As Social Work Month comes to a close, I think back on one of the Social Workers who had an impact on my own journey. The following is a brief letter I wrote for her a few years ago for a Teaching and Excellence Award.
Whether near or far, when I think of what Social Work is, what it stands for, and the goals it seeks to accomplish, I will always think of my former professor Dalton Connally.
Social Workers seek to improve the human condition by addressing and alleviating issues that contribute to the oppression of the most vulnerable in our society. This can be achieved by promoting change within the individual lives and relationships of the people they serve, and by addressing the larger, systemic issues that can contribute to conflict in their lives.
The tasks that Social Workers choose to undertake can be difficult physically, mentally, emotionally, and otherwise, and Professor Connally took great care with teaching us about how important it is to make time to take care of ourselves as we are taking care of others. The requirement that we work to foster the same kind of self-awareness that we seek to empower our clients with was evident throughout her work. I still remember an assignment that asked us to identify a behavior in ourselves that we would like to change, and to write out a plan detailing things we could do to start working towards that change. We documented our progress as we moved through the stages of change; from pre-contemplation and contemplation, to preparation, action and maintenance and discussed our experiences in class. Since then, I’ve gone on to use this assignment with some of my own clients and students as a practitioner and educator.
I know personally that Social Work is a way of life for Dr. Dalton Connally. Although she teaches and studies in academia; making contributions to the body of work that informs the Social Work profession, she remains a strong advocate for those in need of help; including her students. There was a period I experienced during my time in my undergraduate Social Work program where I was having a difficult time personally and monetarily. I was highly stressed, and unsure of how I would be able to continue. I had missed an assignment and scheduled an appointment with her to explain myself. During the meeting, I explained to Dr. Connally about some stressors that were affecting me. She listened to me intently, met me with a smile, and gave me warm reassurance; a kind reassurance that I have never been able to forget. Her empathy and understanding helped me to refocus, and she even offered me a job as a student assistant for the Social Work Program!
This position helped me out in a couple of ways. It relieved some financial stress I was experiencing, and it also gave me valuable experience working within the department. As touched as I will always be by her understanding and by her act of kindness to me in a time of great need, I understand that Dr. Dalton Connally puts everything she has into helping her students and clients succeed. She will go above and beyond the call of duty for folks because that’s just the kind of person she is.
Her unconditional belief in me and support of me helped me to complete Oakland University’s Social Work program, and my experiences there prepared me to excel as a graduate student at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work. Dr. Connally also knew that I had a desire to teach, and invited me to return to her Introduction to Social Work class as a guest lecturer to talk with students about my experiences in the field. This kind of continuity of support and mentorship is typical of Dr. Connally, and I am encouraged to support others in my work with her same passion and care. Many have helped me along the way to become the individual that I am today. I’ve studied under the tutelage of many professors in my educational career, but I will never forget Professor Dalton Connally. I give her my highest recommendation to be honored with the Teaching and Excellence Award.
Thank a Social Worker today.
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones