March is Social Work Month and our very own Alexa Joy Zafarana of the VCU School of Social Work sat down with Podium staff to discuss her method for creating a connection with others through carefully crafted questions and specifically tailored support.
“What is important to you, right now? Could you write about it?”
I keep this question in my back pocket as one of my go-to tools, as it often opens the door to a candid response.
The question wedges itself between individuals' resistance to writing and their desire to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. It invites youth to participate and centers their own voice and values.
As social workers, we are taught to meet people where they are. We do not push people in directions they are not willing or ready. Instead, we align ourselves with their perspectives.
When I asked other helping professionals, they agreed that “we must make sure we are intuitive to the pace of those we serve, and not acting from our own pace.” Another described, “You have to tailor your support to the reality of the situation and not project your own internalized expectations onto the person you are working with.”
That is why as social workers we ask, we wonder, we wait and then we encourage. It is in the soul of the social worker to be beside. At Podium, this is how mentors write with the youth — through support.
Mentors are giddy to read the youth's brilliant pieces and it's shown through the uproar of snaps and claps after they've shared. But most importantly, it's shown through the type of questions we ask: “How can you have your character show their sadness?" “What could you do to expand this?” and “Tell me more.” The questions unlock growth, progress and self-discovery.
Being a social worker is about deeply believing in people and standing in the hope that is there is more. More to the story of past trauma or pain and more to someone’s current realities or past circumstances. As social workers, we are in pursuit of potential and we scavenge for strengths. We chase down social inequities and offer pathways to peace and equality. It is in our presence that we offer joy, hope and support.