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This essay sets out to critically examine societal values and my own in relation to education. I will then discuss models of reflective practice, including a discussion on the reflective portfolio. I will then move on to discuss the concepts of professionalism and quality assurance. The essay attempts to critically analyse these concepts and by this it is meant that they will be examined closely and their assumptions challenged.
Values in Education and Training
My own values reflect societal values in some ways but also are individualistic as they are based within my own experience and upbringing. I have always valued education as a means for progressing in life, and I believe that this is due to my childhood experiences of growing up in a household of books where learning and intelligence were considered paramount and certainly more important than financial gain. This reflects a certain aspect of society, as we live in a meritocracy where those who have the knowledge and ability to progress in life tend to succeed and to be regarded with respect. However, it is also in opposition to some parts of society where financial status is the most important aspect of social status and people who value intellectual pursuits may be derided. I was brought up to feel superior to people who are less intelligent and who value money and material goods over knowledge, and it has taken some time to recognise this prejudice, to acknowledge it and to try to change my attitude.
Although I have stated that I was brought up to feel that I was superior to others, due to experiences in a progressive school as a teenager, I began to examine my attitudes and values at a young age. I began to value the diversity of culture in which we live in the UK, and to understand that people from minority groups are often disadvantaged in terms of education and social status. This established a lifelong interest in promoting equality and equal opportunities. My own consciousness raising in this area reflects that which occurred in society as a whole in the UK. A generation ago it would have been seen as expected, if not entirely acceptable, that only members of the higher social status groups would attend higher education, and that those in the lower echelons of society would be restricted in choice to vocational training offered by further education institutions. Education and particularly higher education, was seen as the exclusive arena of an elite (Fisher, Harris & Jarvis, 2008, p.19). This was also the case for gender inequality in that few women entered into the academic sphere in comparison to men. This began to be challenged in the 1980's with women beginning to attend university as mature students, and schemes introduced to encourage people who would not previously have undertaken a degree to attend higher education establishments. There was also a movement towards integrating vocational and academic courses with many former polytechnics attaining university status, and subjects which had previously been considered as vocational becoming more academic, such as nursing and teaching. There is now a great deal of research in these areas where previously they would have been ignored by the research community.
Thus societal values have changed so that widening access is an important progression in recent decades (Fisher, Harris & Jarvis, 2008, p.19). In the previous social stratification, the working classes and ethnic minorities could only gain access if they abandoned their culture and became members of the elite, thus maintaining the status quo. However, as society changed and more people became mobile both geographically and within the class system, education is no longer seen as exclusive. New Labour policies have encouraged education as a right and a goal for the many rather than being restricted to the few.
There remains a distinction in terms of subjects studied, however, for example the difference between women who study medicine and nursing can often be seen as a class differential. These differentiations are more insidious and hidden now, which may be seen as a change in values with people becoming less self-aware, or replacing one form of prejudice with another. It is now not acceptable for some people to be disadvantaged so there may be an element of denial, where society is 'politically correct' by saying that everyone has the opportunity to gain access to education, while not acknowledging that the social barriers remain. As someone who has acknowledged my own prejudices from an early age, I can see these issues and challenge them, however I also sometimes find that I have incorporated them into my own beliefs. There are times when I feel impatient with students for what I see as them not trying to push themselves and better themselves so that they may progress in life, when I should be remembering the social barriers that are in place which stop them from making the choices that are available to others. It is important to recognise and acknowledge these feelings, and to challenge them in myself and others.
Regarding gender differentials in academia, there has been a dramatic change over the last few decades. Previously, men dominated the academic sphere with women excelling only within exclusively female institutions. However, as there have been a generation of women entering university, the balance has shifted in the other direction so that within higher education the majority of students and lecturers in the UK are now female (Simmons & Thompson, 2007, p.517). This is referred to as the 'feminisation' of post-compulsory education in the UK. It has been long acknowledged that within the school system, especially the primary system, women dominate the workforce, however we now see an imbalance of the genders within the professions of teaching and lecturing. Whereas in the past there have been worries regarding women in education, the balance has now shifted so that there is concern over boys and masculine identity within academic spheres.
Levels of general education affect the employability of the workforce and their trainability in further skills. In global terms, countries that lack the infrastructure to maintain a high level of education will therefore suffer in finding trained and trainable candidates for the workforce, therefore basic educational needs must be filled before a country can reach its potential (Middleton, Ziderman & Adams, 1993, pp.183-184). While developing countries are training women to be a part of the workforce, there is a concern within the UK that young men do not see a role for themselves and become disenchanted. All of these aspects are a part of my current set of values and concerns, and these reflect societal values.
Models of Reflective Practice
Teacher education has used models of reflection where student teachers reflect on their own learning and practice. Reflection is also an important aspect of continuing professional development (CPD) in that teachers are encouraged to progress and reflect throughout their practice. Reflection is an important part of learning as it affords the learner the opportunity to consolidate thoughts and beliefs. Without reflection, the person will only be able to react from one situation to another in a 'crisis management' style. Reflection is also seen as a deliberation before acting, or a reason to act, rather than acting in an impulsive manner (Calderhead, 2006, p.36). However, it could be argued that even without the time to stop and reflect before and after an experience, the person is continually reflecting on their behaviours as events unfold. The reflective practitioner should be able to develop the skill to do this consciously. Therefore there are different sorts of reflection and reflective practice. These have been outlined by Shön (1987, cited by Calderhead, 2006, p.36) who describes the reflective practitioner listening to their own inner thoughts while acting.
Brockbank and McGill (2007, p.164) outline five levels or dimensions of reflection. These are: 1. An action which includes the learner's prior knowledge, knowledge-in-use (k-in-u) and knowledge-in-action (k-in-a); 2. Reflection-in-action which occurs within the event; 3. Descriptions of the event, particularly including reflection-in-action; 4. Reflection on the description of the event, plus r-in-a, this is reflection-on-action as it occurs following the event; and 5. Reflection on reflection-on-action. This fifth dimension is the furthest from the action and could be described as the sort of reflection that underpins an essay such as this, where the practitioner is reflecting on their own reflections, values, judgements and attitudes within their whole life and not only one specific incident.
The prior knowledge may be tacit, in that the student may be unaware that they have the knowledge until it is necessary to use it. Therefore the purpose of reflection is to draw out this knowledge, during the process of which the teacher is the facilitator. Brockbank and McGill (2007, pp.164-197) outline various exercises that can be undertaken to utilise reflection within learning for each of the above stages. For example, a survey could be undertaken in advance of a lecture to ascertain the students' prior knowledge, feedback could be requested during the lecture, and reflective exercises could be used within the program, culminating in the students' reflective journal or log which constitutes part of the portfolio. In the main, when students think about reflection, it is the portfolio that is highlighted as being the single piece of reflection on the course, however as illustrated above, there is a great deal of reflection that goes on throughout the course of learning.
Writing is seen as a useful tool for the reflection process (Walker, 1985, p.52). There are different forms of writing which may be useful to the learner in their goal of keeping a record. For example, jotting notes during an event to aid later recall may be seen as a different sort of learner writing than a reflective portfolio, although both are useful and both may be considered in the context of reflections. In writing down our reflections following an event, we can begin to understand the nuances of the event, how we feel about it and how it has affected us. This portfolio can be used as an assessment tool and also will be useful for the learner to look back on at a later date, to compare with later reflections or to remind oneself of the previous thoughts and feelings that may otherwise be lost. Portfolios also offer the learning providers with feedback regarding the efficacy of course content (Burch, 1997, cited by Zubizarreta, 2009, p.5).
The portfolio has a wide variety of uses within different academic topics and is considered to be both a tool for learning and a piece of evidence for assessment, however it has mainly been used within the school and further education system and largely ignored in higher education (Zubizarreta, 2009, p.4). Recently due to there being a number of web tools to facilitate the portfolio system, there has been a surge of interest in this form of reflection. The use of the internet as a tool for portfolio completion will also reduce the problem of the lack of maintenance of the portfolio that many students demonstrate. The concept of the reflective journal is that it is kept updated continually throughout the course and then used as a way for the student to look back on what they have learned at the end of the course. It may or may not be submitted at the end of the course as a part of the assessment. Many students neglect the reflective journal, however, especially if it is not assessed as it may seem superfluous and less important than assessed work. If it is to be submitted, the student who has not maintained a journal might write the whole journal at the end of the course. The student who has maintained a sporadic journal may go back and edit or enhance previous entries. Both of these will defeat the object of the reflective learning process. Care should be taken to avoid the focus on the product of a portfolio exercise rather than the process (Zubizarreta, 2009, p.6). It is too often the case that when the portfolio needs to be submitted, it is seen as a single piece of work which should be of high quality in the same way that an essay may be seen, rather than being seen as the culmination of many pieces of work, where there is expected to be a progression in terms of quality. Therefore, writing the whole portfolio at the end of the course would miss the process entirely. To combat this problem, reflections could be completed and submitted on a weekly basis, and the web tools outlined by Zubizarreta are useful for this as they would provide a date stamp for each document.
Kolb's model of learning includes reflection in the cycle (Tight, 2002, p.106). This is a four-stage feedback loop which involves concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and theories, and the testing of these theories which then links back to experience. Reflection within this cycle is a critical component and without it, there would be no chance to form theories based on experience. This learning cycle has been criticised and other learning models have been developed which are sometimes preferred, however it is generally agreed that all learning requires an element of reflection.
Light, Calkins and Cox (2009, p.22) use a social constructivist approach as a framework for their description of the reflective professional. Social constructivism refers to the view that knowledge is constructed, we are born with cognitive potential on which knowledge is built by social interactions, language and other symbol systems. Although there is variation in theory among social constructivists, it is generally agreed that knowledge of the world is gained by our experiences of the world, our interactions with it and that we therefore invent our own reality. This theory refers to the implicit knowledge that children acquire as they grow up, and adults continue to acquire throughout the lifespan, not necessarily to knowledge that is formally taught. However, it can also be understood in terms of reflective practice in that if we are aware of this social construction then we may be able to reflect on the assumptions that are made during this process, as there are times that the knowledge we acquire may be erroneous due to misunderstandings, or that we have seen a situation through the lens of our own values and judgements.
Professionalism as a Concept
'Professionalism' as a concept is debated and means different things to different people, with teacher professionalism tending to focus on school teachers. The concept of a profession is a socially constructed and contested concept (Robson, 2006, p.7). Robson traces the history of the analysis of traits which were considered to define occupations as professions in comparison to other occupations (Robson, 2006, pp.7-9). The key features of a professional are autonomy, responsibility and specialist knowledge. However, the idea that the occupation possesses fixed, definable concepts which make it a profession is unhelpful and lacks credibility. Robson discusses whether this is a case of an attempt to create an 'in-group', to maintain a false distinction between one group and another, and enhance the status of the professional as opposed to other workers.
Teacher professionalism can be seen as an effort on the part of teachers to raise their professional status, and also to develop a 'science' of teaching (Labaree, 2006, p.127). Hayes (2003, pp.90-92) traces the rise of professionalism and managerialism in education through the Conservative party stripping away socialism from society and leaving nothing in its place, to New Labour's emphasis on risk management. In many health, social and educational professions, recent decades have seen a raising of the profile, enhancing the status and skill level and the development of hierarchical management.
Medicine was used as the model for teaching (Labaree, 2006, p.128) with the ideas of internships as the professional development tool so that teacher education became analogous to a teaching hospital. Senior doctors train junior doctors in medicine and there is a hierarchical process by which the professional can progress through their profession. Teaching has in recent years developed along the same lines, according to Labaree. More teachers now are encouraged to study for a Masters level qualification, and to study while on the job. These higher level qualifications are necessary before the teacher can progress into a higher status and higher paid position such as head of department. Within higher education, there is often an expectation that lecturers will have or be studying for a PhD and the outputs of lecturers in terms of research and academic publications are monitored, so that it is quite rare in some subjects to find a lecturer who only teaches and is not undertaking research activities.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a concept which has arisen over the past few decades, and is especially relevant in professions where the client group is subject to change and new practices and methods of working are regularly introduced, such as nursing, social work and teaching. The practitioner must continue to study and learn, especially with regard evidence based practice - that is, work practices that are based solely on research evidence to demonstrate their efficacy. Within professions that support evidence based practice, it is necessary to keep abreast with current research evidence. It is no longer acceptable for a person to attend college as a younger person and then enter a profession with the expectation that no further study will be required or undertaken. In many professions, the practitioner must regularly update their skills and demonstrate the ability to perform to a certain standard, and these fall under CPD.
Harrison (2004, p.175) discusses the metaphor of learning as a journey, and while this helps people to understand the process it might restrict some understandings as it portrays the process of learning as a linear progression. This metaphor ignores the interactive process between teacher and learner in that the teacher is very often learning alongside their students, and the process of teaching/learning is less a journey and more an exchange or dialogue. It also creates or reflects an assumption that there is an end point - the culmination of the journey - at which point the learner has ceased learning and has 'arrived'. It is no longer standard practice to believe that the learning period has finished once the school or college time is over. We now talk about lifelong learning and the learning curve. There will be times in a person's life where they are learning intensively and times when their learning is more of a gradual process, but there is never a time in the professional life when learning ceases.
Quality Assurance in PCET
There is an increasing tendency for the requirement of an occupational group to have specifications in the form of standards, competencies and/or guidelines and outcomes in recent decades (Robson, 2006, pp.13-14). This, and the academic interest in professional and vocational knowledge, is the result of political pressure to ensure that professionals have the credentials required for the job they do. In order to measure these credentials it is necessary to codify the knowledge. What marks teachers as different from other professions such as nurses and social workers, is that as well as gaining a knowledge of their subject they do not then use that knowledge directly in their work (with the exception of those who teach people to be teachers) but have to then gain a knowledge of how to teach it. However, in many areas it is necessary to both be able to perform as a professional in the field and also to teach. For example in the areas of nursing and social work, there needs to be teachers and these teachers must sustain a contact with the profession in order to maintain a relevance and topical delivery. With CPD and with the use of mentors in the field, more professionals are required to also teach and train others.
Quality assurance is another New Labour term whereby the process of measuring standards and measuring performance against those standards has been introduced in a number of different professions. What this means is that the person or curriculum, or whatever it is that is being measured, must be seen to be doing what they are supposed to do. This method of evaluating people has progressed from the original and highly subjective definitions of what a 'good' worker is by the intuitive response of the supervisor, through measures of their success at their job, for example student grades, so that the 'good' teacher is the one whose students achieve the highest marks, to the development of specific performance criteria.
The breakdown of a profession into a set of skills has been criticised as a 'box-ticking' exercise, especially in highly complex fields such as teaching or social work where a person can be said to tick all of the boxes but still not be seen as a 'good' worker by colleagues and clients. The response to this criticism is to develop ever more complex and controlling specifications and criteria to meet. Often when there is a high profile case of a breakdown in communication within social services, the criticisms levied against the practitioners involved include that they meet but do not exceed the target criteria. Having a set system of targets or criteria to meet may discourage people from attempting to exceed them.
The skills that a person learns in their own education are believed to be transferrable skills so that when they then become a teacher, they will draw on this knowledge and experience. However, research by Tummons (2008, pp.184-191) contradicts this notion as it was found that the way that student teachers make sense of the requirements of their course does not relate to prior experience as either learners or teachers, but that the process is relearned to suit the course criteria.
It may be said that the teacher who is the most professional in their job is the person who meets the standards set by quality assurance measures. However, this person may not be the most well-liked by students and colleagues and may not foster the best performance from others. Therefore perhaps another definition of professionalism is required.
This essay has examined values in society and on an individual level, and has looked at the concepts of professionalism and quality assurance, and models of reflective practice. The processes discussed here relate to vocational teaching with examples given of nursing and social work, but may also be relevant to other areas of education and training.