body of knowledge and skills which has been generated through research, built from experience, and drawn from related disciplines. It can be articulated, transmitted and made accessible to practice teachers and field instructors, through carefully designed and delivered courses.