Interview with Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC on School Social Work

About Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC: Mr. Duffy is a school social worker at Aspire Monarch Academy, a charter school in Oakland, CA. As a school social worker, he provides counseling and support services to students and their families, and also develops and implements workshops and presentations for students and parents on the social, emotional, and psychological issues that can impact the school community.

Prior to working at Aspire Monarch Academy, Mr. Duffy worked as a GED teacher at The Maryland Multicultural Youth Center (MMYC) in Langley Park, MD. MMYC was a division of the Latin American Youth Center, which was an NGO based in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. After two years, he transitioned to a case manager position at the center for three years, a role that helped him to decide to pursue his degree in social work so that he could work more closely with youth in a counseling capacity.

During his MSW program at UC Berkeley, Mr. Duffy completed an internship at a K-8 school in Oakland, where he counseled students in groups and individually. While enrolled at UC Berkeley, he also completed the necessary coursework and internship hours to earn his Pupil Personnel Services Credential (PPSC). Mr. Duffy earned his BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and completed his MSW in 2014. Andy Duffy was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Can you give an overview of the core responsibilities you have as a school social worker at Aspire Monarch Academy?

[Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC] First, I should clarify that my role on campus is called the School Counselor, which can be filled by Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapists (MFTs), PsyD’s, etc. So, I fill roles typically associated with school social workers and school counselors.

I work with students in a wide variety of ways. Different styles of interventions are used to address academic, social and emotional issues. For instance, I work with students individually to process trauma, discuss difficulties with following behavior expectations in class, family and friend difficulties, etc. The groups that I run typically address developing improved social skills, increasing self-regulation at school, and addressing emotional issues (typically anxiety). I will also do class-wide discussions, particularly around issues of bullying and large-scale social difficulties in the class.

I work with parents in a couple of ways. The first is communicating directly with the parents of students to whom I provide counseling. I will often first call parents to obtain verbal consent for students to receive services. In that conversation, I describe what counseling entails and have a brief conversation about concerns for the student, any possible traumatic events, the family, etc. I always intend to keep close contact with families, especially since research shows that school-based interventions are most effective for children when the counselor and parents work as closely together as possible in addressing concerns. Especially for elementary aged students, it’s important for the students to see and know that many supportive adults are working towards the same goals and all have the child’s wellbeing in mind. However, my communication with parents typically depends on the nature of what we’re discussing, and can vary from family to family. I communicate more often with parents whose children cite family difficulties as one of their concerns. Also, I’m more likely to communicate with parents when they make more of an effort to check-in with me.

I also help to run presentations and workshops for parents and families once a month, as part of a team called the Behavioral Wellness Team (BW). This team includes the dean, the school psychologist and another psychologist who has previously provided counseling to students and families at the school and now works to provide training and support to the school. Her special focus is on trauma and restorative practices, and she’s at school one day a week. We have recently conducted two surveys to see which topics interest the parents, and then we planned our meetings and presentations accordingly. We’ve presented on a variety of topics, including positive discipline, bullying, restorative justice practices at home and school and more.

Restorative Justice is considered to be an alternative to the more traditional system of punishment that focuses on blame and removal from the community when a problem behavior arises. The main emphasis of restorative justice is to strengthen relationships (school-wide, within a class, in a friend group, in a family, etc.) so that repairing a relationship becomes the main focus when harm has taken place. As part of our efforts to implement restorative justice practices, the Behavioral Wellness Team runs workshops for staff members and family members to discuss using affective language (e.g. “I feel (emotion) when you (action)”) and community building activities to increase investment in the relationship by everyone involved. Our school is in the process of implementing various practices that fall under the umbrella of “restorative justice.” We will eventually run workshops that will help staff and students to feel comfortable using a circle-style discussion to address harm that has taken place.

I provide updates to teachers about strategies that we practice in counseling so that they can try to reinforce the use of these strategies in class. These strategies can relate to helping students to regulate their emotions at school, get along better with peers, and more. I also consult with school staff to discuss what might be happening with a particular student, as well as class-wide issues.

My role is partly the same as that of the school psychologist at our school. Our school psychologist devotes 50% of her time focusing on evaluations and interventions for students with IEPs. The other half of her time is dedicated to counseling of the general population of the school. Since the school psychologist already works with most of our students who have an IEP, she also provides individual counseling to students whose IEPs stipulate a need for individual counseling. However, I do still have a chance to work with students with IEPs in groups and in class-wide activities.

Our school has a Response to Intervention (RTI) team that uses a multi-faceted and multi-step approach to identify and address the academic, emotional, and behavioral needs of students. The RTI team is comprised of the principal, dean, psychologist, education specialist (runs out-of-class special education interventions) and reading specialist. I work with the team to discuss individual students of concern. We also work as a team to make sure that the consultation process at the school is moving along smoothly when concerns arise. I consult with staff members through the RTI process to discuss social-emotional concerns and to discuss interventions that might make a positive impact.

[] Can you elaborate on your involvement in trainings and workshops for school staff and parents? What topics do you cover during these trainings and workshops? Do you also design educational presentations for students on certain social, emotional, and/or academic issues?

[Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC] I help to plan and facilitate parent workshops once a month on the third Wednesday of the month. As mentioned in the previous question, the topics of these workshops include restorative justice, bullying, positive discipline at home, and other topics. The parents voted on which topics interested them the most, and we have been doing those accordingly. Each workshop is 1.5 hours long, and we stay afterwards to answer questions that parents have. We also answer questions that parents can submit anonymously in the office in the last 15 minutes of each workshop. We try to make the workshops as collaborative as possible, by providing opportunities for parents to share amongst themselves in small groups and with the whole group.

My experience in providing workshops for school staff has been more limited. I’ve helped to plan and facilitate three workshops so far this school year, all of which have focused on trauma-informed and restorative practices. I provide these workshops with the same team with whom I facilitate and plan the parent workshops, the Behavioral Wellness Team.

I have been involved in a few class-wide presentations regarding certain social-emotional topics. I worked with the dean early in the school year to do classroom presentations regarding bullying. I presented to all of the 3rd-5th grade classrooms (7 classes total) about this topic. I have also done some restorative conversations in classrooms with large groups of students to address conflicts that have come up on a larger scale.

All of the members of the Behavioral Wellness team have pretty equal roles. The school psychologist is the facilitator of the group; she is in charge of creating and updating agendas for our meetings. We discuss logistics of how we will manage referrals, track data, keep files and other housekeeping issues. We also discuss individual cases to look at what interventions are already in place and what might be changed. We operate our group in alignment with the RTI model and do our best to move a student up the various tiers before rushing to more intensive interventions. For instance, we’ll check in with a teacher to see if they have tried some interventions in the classroom that might help with the difficulties a student is having.

[] What have been some of the most rewarding experiences you have had during your time at Aspire Monarch Academy? Do you see yourself staying in school social work as a career?

[Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC] I have been lucky to have some rewarding experiences so far this year. There have been a few students whom I have helped to reduce post-traumatic symptoms, helping them to feel safe, sleep more soundly and communicate more openly about what has affected them.

I have also found safety planning to be a rewarding experience. Giving students a plan to keep themselves safe when things get dangerous at home is unnerving for me, but the students seem to experience genuine relief once the plan is in place. It has been a good opening for discussions of domestic violence and safety, which can be difficult to start otherwise.

It’s also just super rewarding to be surrounded by awesome children all day! A short conversation with a student can fill your cup for the rest of the day. And then there are the kindergarteners.

I do see myself continuing in school social work. I find the work to be very fun and rewarding, even though it can also be very challenging at times. I walked into a school this year that was very well prepared for a social worker/counselor. They have had counselors in the past, and the climate overall is supportive of my work. I imagine that I would be less enthusiastic about my job if my school did not feel as supportive.

[] What have been some of the most challenging aspects of your job as a school social worker thus far? How did you manage these difficulties?

[Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC] It’s difficult to find out that a child has been abused or neglected. It always feels profoundly unfair and unfortunate, even when I know that the parents have the best of intentions. I find some comfort in reminding myself of the importance and value of reporting abuse, but it’s just always very sad.

One other challenging aspect for me is that I’m just so new to the job. I first worked in a school when I started my internships in my MSW program in the 2012-13 school year, working two days a week at a K-8 school. The following year, I worked at a school-based health center in a high school for three days a week. So, in a way, I sort of had one complete year of experience in a school before starting as a school counselor full-time. I had worked with young people before, but I was not used to the rhythm of working in a school as a full-time job. I still have so much fine-tuning to do with my technique in my work that almost every day feels like a challenge! However, I just try to remind myself that it’s okay for me to still be a learner. My co-workers are understanding of the fact that I am learning as I go, which is a huge help as well.

[] How do you recommend students who are interested in school social work prepare for the specific responsibilities and challenges of this profession?

[Andy Duffy, MSW, PPSC] Well, there are some pretty cut and dry things that would help a social work student to be ready to work in schools. First, I’m writing below the list of courses that I was required to take to earn the PPSC (Pupil Personnel Services Credential), which is an essential credential for becoming a school social worker.

  1. Social Work Practice in School Settings
  2. Social Work and Education Policy
  3. Introductory Practicum
  4. Field Seminar
  5. Field Placement (2nd year in a school setting)

In addition to the classes required to get the PPSC, I chose to take Family Therapy, Social Work with Latinos, and Infant Development to supplement my knowledge going into work with younger kids.

I’m not entirely sure how a student would go about getting the required internship hours in a school setting without doing it as part of an MSW program. However, it might be possible to just reach out directly to the school districts to offer your internship services. There might be some difficulty with insuring that person, as an MSW program will typically either offer malpractice insurance or strike a deal with a school for the school to provide it. They might need to buy their own insurance if that is the case.

Otherwise, any experience in schools is helpful for learning about school social work. Understanding how schools and education work in a general sense will provide great context for future school social workers. Also, any work with school-aged children outside of schools is helpful for learning about school social work, as much of that work will apply to a school setting as well.

Thank you Mr. Duffy for your time and insights into school social work.

Last updated: April 2020