Ask a social worker what a typical day in the life is like for them, and it may be close to impossible. No day is the same.
“One of the things I tell students is that the majority of the time, we’re dealing with people who may be having one of the worst days of their life,” said Twala Kelly BSW ’96, MSW ’00, a school mental health counselor and a visiting assistant teaching professor at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work (Stempel College). “As a school mental health counselor, we may have to tell parents that their child is having difficulties like suicidal ideation. We may have students coming to us to share that they are homeless, dealing with identity issues or having financial challenges.”
Kelly first learned about the impact counselors could have on children after being helped by one herself. As a kid, Kelly’s parents divorced, and a counselor worked with her to help her work through her emotions. “She made a difficult situation, not as difficult as it could have been,” she said.
Years later, after securing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the School of Social Work at Stempel College, Kelly now works for the University of Miami as a licensed clinical social worker providing mental health services to underserved students in the school system. In a dual role, she also works as a school social worker with children and teens in grades K-12. Twice a week, in the evenings, she teaches social work classes for her alma mater.
“My main focus is working with children as I feel like they need the most help in having their voices be heard,” she said. “If you can help them very early on with the right interventions, then it will help them throughout life.”
Kelly took a break in her day to take us behind the scenes on what it’s like to work as a social worker in education. She stresses the importance of self-care to avoid burnout. “It’s important that we make sure we are ok and self-aware as individuals so that we can be ok to help families in their time of need.”
Around this time, my alarm wakes me up with a six-minute meditation called the “trigger protection mantra by Jhene Aiko“. The mantra starts off with the words “calm down” and “protect your energy,” and it repeats itself throughout the alarm session. It’s just one way I practice self-care, start my day, and embrace whatever the day may bring. I grab a hot cup of earl grey tea before I take a shower and get dressed.
8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.
I take off and arrive at the office. When I get there, several things may be needing attention, like emails, clinic request follow-ups, and referrals from the clinic and school staff for students or parents who may need my help. I also supervise three MSW interns so I may have to review cases they are working on and prepare for their arrival.
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Around this time, my interns start their day with me, so we do a quick check-in before they get started. I review the paperwork that we need to submit to assist families receiving social services from my program. While this is happening, I may have a parent or a couple of students come in for different issues like fighting or personal concerns, so I work to help them with their situations.
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Around 12:00 p.m., I make sure my interns take their lunch break. I will take a break if I can but if I don’t get a chance to take a full break, I at least make a cup of tea and grab a snack.
1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
The interns I oversee are either following up with students on their caseload or teaching classes on the bullying intervention curriculum for elementary-aged students. We sometimes learn there are a few students that need to be pulled out because they are known to be the bullies in their class. Each of the interns is assigned students to follow up with, so they can talk about what is going on, contact the parents and put a plan together for intervention.
4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
We begin after-school virtual engagement-type activities with the middle and high school students. For example, on Wednesdays, we host an event called “Cook and Talk,” where we cook with students a healthy dish or a fun dessert, and they share with us how their day/week is going. This week, we made candy apples and rice crispy treats.
Once I’m wrapped up with the after-school group, I head to do office hours from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and to teach my class at the School of Social Work at Stempel College from 7:50 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. I grab something to eat in between. While driving, I play calming music to help me switch to the next activity.
7:50 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Class starts with a general check-in with the students to see how life is treating them. We talk a bit about their weekly self-care practices and what may have caused them a bit of stress. After check-ins, we review the previous week’s topic then move on to the week’s discussion. Class time consists of lectures, videos, group discussion/role play, activities, and assignment review. Topics range from knowing what it means to be culturally competent and self-aware to understanding the importance of trauma-informed care. We cover everything from how to write a biopsychosocial assessment and an action plan on how to assess for self-harm or conduct a home visit. I share real-life stories to help them gain a better understanding of what it really looks like to work in the field.
I get home and grab some fruit like grapes, cherries, or an apple. I take a long, hot shower, and after I’m done, I sit for a bit and meditate on the day while I sip on a cup of chamomile tea. I put on some calming music – I have a million playlists with titles like “Calm Down for the Day” or “Come Back from a Sad Moment”. The music helps me drift off from there. Before I close my eyes to sleep, I think about the three good things I am thankful for. It helps me to end the day in gratitude on a positive note.
FIU Stempel College was ranked in the top 50 among public universities for its School of Social Work by U.S. News & World Report.