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Field Collaborative Turns 15

The St. Louis Field Education Collaborative Celebrates 15 Years

Collaborative

When the UM system approved the Master of Social Work degree at UMSL in 2000, the system provided $40,000 to promote collaboration among the existing social work programs in St. Louis. At that time, this included Washington University and St. Louis University. The deans and directors of these three programs together decided to put that collaboration seed money toward field education and the St. Louis Field Education Collaborative was born. This decision proved to be visionary. In 2008, the Council on Social Work Education outlined the new Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards which declared field education the “signature pedagogy” of social work education, and defined it as “the central form of instruction and learning in which a profession socializes its students to perform the role of practitioner.” The field directors decided together to consult field instructors on how best to improve field instruction in the St. Louis region. According to Patti Rosenthal, the only remaining field director from the beginning of the Collaborative, “A focus group of field instructors was convened and the outcome of that process was that collaborative training for field instructors would have the most impact.” Prior to the Field Education Collaborative, each of the area universities had separate policies, procedures, and training for field instructors. With the advent of the Collaborative, these processes could be unified. According to Rosenthal, the initial collaboration provided unified orientation and continuing education for field instructors. As the relationships between the three campuses solidified, the Collaborative began maintaining common forms for field instructors. A Collaborative database of practicum sites for students was developed by the IT staff here at UMSL and continues to be maintained at UMSL by Cindy Gemignani, MSW Administrative Coordinator. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, in 2007, the St. Louis Field Education Collaborative held a second field instructor focus group, and the outcome of that effort was that the Collaborative would develop a certification process for field instructors. Now, all field instructors receive 18 hours of instruction to become certified to supervise students. According to Rosenthal, this is a somewhat unique situation and it is more than what most social work programs are able to do. Funding for the Collaborative by the UM system was ended in 2007, but the established relationships between the area schools of social work remain. In 2012, upon becoming accredited, the Social Work Program at Fontbonne University became part of the Field Education Collaborative. Now each university contributes to the Collaborative in different ways. Saint Louis University maintains the Collaborative website and holds the orientation and other sessions for new field instructors; Washington University holds an annual Field Instructor Appreciation Day; Fontbonne helps fund the appreciation day; UMSL provides the primary administrative support for the Collaborative and maintains the database of practicum sites for the students. All four campuses host field instructor training events throughout the year where faculty from all four schools take turns serving as presenters. Moving forward, Rosenthal says that one of the challenges will be maintaining the relationships between the four schools as staff changes over the years because “the positive working relationships among the field directors and their respective staffs is one of the primary things that makes the Collaborative work so well. The continuation of the Collaborative is incredibly important because we could never offer this level of training to our field instructors given our staffing, but pooling our resources raises the bar at all four universities.” 