As both an academic discipline and a regulated profession, social work pairs clinical knowledge with critical thinking skills in serving vulnerable populations to make a difference in local communities.
As an academic and practitioner, Dr. Susan Hillock, a professor in Trent’s Social Work program, is always thinking of how it can be better taught. Since founding Trent’s Social Work program in 2014, Professor Hillock has conducted research toward that goal. Social work is traditionally about supporting people as they navigate life’s challenges; Prof. Hillock adds a social justice lens to this conventional approach, to delve a little deeper.
Rethinking social work education
“I'm looking at how large social structures affect individuals. And I’m looking at social action: how to mobilize students and colleagues to change the world and dismantle oppressive systems,” she says.
Prof. Hillock has been a social worker for over 30 years and has taught in the field for over 20 years. In the last decade, she has edited and written a number of books and articles that rethink social work education. These often pull from the frameworks of historically underrepresented but innovative schools of thought.
Resources for Social Work practitioners
A more recent work is a co-edited book with Social Work professor Dr. Rick Csiernik of King’s University College at Western University. Teaching Social Work: Reflections on Pedagogy and Practice, published in January 2021, addresses the complex fields of social work education that should be taught but are often left to be learned through trial and error by instructors.
Her upcoming multi-disciplinary edited book, Teaching About Sex And Sexualities In Higher Education, will be published in Fall 2021. It will provide key information for professional training and support, and act as a crucial resource on sex, sexuality(ies) and related issues in higher education. She also co-authored the book Queering Social Work Education which addresses the specific concerns of LGBTQ individuals and communities in social work education.
“What I’ll do is see a gap [in the literature] and try to fill it,” says Prof. Hillock.
Internationally-published scholar on sexuality and social work
Her work is fundamentally changing the landscape of social work education, as much of her work is the first of its kind in North America, and the sector has taken note. In 2019, Prof. Hillock was awarded the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association Status of Women and Equity Award of Distinction for her work’s contribution to the advancement of academics and academic staff from diverse backgrounds.
Based upon her queer research and expertise, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) invited her to create a Toolkit Action And Strategy Plan for their membership. She produced Raising Awareness of Queer Issues in the Academy (2020, In Press), a resource directed at providing strategies to educators across Canada related to assisting students and colleagues/administrators to challenge and transform harmful homophobic, heterosexist, and cisgender beliefs and practices. Recently, she also became the first international scholar invited to publish to the Sexuality & Social Work Special Interest Group blog, where she summarized her vast body of work, titled “Research and Teaching as Social Action,” and shared what will come next.
Her fifth book, set to be published in 2022, draws on the successes of several different disciplines, and focuses on “greening” social work education. It will help practitioners and educators become more aware of environmental concerns, show them how to incorporate sustainability and climate action into curriculum, and give them the skills to work with the groups most impacted by climate change.
According to Prof. Hillock, social work is really about collaboration—between people, between ideas, and between social structures. At the same time, she thinks social work can give back to a lot of those disciplines in terms of things like social justice, social action, and community organizing.
“That's what we do,” she says. “One of our areas of expertise is working on teams with multiple disciplines. So, it's who we are really, as a practice and as a profession. My work is about leaning on that tradition and recognizing that we're stronger together.”