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August 20, 2009

Dual professionalism

I've found another paper that's really interesting for my purposes, especially as it relates head-on to my job and some of the things I'm grappling with and working through. The paper is entitled 'Dual profesionalism: facing the challenges of continuing professional development in the workplace?' and it's written by Deborah Peel who is from the Geddes Institute at the University of Dundee. (Published in 'Reflective Practice', Vol 6, No 1, Feb 2005, pp. 123-140.) Peel explores the fact and the associated challenges that academics in HE nowadays are expected to be 'dual professionals': professionals in their subject disciplines, and professional educators. While she doesn't tackle the issues of resentment, motivation and even aptitude that those responsible for helping academic colleagues achieve an educational professionalism experience, she does acknowledge that time can be an issue. Her focus, however, is more, firstly, on what it means to be a 'professional', and secondly, on how that impacts on and relates to CPD.

Peel cites Bayles (1988) and Carr (2000) in identifying five 'principal characteristics of professionalism', as follows:

  1. An extensive training which comprises a significant intellectual component and involves theoretically as well as practically grounded expertise;
  2. The provision of an important public service;
  3. An organisation of members and a process of licensing and regulation of practice;
  4. A distinct ethical dimension which calls for expression in a code of practice;
  5. A high degree of professional autonomy in one's work.

I find these characteristics quite convincing, and reasonably easy to apply to HE, with the exception, perhaps, of (4). Maybe I'm being obtuse, but I'm not sure I can quite put my finger on what HE's ethical code of practice would be... I don't want to imply that it has none, but I find it easier to identify a code of practice in, say, medicine or law than I do in HE. I stand to be corrected! Maybe it lies in the altruistic devotion to the development of our learners?

Peel argues that 'the nature of professionalism and professional boundaries is changing', and as a result, professionals have to learn to adapt quickly. She proposes four 'shifts' which professionals may adopt in order to cope with the evolving professional habitats. These include:

  1. Limited change by integrating new competencies;
  2. Professional elitism;
  3. The culling of merging of professiona or 'imnplsion' of local government as (elite level) professionals are lost to a general managerial profession; and
  4. Professional flight (where professionals shift career path to the serive-providing organisations, as witnessed, for example, within the housing profession).

She comments, then, that 'the use, purpose and value of CPD will be variously interpreted depending on the particular circumstances and scenarios adopted'. Nonetheless, CPD is a contested concept, 'freighted with a range of expectations', and it is 'easily discussed and stated but much harder to do in reality'. As a Land Use Planning professional, Peel turns to documents from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) for a definition of CPD: 'the systematic maintenance, improvement and broadening of knowledge and skill and the development of personal qualities necessary for the execution of professional and technical duties throughout the practitioner's working life', which encompasses 'intellectual, motor, and personal dimensions'.

Somewhat inevitably, since 'reflective practices are very much in vogue', she turns to reflection and reflective practice as a core aspect of CPD, and uses Zuber-Skerritt's (1996) 'CRASP' approach to provide a conceptual model for CPD.

  1. Critical attitude (encompassing critical thinking, critical practice and critical reflection)
  2. Research into teaching (reflective practice through action research)
  3. Accountability (the retention of autonomy through self-directed action research)
  4. Self-evaluation (improvement of practice, control of input into appraisals, publication)
  5. Professionalism (systematic involvement in educational research, theory and practice)

Peel used this model to teach professionalism in the classroom, and in so doing discovered that her own professionalism was enhanced as she reflected on her practice in light of the reflections of her students. She made her thinking available to her students and opened a dialogue with them about the 'development of [her] teaching craft' and I suddenly found a partner whose aims match(ed) mine in writing this blog. Peel writes:

Together the students and I learned about the subjstantive issues of professionalism and CPD in the classroom but, in addition, I was actively practicing professionalism in the classroom - I was acting and reflecting in my place of work. Further, by explicitly articulating the development of my teaching craft with the students, seeking feedback, debating learning through experience, and sharing my insights, I sought to provide a model of professional (and public) reflective practice in action. Yet, such baring of the soul required considerable courage, and it is difficult to find any evidence that the students genuinely learned from this vicarious experience, or whether (as customers) they simply expected a professional service. As reflective practices and CPD requirement and obligations spread, however, we need to better understand how public we wish the often private professional learning activities to be, particularly if our pforessional working environments then become our research laboratories. (2005:135)

I was a bit disconcerted to read that 'it is difficult to find any evidence that the students genuinely learned from this vicarious experience'. I have to say that my hope is that by modelling my way of reflecting on my practice (and I must challenge myself here about whether I stay within comfortable limits, although perhaps the very act of making my practice public through this blog will start to force me out of my comfort zone) then others might see how it can be done, and, if in one of my sessions, the impact that my own reflection has on my practice. Peel's comment suggests I may be overly optimistic... Ah well, I can but see...

At the same time, Peel concludes with the following.

If professionalism depends, in part, on the quality of critical personal reflection, then professionals require the support and resources to develop those skills and to build the confidence to profess the theories that inform their practices in public. As the self-study illustrates, this appears particularly important where professionals straddle more than one professional identity.
If we are to better understand the synamics of evolving professional species, and more accountable CPD, then reflective practices may need to become much more than the private interrogation of the nature and impact of one's professional performance. Reflective practices will need to support, in a relatively more explicit way, the wider social reconstruction of professional practices in the public interest. This may include more professional boundary crossing. Reflective practices may thus need to become relatively more open. Indeed, the public realm of inter-professional reflection on changing practices could become an increasingly important arena for professing and challenging contemporary evolving professionalism. Such activities will, however, have to be alert and sensitive to the ethical issues with respect to the object of one's professional practices.

Maybe I'm not on a losing wicket after all!!!

As always, comments welcome.

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