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BRANDON D. MITCHELL

Adjunct Professor, University of Tennessee | bmitch47@utk.edu

Image by Ed Robertson

RESEARCH PATHWAYS

My research is aligned at the intersection of education and social work – with two overarching research pathways. 

Research Pathway 1: To examine how mechanisms in society influence the school (e.g., policies; media discourse).

Research Pathway 2: To improve the role of school social workers and their alignment with justice-oriented practice.  

Publications

Some of my recent publications are listed below, including PDFs and links to the research. Please scan the QR code for a link to my Research Gate profile. 

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School

An op-ed on education censorship and school social work in the National Association of Social Work (NASW) School Social Work Speciality Practice Area. 

Capitol Building

Since 2020, recensions on youth rights and education censorship have been backed by a network of actors and organizations on the political Right, evidenced by race and diversity curricula bans, book bans, and inflammatory media discourse. The scope and prevalence of education censorship are understudied with little known about the policies enacted, and influences of media discourse, school boards, and the effects on schools and the school social worker. The purpose of this dissertation is to explore and understand the scope and prevalence of education censorship, including policies, media discourse, school boards, and schools. To achieve the aims of this dissertation, four studies were pursued. Each study is guided by a unique methodology, however, Fairclough’s (2013) exploratory critique is the overarching method to unify all four studies. Study 1 entailed a legislative analysis of enacted policies in 2021-22 related to race/diversity curricula bans and juxtaposed with media discourse (n = 24) on the political right written by Christopher Rufo – the prominent political activist on the Right. Study 2 included a national analysis of news articles (n = 170) published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Tampa Bay Times. Study 3 analyzed public comments across (n = 6) school board sessions in the Traverse City School District in Michigan and was integrated with anti-CRT articles (n = 11) written by network elites and think-tanks on the political Right. Study 4 concluded the macro-to micro level focus of this dissertation by analyzing the impact on schools and support based mechanisms, including the school social worker. This study was operationalized by (n = 1) focus group and (n = 11) interviews with active SSWs across the US.

School Supplies

School social workers are increasingly being recognized and employed in schools across the country to promote critical avenues of system-wide school-based support. However, limited research has explored state certification standards of school social workers to understand the implications on practice efficacy and roles to improve the overall capacity of practitioners. In this study, we examine licensing standards and practice across 13 Midwest states, leveraging key partners in each state of interest. Findings reveal a large variation in SSW preparation, certification, and licensing standards. Aspects discussed in the results include, degree requirements, preparation programs, state endorsement, pathways to licensure, evaluation components, board of education requirements, and direct service implications. We discuss the implications of our findings and delineate the complexities, inconsistencies, and outline strategies for future research. As schools increasingly come to rely and depend on school social workers, we must work to build consistency in state requirements, solidify training standards, and strive to build efficacy and strength of the field.

School's out

Since 2020, a network of actors and organizations have united in the implementation of education censorship—posing school-wide implications and impositions on the practice of mental health practitioners. States have outlined race and diversity curricula bans, sports and restroom bans, anti-Diversity, Equity and Inclusion legislation, and laws to undermine Social–Emotional Learning. In this paper, we explore the impact of education censorship and anti-Social-Emotional Learning legislation in relation to school mental health. To discuss the responses and advocacy of school mental health practitioners, we provide an overview of education censorship, noting the scope, prevalence, and evolution of topics to explicate a deeper understanding of the legislative action imposed over the last few years. Next, we delineate three non-exhaustive explanations of the legislation: the evolution of education censorship, education governance and corporate curricula control, and the shift to transformative Social–Emotional Learning. To strategize on how to respond to these trends we provide two alternative response pathways, offer implications, and discuss aspects of advocacy, resistance, and action. In conclusion, we provide a discussion to extend each response pathway, providing additional considerations, implications, and outline calls for action.

Image by Ivan Aleksic

As the need for school social work (SSW) practitioners increases, more research may be useful to understand how roles and practices are shaped and how this differs from their perceptions of essential practice. To understand the roles and functions of SSW, a survey of nine critical components was developed through an evaluation of national association’s standards that offer guidance for SSW practice. Survey respondents (N = 318) consisted mostly of SSW practitioners (85%), evaluated nine critical components: advocacy, building capacity, home-school liaison, multi-tier system of support, navigating school settings, professional values, service delivery, social work theory, use of data and evidence, and suggested the addition of new essential components. The results focus on which practices are deemed essential and the frequency of performing these tasks. We conclude with implications of practice essentiality and frequency discussed across the nine critical component domains, offering suggestions for future research, education, training, and professional development of SSW practitioners.

Image by Ryan Tauss

The school reliance on exclusionary discipline drives behavioral inequities and sustains the marginalization of youth in schools. The narratives of punishment often extend beyond the walls of the school system and may be reinforced by news media discourse. Nevertheless, the relationship between news media discourse and the school disciplinary structure is an understudied area of research. Using critical discourse techniques—with a theoretical framework of critical race and news framing theories—we analyze news coverage of exclusionary discipline across (N = 64) newspaper articles. Our findings underscore news discourse with a hyper-focus on youth deficits, stigmatizing portrayals of violence and blame, and teacher resistance to discipline alternatives and reform. Discursive absence included a lack of youth and family voices and perspectives, and a disconnection from the systemic mechanisms that shape the disciplinary structure. We conclude with implications for educators, policymakers, and scholars—as we advocate for a re-invigorated focus toward the equitable support and inclusion of youth.

Image by Joshua Sukoff

Since 2021, legislators have enacted a range of exclusionary policies and imposed curricula constraints. Education censorship is orchestrated by an alliance of network elites on the political Right, including think tanks (e.g., Manhattan Institute; Heritage Foundation), lobbyists (e.g., American Legislative Exchange Council), legislators, media conglomerates (e.g., Fox News), school board advocacy groups (e.g., Moms for Liberty), and political action committees (e.g., 1776 PAC) funded by dark money operatives. Education censorship is defined as any constraints on curricula, training, or teaching parameters imposed by legislators or identity-based exclusionary policies. Beginning with race and diversity curricula legislation (anti-Critical Race Theory), censorship has evolved to impact K-12 schools, curricula, and youth rights. This brief spans the scope and prevalence of education censorship – concluding with practice strategies and resources.

Children Playing Tug of War

Reimagining Approaches to Out-of-School Time Spaces that Center Youth 

The beginning of 2020 marked the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new reality. Mainstream learning loss discourse emerged as young people faced new social challenges and rising inequities. However, how we define some of these challenges may pose new barriers to equity promotion. Deficit-based narratives often negatively construct youth identities and intertwine with neoliberal forces and systemic inequities. Out-of-school time (OST) spaces offer hope and opportunity for a re-envisioned environment to centralize youth voice and provide critical time for leisure and reconnection. In this article, authors explore the strategies that can exist between youth workers and social workers in cultivating OST spaces for young people to engage with complex social justice development in humane, nurturing, and respectful environments. Authors center the argument for shifting away from extractive neoliberal models that commodify youth, the importance of becoming cognizant of OST’s impact on young people’s development, and raising awareness of the possibilities within OST spaces through youth-focused frameworks.

Learning is Fun

Learning loss due to the pandemic has become a significant global concern. The purpose of this paper is to understand the newspaper coverage of the COVID-19 learning loss. Critical discourse analysis is utilized to analyze (N = 38) newspaper articles. Results include: constructions of youth identities, racialized constructions of youth identities, factualized portrayals of learning loss, and the neoliberal narrative. The pandemic crisis narrative was used to promulgate fear and reinforce the deficit-based portrayals of youth learning. Generalized learning deficiencies and disproportionate impact led to racialized portrayals of loss, stigmatizing youth through de-contextualized and ahistorical representations. Factualized portrayals of learning loss took shape through linguistical structure, word choices, data-based emphasis, and an expert narrative. Discourse depicted as fact undergirded the neoliberal narrative and justified the need for increased testing and reform in schools. Implications of the analysis and recommendations to elevate support and strengthen youth voices are discussed.

Image by Dan Meyers

“DECOLONIZING MENTAL HEALTH”: EXPLORING INSIGHTS FROM CLINICIANS TRAINED IN KNIFFLEY RACIAL TRAUMA THERAPY

Exploring the experiences of clinicians trained in Kniffley Racial Trauma Therapy (KRTT), this study aimed to: (a) Understand clinicians’ perceptions of competence with addressing race-based stress; and (b) Explore clinicians’ perceptions of growth, skill development, and translation to practice, given their particular racial identity. A purposive sample (i.e., 15 clinicians) trained in KRTT participated in 1-hour-long virtual focus groups to discuss their training experience and potential influence on practice. Focus group data were organized into four categories with several themes within each category. Categories 1–3 include: Clinical Confidence with Race-Based Stress, Training Impact, and Posttraining Considerations. Within each category, some themes were consistent among both BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) clinicians and White clinicians. Finally, the fourth category, Suggestions for Training Improvement, offers clinicians’ recommendations for improving the training, based on data from all clinicians. Findings shed light on the utility of KRTT and the need for further training for White clinicians focused on cultural humility, as well as self-care support for BIPOC clinicians.

Supportive Friend

SCHOOL‑BASED MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONERS: A RESOURCE GUIDE
FOR EDUCATIONAL LEADERS

School-based mental health practitioners can offer enhanced support to schools and students; yet their training, roles, and
expertise vary. The roles of these professionals are often conflated, misunderstood, or marginalized in their utility throughout the school system. The purpose of this manuscript is to enhance the capacity of educational leaders to make informed hiring, contracting, and role assignment decisions that best fit school and student needs regarding school mental health services. We illuminate
similarities and differences of these professionals and juxtapose the utility of traditional mental health versus school-based mental health. We then discuss the similarities and differences of qualified school mental health professionals described within the context of traditional and school-based mental health preparation and service delivery. We conclude by contributing
three resources for educational leaders to support the process of engaging school-based mental health practitioners. First, we offer a planning guide to understand state variations in certification requirements across professionals. Second, we provide a hiring guide primer that summarizes education requirements and delineates role orientations for school mental
health practitioners. Third, we provide an interview guide to help clarify a candidate’s experience and skills useful to contemporary school needs.

Image by Robert Collins

The impact of the pandemic has been postulated to affect student learning. The learning loss narrative has been used to identify deficits in student learning, however the research on learning loss is fundamentally deficit-based. In this paper, we explore the ramifications of yet another pervasive, deficit-based narrative that is impacting youth in schools. We conclude with reform implications and recommendations to re-align discourse towards support, strength/asset based focus, and efforts to recognize and value youth and family voices.

Caregiver

“WE ARE SAVING THEIR BODIES AND DESTROYING THEIR SOULS.”: FAMILY CAREGIVERS’ EXPERIENCES OF FORMAL CARE SETTING VISITATION RESTRICTIONS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

This study aims to explore the experiences of family caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic-imposed visitation restrictions at formal care settings (FCS) such as assisted living centers and traditional nursing homes. Participants (N = 512) were recruited from an international caregiving social media site that was developed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Descriptive data was collected on the family caregivers, the care recipient and facility. Respondents also provided a single feeling word describing their experience and an open-ended question allowed for further exploration. Caregivers were predominantly daughters (n = 375). The most common reported feeling words were sadness (n = 200), trauma (n = 108), anger (n = 65), frustration (n = 56), helplessness (n = 50), and anxiety (n = 36). Thematic analysis revealed four overarching themes: 1) isolation 2) rapid decline 3) inhumane care and 4) lack of oversight. This study highlights the importance of addressing the mental, emotional and physical needs of both care recipient and family caregiver during this challenging time.

Female Speaker

2022

Conscientization is the process of learning to perceive sociocultural, economic, and political oppression to such extent one is moved to act against it. This transformative and liberatory pedagogy has momentous implications for social work education; as its outcome is an increased critical consciousness for both students and faculty. However, the process of conscientization and its foundational mechanisms are understudied. We therefore conducted a descriptive phenomenological study on professors whose teaching or research combat systems of oppression. We provide a composite structural definition of conscientization, and a composite textural–structural description of its catalysts. We discuss how our study builds on the current liberatory education empirical base, as well as the implications of our findings on education and practice.

Image by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography

2022

This convergent mixed method design entails data from surveys and qualitative interviews. Thirty-five interviews were conducted, with results underscoring the wealth of knowledge patients maintain with regard to both their facilitators to HIV care and the barriers to care that persist. Facilitators of care include diet, health, relationships, community support, and compassionate HIV care. Barriers to care include health comorbidities, economic, food, and housing insecurity, lack of transportation, and structural racism. Focusing, emphasizing, and understanding patient experiences may be key to prolonged reductions in HIV inequities and improvements in service delivery.

Children in School Bus

2021

State certification standards are explored for the domains of school mental health professionals (i.e., psychologists, counelsors, and social workers). Results show consistency for psychologists and counselors with most states requiring Master's level educational components. Meanwhile, social work has inconsistent and varied standards, with a number of states with no defined guidelines. More research is needed to understand the relationship between varied certification standards of social workers and their role and viability in schools.

Image by Robert Collins

2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in profound change to K-12 schooling and may exacerbate pre-existing inequities. In this paper, the impact of the pandemic is reviewed, before discussing a re-aligned mission to support students and families more holistically.

Presentations

School LIbrary
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