social work

Inspirations: Developing a Course for MSW Students

During the fall semester I took an independent study course with Lori Power, coordinator of the Applied Arts and Social Justice Certificate at the University of New England School of Social Work. We developed a syllabus for an advanced year social work course that will prepare students to facilitate writing workshops in the community. I started a blog to track our progress, share resources, and ask questions. I’ll cross-post some of the entries here. This was one of my first posts, a small collection of inspirations that helped to fuel our thinking as we built the foundation for this class.


lightbulbAs we begin thinking about how to structure a jail-based writing workshop we’re looking at other models across the country. I sifted through a number of arts organizations that work with incarcerated populations, some of which I share in another blog post. As I was reading about these organizations I looked for philosophical themes that can direct us to content for this course. I know that inspiration for this work comes from diverse sources so I struggled to choose just a few themes. These are the three that I noticed most often and believe will be impactful to students who are learning to facilitate writing workshops.

In order for critical pedagogy, dialogue, and thought to have real effects, they must advocate the message that all citizens, old and young, are equally entitled, if not equally empowered, to shape the society in which they live. –Henry Giroux

  • Critical Pedagogy is a model of education that comes from the work of Paulo Freire and is continued by people like bell hooks, Henry Giroux, and Peter McLaren. In critical pedagogy, education is a transformative process that draws from the wisdom and experience of both students and teachers. It asks us to question how power shows up in educational settings, in the books we read, and in society as a whole. Like the social work profession, critical pedagogy has a commitment to social justice.

I consider writing an athletic activity: the more you practice, the better you get at it. The reason you keep your hand moving is because there’s often a conflict between the editor and the creator. The editor is always on our shoulder saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t write that. It’s no good.” But when you have to keep the hand moving, it’s an opportunity for the creator to have a say. All the other rules of writing practice support that primary rule of keeping your hand moving. The goal is to allow the written word to connect with your original mind, to write down the first thought you flash on, before the second and third thoughts come in. – Natalie Goldberg

  • Writing as Process isn’t an actual term for a particular orientation towards writing but is a way of naming the idea that we can focus on the writing process rather than the writing product. There are many types of writing that focus on the process, including expressive writing and proprioceptive writing. And there are writers, like Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott, who describe the writing process and encourage commitment to creation above product.

The facilitator’s job is to support everyone to do their best thinking and practice. To do this, the facilitator encourages full participation, promotes mutual understanding and cultivates shared responsibility. – Sam Kaner

  • Participatory Facilitation asks that everyone teaches and everyone learns. It denies the idea that some individuals are experts and instead acknowledges that each individual is the expert of their own experience.
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