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University of Montana School of Social Work Field Education

Welcome to Field Education

Welcome to Field Education at the University of Montana School of Social Work. Field Education is a collaborative process and we are grateful to have you on our team. We hope the resources below will equip you for your role as an agency field instructor (AFI) and ensure you feel supported in your commitment to our students. Please reach out to us anytime with questions:

Overview of Resources

The trainings and materials below are designed to help professionals orient to their role as agency field instructors. Whether you are new to the role or need a refresher, our training program allows agency field instructors to individualize content to meet their needs.

Each training module provides essential information for agency field instructors on a specific topic relevant to field education. All modules are short (between 5 and 20 minutes) and include additional resources underneath the video. A copy of the PowerPoint slides is also available in addition to other resources you might find helpful as you settle into the AFI role.


  1. Welcome to UMSSW & Field Education
  2. Field Education FAQ Agency Field Instructors
  3. Overview of Field Education
  4. Orienting Students to Field
  5. Practicum Learning Agreement
  6. Practicum Supervision
  7. Practicum Evaluations

1. Welcome to the University of Montana School of Social Work & Field Education

In this video, you will learn more about the University of Montana School of Social Work, meet the field education team, learn about the purpose of practicum and the benefits to agency field instructors and agencies.

Click here to view the UMSSW Welcome to Field Education PDF

[MUSIC PLAYING] SETH BODNAR: Hello, my name is Seth Bodnar, president of the University of Montana. And I want to welcome you to the University of Montana’s online Master of Social Work Program. UM’s mission is to transform lives by providing high quality and accessible education.

We shape global citizens who are creative and agile learners, committed to expanding their knowledge and building and sustaining diverse communities. With dedicated faculty members who are engaged researchers as well as excellent teachers, we take pride in providing an active learning environment with programs and services responsive to the needs of all learners.

The University of Montana is committed to excellence, creativity, and innovation in social work education. The Master of Social Work Program educates students to become competent, ethical, and collaborative practitioners, leaders, and researchers who are equipped to work with diverse communities and create change at interpersonal, community, and policy levels.

The online Master of Social Work Program prepares social workers to promote and support the profession’s historic commitment to social, economic, and racial justice and equality through direct practice and community-based efforts reflecting the needs and dignity of all people.

Welcome to the UM family. We’re so excited that you are joining our vibrant and engaging community. As we say often around here, go Grizz. Now let’s hear from some of the faculty and staff members from the Master of Social Work Program.

JIM CARINGI: Hello, I’m Jim Caringi, professor and chair of the School of Social Work at the University of Montana. I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome you to our school and University. The School of Social Work has a long history of being on the cutting edge of education in our profession.

Our commitment to social and racial justice as well as integrated practice will place you in an excellent position to positively impact individuals, families, organizations, and communities in your part of the world. We could not be more excited for you to join us. Again, welcome to the University of Montana, School of Social work.

KAT WERNER: I’m Kat Werner. I am clinical faculty here at the School of Social Work at the University of Montana. And I serve as the director of field education. And in that role, I really have the pleasure of supporting all students throughout their practicum experience and making sure that they have just a rich and meaningful learning opportunity.

So when I think of that question, what does social justice mean to me, I really think of a quote that I came across several years ago that really brings to life the meaning of social justice. And the quote is, “To change everything, start anywhere.”

And so yeah, I think social justice to me is oftentimes just a small act, a seemingly small action that can lead to significant changes in the life of one person or a family. Or it could maybe lead to really positive changes in a community. And so I think with that, the same really speaks to the power of social justice and social justice work, that it can be done anytime and anywhere.

SARAH REESE: My name is Sarah Reese. And I’m an assistant professor at the University of Montana and the director of the Bachelor of Social Work Program. For over a decade, I’ve worked in direct practice with individuals and families impacted by poverty, oppression, and mental health and substance use disorders.

This experience has informed my research interests, primarily integrated health intervention to promote health and well-being during the perinatal period, with a particular focus on substance use. At the University of Montana, I teach advanced integrative practice and research in the MSW program and serve as principal investigator of a couple of studies focused on individual and health system interventions for perinatal substance use.

As an instructor, my overarching goal is to help students to develop the value base, knowledge, and skills that they need to work with vulnerable populations through interactive classes and critical self-reflection. To me, social justice means an equitable distribution of rights, opportunities, and resources within a society. A just society would take into account historical wrongs and end systemic inequity.

When I think of social justice, I think of the families I’ve worked with. In a just world, those families would have access to all the resources they need to build the lives they dream of.

JEN MOLLOY: Hi, my name is Jen Molloy. And I’m an assistant professor and the director of the Master’s of Social Work Program at the University of Montana. Social work, I believe, is social justice work. And there are so many practices, roles, and settings in social work to take action. And I look forward to learning how you want to embody social justice.

MARY-ANN SONTAG BOWMAN: Hi, I want to introduce myself. My name is Mary-Ann Sontag Bowman. And I’m one of the tenured faculty in the School of Social Work at the University of Montana.

I’m originally from California. All of my degrees are from the University of California at Berkeley. And that includes an MSW and a PhD in social welfare. I’m also a licensed clinical social worker. And I have worked in the field, primarily in health care and especially in the field of end of life care.

I define social justice in a really quick way, as making sure that every member of society has access to the same opportunities, resources, and experiences. And it doesn’t mean that everything is fair and equal all the time because people need different things. But it means that people have the ability to achieve their dreams, their potential, and they’re not held back by attitudes such as sexism or racism or ageism or any of the other -isms.

LOGAN COOK: Hi, I’m Logan Cook. I’m a licensed clinical social worker and licensed addiction counselor. Most of my working career has been in community mental health with people with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues. So my role in the University is a clinical assistant professor, primarily working in the online MSW program.

So social justice means to me, I always think of the quote, something to the effect of, “Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” I think good social work should do something similar. Social justice should be focused on disturbing those who are comfortable, typically those in power if we’re looking at macro level social work, and comforting the disturbed on maybe a micro level.

So if we’re working in clinical social work, really working to try to improve the individual lives of the people that we’re working with. So to me, that quote always seems to fit really well for social justice, as well.

DEANNA COOPER: Hi, I’m Deanna Cooper, faculty at the University of Montana School of Social Work. So I come to academia from a career in direct practice. And I teach a lot of direct practice classes at the University.

I also teach in the addictions and recovery field, as well. And I run the 2+2 Program, where we have DSW students from all around the state of Montana learning primarily online but in a blended model to provide opportunities for professional workforce in areas that are lacking them.

To me, social justice is an ongoing process as a social worker of making sure that I have literacy and understanding of policies that impact people and populations and I have an understanding of movements that are supporting change to increase the quality of life for people, especially those that are marginalized, that are affected by systemic racism and all the other -isms that we face, and that I as a social worker stay on top of having a voice and having a voice that can be heard in an arena that can be full of people talking so loud, nobody hears, but to have a positive impact in a manner that I use my voice, including taking part in our civil discourse and our elections.

CO CAREW: [foreign language]

My name is Co Carew, Colleen Mary Carew. And I am positioned currently– I’m on the land of the Salish, the Kootenai, and the Pend d’Oreilles people here on the Flathead Indian Reservation. My entire career has been– almost my entire career– I’ve worked as a social worker mostly in native communities and either developing programs for children and families in the communities, working with school-based programs, and then onto academia.

I love to teach. So I have taught and founded the accredited social work program at Salish Kootenai College. And now I’m very excited to be teaching at the master’s level at the University of Montana.

Social justice means access to me and allowing and bringing access to people who– access to education, access to clean water, access to food, access to information. Secondly is, social justice is not just about– it’s really reflecting about oneself or having a reflection of oneself and how they relate to other people, but also to really look at restoration.

So individually, if we have found ourselves maybe reflecting and needing to apologize, that’s what we do. We apologize. And in communities, organizations, agencies, or countries, we also look at an apology, but there’s reparation. So there’s some kind of restorative justice. And I really look at social justice as reflecting and using this paradigm of restorative justice, as well.

JESSICA LIDDELL: Hi, I’m Dr. Jessica Liddell. And I’m really excited to be joining the School of Social Work as a new assistant professor this fall. I’m really looking forward to getting to work with students and to teach classes and to share my own research interests which relate to maternal health, reproductive justice, and Indigenous health disparities.

So when I think about what social justice means to me, it really focuses on the need for self-reflection. So I need to really critically think about the ways that I might unintentionally or intentionally be perpetuating oppression and to really be open to changing those things, even if it’s hard.

And then, second, it really involves going to communities themselves and letting them define what social justice is and really letting them show me how I can be helpful, so not coming in with my own ideas about what needs to be changed or done.

AMANDA CAHILL: Hi, I’m Amanda Cahill. I am an assistant clinical professor of social work. For me, social justice is kind of everything from making sure people have access to nutrition, to health care. Everything kind of has a policy link for me as a macro level social worker. And so social justice is really either dismantling or building up systems that can provide access and equity for all people and making our basic quality of life accessible to everyone.

AMY CAPOLUPO: My name is Amy Capolupo. And I am the director of Disability Services for students and a program called Montana 10, which seeks to promote greater equity for low-income college students and seek to improve their graduation and retention rates by providing financial incentives to lessen the burden of attending college.

Social justice to me means equity, inclusion, and access. So in terms of my role as director of Disability Services, we’re looking at revamping what we do, mainly decreasing the need for accommodation and increasing just equity in the classroom so that you don’t need to go to a specific office to receive accommodation.

So being inclusive, being equitable. And to me, equity also means that equity isn’t equal, right? Sometimes you may need to put more resources in one area to support a population so that they can achieve, so that they can be included. You may have to change physical structures. You may have to change programmatic access to achieve social justice. So equity and access, those are the two key components of social justice.

ASHLEY TRAUTMAN: Hi, my name is Ashley Trautman. I’m an assistant professor here in the School of Social Work. Part of what I do in my role is of course teach classes. But I also serve as a training and technical assistance provider at the National Native Children’s Trauma Center. So I’ve been there for a number of years doing different types of grant work.

What does social justice mean to me. That’s such a good question and one that probably has many answers. I think at the core, social justice means redressing historical and contemporary wrongs that have created inequitable conditions for many minoritized and historically excluded populations.

I think it means critically evaluating systems of oppression, the way white supremacy is rooted in nearly all of the systems that social workers work within, and then using skills that we learn as an advanced integrated practitioner to disrupt those systems, whether it be on the micro, meso, or macro levels. I think it also means decolonization, advocating for tribal sovereignty, continuous critical examination of our practice to identify places where we might be complicit in perpetuating racism, ableism, heterosexism. The list goes on.

I think social justice also means acknowledging the inherent resiliency of so many of the individuals and families in the communities that we work with, and then working to honor and create space for that resiliency to flourish. And finally I think that whatever definition of social justice that we as individual practitioners might come to, what that really looks like in practice has to be defined by the individuals and the communities who are experiencing inequity. So their vision and their voices should really craft our path forward.

2. UMSSW Field Education — FAQs Agency Field Instructors

This section provides an overview of the most common questions agencies and agency field instructors have about the field education process.

For both years of practicum, students are responsible to identify, reach out to, and interview with potential practicum agencies. Extensive support is provided throughout the process.

Since professional social workers wear many hats, students have the opportunity to do a variety of placements with a wide range of learning opportunities. Social work practicum placements occur in settings that allow for direct service with individuals, families, and groups; for example:

  • child welfare programs,
  • behavioral health agencies,
  • domestic/sexual violence programs,
  • homelessness programs,
  • substance abuse programs,
  • correctional settings etc.

As well as in community organizing and policy focused contexts; for example:

  • city or county government and social service programs,
  • legislative offices,
  • voter mobilization programs,
  • civic engagement agencies, etc.

Some placements are more clinically focused while others are more macro-level/ advocacy focused. As long as students are able to engage in the CSWE Competencies they are likely able to get a rich learning experience. 

Students complete a total of 900 hours over the course of two academic years (fall to spring). Students are in one placement for the whole 450 hours of their foundation year and a second placement for the whole 450 hours of their concentration year. The practicum is approximately 15 hours a week between end of August and the beginning of May.

Yes, as long as social work services are usually offered during those times and professional staff is present for questions and support needs from the student.

Practicum runs from the beginning of the first fall module/ block (generally end of August) to the end of the second spring module/block (generally beginning of May). Practicum hours must occur over the course of this timeframe and students are not able to be done with their required hours early. Hours per se are not the final determination of the student’s fulfillment of practicum requirements. Not only do students make a commitment to an agency and to clients, it takes time and a learning curve to adjust to an organization, understand their role, and develop the skills for more autonomous practice. Students must have the time to engage in different types of practice interventions and to see these through to completion.

The Agency Field Instructor (AFI) needs to have an MSW degree with at least 2 years of post-degree experience. If the direct practicum supervisor does not meet this requirement, they can still serve as the AFI on site but additional supervision by an MSW supervisor at the agency needs to be arranged.

  • Develop a workforce pipeline & support agency capacity
  • Increase client services & support
  • Engagement in research or policy projects
  • Train social work students to step into employee roles
  • Leadership development within the agency
  • Give back to the profession
  • Collaborate with students on innovative projects & practices that support agency capacity
  • Keep up with current research & curriculum
  • Network with other professional social workers
  • Teach & prepare a new generation of social workers
  • Supervision experience
  • Earn Free CEUs – Via the UMSSW Lunch & Learn sessions & other events

Although the majority of practicums are unpaid, some agencies do offer paid practicums (either hourly or via an educational stipend), and some students are able to apply for a practicum with their existing employment agency.

Employment based practicums (EBP) can possibly be an option as long as the place of employment can meet the EBP policies and requirements. In short – a practicum at a student’s place of employment needs to ensure that the practicum role and tasks offer new and distinct learning opportunities and meet the CSWE competencies. In addition, the employer needs to agree to the practicum program requirements, including providing weekly MSW supervision.

Generally speaking, no, as students are encouraged to get diverse learning and practice experiences over the two practicum placements. However, sometimes students have the opportunity to stay with the same agency but take on a completely different role that allows for diverse and new learning. In that case, staying at the same agency might be an option, although students have to submit a proposal to the FEP.

As social workers, we wear many different hats, engage in practice on various levels, and utilize a diverse set of skills. Consequently, we have to be competent in an array of skills and practice behaviors. These practice behaviors and competencies are set by our accrediting body, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and offer a critical framework to student’s learning in both the classroom and the practicum experiences. Each competency describes the knowledge, values, skills, and cognitive and affective processes that comprise the competency at the generalist level of practice, followed by a set of behaviors that integrate these components. These behaviors represent observable components of the competencies, while the preceding statements represent the underlying content and processes that inform the behaviors.

During the field education experience, students must demonstrate learning goals and activities that allow them to work towards these competencies. This is done in a highly structured manner via the development of a detailed learning agreement which is part of the practicum course.

Please arrange for somebody else to step in and provide support to the student in your absence. If you expect to miss more than two weeks of supervision, please coordinate a supervision plan with the student and the field liaison.

Yes, group supervision can be a good option to increase your capacity and create a community of practice model for students at your organization. Non-social work students may be included in group supervision.

Yes. UM Students are covered by the School’s professional liability insurance.

This requirement can be communicated during the initial interview or when the student is offered the placement and should also be indicated in the agency application form.

Yes, as long as all required practicum paperwork has been completed and submitted by the student and the agency, students are able to engage in up to 50 hours of practicum throughout the summer and prior to the official start date in the fall.

Yes, as long as trainings or workshops are relevant to a student’s learning and have been approved by their Agency Field Instructor, students are able to count external training hours. Reach out to the UMSSW field liaison for assurance and with any questions.

Have other questions? Reach out to

3. Overview of Field Education – Purpose, Structure, Roles & Responsibilities

In this video, you will learn more about the social work practicum philosophy, timeline, hours and roles and responsibilities.

Click here to view the UMSSW Practicum Overview & Requirements PDF

4. Orienting Students to Field Education

In this video, you will learn more about student developmental stages, learning styles, student orientation and supervision.

Click here to view the Student Orientation to Practicum Agency Information

5. Practicum Learning Agreement

In this video, you will learn about developing the Learning Agreement, examples, key considerations and additional resources.

KATHARINA WERNER: Hello, and thank you for joining. My name is Kat Werner and I’m the Director of Field Education here at the University of Montana School of Social Work. I want to take a few minutes today to talk about the learning agreement, which will be the tool that will guide your student’s learning and your organization for the social work practicum.

So I want to find some time to talk about what the learning agreement is, how to develop the learning agreement. I will share some examples that will help you develop activities and tasks that will allow your student to move towards the set out competencies and practice behaviors in practicum. And I will also highlight some key considerations and share some additional resources that will help you as you support your students through this process.

So let’s dive in. So to start out, what is the learning agreement? Again, the learning agreement really is a roadmap to learning in practicum. It is a tool that is designed to help guide the learning process and support the student as they work towards developing mastery in the various competencies and practice behaviors that are set by our accrediting body, the Council on Social Work Education. So the Council on Social Work Education created a set of core competencies for all social work students in accredited programs. And these competencies are measurable practice behaviors that are comprised of knowledge, values, and skills.

And the learning agreement is really a working document throughout practicum. So it allows the student to drive the development of learning goals, activities, and tasks with your support as the agency field instructor and supervisor on site and also with the field liaison. So it really is a collaborative process at the beginning and throughout practicum.

It also informs the supervision and the evaluation of your students growth, right? So as you identify specific activities and tasks that speak to the various competencies, it will allow you to measure development and skill attainment moving towards these competencies. And the learning agreement is developed and via access to SONIA. So again, SONIA is our practicum software program and everybody involved in practicum, so the student, you as the agency field instructor, and the field liaison all have their own SONIA accounts. And you access, you review, and you approve the learning agreement via the individual SONIA accounts.

So to continue thinking about really the purpose of the learning agreement, ultimately it is an action plan that lays out student learning activities and tasks at the practicum organization. It helps identify what the student will be doing and how they will demonstrate what they’re learning. So really the learning agreement offers a full picture of what the placement will look like in a variety of competencies in different areas ranging from professional engagement and readiness to engagement, assessment, and intervention to research and policy skills.

So how do you go about developing a learning agreement and what is your role in supporting the student? So the learning agreement is co-created during the first weeks of the placement, right? So ultimately one way to really think about it is that you sit down with a student and you help the student identify strengths, interests, and learning goals, right? So this process is very much student driven, but you as the supervisor, you support the development by offering what opportunities of learning are available at the organization by considering what agency and client needs there are that a student can help need and also by clearly defining expectations.

So when you combine that, right, so the student’s hopes and dreams and goals and also agency needs and expectations, you then develop a clear overview of requirements for the practicum role. Of course, keep your agency’s mission, vision, and areas of service provision in mind and really consider, again, what the requirements and expectations are for the role the student will take on.

And this development process for the learning agreement, it’s really fluid. So ultimately, we want the initial learning agreement to be done within the first four weeks of the placement so it can be utilized as a path forward and as a guide forward. But really it is a work in progress. And I always highlight that, right? Because learning goals and opportunities change, they are not stagnant and they evolve over the course of practicum throughout the whole 450 hours. So there’s always an opportunity to reassess and review the learning agreement on a regular basis. And go in and say, well, you know this goal actually changed or I have an opportunity to engage in this learning activity now. And so again, it should be regularly reviewed and updated.

And yeah, the other thing to think about is how can you individualize the learning activities to ensure that they both balance what the student wants to get out of the experience, but also what your clients and what your agency needs, right? So in summary, it is a collaborative process. And although the student really drives the development, they do rely on input from you as the supervisor and potentially the field liaison.

So I want to highlight an example here, right? So again, we operate under this competency approach, right? And one of the competencies in the learning agreement is that students have to demonstrate ethical and professional behavior.

So a practice behavior within that competency is that students, when they graduate and throughout their experience, of course, have to demonstrate an ability to make ethical decisions by applying the standards of the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. And you can see and we have these sample learning agreements available, both you and the student can access these and review these examples. But you can see here a few examples of learning activities and tasks that a student can integrate into their learning agreement to meet this specific competency.

So you might discuss the code of ethics within a supervision meeting. And you might think about how agency policies and your organization align or maybe conflict with the NASW Code of Ethics. You might apply ethical decision making processes to work through a situation at practicum that served as an ethical dilemma and you can discuss that in supervision.

Maybe the student discusses ethical dilemmas and ethical decision making approaches with other agency professionals. You can also review and discuss additional ethical or governing policies, which might affect service delivery at your organization. So again, you start out with the competency and you review the competency and the practice behaviors. And then based on practice contacts and opportunities at your organization and the population served, you develop individualized and specific learning activities and tasks.

A few key considerations that I want to highlight as we think about the learning agreement. You’re learning agreement, the student learning agreement also serves as an evaluation tool, right? So you will use the learning agreement to measure and evaluate the student’s progress. There are two evaluations. One is an initial, I guess, a mid-year evaluation that happens at the end of the first semester, the first block of practicum, so at the end of the fall and that is qualitative. And then the final evaluation is quantitative and we use a 1 to 5 competency-based rating scale for that. And so the learning agreement serves as the basis for assessing practicum performance overall and also progress throughout the year and toward the student’s final practical grade, which is a credit or no credit.

So I think a few questions to consider as the agency field instructor and supervisor for the student’s experience is how will when a goal or activity has been met? And how will if a student is meeting the competency level in these different areas? So really thinking about what are you observing? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you witness? And what is evidence that lets you know that the student has been successful?

And one thing to consider here is applying the smart model when developing these goals, right? So really thinking about activities that should be behaviorally specific, that are measurable, that are achievable over the course of a semester, over the course of the whole academic year and 450 hours of practicum. Making sure that activities are relevant towards, again, your organization’s needs, but also to the students learning. And then also that there’s a clear deadline, right? And if a student takes on a task or project that there is a clear, measurable, achievable and timed outcome.

And then lastly, I want to share a few additional resources and considerations here. I highlighted the sample learning agreements. They are available to you and the student to review and use them as food for thought and inform the development of your own student’s learning agreement.

We also provide learning agreement workshops to students and field instructors and have a learning agreement guide that talks through this process again. And I think I want to encourage you as the supervisor for the student to also think about how do you use it on an ongoing level basis? So oftentimes I see students complete the learning agreement at the beginning of their experience in practicum, come back to it during the site visits when the mid-year and the final eval are due, but not really use it at all throughout their practicum overall.

And so I really want to encourage students and you, as the supervisor, to use the learning agreement on a regular basis. Review it and discuss it during the site visits. Bring it to life and supervision. And maybe every other week in supervision you identify one competency that you talk about and review with your student.

I would, again, strongly encourage you in the student to print a hard copy and be able to highlight and write on it and use it kind of as a practice diary so to say and really let it inform the ongoing meetings and progress at practicum. And again, if changes are needed that is OK, right? This roadmap is never straightforward, right? There are unexpected turns and twists and new opportunities come up and changes to the learning environment are encouraged.

So in closing, thank you for your time. And if you want more information about the learning agreement and its development please find additional resources on our website. And yeah, thank you for providing the support to our students. You are greatly appreciated.

Click here to view the UMSSW practicum learning agreement

Hear from a Fellow AFI about the Learning Agreement

KATHARINA WERNER: All right. Well, thank you for joining us everybody. My name is Kat Werner. I’m the Director of Field Education here at the University of Montana School of Social Work. And I’m really excited to be joined by Theresa Williams today. Thanks for taking the time to sort of jump in. Theresa is an MSW and LCSW. You received your MSW from Portland State and you have been really wearing a lot of different hats in terms of social work supervision and supporting students throughout their practicum experience with the learning agreement and everything.

So you served as a field liaison with the school. And so you were a support to the students in practicum and to agency supervisors. And you’ve done that for several years, but then also for at least five years, if not more, you have been supervising students in your capacity in the community in criminal justice context and currently with the Missoula Police Department here in Missoula, Montana. And so you really have a perspective from the student, the field liaison, but then really importantly the agency field instructor. So we want to talk a little bit about that today. But yeah, anything to add to your introduction?

THERESA WILLIAMS: I don’t think so. I think you covered it all. Thanks, Kat.

KATHARINA WERNER: Thanks. Awesome. So the purpose of our little video here today is we want to give new and existing agency field instructors a little bit more context and information about the learning agreement. And the learning agreement, of course, oftentimes is this kind of mystical document that I think both students and agency field instructors feel pretty overwhelmed by at times because it’s just this really long running document. But from your perspective and your really diverse perspective, what is your understanding of the learning agreement? If you had to explain it to somebody, how would you kind of put that out?

THERESA WILLIAMS: Sure. Well, I think it’s a great kind of guiding document. Helps outline all the core competencies. And I also consider it a living document. So initially when I’m meeting with a student and we’re going over I affectionately call it the beast when we’re going over it. We’re not really sure how all the activities might line up, but I think that’s why it’s called a living document so we try to revisit it throughout the entire semester, certainly at the beginning and then also in the middle when we’re having a site visit with our field liaison, and then of course at the end.

But I think it can be overwhelming at first. But I think it really does ground the agency field instructor in the student’s learning opportunities and what they need to meet. And then I also think it’s important to understand that it’s not just grounded in the field practicum, that students are also checking the boxes, so to speak, from the classroom experience. And I put it on the student to help explain to me how it does interact with the practicum and their growth as a social worker. So it is on the student to make that connection. Because at the end of the day, you’re evaluating them. And if you didn’t observe that assignment they did in class, I always ask the students, well, tell me how it applies. And so that’s how I would break it down, I suppose.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, you made so many good points. And one of the things, of course, that you said is the learning agreement really brings to life these different competencies and practice behaviors in a student’s practicum experience, and that’s practice and context dependent, right? So it might look different for really hands on micro-level placement and very different maybe for more policy-based placement. But yeah, I love that you also talk about how it really is a work in progress, right?

So you start out with an initial document and goals of course change and activities might change. And I’m curious what your approach is to supporting students with the learning agreement, especially since we as a school require students to have this initial agreement done within the first month, right? So they’re at a new agency, they’re starting out their practicum, and we’re asking them to come up with all these activities and tasks that will allow them to meet those competencies. And oftentimes students are in a position where they just don’t really know the agency or their role really well. So how would you as an agency field instructor– Yeah, how have you supported that initial development?

THERESA WILLIAMS: Well, I think even backing up further, having a student in my program, I’m looking at the student as a professional. I am treating them as a professional. And I’m looking at this as an investment in our future. So I think it’s really important for agencies and agency field instructors to really ground themselves in why do I have a practicum student and it’s not just to do regular intern tasks. Like yes, there’s going to be a lot of learning and building trust and seeing and building on to see how they can handle certain activities depending on where you’re at in that practicum.

But I think it’s so important that we invest the time in the student. We are an extension of their learning in the school. And we can’t just abandon them and not invest ourselves. So I think it’s so important you build that time and you do that with the students. So I always sit down with the students and we go through it together. Yes, it takes time. But again, this is your roadmap and so it takes the time.

And I think that also helps with the orientation and grounding the student in the program, all of those components. So I just have to echo it’s really, really important that AFIs spend the time with that student, work on it together. Sure they could come up with the first draft, but still go through it together. I have to overemphasize that piece.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah. Awesome. I really appreciate that. And you kind of spoke to that a little bit that it’s this massive document. I love that you labeled it the beast, so it is a beast, right?


KATHARINA WERNER: And I think sometimes students they just kind of check it off. They say, OK, great. I have it done, right? The field education program sees I have it done and now I can forget about it until our mid-year site visit, because as you said, it guides the mid-year evaluation and the final evaluation. But yeah, it is a roadmap and it is important to revisit it to make sure that the student is staying on track with these learning goals. How do you– you had a few examples already, but what are some other strategies that you have utilized to remind the student to use the learning agreement and really tying it into regular experiences?

THERESA WILLIAMS: Yeah. Well, just recently this came up. One of my students, so two pieces, one of my students was like, well, I finished all my hours so I’m not going to log in these additional ones. And I said, why not? Like this is an opportunity to use this as professional experience on your resume. So if you can outline how many hours you spent total in the practicum, that might mean a lot in terms of a competitive job opportunity.

And the same thing with each of the competencies and those activities and how you met those competencies. Again, that’s going to lead toward your portfolio and wrapping things up at the conclusion of the two years. But it’s also, again, a resume builder. If you forget what you accomplished you can reflect on that document. You can plug it into an application, a cover letter, the duties and responsibilities that you had. So I think it’s a wonderful document to memorialize and keep that going. And so I think that’s how I kind of take it to my students.

You’re going to accomplish a lot here. It’s going to go by so fast. So how do we be intentional and mindful about documenting those experiences so we can also accurately evaluate you at the end? Yeah.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah. And again, it outlines so many different competencies from engagement, assessment, to research and policy skills. So I think it’s the document that shows not just the student but also the agency all of the different aspects of social work practice that we engage in, right? So it’s really neat to lay it out that way.

THERESA WILLIAMS: And I would also say, Kat, like I think this is also again, what are our intentions and motivations of becoming agency field instructors? And for me it’s this ongoing teaching learning component. And so if I did not remain connected to the School of Social Work at the University of Montana, I can’t even tell you what kind of social worker I would be today. So for me, it’s how I remain tethered to theory, best practices, all these competencies, language and all these things, like that’s what keeps me fresh as a social worker. So again, it’s not just for the students’ learning, I look at it as my learning as well.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah, I appreciate the perspective. And you mentioned the teaching, the mutual teaching learning that really happens when you bring a student on board for a practicum. And of course, a core component of that is supervision on a regular basis. And I’m curious, yeah, maybe the learning agreement doesn’t get addressed in supervision every single week, but how do you incorporate it in supervision? Do you bring it up or do you have as a part of an agenda item or how do you utilize it?

THERESA WILLIAMS: You know, I think like I mentioned earlier, we probably do– we’re very good about doing it on the front end and then kind of mid-semester and then at the end of the semester. I would say it’s not the feature of every single supervision session that we have. But I think that’s why I still like to do it at least three times a semester so we get back in there again and say, oh, we need– it’s kind of course correcting as well.

So one of them talking about the NASW Code of Ethics. We’re like shoot, we haven’t brought that up yet. Let’s talk about that. So I think that’s how it can kind of help us as well. So to be perfectly honest, yes, not the best at pulling that up every week as a tool but it is a really good reminder to keep doing that. So at least try to do it three times to help guide us. Yeah.

KATHARINA WERNER: Great. Yeah. No, and I think everybody will have their individual approach and style, right? And maybe somebody, one AFI might pull it up every week and say let’s look at one competency and maybe you do it every few weeks or so. So I think that is absolutely really rooted in the agency, in the AFI’s approach. So yeah. And a couple of last questions and one important thought, of course, is that what you had mentioned.

It’s a roadmap but it’s also course correcting. And so it does serve as a tool to say, oh, you haven’t really had a chance to build competency in the specific area. And so as students move towards the end of their practicum experience you will use the learning agreement on a 1 to 5 competency-based rating scale, basically assess and give feedback on where they’re at in their learning, right? And yeah, I’m just wondering if you have any advice or tips in terms of using the learning agreement as this evaluation tool? And yeah, how do you go about that?

THERESA WILLIAMS: Certainly. So everything I do, we’re doing it together. So the student and I will meet and we’ll pull up the learning agreement. We’ll go through each area. And first I’ll say, OK, how would you rate yourself in this area? So I like to kind of gauge where they’re already kind of self-reflecting on how competent they think they’re in a certain area. And then I’ll give them my impression and we’ll kind of meet in the middle. Most of the time we’re right on the same page.

And then it’s also interesting though for me to see and talk about why they might have rated themselves lower than where I would have been. So it’s a really great tool in that respect. And I also like doing it together because then for the first semester and we’re doing that eval, we’re talking about the next semester together, and that’s also helpful to kind of do the concurrent documentation if you will and write those goals together. So I love doing that work in a partnership.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah, really collaborative. And that’s really how it should be, right? It’s a tool in general like for ongoing feedback and checking in and then, of course, at the end, that final eval. So any other thoughts you want to share? Anything else about the learning agreement or just working with a student or your experience as an agency field instructor?

THERESA WILLIAMS: I mean, I stick with it because again for me it’s that investment in our community and our future. And again, it keeps me on my toes as a social worker. I appreciate working with the University of Montana and having SONIA set up. I think it is very concrete and has everything lined out and really helps make sure that we’re checking all the boxes that we need to as agency field instructors. So no, I just really appreciate this opportunity. And I hope everyone else enjoys it as much as I do.

KATHARINA WERNER: Thank you, Theresa. Yeah, I always say this, but field education in general is a collaborative process. And really we couldn’t do what we do without our agency field instructors, so really appreciate you. Thanks for taking the time.


6. Practicum Supervision

In this video, you will learn about all about practicum supervision in Field Education.

KATHARINA WERNER: Hello, and thank you again for joining. Kat Werner, the director of Field Education here at the University of Montana School of Social Work. I want to take a few minutes and talk a little bit more about practicum supervision. At this point, you might be watching this as students are settling into the first few weeks of practicum, and you are likely starting to meet with your students for regular supervision.

So I want to talk a little bit about the importance of supervision in field education as an integral part of our students’ learning and professional development as a social worker. And per CSWE standards– CSWE is the Council on Social Work Education, which is our accrediting body. And CSWE encourages regular supervisions of students in practicum. And ideally, that happens on a weekly basis.

Supervision comes in many forms and formats. So it could be one-on-one. It could be in a group setting, especially if there’s more than one practicum student in your organization. And it could happen in-person or via conference or Zoom.

So want to point out the different dimensions of supervision. So they are, of course, administrative and task-based check-ins that need to occur. So are you able to meet this deadline? Did you enter your timesheets? All of those pieces.

But really, the lens that you are likely taking on with a student in the role is very much educational and supportive. So a lot of our students might have never had actual social work supervision. And so there is an element of teaching them how to engage in supervision and how to get the most out of supervision every week.

Educational also means to really help them to bring what they’re learning in the classroom into their social work practice experience at your organization. So how do certain models of theories that they’re talking about in the classroom apply to their work in practicum or with a population at your agency? How does the NASW Code of Ethics or certain policies and laws apply to work in practicum?

And then there’s that emotional support. Being in school and finishing practicum while you’re also balancing academic requirements and personal needs and obligations, that can take a toll in addition to the hard emotional labor that we’re doing as social workers. And for many of our students, it might be the first time that they’re really exposed to trauma and experiencing secondary trauma and burnout.

So I think that really leads to understanding the benefits of supervision, not just in practicum, but generally within our fields. That speaks to ongoing mentorship and support and really just creating that regular time and space for students, where they know that they can come and meet with you and bring up questions and concerns and be vulnerable and really, that self-care opportunity that makes our roles and our career sustainable.

And so in the AFI and Agency Field Instructor supervisory role, I think there are nuances, of course, and differences in providing supervision to students versus providing supervision to employees. And I know, in some cases, students are also employees. So it is a little bit gray. But I want to highlight a few of the roles that you take on.

And one of them is certainly one of the trainer and evaluator. So not only are you orienting the student initially when they start their practicum, and you talk them through policies and procedures, you highlight resources that are available at the agency and in the community. So there’s these administrative pieces that are part of supervision and making sure that there’s accountabilities around timesheet and overall management and expectations, so getting them oriented, getting them trained up.

Here are your initial tasks as you settle into your role. Let’s talk about your schedule and any paperwork that has to be completed. And then, of course, as they move through practicum, providing ongoing feedback and completing evaluations. So there is that coach mentality, but there’s also the educator piece. And the educator role is really helping them build knowledge, skills, and working towards competency in different areas, allowing them to reflect on their experience.

And that certainly happens in supervision. It’s just, what’s coming up for you? So as you were engaging with this client, how was that for you? What did you notice? What went well? What didn’t go well?

The learning agreement as a tool for ongoing assessment is certainly, again, a helpful tool as a supervisor and educator to really assist that learning process. And another role is really that collaborator role that you take on, where you provide, again, that ongoing and honest feedback, that ongoing support, where you make space for learning. So I think really creating that physical, emotional, and mental space where student can be vulnerable and can be held accountable as well.

So students are learners. Yes, they are professionals, but they’re also learners. And having that kind, yet firm support from a supervisor who will allow them to grow and share in a supportive environment and ask for help, I think that’s really critical when it comes to professional development and personal development and self-care.

So I would say when you’re working with especially first-year students that are more foundational in their learning, the role of the AFI and supervisor focuses more on teaching and providing that structure and the clear guidance and mentorship. And when you’re working with more clinical and advanced students, it will probably shift more towards really that consultant. And it might feel more like a peer-to-peer support model.

I want to take just a little bit of time to reconsider best practices in supervision. Supervision and consultation is really effective when it happens on a regular basis and during a dedicated time. And I know many of you work in a crisis setting, and sometimes things come up. But really, the hope is that our students have regular supervision during a dedicated time each week, about 30 to 60 minutes, again, as an individual or as a group format.

I think it’s important to acknowledge power dynamic and different dynamics and differences, especially with students. You are their supervisor, and in that role, you evaluate their growth, and you assign a final grade in practicum. So having those conversations from the beginning and making clear that yes, I am in the supervisor role, but I want you to understand that you are in a learning environment and that you have my support, even if you mess up.

Then we’ll talk about it. We reflect and discuss through that. I think supervision also really lends itself to highlight the parallel process to client work. As a supervisor, you focus on the skills that allow you to develop relationships and trust. And so do we– we do that with clients. And there’s an ongoing assessment of where the student is at. And we do that with clients. So there’s a lot of that parallel process and modeling going on of the social work engagement process.

Again, that ongoing support and safety, linking theory to practice in supervision and helping them really think through that and encouraging and facilitating that reflection, and also, at the same time, encouraging hard conversations and accountability. So that meeting with a client didn’t go very well. You facilitated a training, and it fell really flat. Let’s talk about that, and let’s turn that into learning moments.

And again, using the learning agreement as a tool for learning and assessing the progress of development and growth. Supervision also is a space for clear feedback and consistent feedback and then turning that feedback into, again, opportunities for growth and new learning. And then, of course, there are these task-based pieces and administrative pieces where you review and assigned duties and responsibilities with increasing difficulty and challenge as appropriate and really individual to the student.

Some tips and tools for supervision that I think are important to consider are, from the very beginning, to set clear expectations. What is the time and the place that we meet every week for supervision? And really talking the student through, how do you prepare for supervision? Again, students might have never actually had supervision before, so it’s easy to assume, oh, yeah, you know how to do this.

But I think really having that conversation. Have you had supervision before? Oh, if not, here’s the purpose of supervision. Here’s what I think it could look like. What do you think? Let’s create this together.

There is a supervision agenda that you can find on our website. You’re welcome to use that, and it’s good practice for the student to come prepared with an agenda every week. But you might have one within your organization you could use as well. I would encourage you, at the beginning, to talk about communication styles. So your communication style might align or not with the student’s communication style.

Is it OK to email, to call, to text? What is a good way to get ahold of you as a supervisor if the student’s running late or sick for a day? Another thing to talk about that’s really important are learning styles. So helping the student identify their predominant learning style.

Are they more of an observer? Are they more of a doer? Are they more of a thinker? And Kolb’s Learning Inventory, which you can find a link on our website as well, is a really good activity to have the student go through and then discuss together in supervision.

At the same time, it might be important for you to consider your learning style as a supervisor because you might be drawn to assigning tasks that align more with your learning style but that are not as comfortable for the students, so something to consider as well. Again, using the learning agreement as a tool in supervision, bringing in the NASW Code of Ethics, integrating ongoing feedback.

And I would really say, really thinking about how can you continue to challenge the student and push them outside of their comfort zone? So when we are on that learning edge, that’s really where learning and growth can happen. And so not to push the student too much, but finding that sweet spot where you can say, you know, you’ve observed for quite a while. I think you’re ready for your first client in your own first case management meeting. So really balancing high support and high expectations when you meet with a student.

And then there’s this element of reflection again, so really, this idea of reflective supervision, where you identify the students’ predominant learning style and help them reflect through that and then develop specific activities and tasks that really meet the dominant but also maybe the less dominant learning style. So again, is this student more of a thinker? They just need a lot of time to sit with what they’re learning, and they want to talk through it.

And so an activity for them could be that they really think and develop a case presentation based on research that they’ve done, and then they present that. But maybe they’re more of an observer, where they just need a lot of time to watch other clinicians or other case managers. They observe it. They write about it. They take it in. They bring it to supervision and talk about it.

Many students are certainly doers. They’re ready to jump in and hit the ground running. Sometimes those students need to be slowed down a bit, where thinkers or observers might have to be pushed a bit to lean into the learning experience.

And then there’s feelers as well that really want to process and highlight what they’re noticing and what’s coming up for them. So again, really thinking about, how can you challenge a student to reflect in different ways, but how can you also speak to the dominant learning style?

As we’re wrapping up this information about supervision, I want to briefly talk about this concept of field placement anxiety. And this is something that I see with students a lot, and you might identify or notice that in your student, especially at the beginning of practicum. So it’s really feelings of apprehension and nervousness. Students are anxious. They’re uneasy. And it relates to the student’s overall practicum experience.

And I always let students know that it’s a really normal reaction. Practicum is a big deal. It takes a significant amount of time and effort out of their experience, the educational experience. And students, they want it to be the fit, and they’re overthinking it a lot.

And are they ready for it? And is it the placement? And what if they mess up and say the wrong thing to a client or to you, as a supervisor? So really offering that additional support for students to embrace those feelings of vulnerability and be anxious, and want to be really clear that supervision is not intended to be therapy, but it’s OK for us to give emotional support.

So when we misunderstand field placement anxiety, I think we can then oftentimes attribute students’ behavior as a lack of engagement or just poor performance or poor professionalism. And so just having those conversations with a student about, what is going on for you? Why are you anxious, and what’s coming up for you?

And how can we use that anxiety to really push professional growth and, again, embrace the unknown and push the learning edge? So this website,, is a really helpful resource that I share with students, and I also wanted to share it with you, as the supervisor.

And then lastly, please know that you have a lot of support as well. So if you run into situations that you want to process as an AFI, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our field team. The field liaison is your support person as well, and so we want to make sure that we have a strong collaborative partnership. And so please know that you can stay in touch throughout the whole experience via email, phone, and meetings in addition to the site visits that we have at the beginning, at the halfway point, and at the end of practicum.

And our collaboration here from a school and an agency, we really have a shared gatekeeping responsibility, supporting our students and meeting these different competencies and ensuring that they graduate with a high level of professionalism and an ability to engage in ethical practice. So in closing, thank you so much for joining again, and if you want more information and resources about supervision and field education, you can find them on our website. Thank you, and take care.

UMSSW practicum supervision PDF

Hear from a Fellow AFI about Practicum Supervision

KATHARINA WERNER: All right. Well, hi everybody. Kat Werner again, Director of Field Education here at the School of Social Work at the University of Montana. And I’m really excited to be joined by Amy Allison Thompson today. Amy is a graduate from our master’s program. How long ago, Amy? Probably about 10, 11–


KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah, so a while ago. And Amy, yeah, has really worn a variety of hats in the social work profession. And I would say you really have practiced across all levels of practice, both on a micro level as a therapist. I believe you might still be doing some therapy as a licensed clinical social worker. You have been in an executive director role. You are currently in a clinical director role at a local organization. And so yeah, please add to your introduction and thank you for joining us today to talk a little bit more about the subject of supervision of students in practicum.

AMY ALLISON THOMPSON: Yeah. You totally nailed it. That’s a great summary of what I have done so far. And yeah, I’m sure we’ll continue to put on different hats as I continue to go along. But yes, I graduated from U of M from the MSW program in 2011 and have gone on to– now I’m teaching a seminar of course. And I also have students at my placement currently. So I really have experienced supervision from all angles at this point.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah. And you’ve been– thanks for kind of summarizing that. So you have the student perspective in terms of supervision, but then you’ve also served as an agency field instructor for many years really at various organizations supporting students. And then the new field liaison role where you support students at placements, at other placements, and then you also support agencies with their experience. So yeah, I think to kick us off can you just talk a little bit about what is your approach to supervising social work students in a practicum setting?

AMY ALLISON THOMPSON: Yeah. So you know I think it’s really important, first of all, just like you would in therapy to really build that relationship with that person and really get to know them well and understand who they are as a person and how they function in the world. And then I really see supervision as kind of three-fold. I see it as an administrative, there’s an administrative piece, there is a supportive piece, and then there’s the educational piece. So really thinking about how we connect the work that they’re doing in school with the work that they’re doing in their agency and within that supervision. So how do we tie all of those pieces together and make sure that they are feeling well supported as they learn about this work and learn how to be a social worker.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah. Thanks for speaking to kind of those three layers or three pillars, right? So the administrative, the supportive, because we know that grad school is although exciting also at times a bit of an overwhelming experience for students. So I think just it sounds like creating that space to just acknowledge that, yeah, there are some emotions that come with that, right? And then of course, that integrating of classroom learning into practice.

Do you see– kind of a question to add here is as students go through that year and the 450 hours of practicum that those three pillars kind of change? So for example, at the beginning when you focus on training and on-boarding of a student, is it I’m assuming maybe more administrative or kind of what’s your approach to getting them settled in and that initial support and then that learning curve?

AMY ALLISON THOMPSON: Yeah. I think definitely initially it’s much more administrative, kind of orienting them to the work. Educational like explaining why we do the things that we do and how we do them in that agency. And then I would say that supportive peace comes along. Initially sometimes the work is really eye-opening. I know my experience working in the homeless shelter people were very– sometimes this was the first time they’d really been bearing witness to poverty in such a raw way.

So I think that supportive piece is big in that way. But I think over time it’s really a lot about that supportive piece and encouraging folks to be vulnerable and open about things that they’re struggling with and really providing that support in dialouging about what’s hard and how we can better support them. So yeah, I think all three of those pieces are at play at all times, but I do think initially it’s much more administrative and educational, I suppose.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah, that makes sense. You know I’m curious about, I think many of our students some have experience in the social services setting, some might not have a whole lot of experience. And I do see a lot of our students who actually never really experienced supervision or social work supervision, so maybe a lot of the supervision that they got was just really task-oriented, right? Like here are the deadlines, kind of did you get this in or that in? But I’m curious how when you first started building that relationship and started meeting with students, what are your conversations about supervision or how do you introduce that concept and help them really learn how to get the most out of those regular meetings?

AMY ALLISON THOMPSON: Yeah, it’s a good question. So I really like to focus on initially explaining the purpose of it, what it’s going to look like. I will talk about how it is different than task-based supervision or more administratively-focused supervision. I’ll clarify that of course there’s room to discuss the administrative things, but really we don’t want to spend the entire time focusing on those things.

I think it’s really important, I’ve even had people in the past say like I’ve never had supervision before and I think this was a little earlier on. And I don’t think I really oriented them to it in a way that was like, oh, this is going to be different. And they were like, it was way different than I expected and I think initially were caught off guard. So I try to do a good job of explaining how it is different than how people may have experienced supervision before.

I also just in that time like to talk about expectations and really clarifying what I think supervision should look like and what has worked well for me and in that I really talk about expectations obviously. I like to talk about my supervision style. I think everybody, of course, is going to be different in terms of how their supervision looks. So being really clear about what that typically looks like for me.

And then I like to understand also the learning styles of that individual. I know for myself I’m more of a doer. I’m a hands on person. And so knowing what that other person’s needs are going to be really helpful in really supporting them. If they are not a doer and they’re more of an observer, really trying to tailor my support for them to those needs as kind of a beginning orientation to the process.

KATHARINA WERNER: I love that. That’s a great segue actually I was going to ask a little bit about how do you integrate the learning agreement into supervision? And I think, yeah, really assessing different learning styles, different communication styles, and then really helping students build tasks and learning activities around their primary learning style but also, yeah, maybe pushing them a little bit and challenging them with their not so dominant learning style. But yeah, the learning agreement, which we have a whole other kind of little training module on that. But I’d be curious what your experience is in really integrating that into supervision meetings with students.

AMY ALLISON THOMPSON: Yeah, so I think the learning agreement even though it is a bear to actually tackle, I think it is a really important and helpful tool as you help the student navigate that whole integration of the work that they’re doing in the classroom and then bringing that into the field placement. And so I think it’s really important, of course, to make sure that the student and myself are on the same page at the beginning of the semester and are really clear about what expectations we’ve set out and what tasks we’ve set out in that learning agreement. And then I really just keep in the back of my head at all times like what are different things that I can do to pull that student in to make sure that we’re ticking off some of those tasks throughout the semester, of course.

I like to revisit it monthly too to make sure that we’re on the right track or are we forgetting about something that we had initially wanted to do or have we thought about something new that actually might better meet the goals of that learning agreement. So I really like to make sure that we’re reviewing that regularly. And I also think just the structure that the school has put together for the reviewing of that with the mid-semester evaluation and all of that is super helpful too.

KATHARINA WERNER: OK. Awesome. Good to hear that. Yeah, I think those are some kind of good tips and advice to just continue to come back to it and use supervision kind of as a check point for that. A couple of other thoughts or questions that I had is one, how do you encourage a student to prepare for supervision? So we as a school, we provide an agenda, but has that been an issue ever or do you offer a structure for it? Or yeah, what has worked in your experience?

AMY ALLISON THOMPSON: So I typically just really make clear in my expectations that my goal for them is that they’re the ones that are bringing things to supervision. My expectation is that they bring a list of things that they’d like to talk about. And occasionally they don’t have something to talk about, but I do make clear that this is your time to really develop your skills and to have an opportunity to really lean on my experience and my expertise.

And so I really prefer it to be more led by the student. Because I can bring up things to talk about, but I don’t know what necessarily is going to be most applicable to them at that time. And so I really like it to be led by them. If students are having a hard time coming up with those things or aren’t sure what to talk about, then I will support them in that and may bring up like we could talk about this or we could talk about that. But I really do prefer and set it very clearly in our expectations that they’re going to be bringing the topics.

KATHARINA WERNER: Great. Yeah and I think that aligns with really they are adult learners, right? They’re driving that experience. And so I think it’s really good prep to– this is the hour every week or so that you get to really drive that engagement. So yeah, I love that. On that note, and you know this of course, but the supervision and just the integral part of supervision, not just in practicum but really as we continue on in our careers. And we always highlight that as a school with agency field instructors and with organizations. And just really setting aside that weekly time of 30 to 60 minutes.

And at the same time, we always acknowledge that it is a big commitment to bring on a student and have that set time every week because you and other agency field instructors have a lot going on. You’re really busy. And so just wondering how do you manage to really provide that regular supervision time, right? I know, again, we have personal lives and then we have our schedules at work. And so what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and how do you make it work?

AMY ALLISON THOMPSON: Yeah. So I personally feel strongly that being a supervisor is an incredibly important and critical role in kind of growing new social workers. And so I really believe that if you were going to commit to taking on a student that you are really dedicating yourself to supporting them. And so that means for me putting it in my calendar at a standing time every week to make sure that you are providing them the time that they need to get everything they can out of that placement.

And I have seen so many times where folks, even in my own experience, a supervisor does not put me in their calendar regularly. And it just can lead to the student feeling undervalued and not supported and they can feel lost in their placement. And so I think it’s just really important that we dedicate that time and make sure that it is a standing appointment. And of course, yes, things come up and, of course, I’ve had to reschedule before. But I think just making that set commitment is super important. And

I’ve also seen supervisors where they’re like, oh, we talk all the time. We don’t need set supervision and I just completely disagree with that. I understand that you may be having regular interface with that person, but actually sitting down and giving them your undivided attention and actually being with them is a really important part of it for me.

KATHARINA WERNER: Yeah, thanks for reiterating that. I agree. I mean, I think an open door policy is so important, right? And at the same time it does not replace that just really mindful and intentional one on one time. So yeah, I appreciate that. And I think with that we also know that many of our graduates are going to continue on into leadership roles and they will be supervisors themselves. And so I think just modeling that and making sure they have those tools is so important. Any other thoughts or anything else you want to add to fellow agency field instructors?

AMY ALLISON THOMPSON: I think one piece I will add to that is just this idea of open door versus sitting down and having conversations. I think both are important. I also think it’s important to kind of teach your student like what is a good thing to drop by for open door policy kind of things and then what are things that you should really put on your agenda for supervision that week. So also as the supervisor you’re not constantly feeling like you have to field questions that may not feel like a good use of your time.

So really kind of thinking about how you set those boundaries. So you can, of course, be available, which I think is super important, but also making sure that both of you are using your time well. So I think that’s one thing.

And then the last thing I want to say is just that I really love having students. I really love working with them. I think they help us grow as social workers and as agencies. They ask hard questions. They’re in a different kind of place in their career. And I think you can just allow us if we are really open to that. And they allow us to really think critically about the work we’re doing and allow us to really shake up some of the work we’re doing rather than sticking with kind of the way we’ve always done it. So I love having students. And I think it’s awesome.

KATHARINA WERNER: Awesome. Thanks. We’ll end on that note. Thank you so much, Amy. And yeah, thanks all for joining us.

7. Practicum Evaluations

This section provides an overview of the practicum evaluations for the online MSW program.

KAT WERNER: Hello. And thank you for joining for this brief video on the practicum evaluation process for our social practicum students here at the University of Montana School of Social Work. My name is Kat Werner. And I am the director of field education. So let’s jump in.

I’m going to start by giving a brief overview of the practicum evaluation process. So there are two evaluations. One is the mid-term evaluation, which is qualitative. And then, the final evaluation, which is quantitative, following a one through five competency-based rating that also includes a final grade for practicum, which is pass or fail, so credit no credit, which is ultimately assigned by you as the agency field instructor.

The purpose of the evaluations for practicum are really to assess the student in each behavior and each competency of the learning agreement. So if you think back to our learning agreement workshop, the learning agreement in the different areas and competencies and behaviors– they really drive the evaluation process, right? And so evaluations are designed to measure progress towards those different competencies and achievement in these different areas.

It is a collaborative process. And so, really, we encourage AFIs and students to sit down together before any of those two evaluations, right? So ideally, you meet for regular supervision. Every once in a while, you bust out the learning agreement and you talk about the different competencies, how things are going, if activities or goals have to be adjusted on a regular basis.

And so then before you complete the evaluations, you have a great and clear picture of where the student is at in terms of moving towards these different competencies and building their skills in those different areas. The completed evaluations are also reviewed by the field liaison during the midterm and final site visits. So those evaluations really serve as a foundation for the visit as well.

So let’s start with the midterm practicum evaluation. It generally occurs when a student has approximately 225 hours of the required 450 hours of practicum, right? So we want both the midterm evaluation and the midyear site visit to be completed generally between early December and the end of January before students return for the spring.

It is a qualitative evaluation. And both the student and you as the agency field instructor completed via your Sonia accounts. There are five prompts for this evaluation that both, again, the student and you speak to. You are asked to speak about areas of success in practicum, areas for ongoing growth, learning goals for the second semester, so the second half of practicum, how supervision has been going, and how the student has used supervision, and anything else you want to share.

And so, again, we want to make sure there’s no surprises, right? So if there’s any red flags or concerns in professionalism, or knowledge and skill development, the regular supervision meetings are really a great time to bring that up and have those conversations with students. And then, to adjust activities in the learning agreement as needed. So when you do sit down with a student before the evaluations are due, everything is really up to date.

And if adjustments have to be made along the way, yeah, then that can happen. And there’s no surprises for either one of you, right? So that’s the midterm eval. The final evaluation happens when all of the 450 hours of practicum have been completed. And that is also when the final site visit will happen, which is generally around mid-April and then really no later than mid-May, because we want to make sure that final grades for practicum can be entered in time.

So having the final evaluation and site visit completed in a timely manner is really important, because we want to make sure that students get their grades entered in time. The final practicum evaluation is a quantitative evaluation that is only completed by you as the AFI. So it is a one through five competency-based rating scale, ranging from no competency to demonstrating competency.

And we’ll take a closer look exactly at what that means, right? And so, again, the final eval, I think, it’s even more important to sit down with a student and look at each area before you actually then sit down and rate the different competencies and the level of competency for each student. Because you want to make sure, as the supervisor who has accompanied the student throughout all of practicum, and who has had really direct insight into skill development and professional growth, that you as the AFI have a clear picture of the student’s overall development and completed activities.

So to break that down a little bit more though, really thinking about, as the AFI, what should I know before I rate my student in these different areas of competency? And so the nine core social work competencies– those are really the different areas that we’re looking at here. And so when we talk about competency-based education, that is a method of education that emphasizes the measurement of skill attainment as the primary focus of training.

And that is really why field education is considered the signature pedagogy of social work, right? Because that is really where theoretical knowledge is translated into skills, right? And so, really, how do we measure the skill development within a practice setting?

And so, really, student readiness for professional practice in the field of social work is measured against the set of core competencies as set by our accrediting body, The Council on Social Work Education. Your role as the AFI is to assess the level of skill development and competence that students have achieved throughout their overall practicum experience. So ultimately, when you think about that one through five rating, it is based on the practice behavior, the activity accomplishment for that behavior, and really, the overall competency achievement for each of these core competencies.

So what that means when we’re looking at this one through five competency-based rating scale is that you will sit down, and I will pull this up– and Sonia here in a minute too– and you will, after having had a conversation with a student, rate each student for the behavior and the overall competency. And so I also want to highlight here that we have another really helpful document. This handout gives you a clear breakdown of this rubric of this one through five rating scale.

And so as you think about, hey, is this a four or five for my student? This will give you a clear breakdown of– if you’re thinking about rating your student at a five or at a four, here’s what we want the student to have demonstrated, right? So for example, if you rate a student at a five, that means that the student demonstrates competency and a beginning autonomy with this behavior in complex situations, right?

So you have a student here that expertly demonstrates awareness, knowledge, and skills in this specific area, right? I will say a five might be quite rare for a student because it really means a higher level of competency. But so then a four would mean that a student demonstrates beginning level competency with this behavior and consistently demonstrates awareness, knowledge, and skills.

And so what we’re really seeing is that students generally attain mostly ratings of four, right? And so if they attain fours on a majority of those nine core competencies, they will definitely get a passing grade, right? So do know that this is a really helpful handout that you can refer back to as you’re thinking about how your student is doing in each area, right?

So to jump back here, though, to our rating scale. That is basically, again, what is reiterated in the handout, that you look at a five, which is a student demonstrates competency, emerging competencies– the four. Developing competency with assistance– if the student is kind of inconsistent in demonstrating this competency and requires additional mentoring or coaching, and then there is minimal competency and no competency, right?

And so I will say that rating a student at a one or a two in their final practicum evaluation– my hope would be that we wouldn’t have let it get to that point and, again, that we would have had conversations collaboratively and together about performance concerns, right? Because when assigning these ratings, we really want to look at the student’s overall performance and overall what was going on throughout the whole 450 hours.

And so my hope would be that if there are concerns or really unacceptable performance, that we could have caught that early and could have addressed those areas so a rating of one or two does not occur. And the handout specifically talks about performance concerns and unacceptable performance. So I would encourage you to really pay attention to that as well. And also know that the field education team and the field liaison is very much a resource for you if you’re worried about no competency or minimal competency in certain areas.

Those potential performance concerns, although, also highlight the importance of ongoing and accurate feedback. So regular supervision meetings throughout practicum should really serve as a space for ongoing feedback on the development. And potential concerns are red flags, right? So evaluations should really just formalize the ongoing feedback that you have been given doing supervision, right?

So ideally, there’s no surprises, right? If a student thinks, yeah, I’m doing really solid in all these areas, right? I’ve been doing intakes and assessments with clients. And I’ve been getting regularly and consistent positive feedback. And then, when you look at the competency of assessment. And you end up rating them at two or three when a student really thinks they’ve been doing a good job. And they’ve met goals and activity guidelines, then somewhere there was a disconnect.

And I also want to highlight that it can be really challenging to give negative feedback. We build relationship with students. And so especially when there are performance concerns or areas of, yeah, just really not minimal competency– and it can be really challenging to give that feedback. And I also want to highlight that you are gatekeepers of the profession, right? And you help us really provide that feedback as you see students in the field.

I think applying a strength-based perspective is really important here, and so really highlighting what is the student doing well. Again, we want to do that throughout practicum, during supervision, during the midterm eval, and then, I think, giving productive feedback, especially in the midterm evaluation. If you’re noticing, hey, here are a few examples that I want to give you of how you can improve, right?

You’re always running late to meetings. And you never email me ahead of time. That shouldn’t happen really. But if there are concerns around professional readiness, professional communication, share specific examples so they can really be addressed in the second half of practicum.

So to, again, reiterate some of those pieces around performance concerns. You are helping us gatekeeper for the profession. And so really thinking about when do you give low scores. And so, again, I want to just highlight the handout that I referenced that you will have access to. And so, really thinking about, what are some of these examples and has this happened?

And maybe it’s not an outlier, but it’s a pattern of behavior that a student engages in, right? So please reference back to this document. And again, please utilize the field education team if you’re running into any of these concerns. So reference examples here. And then really, again, ratings of one or two should not be given because a student didn’t have exposure to a competency, right?

So just because a student wasn’t able to get a lot of exposure in, let’s say, research and maybe only has one activity in that competency, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have competency in that area. They just haven’t really had an opportunity to engage in that specific area. And so what’s important here is that, again, we catch that early, right? So again, we really look at those different areas during the midterm evaluation.

And if there are a couple of different competencies where a student really has to do more work, then that really needs to be the focus for the second semester. Please document examples that would substantiate low ratings. And so when it does come to sharing these low ratings and potentially not passing a student in practicum, we have really, really clear examples that are documented, ideally, both during the year evaluation and then also in the final email.

So as we wrap up here, I want to briefly, again, reiterate that our evaluation process is completely done in Sonia, right? And Sonia is our software program. You should be familiar with it at this point. It’s used for all things practicum. You had to approve the learning agreement in there. You’re approving timesheets, right?

And so you, as the AFI, you really have four steps on this form, right? You have the initial approval of the learning agreement. Then, you have the midterm evaluation that you complete and submit. And then, at the very end of practicum, you have the final evaluation and the grade that are being submitted.

And so I will pull this up here and show you this. But what is really important– what I want to note– is that the evaluations are connected to the learning agreement, right? And so if you haven’t approved the initial learning agreement, you can’t move on to the midterm eval. If you haven’t completed the midterm eval, you can move on to the final eval. So it’s really a step-by-step process, right?

But to show you really briefly what I’m referencing here– when you log in to your Sonia account, please note that there’s a bunch of helpful resources here on the right-hand side, including a how-to guide for the evaluation that will kind of show you step by step how you complete that evaluation, how you enter the ratings, and how you submit it.

And to access the evaluation, you go to your forms. And you pull up the learning agreement. And then there is information about semester one and semester two evaluation. It has the rating scale again right here. And then, of course, your students have activities filled out here, right?

And so to go to the mid-year eval, you scroll all the way down. And this is where you can see the students’ comments for the mid-year evaluation, areas of success, areas of growth, so these different prompts. And you have the same prompt. So you will complete the same ones before the mid-year site visit.

And then, of course, make sure you submit that right here, right? And then, for the final evaluation, I’ll scroll back up here and show you that this is where those ratings happen, where you go in and you actually rate them, again, the no competency through demonstrating competency. And when you’ve completed all of them, at the end of each competency you’re also welcome and encouraged to include a few examples or some qualitative feedback here.

And then, when you’re done with all that, you keep scrolling and scrolling. And you come to the second semester evaluation where you first calculate the score. And so that is a score that’s, I guess, again, that’s calculated based on all the ratings that you’ve entered, right? So all of them have to be completed.

And then, you get the score. And then it tells you down here, do you agree with this score? Yes or no? And it shows you here what score has to be reached in order to get a credit for student, right? So again, if you predominantly assign fours and fives, your student will be well above that credit threshold. And then, you submit that right here. So I hope that was a helpful overview here briefly.

So to close us out, and jump back to our PowerPoint. And just take a moment and highlight that there is additional resources on our practicum website as well. And we’ll be sharing correspondence as these evaluations come closer. And so please keep an eye out for emails with information as well. But thank you for your time today. And please utilize the field education program as a resource as you complete these evaluations for students. Thank you.

Click here to view the Practicum Evaluations Overview Click here to view the MSW Practicum Evaluations Rubric

Additional Resources

UMSSW Student Orientation to Practicum Agency

UMSSW Field Ed Onboarding Checklist

UMSSW Student Developmental Stages

Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory Document

Sonia How to Guide – Submission of Learning Agreement

UMSSW Supervision Overview, Topics and Agenda

SONIA Software Resources

The UMSSW Field Education Program uses a practicum software program called Sonia which allows us to manage student practicum placements and streamline required paperwork and communication. Students and Agency Field Instructors are given login information to access Sonia by the Field Education Team prior to the start of practicum. Find the UMSSW Sonia log in site here.

Here are some helpful How To Guides for Sonia processes: