Agencies and Practicum Instructors

Field instructors

The role of the practicum instructor as teacher, guide, challenger, and role model to the student is a vital one. Practicum instructors perform these responsibilities on a voluntary basis, often to give back what they were given and to continue to remain current and challenged in their thinking about the practice role they perform and the social issues they face in their work with individuals, families, small groups, neighborhoods, communities, and organizations. No two practicum instructor or student experiences are identical, but there are threads of commonality in all practicum placement experiences.


Agency Affiliation

The School of Social Work defines an agency as an organization that can provide an educational experience that will allow the student to gain competence in the 9 areas of the social work profession as outlined by CSWE.

Agencies can be identified as a possible practicum site in various ways, including by practicum advisors, program faculty, UPJ and UPB MSW Regional Program Directors, referral from other practicum instructors or agency training coordinators, self-referral, or students. Agencies providing a supportive and inclusive learning environment that models affirmation and respect for diversity and difference are purposefully recruited. In most instances, practicum advisors will not recommend using agencies as practicum placement settings that have been in operation for less than one year.

Agencies considering being a practicum education placement may want to consult: Internships, Department of Labor Regulations, and Social Work Field Education: Setting the Record Straight, February 25, 2014.

Agencies are selected based on their ability to:

A. Provide in-person contact with clients and constituencies.

1. For Generalist students this entails contact with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

2. For Direct Practice Specialization students this involves contact with individuals, families, and small groups.

3. For COSA Specialization students this requires contact with groups, organizations, and communities.

B. Offer a broad range of learning experiences and assignment of professional responsibilities consistent with the student's educational program and level.

C. Provide a qualified practicum instructor(s).

1. An agency that is not be able to provide a qualified practicum instructor may be considered if it is found to offer a unique learning opportunity for students. A qualified off-site MSW will be appointed to provide Practicum instruction as per guidelines outlined in the MSW handbook.  The Director of Practicum Education makes this decision in conjunction with the Practicum Faculty Advisor at Pitt-Main or by MSW Regional Program Directors at Pitt Johnstown (UPJ) and Pitt-Bradford (UPB) for agencies in their areas.

D. Prior to signing an affiliation agreement, the agency must schedule time to meet with the Director of Practicum Education for Pitt-Main or the respective MSW Regional Program Directors at Pitt-Johnstown (UPJ) and Pitt-Bradford (UPB).  The affiliation agreement  is signed by the Director of Practicum Education and the Dean of the School of Social Work for all campuses.

Affiliation Process

  1. Initial referrals (or self-referrals) are sent to the Director of Practicum Education or the Pitt-Johnstown (UPJ) and Pitt-Bradford UPB the MSW Regional MSW Program Directors, who then initiates a discussion with an agency representative to explore the agency’s interest in becoming a practicum placement agency, their ability to offer learning opportunities for students to develop Generalist Competencies and concomitant behaviors and/or Specialization (i.e., Direct Practice or COSA) Competencies, as well as the availability of a qualified practicum instructor. A brief review of School and agency responsibilities occurs. A site visit to the agency may be made at this time or the interview will be conducted via Zoom/TEAMs.
  2. If the Director of Practicum Education (or the Pitt - Johnstown (UPJ) and Pitt-Bradford (UPB) MSW Regional Program Directors) thinks the agency could be a suitable practicum placement, the agency representative is asked to complete and submit the Affiliation Agreement and other materials, such as a description of agency services and learning opportunities. The Pitt-Johnstown (UPJ) and Pitt-Bradford (UPB) MSW Regional Program Directors alert the Director of Practicum Education to expect materials from prospective practicum placement agencies in their areas.
  3. The Director of Practicum Education reviews the materials submitted. If deemed appropriate as a practicum placement agency, the Director of Practicum Education signs the Affiliation Agreement and forwards it to the Dean of the School of Social Work for final review and signature.
  4. The Practicum Education Administrator for the Office of Practicum Education receives an electronic copy of the signed Affiliation Agreement; copies are distributed to all signatories as well as the UPJ and UPB MSW Program Coordinators, when appropriate
  5. The Practicum Education Administrator for the Office of Practicum Education adds the agency to the shared SONIA database of available Pitt-Main (Oakland), Pitt-Johnstown (UPJ), and Pitt-Bradford (UPB) placement options and descriptions of practicum placement learning opportunities. 

Required Documentation

  1. Affiliation Agreement
    • Details the responsibility of the practicum placement agency as well as the University.
    • A single Affiliation Agreement is required for agencies that have multiple locations (sites).
      • For example, Pittsburgh Public Schools has many sites, but only requires a single Affiliation Agreement.
    • The Affiliation Agreement may be revised from time-to-time to allow for changes in educational policies, laws, and other significant factors that may impact practicum placement.
    • The Affiliation Agreement shall be executed every 5 years or earlier when executive personnel in agency/school changes or if the agency is significantly restructured.
    • Questions regarding the Affiliation Agreement should be directed to the Director of Practicum Education, Dr. Tonya Teal Slawinski (
  2. Practicum Site Description Form (Qualtrics) 
    • Provides detailed information about the learning opportunities available at the agency. 
    • A Practicum Site Description is required for each location or program that will accept a School of Social Work intern.
      • For example, Pittsburgh Public Schools has many sites and requires a demographic sheet for each school (location/program).
    • Updates to the information provided in the demographic sheet can be made by contacting the Practicum Education Administrator.
    • To access the Practicum Site Description, please contact the Practicum Education Administrator, Andrew Barrett (
  3. Practicum Instructor Application
    • Provides information about the individual who will be supervising our School of Social Work interns.
      • Practicum Instructors must be individuals with an MSW and two years post-masters experience. See below for more detailed practicum instructor qualification requirements
      • Practicum Instructor applications are completed online through Sonia
    • Approved Practicum Instructors will be required to attend a Practicum Instructor Orientation before a student intern begins their practicum placement. 
    • If a practicum instructor changes agency or site and are still interested in providing practicum supervision, they should contact the Practicum Education Administrator in order to update this information. 
    • To access the Practicum Instructor Application, please contact the Practicum Education Administrator
  4. Task Supervisor Application
    • Provides information about an individual who will provide day-to-day, on-site supervision for the student intern. 
    • This individual collaborates with the Practicum Instructor to complete the student's Practicum Learning Plan and Evaluations.
    • The assignment of a task supervisor is required if there is not an MSW at the Agency who can fulfill the role of practicum instructor. 
    • A Task Supervisor Application is required whenever a task supervisor is assigned. 
    • To access the Task Supervisor Application, please contact the Practicum Education Administrator

**The Office of Practicum Education does not maintain health records of students. If a practicum placement agency has required students to update immunizations, TB, or other medical tests, the student is responsible for providing the records to the practicum instructor or other staff member identified by the practicum placement agency, as requested.

Practicum Instruction

The School of Social Work's official definition of Practicum Instructor is as follows:

  • Practicum instructor responsibilities will be held by any of the following who hold an MSW and a minimum of two years post-masters experience:
    • a member of the faculty, such as the person teaching the practicum lab/seminar or other faculty,
    • retired or current social worker from the community;
    • or a board member of the agency
  • The practicum instructor will collaborate with the student to create the practicum learning plan, provide a minimum of one hour of weekly supervisor, conduct at least one on site practicum visit per term (more if needed) and will review and sign off on the student’s evaluation and timesheet.

 Practicum Instructor qualities should include:

  • The capacity to conceptualize and transmit knowledge
  • The ability to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate the core or advanced competencies
  • Commitment to the values and ethics of the social work profession and have the capacity to operationalize them in practice through practicum instruction
  • Ability to identify appropriate learning opportunities within the agency which can be utilized to enhance the student’s knowledge and practice skills
  • Perform an educational assessment
  • Possess knowledge of and apply adult learning concepts
  • Select appropriate teaching material related to the core competencies
  • Assess student progress in relation to mutually agreed upon educational and learning goals
  • Use the supervisory relationship in a constructive manner
  • Work collaboratively with the School’s liaison
  • Express commitment to professional education through safeguarding the practicum instruction process by preparing supervisory and instructional meetings, through communication with the liaison, and in participating in School of Social Work seminars specific to practicum instruction

Practicum Instructor Benefits

  • While no financial remuneration is involved, practicum instructors are eligible for the following benefits:

    • Ability to earn free Continuing Education Units (CEUs) by attending the 3 hour online orientation and SIFI trainings offered throughout the year which are 1-3 hour trainings

    • A 50% discount on all Continuing Education Programs sponsored by the School of Social Work, as space is available.

    • Ability to be involved in the life of the School and to identify as part of it by attending the School of Social Work Speaker Series and other events. 

Roles and Responsibilities of the Practicum Instructor

  • Provide regular and structured supervisory and instructional meetings with their student.

    • A minimum of at least one hour per week of supervision is required.

  • Model professional behaviors and practices for the student. A practicum instructor reinforces the social work perspective and encourage the student’s professional identification and development.

  • Contact the practicum liaison with questions that arise during the course of the student’s practicum placement.

  • Work with their student to develop the Practicum Learning Plan and outline tasks appropriate to the student’s educational program and level

    • The practicum instructor and student document these activities, which help the student to make progress toward achieving relevant competencies and concomitant behaviors, in the Practicum Learning Plan for the practicum placement.

  • Engage the student in a problem-solving process if issues arise that cannot be addressed in the normal course of supervision.

    • The practicum instructor contacts the practicum liaison if the difficulties cannot be resolved through supervision or problem-solving. 

  • Complete with their student a Practicum Evaluation at the end of each term of practicum placement.

    • The Practicum Evaluation requires the practicum instructor and the student to honestly appraise the student’s learning and professional development over the course of the term in relation to the relevant social work competencies (i.e., Generalist, Direct Practice, or COSA) and concomitant behaviors.

    • The practicum instructor must sign the Practicum Evaluation before the student electronically submits it and their Time Sheet at the end of the term. The student will not receive a grade for practicum education unless a completed and signed Practicum Evaluation is received in time for review by the practicum liaison before its due date.

  • Meet with the student and the practicum liaison at least once each term to discuss the student’s progress, learning opportunities and tasks, and any issues or concerns arising during the practicum placement

Practicum Instructor Training

  • Practicum Faculty are responsible for providing orientation and training to practicum instructors for all campuses (Pitt-Main, Pitt-Johnstown and Pitt-Bradford)

  • New practicum instructors are required to participate in Practicum Instructor Orientation, which is available online.  All practicum instructors are 

    • Three hours online Practicum Instructor Orientations are offered multiple times throughout the Fall, Spring, and Summer terms and offered to Practicum Instructors at all campuses. 

    • The Practicum Instructor/Task Supervisor orientation is a 3 hour online training 6-8 times per year. Practicum Instructor/ ask Supervisor Orientation familiarizes new practicum instructors with their role and responsibilities as educators as well as the expectations of practicum instruction. It describes policies pertinent to the practicum experience and discusses curricular issues that define the student’s expected practicum learning assignments, including the competencies and behaviors to be developed through the practicum experience. In addition, new practicum instructors become acquainted with the MSW curriculum and the distinction between generalist and specialization practicum education.

    • Those who complete the online Practicum Instructor Orientation receive 3 Continuing Education Units (CEUs)

  • New and experienced practicum instructors are encouraged to attend the Seminars in Practicum Instruction (SIFI).

    • The SIFI's are offered online throughout the year and are generally between 1-3 hours and offer.

    • SIFIs focus on more specific strategies for educational supervision  including but not limited to problem-solving, supervision, anti-racist/anti-oppressive practices, etc.

    • Attendees who complete each SIFI session receive CEU's (if appropriate)  for the time allotted for the training 

  • Contact the Director of Practicum Education for further information 

Appointment Requirements and Procedures

  •  The MSW Program assumes responsibility for reinforcing the social work perspective with the practicum student in the rare instance when the agency staff member who would work with the student does not possess a Master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited social work program and two years’ post-Master’s social work practice experience.
  • Practicum instructors can access the MSW Practicum Education Handbook and all necessary documents on the School of Social Work Website

  • To be appointed by the Office of Practicum Education to serve as a practicum instructor, an individual must have:
    • A Master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited social work program
    • A minimum of two years’ post-Master’s social work practice experience
  • Full-time or part-time students enrolled in a BASW or MSW program cannot serve simultaneously as practicum instructors for University of Pittsburgh social work students.
  • Individuals from other educational programs who are completing internships at the agency may not supervise University of Pittsburgh social work students.
  • Practicum Instructor Application
    • Provides information about the individual who will be supervising our School of Social Work interns. 
    • Approved Practicum Instructors will be required to attend a Practicum Instructor Orientation before a student intern begins their practicum placement. 
    • If a practicum instructor changes agency or site and are still interested in providing practicum supervision, they should contact the Practicum Education administrator in order to update this information.
  • The Director of Practicum Education, in consultation with the UPB and UPJ MSW  Regional Program Directors for applicants from agencies in their areas, reviews the application and résumé to ensure that the educational and experience criteria are met.

The Practicum Liaison

The School of Social Work's official definition of Practicum Liaison is as follows:

  • The Practicum Liaison for all MSW students will have a CSWE–accredited Social Work MSW degree with 2 years post master’s experience and will review the practicum learning plan with the practicum instructor and task supervisor at the agency, conduct at least one practicum visit per term (more if needed) and will review and sign off on the student’s evaluation and timesheet at the end of each term. In rare instances the Practicum Liaison also function as the Practicum Instructor.

More information related to the Practicum Liaison role and process can be found in the MSW and BASW handbooks.