Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Adequate is Just Fine

Competency is the new focus in social work education, thanks to the new Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) put out by CSWE in February. Since then, all accredited BSW and MSW programs are working to move from "objectives" to "competencies" across the curriculum. This is a great move forward for the profession of social work.

One aspect of the new EPAS is the requirementthat programs define the "practice behaviors" that students have to demonstrate to meet the 10 major competencies. Additionally, programs have to set criteria to measure these practice behaviors across the curriculum. This means we have to set a scale and define the range from inadequate to good to excellent. Not an easy task. This raises the question, what is "good enough"? Good enough for Jane Addams? Good enough for President Obama? Good enough for the clients our graduates will serve?
American social reformer, Jane Addams
Visual Thesaurus defines competence as "the quality of being adequately or well qualified physically and intellectually." Adequate. Hmm. VT defines adequate as "having the requisite qualities or resources to meet a task." This definition intrigues me and makes me wonder how we respond to the term "adequate." In my experience, adequate is not good enough.

But why not? Adequate is "enough, decent, and equal." It is also "fair to middling, passable, and tolerable."

This reminds me of Voltaire's wisdom, "The perfect is the enemy of good."

Brandis, a social worker who graduated a year ago, asks a similar question in her blog,
What do you need to feel successful? I know the question is about what I need in order to feel successful, but when I began to think about my answer to that question, I was more interested in whether I actually feel successful right now, and if I do, what is it that does or doesn’t make me feel that way…
She ends with this thought. " I have a picture of where I’d like to be professionally when I’m “settled,” and I’m not quite there yet."
Just not there yet. I like that! Brandis post speaks to me in many ways and reflects an honest, healthy awareness of an ongoing journey of life long learning. She also illustrates how she is dealing with paradox and has found that "thin line" of grace between the tension of adequate and excellent.

But that isn't what our culture preaches. We in the United States live in a culture that expects excellence now, which is "the quality of excelling; possessing good qualitys in high degree; an essentail and distinguishing attribute of something or someone." So how do we say that adequate is good enough but seek to find excellence? Here are more questions: How do social service organizations promote excellence but accept adequacy? Can social service agencies motivate staff for excellence given the tight budgets and policy limitations given to the provision of services? How do we include the client's voice in the evaluation of performance regarding adequate or excellent? When is the enemy of perfect getting in the way of our work?

These are important questions to consider. Let me know if adequate is good enough - or not.
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1 comment:

antiSWer said...

Judging student competencies is very difficult for some supervisors. My last practicum supervisor and I had lengthy conversations about the matter. The line between "meeting" and "exceeding" expectations wasn't clear to them. For example, in the area concerning understanding policy, they thought it had to do with how many policies I had memorized, rather than having an understanding about policies and how they impacted the work. It was very frustrating.

Writing up learning objectives and competencies has always been a bit of a frustrating piece for me. The balance between what is wanted by the school, the work site and me was always a precarious one.

As for adequate, I'm fine with it in some respects. There are some areas I will excel in and others that I will struggle with. I've given up the fight for perfection and the need to be better than a long time ago. That doesn't mean I won't do good work, though. :)