March 14, 2017

Future teachers, social workers connect as advocates

Innovative, interdisciplinary student symposium works with future social workers and educators to end dating violence, bullying

Erica Mika Kunimoto and Meena Durrani had never met before the beginning of this semester. But the undergraduate students in the Werklund School of Education and the Faculty of Social Work believe that as future educators and students they have a huge responsibility to influence and support the next generation to create a better society.

Because of their common passion for advocacy, Kunimoto and Durrani participated in the interdisciplinary symposium led by Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence (Faculty of Social Work), in partnership with the Werklund School of Education).

“The wonderful thing about this series is that it makes great strides to normalize interdisciplinary conversations in a system that tends to silo us within specializations,” says Kunimoto. “As a future educator, I believe that I share many goals with social workers, especially in the context of youth relationships and well-being.”

Symposiums provide a window into aligned professions

Durrani agrees, adding that working with her peers in the interdisciplinary forum has brought home a more holistic vision of how the professions can work together to make a difference in the lives of youth.

“I learned about the different ways social workers approach problems in comparison to teachers, and the benefits of these professions working collaboratively,” she says. “It was great to be able to connect with Werklund students as I will likely be encountering and working with these professionals in my future practice as a child development worker.”

Part of a larger social strategy to support healthy youth relationships

The student symposiums are part of the Alberta Healthy Youth Relationships (AHYR) strategy, created by Shift in partnership with the Alberta Government to support the implementation of the Alberta Family Violence Prevention Framework. The strategy works closely with research centres across Canada, including Western University’s Centre for School Mental Health and PREVNet, to develop policies, programs and practices that support healthy youth relationships.

“We know healthy families, healthy schools, healthy communities, means healthy youth. So implementing a program that only targets youth isn’t enough. We need to change people’s practices and ensure the settings in which youth live, play and learn are safe and equitable, and reinforce positive and healthy messages and skills,” explains Lana Wells, a professor with the Faculty of Social Work who leads Shift and holds the Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

Integrating social and emotional learning into schools and communities

The series opened with a presentation by Werklund School Professor Darren Lund and PhD candidate Rae Ann Van Beers, who presented on the ways in which educators and social workers can support the rights of youth and advance social justice in schools and communities. In the second session, Shift’s manager, Elena Esina, and Lianne Lee, director of the Alberta Healthy Youth Relationships Strategy, led a session examining ways to effectively integrate social and emotional learning in schools and communities.

The final event, which is open to all Werklund and Social Work undergraduates, is going to be held this Wednesday March 15, focusing on practical ways to integrate equity literacy and social-emotional learning in schools and communities. “We will examine case studies and discuss how social workers and educators can collaboratively address the complex issues facing youth through the promotion of children’s rights, social justice, and social-emotional learning,” says Lee, “and you certainly don’t need to have attended any of the earlier sessions to come to this session.”

In reflecting on the two sessions she has attended, social work student Durrani says the value in the sessions lies in the big-picture approach to addressing societal issues. “I think it helped us all gain a deeper understanding of our roles in the lives of children and youth and how we can improve their well-being and potential by working together.”

Interested undergraduates can register for the March 15 session here.