David H. Johnson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Millersville University School of Social Work
Millersville, PA
(717) 517-7418

"The best dissertation is a done dissertation." __ Anonymous


"The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt."__Frederick Buechner

My Teaching Philosophy

By the very nature of its name the social work profession positions itself as working on society and that which holds society together. According to the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (Council on Social Work Education, 2001), the “values of the social work profession are service, social and economic justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, and integrity and competence in practice” (p. 4). As a social work educator, it is incumbent upon me to model these values to my students. This forms the basis for my philosophy of social work education.

Modeling Social Work Values and Ethics for Students

As we meet clients “where they are,” we must also meet students “where they are.” We use the helping process for clients and we must recognize that student education is also a process. As I strive to model the values of social work in my interactions with students, I facilitate a process whereby the student can, hopefully, begin the process of integrating these values into her or his own life, if they have not already done so. On this basis, my students are treated with respect and I expect them to respect me and their classmates. We build relationships with each other in class and outside of class. As conflicts arise, and they inevitably will, I try to model good relationship-building techniques for my students. Finally, I insist on integrity and competence in my students through strict adherence to policies of academic integrity and a focus on increasing competence as evidenced by student performance in class and on outside assignments.

Expectations of Students

As social workers, it is tempting to forget that we are educators. As educators, it is tempting to buy into the hubris of having all the answers. While we must always be attuned to the demands of life on our students, we must balance our compassion with our professional obligation to produce competent practitioners of our profession. In this respect, my tendency is to place high expectations on my students and then to provide them as much support as possible to help them to meet those expectations. Education should be challenging. I believe that good answers come from asking good questions, but that great answers come from asking great questions. Among my roles as an educator are both to ask great questions and to teach my students to ask great questions as well.

Of course, education must also be enjoyable if students are to continue to perform at the high level that I expect of them. For that reason, I try to offer choice where possible to students in their assignments while maintaining a manageable structure. I tend to infuse humor into the classroom where appropriate. I have learned, however, that one must be more literal the lower the level of education (BSW versus MSW versus Ph.D.).

I believe that students must learn to be comfortable speaking in front of a group. For this reason, my tendency is to incorporate a solo or group presentation assignment into every course. I strongly encourage students to avoid reading a presentation to the class, and this is reflected in my grading. Rather, I expect the student to tell me and the class what s/he has learned about the topic. This demands a higher level of preparation on the student’s part. If we do not raise the level of expectation, how will we ever raise the level of performance?

If learning is to be fun then students must be prepared. I expect students to come to class on time. I start on time and end on time. I expect them to have read assigned material before class. I encourage this by asking questions that rely upon the readings for answers. However, I do not believe in asking students to recite facts from the readings. I try to frame my questions such that the student is required to synthesize the material read. In my experience, this has worked to improve critical thinking skills among students.

Strengths Perspective in the Classroom

As a practitioner, I rely heavily on the strengths perspective. Here again, the classroom reflects the field. Every student has particular strengths and, wherever possible, I try to play to their strengths. However, one must also utilize strengths as the basis to encourage growth and change in both clients and in students. For this reason, my expectations may differ somewhat from one class to the next or even one student to the next. What I hope to see over the course of a semester is growth in each student. To the extent that I am able to do so, I try to incorporate that into my evaluation of student efforts.

I believe it is important to listen to students. Again, this is modeling the way we should deal with clients. For a variety of reasons, it is important to adjust instruction as one listens to what students are saying. By encouraging discussion during interactive lecture settings, I frequently find out what the students have been missing, where their continuing questions lie, and how I can help them to formulate great questions and come up with great answers. I strive to demonstrate fairness and to give students appropriate control over their learning. To this end, I utilize the following methods: active listening to students, offering optional assignments as appropriate, and recognizing that learning and growth are processes thereby allowing for grading based upon advancement rather than specific performance.

Balancing Demands of the Academy

Finally, faculty are expected to balance teaching, research and service. I choose to teach because I believe it is the best way for me to leverage my particular skills and knowledge towards achieving the purposes of social work. Teaching allows me to influence many more people ultimately than I can influence as a direct practitioner. Research in our field should serve the function of improving practice and the teaching of practice at all levels. To the extent that it is possible to do so, I will always strive to maintain that focus in my research activities. As for service, it is a prime value of social work and one of the aspects which I enjoy most in life. Achieving balance in the professional demands of the academy is not an easy task. My goal is to have teaching, research and service complement each other in such a way that each dimension informs and enriches the other dimensions of life as a faculty member. This may not always be possible, but it will always be my goal.


Council on Social Work Education. (2001). Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.