Effective Social Work – The Four E’s

Posted: 29/05/2015

Might this be a formula for best practice in social work?


Great practitioners know that it’s not enough to know their disciplines. They need to engage, inspire and enthuse clients by creating conditions in which those clients will want to learn. When they do that, their clients will almost certainly exceed their own expectations and everyone else’s too. Great practitioners do this by bringing the best out in their clients. They do this through a variety of methods.


Expert practitioners have a repertory of skills and techniques and knowing how and when to use the appropriate technique is what great practice is all about. Like all genuine professions, it takes judgment and connoisseurship to know what works best here and now. Expert practitioners constantly adapt their strategies to the needs and opportunities of the moment. Effective practice is a constant process of adjustment, judgment, and responding to the energy and engagement of the clients.


Practitioners’ expectations have radical implications for the achievements of their clients. If practitioners convey to clients that they expect them to do well, it’s much more likely that they will. If they expect them to do badly, that’s more likely too. The key to raising achievement is to recognize that practice and learning is a relationship. Clients need practitioners who connect with them. And above all, they need practitioners who believe in them.


The best practitioners are not only instructors. They are mentors and guides who can raise the confidence of their clients, help them find a sense of direction, and empower them to believe in themselves. Clients who are more confident in their own learning ability “learn faster and learn better. They concentrate more, think harder and find learning more enjoyable”.


The words above are not mine. They are unashamed plagiarism. They are taken from the book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson (2015) and they are Robinson’s summary of the components of effective and balanced teaching.

All I did was to substitute practice for teaching, practitioner for teacher and client for student to see how Robinson’s key elements matched with how effective social work practice might be described.

It is not a perfect fit but there is a very strong correlation.

Robinson is an internationally recognized educator, the author of several books including The Element, but is probably best known because of because of his 2006 TED Talk called Do Schools Kill Creativity? which by 2015 had been seen by an estimated three hundred million people worldwide and remained the most watched talk in the history of TED.

Robinson is an articulate voice arguing for creativity and passion in the classroom rather than blind allegiance to standardized testing and instrumental teaching.

By putting his words in the context of social work practice I simply wanted to make the point that there are clear similarities between professions when it comes to describing ‘best practice’. In our social work roles we have a lot we can learn from the worlds of education and teaching. And it is not a one-way street, a strengths-based philosophy of social work practice can inform teaching and is reflected in the popularity that Innovative Resources materials have in schools throughout the world.SC Curiosity

If nothing else, strengths-based practice should be known for the value it puts on curiosity.

As the philosophy of strengths-based practice evolves we need to continue to look in diverse places for ideas that can inform and inspire practice. Ken Robinson is one such source of wisdom and inspiration.

Reference: Robinson, Ken. Creative Schools: Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up. (2015) Penguin, Australia

Article written by Russell Deal

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