A Supervisor in Field Instruction, commonly referred to as a SIFI in the social work world, is the person charged with supervising one or more social work student interns during the school year. In order to qualify for such a role, a person must be a licensed social worker with a minimum of 2-3 years of agency experience. All schools of social work offer this free 12-week course to potential SIFIs, and it has been available online in many places as well as in the classroom. These individuals usually supervise their first student while they simultaneously attend the course. I think that this experiential way of learning how to be a SIFI is the most effective way to learn how to supervise a student.
I remember when I enrolled in my SIFI course back in 2009. I was just shy of three years post-masters and two years post-LMSW. I was also just promoted to a supervisory position at my agency as well. Although I was not new to supervising, I was very new to supervising staff and students in a social service agency. When I look back on my own experience of supervision as a student it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. My mentor at the time was my task supervisor and I can say what I learned from her was invaluable and still stays with me today. I personally felt that I was up for this new professional challenge and I truly loved to mentor and teach others whether they were students or staff.
During the SIFI course I was given a plethora of information to read and digest. In fact, I kept a majority of the information and still refer back to it today. I learned about the importance of the orientation of the student to the field placement, and the former included:
- physical space of the agency
- staff, departments, services
I also learned the importance of modeling the following skills for students:
- data collection
- contracting/ goal setting
These are skills that we have learned as workers and are part of the job tasks that we execute, but when working with students it is important to remember that they are students NOT employees. We as SIFI’s are then expected to not only teach, mentor and coach, but be the conduit that bridges theory to practice and practice to theory.
According to the 2015 CSWE EPAS (2015, p. 12),
Educational Policy 2.2—Signature Pedagogy: Field Education Signature pedagogies are elements of instruction and of socialization that teach future practitioners the fundamental dimensions of professional work in their discipline—to think, to perform, and to act ethically and with integrity. Field education is the signature pedagogy for social work. The intent of field education is to integrate the theoretical and conceptual contribution of the classroom with the practical world of the practice setting. It is a basic precept of social work education that the two interrelated components of curriculum—classroom and field—are of equal importance within the curriculum, and each contributes to the development of the requisite competencies of professional practice. Field education is systematically designed, supervised, coordinated, and evaluated based on criteria by which students demonstrate the Social Work Competencies. Field education may integrate forms of technology as a component of the program.
This is a big undertaking and not to be taken lightly. The students that we supervise today will be our colleagues within a couple of years. Becoming a SIFI may be of no cost to the agency, but it is a BIG commitment to the instructor who often does not get compensated or acknowledged for this task. A SIFI is taking on an extra duty of supervising students without any relief of current duties, having the student practice under their license and is spending extra time outside of work reading and commenting on process recordings, completing Educational Plans and Evaluations and providing weekly supervision to students.
When considering whether or not to become a SIFI think about what it means to you as a social worker, to the profession as a whole and to the student who will be learning from you. It isn’t about finding free help to complete daily work tasks, it’s about contributing to the future of the profession because you are passionate about the work that you do and want to impart that passion to others.