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The personal is professional: how U.S. social work educators’ personal relationships with nature inform their professional lives
Social Work Education  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-12-30, DOI: 10.1080/02615479.2021.2021174
Jon Hudson BHW MSW PhD, Terry Koenig PhD LSCSW


This naturalistic study is one of the first to examine how social work educators address nature in the social work classroom. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with sixteen educators who described their interactions with nature and its impact on their personal and professional lives. Findings from this study include four themes: (1) personal experiences with nature that often began in childhood; (2) spiritual and/or emotional connections to nature; (3) an expanded social work mission conceptualized as either ecological or environmental justice; and (4) how participants’ views of the natural environment shaped their teaching as social work educators. Although most participants shared narratives of nature that began in childhood using spiritual and/or emotional language, some did not describe an emotional or spiritual connection to nature. Participants whose narratives reflected this emotional or spiritual connection to nature believed an approach rooted in ecological justice should inform social work’s mission and teaching. These findings challenge the recent emphasis on competency-based education and support the importance of personal and professional self-reflection and on conceptualizing people and the environment as an irreducible whole dynamic system necessary for expanding social work’s mission and teaching.