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Participants stories of learning to be professional

Page history last edited by Russ Law 12 years, 2 months ago

Storytelling

We learn important things through stories. Our wisdom and experiential knowing is embedded in the stories we tell about ourselves. Stories invest our lives with meaning, they develop and express our creativity. We organize information in story form. It is how we make sense of the world around us and it is how we communicate that understanding to one another. We want to encourage storytelling about the central themes that the conference is intending to address, namely how participants have come to understand what being professional means.

 

Personal stories about being professional

Prior to the conferences we would like you to tell a story about an incident or event in your life through which you gained important insights into the meaning of being professional. Through this process we hope to connect people and their lives and reveal some important propositional knowledge about being professional which is embedded in our personal knowledge. Russ Law (SCEPTrE) will be compiling and synthesising the stories and we will make them available through the wiki.

 

Participants' stories

 

Analysis of stories

Jenny Willis & Russ Law

powerpoint slides

 

Please add your own story

 

Russ's story  

Context

When I started teaching, I had the tacit view that professionalism meant, simply, being paid for doing something in a really expert way. The dimensions and range of the expertise were not questions that I asked myself at the time. My first position was in a Middle School, where I was to teach a range of subjects and have responsibility for a class. My training (Postgraduate Cert Ed) had, however, been in general education and modern languages.

 

What happened?

The school was a particularly quirky and innovative one in the sense that it aimed at a child-centred education with no prescribed texts or written curriculum guidance. How I got the job remains a mystery. There was no staff handbook or formal induction process. I struggled to make sense of my new environment. I wanted to do a good job, but lacked the detailed knowledge or support that would have helped. Every day I seemed to contravene some principle of the school’s, for example the rule about the students having different shoes for indoors and outdoors, or the proscription of spelling practice. I felt like an ignorant newcomer at an exclusive golf club. The production of teaching materials from scratch was hard, too.

 

What I learned

As the year went on, and thanks to considerable help from my wife who was also a teacher, many hours of anxious planning and preparation, and a great deal of trial and especially error, things began to make more sense for me and for the students. They were willing and entertaining and we established a constructive rapport that sustained morale generally.

I still look back on that learning experience with a mixture of affection and resentment. It is clear to me now that being professional means not only having a set of attitudes and training, but also:

·            in-depth knowledge of a particular field

·            constructive reflection on experience and the effects of my practice

·            rigorous induction and monitoring procedures

·            the earnest desire to ‘get it right’

·            being a member of a strong, disciplined, expert community

 

Lessons for educators

The implications for educators include, I think, that attention must be given to focused knowledge-acquisition, demystification of practice, reflection, the identification and nurturing of personal will, the development of skills conducive to community membership, and ongoing learning on the job (especially at the outset). This requires a combination of attributes for both learning and being.

  

An afterthought that occurs to me is that the very word ‘professional’ is one for which the meaning is contested by powerful and incompatible forces. Given the prevalence and general acceptance of cheating and the use of illegal and unethical practices by experts in the fields of professional banking, politics and sport, who is genuinely entitled to the description ‘professional’?

 

 

Learning to be professional from life-wide experiences – more examples

 

Professionalism continues to occupy the thoughts of many of us since the conference. I keep finding examples of it (or lack of it) and observations about it from various commentators.
One cropped up in The TES last week, in the form of some unlikely points of view from former Chief Inspector of Schools and scourge of the teaching profession Chris Woodhead. He remarked:
 
‘Teaching is a profession. By definition, professionals determine their own beliefs and practice. They don’t twitch mindlessly as politicians pull the strings. But this is exactly what teachers in state schools are expected to do.’ P37, TES 15.05.2009
 
He goes on to illustrate how professional regulating bodies are conforming to the on-message politics that prevail, and not asserting themselves enough as free agents.
 
My ‘story’ for the conference was partly about the unnerving autonomy of the place at which I first worked, where the freedom of an individual was not supported by guidance from above. The establishment itself enjoyed great independence. What was missing was any coordination of expectations or procedures for induction and constructive monitoring. Professional autonomy was not working to best effect.
 
Whereas the whole articulation of professionalism at institutional level may be a huge issue to grapple with, at an individual level things may often be more manageable. When it comes to learning how to be professional, though, some aspects that seem obvious can constitute big learning points for young people. Turning up on time and being sensitive to dress codes, for example, are not always as obvious as we might expect. When a question like ‘What does “being professional” mean?’ is asked, some of the right answers are indeed deceptively straightforward for both the organisation and the person concerned.
 
The process of reflection on early experience – with or without a second party in the role of coach, mentor, supervisor or inspector – is one ready example. We do tend to talk about learning from our mistakes; my father used to refer to the usefulness of learning from other people’s mistakes – unwittingly suggesting the wisdom of putting such processes in place in training or induction periods, or as part of a continuous routine of review and reflection on practice. Although we clearly ought to spend time recognizing and celebrating things that go well, it seems obvious that we can and should engage in professional reflection.
 
The attached set of slides offers a startling illustration of why it is important to pause and consciously consider why something has not worked out as it should have, and why a different approach may be called for (even though a close examination of the slides reveals them not to be authentic!)

Comments (1)

Russ Law said

at 3:12 am on May 6, 2009

People in general have an interesting range of notions about the word 'professional'. For some, it means expert, and for many it means having some kind of certification or qualification.

This was illustrated the other day when my daughter opened a new bank account. The assistant in the branch needed to input my daughter's work category, using a drop-down menu of options. Carina is a Residential Care Worker at a weekly boarding school for adolescent boys who exhibit seriously challenging behaviour. Rejecting the inaccurate description 'Social Worker', it was eventually decided by the assistant that the best option was the title 'Professional', on the basis that Carina was a graduate.

So if you want to be 'professional', a degree is one pathway!

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