This is an exploratory qualitative study whose focus was to ascertain social work field instructors' perceptions of the characteristics and attributes necessary in the provision of competent field instruction. It utilized case study as a framework of analysis. Moral reasoning and adult development provided a theoretical framework for the study. Nineteen field instructors working with an undergraduate program in social work participated in one of five focus groups, and responded to questions related to why they became and remain field instructors, their perceptions of the qualities and characteristics that comprise a competent field instructor, qualities and characteristics of excellent and unacceptable student interns, field instructors' roles in gatekeeping, and field instructors' perceptions of leadership as it relates to field instruction.
Data analysis indicated that there are specific roles, personal attributes, practice skills, and environmental criteria perceived as necessary in order to perform competently as a field instructor. In addition, three themes permeated the discussion of characteristics, gatekeeping and leadership. These themes were role modeling, communication, and nurturing. Leadership skills and characteristics were explored and analyzed according to the models of leadership developed by Kouzes and Posner, and Hersey and Blanchard. Findings indicate that field instructors perceive themselves as learners, as well as teachers. They also do not recognize themselves as leaders, and are generally uncomfortable with the role and responsibility of gatekeeping.
The study recognizes specific implications for practice, as well as future research. It provides social work field directors within the schools of social work with a list of criteria that may be used to select future field instructors, as well as evaluate current ones. The same criteria can be used by practitioners who wish to become field instructors to assess their readiness for that role and responsibility. The study also provides field directors with a wealth of training opportunities for field instructors, particularly in the areas of leadership and gatekeeping. In addition, the study proposes a more in depth introduction and discussion of leadership and gatekeeping into the curriculum so that students understand their importance in professional practice.
Ongoing exploration of non-positional leadership in social work, particularly in the field, is a topic that invites future research studies. Additional areas for further study include the manner in which field instructors are selected and trained, field instructors' perceptions of gatekeeping as a professional responsibility, and the relationship between field instructors and schools of social work from the field instructors' points-of-view. Comparative studies of leadership and gatekeeping between graduate and undergraduate field instructors, as well as across practice areas, can also be explored.