Excerpt From Field Instruction Techniques for Supervisors

By Susanna Wilson


It is not an easy task to match the students’ personalities, educational requirements and learning styles with field instruction settings and individual supervisors who can provide what is needed,  Once the school has determined the type of setting best suited to the student’s educational plan, a pre-placement interview with the agency selected is important to enable both the prospective student intern and the agency to decide whether they can meet each others needs and work together effectively.

The average pre-placement interview lasts approximately one hour and covers a wide range of topics, depending on the agency, the field instructor, and the student involved.   The following list suggests areas for discussion, in the approximate order in which these items are typically raised,  No attempt should be made to follow this list rigidly, insisting  that every question be raised and answered.  Pre-placement interview should be as relaxed, spontaneous, and informal as possible, with free-flowing conversation that does not appear to assault the student with a list of prepared questions.

Purpose of Pre-placement Interview:  discuss mutual objectives of student and interview and the fact that each could say no to the placement.  It may be wise at this point to encourage the student to take an active part during the interview. 

“So you want to come here for field placement”:   Elicit the student’s feelings about the setting, why he or she wants to come there, what is hoped for from the experience.  Does student seem to have an idea of what it would be like to do a placement in this setting?  What is perceived as the role of social workers in this agency?

Past Work Experience:  What skills has the student acquired; what kind of supervision has been experienced?  What has been the primary function of the student at other agencies?  Has the student had leadership or supervisory experiences?  What kinds of nonsocial work experience has he or she had – anything requiring skills related to people?

Past Field Placement Experience:  This area must be explored in some depth.  How was this experience perceived by the student:  What type of supervision did he or she have – where are gaps to be filled in? How many clients did the student see?  What was the longest period of time he followed the same person?  How often did the student meet with the field instructor?  Did he or she do any work with groups and communities as well as with individuals and families?  What techniques did the supervisor use to evaluate the work – process recordings, tapes, direct observation?  Did he or she do any recording in connection with field placement?  If so, what kinds of things did student record?  Did he or she do any reading?  Did student cover techniques as well as psychodynamics of human behavior in his discussion with the supervisor?  What did he or she actually do with clients?  Can students describe one of the more challenging assignments?  What was liked least and best about prior placement? Does this give his or her any ideas as to what should be done in this placement?

Career Goals:   What does the student hope to gain from social work education?  What do he or she themselves doing ten years from now?  What is the motivation for going into social work? Starting with these non-threatening questions, field instructor may explore some areas in more detail and begin relating them to the potential field placement experience.  It is important that the field instructor’s detailed description of the agency come a little later in the interview, so that all further discussion doesn’t center on specific field placement setting, making it more difficult to explore the student’s experiences, goals, and needs apart from the potential setting.

Strengths and areas where growth is needed:  Ask the student to describe strengths and list personal work habits or characteristic that he or she feels are assets.  If something is described as good, counter with why is it good?  Find out if student has weaknesses by using the term “areas where growth is needed” to gain some insight into student’s self-awareness.

Description of the field placement setting:  The interview should paint a picture in words of what the student would be getting into if he or she accepted placement in the agency.  It is far better for the student to eliminate him or herself at this stage of the game than to accept a placement and then discover it doesn’t provide him or her with the kind of desired experiences.  It is important to include the types of clients served ( age, sex, presenting problems, socio-economic status, educational level, cultural, ethnic or language factors, and so on), learning opportunities available, the role of the social worker, and special requirements (e.g. dress, work hours, workload), agency reputation in the community, if known.

Description of the style of supervision provided and the agency’s approach to field instruction:  How does the setting approach the performance evaluation process?   What methods are used most commonly to assess student performance and provide learning experiences – process recordings, taping, one-way mirror observation, etc?  How much time can the field instructor give the student each week?  What would he or she find it like to be your supervisee – what can he or she expect from you?

The student’s personal situation:  Is the student working full time in addition to the field placement?  Will this present a problem for the student?  Has the student had life experiences that would make him or her especially committed to the kinds of clients the agency serves or cause him or her to over identify wand have some difficulty?  If the student has had no work experiences, it can be important to determine the degree of contact with social workers, physicians, or psychiatrists are his or her views formed from school or by the mass media?

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