An editorial does not contain sufficient space to fully explore the topic of the roles of school social workers and the skills they must possess or how challenges to school social work practice have changed over time. The original role of school social workers as visiting teachers who served as liaisons between homes, schools, and communities (Allen-Meares & Montgomery, 2015; Constable, 2016) has expanded; today's school social workers have to be so much more. Today's school social workers need to have fundamental knowledge of conditions such as poverty, homelessness, immigration, and delinquency that existed back in the early 1900s when school social work began because these conditions still exist today. However, school social workers also must possess a deep understanding of an extensive set of current societal conditions, student characteristics, and technology that were unidentified or unknown back in the day.
I was browsing through the brochure for the 46th annual conference of the Illinois Association of School Social Workers (IASSW; 2016) whose theme is champions for positive change. On the cover of the brochure is a picture of caped superheroes. I was struck by the imagery because it captures what school social workers need to be to work in today's schools--superheroes--superheroes who fight to advance social justice and educational achievement on behalf of all students.
The conference brochure listed fifty-seven workshop sessions as well as two plenary lectures. The conference organizers chose these topics to meet the needs of conference attendees (i.e., school social workers working in today's educational environment). I read the descriptions of these fifty-nine sessions and grouped them into rough categories to better understand the offerings of the conference and what would be of interest to and necessary for the development of school social workers. I identified six major themes. There was nothing scientific about my groupings (thematic coding is a scientific technique that I did not undertake); some of the topics that i put in one category could just as well been placed under another heading or into multiple categories. However, the themes that i identified support my idea that school social workers need to have a vast array of skills and knowledge to be effective practitioners in the public schools.
One of the major themes that emerged is that school social workers must be able to carefully assess and evaluate students'...