Bring shadowing out of the shadows: an examination of shadowing as a learning activity in social work practice placements

Peter Scourfield

Abstract


Social work students shadowing more experienced practitioners is usually regarded as self-evidently a positive learning experience by  practice educators, on-site supervisors; university tutors, and not least by the students themselves. Whilst it can form part of a formal practice learning agreement, much shadowing is also undertaken informally often on an ad hoc and impromptu basis. Given the extent to which shadowing takes place, it is a basic assumption of this paper that it must have a significant impact of what students learn about practice both in their specific placement but also more generally about social work.

 

For this reason the primary aim of this paper is to bring more of a critical gaze onto shadowing as a learning activity in social work practice placements. The paper begins by examining the different purposes of shadowing and putting them into context. It explains how shadowing can be seen as both part of the process of socialisation into professional social work but also into a specific workplace culture. As such shadowing experiences need to be understood as part of the implicit (hidden) curriculum of social work. The second part of the paper considers some ways in which examining shadowing experiences more critically can improve certain aspects of practice. This includes understanding power relationships but also how shadowing can provide important opportunities for professional leadership. It is proposed that, often taken as a background or taken for granted activity, shadowing needs to be given a higher profile and therefore better preparation in social work practice placements.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1921/jpts.v16i3.1242

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