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"I was incredibly humbled, honoured and emotional at receiving the nomination"

Sarah McCulloch writes about her career in social work and how it felt to be nominated for Practice Teacher of the Year at the 12th Annual SASW Awards.

I have been a qualified social worker for nineteen years. I initially began my career as a statutory social worker in a Children and Families team for four years, which provided a firm foundation for my career.  It was incredibly challenging, but I learnt a lot from it, especially in terms of legislation, child protection and safeguarding. I then went on to work for ten years with Shelter Scotland supporting homeless families (specifically adults) alongside child support workers (trained therapists) who provided support to the children in the family. Within this time, I was promoted to Team Leader and took on responsibility for supervising the multi-disciplinary team, writing the safeguarding policies and setting up and running a brilliant service user led group which provided a craft-filled, self-help, social group to mums who also raised money from their crafts to self-fund group activities of their choice. It proved very popular for women who had settled in Glasgow after seeking asylum in the UK and provided a sense of community and belonging. Some of our families - parents and children together - and staff wrote and performed in an opera ‘The Magic Boot’ in collaboration with Scottish Opera at Maryhill Community Central Halls as part of the Mental Health festival. This will continue to be one of the highlights of my career due to the impact it had on the participants in terms of confidence building, bonding and inclusion.  One man who was there with his daughter informed me that he had never got the opportunity to do anything like it at school as he was always excluded. 

Whilst in this role, I really enjoyed seeing professionals develop and grow in their practice, through supervision and the appraisal process and this provided a good basis for my practice teaching career.  I have supported a number of students over my career, finally completing my formal training as a practice teacher five years ago, with an incredible and very supportive mentor (Tony Hayler, Learning Network West). This was in the ‘nick of time’ as unfortunately the families project I worked for lost its funding and my team were made redundant whilst I was off on maternity leave (there was actually a meeting to discuss whether to tell me pre or post baby which will always make me chuckle!) I finished my last essay (post baby!) and then embarked on my career as an Independent Practice Teacher.  This was peppered with an annual lecture on relationship-based Social Work (with my colleague Jane O’Neill, also previously from Shelter Scotland), independent tutoring and assessment work. I was one of the youngest Independent Practice Teacher at the time and it felt a real privilege to be part of such a knowledgeable, highly skilled and experienced group of professionals. This potted history then led on to my nomination for Practice Teacher of the Year. I was incredibly humbled, honoured and emotional at receiving the nomination.  I remember sitting down at my dining room table, having a cup of tea and catching up on my emails and there it was…Doosh! I had just finished reading about the nomination of one of my student's, which I was so delighted about, and then read on to hear that I also had been nominated. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather! As a self-employed person, you can feel a bit of an ‘island’ at times and the support from the Learning Network West has been invaluable, alongside that of my other wonderful Independent Practice Teacher colleagues. It is essential that you keep yourself connected by attending the Independent Practice Teacher Forums and training events. I have had the privilege to work with some very supportive tutors and that is very important indeed.  Practice Learning and teaching is student-led and very much a learning team approach. 

To be nominated for such a prestigious award was just amazing. As an independent worker, you don’t often get feedback on your practice and, for me, this just made it all worthwhile, particularly as it came from my students and tutor (supported by the university).  I was simply over the moon. Perhaps the proudest moment for me was the fact that one my students, Calum Glasgow, won ‘Student Social Worker of the Year'. This felt like a double win for me! I was also delighted to be pipped at the post by my esteemed colleague and mentor, Eddie McAuley, whose support has been invaluable to me over the course of my career. Eddie actually stepped in to supervise my students when my dad died suddenly at the beginning of a placement. I couldn’t have lost to a nicer guy.

It has been a true privilege to have supervised some amazing and inspirational students over my five years as an IPT. They have incredible energy, deep passion and buckets of empathy.  One of my students, Pauline Mushaka, recalled navigating the asylum process herself as a child and then went on to provide exceptional support to pregnant women, as part of her placement, and quite simply ‘shone’. It is very rewarding and incredibly satisfying to see students, like Calum and Pauline, grow and professionally develop over the course of their placement, and I learn as much from them as they do from me.  I am left very content in the knowledge that they are going forward into the profession and are going to make such a massive difference to the lives of vulnerable adults and children, and essentially help others achieve a better quality of life, thus creating a better society and ‘Us’ which is what Social Work is all about.  

I have been incredibly privileged to work with highly skilled link workers in an amazing placement agency, which is basically a ‘life saver’ for people seeking asylum.  The agency help people who come to the UK with nothing, having survived the most harrowing of experiences.  The agency provides a lifeline to them as they negotiate the secondary trauma of destitution and a very difficult asylum process in a hostile environment.

I will continue to love my job and share my love, energy and passion for Social Work with my students who will go on to practice long after I have hung up my breeches.