Developing a systemic, relationship-based pedagogy in social work education

Walker, Sharon (2019) Developing a systemic, relationship-based pedagogy in social work education. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This covering document provides a narrative account detailing the context and rationale for my body of work in the public domain at the time of writing. The body of work contains ten peer-reviewed papers published between 2014 and 2018. The central argument underpinning the papers asserts the need for a systemic, relationship-based pedagogy in the teaching of social work students in England. This contention arose following a plethora of recommendations stating that social workers should build relationships with their service users and colleagues. I argue that there should be coherence between the approach social workers are taught from and the relationship-based approach they would need to practise from to fulfil these recommendations. Despite the proposals relating to social work practice, currently there is no requirement in social work education to teach from a relationship-based approach.

My body of work sets out the principles upon which a relationship-based teaching of social workers should be built, my ethical ponderings and the methodologies I have used in undertaking relational inquiries. I focus the inquiry lens on myself in order to identify how I could effectively adopt a systemic, relationship-based approach to my teaching. This covering document outlines the meaning of systemic practice. It also examines the research trio of ontology, epistemology and methodology that underpins the body of work. I discuss how the epistemology is situated from the perspective of my-self as a black female (I use the term ‘my-self’ as it relates to the use of self). From my argument for the need for a systemic, relationship-based pedagogy for social workers, two key issues emerged: firstly, research that inquires into relationships should utilise qualitative research tools that have a systemic, relational aspect to them; and secondly, there is a need to understand how the culture and identity of both the educator and the students could impact on this relationship-based teaching approach. Furthermore, the covering document demonstrates the unique contribution to knowledge made by my body of work, namely the development of a framework for a social work pedagogy, combining three biographical methodologies underpinned by reflexivity and demonstrating the role of culture and identity in relationship-based teaching. The framework is attached as an appendix (appendix 2) to this covering document. It is aimed to be a working tool to provide social work educators with the six principles identified to teach from a systemic, relationship-based pedagogy. The six principles, mutual engagement, empathy, empowerment, conversation, collaboration and culture have been developed to inform social work teaching and provide congruence between the social work relationship-based practice and supervision currently championed in social work policy and guidance.

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