Category Archives: Professional Socialization

An Exercise in Gratitude

Adult urgent care entranceGratitude is one of the pillars of happiness — “the parent of all virtues” (Wood, Joseph and Linley, 2007). Here is a way to begin the New Year on a positive note.  I created this task for professionals-in-training and their teachers, but others might want to try it as well.

Take some time to think about how professionals have contributed to your own well being during the course of your life. Imagining who belongs within the abstract category of workers we call “professionals” raises many issues, and you might want to think about this at a later time. For now, just go with your own sense of the matter.  In general, professionals are people who have high levels of technical expertise, practices grounded in a shared, empirically grounded knowledge-base, control over their own certification process, a comparatively high level of autonomy, a code of ethics. There are many points of view on the matter, so just see where your thoughts take you. With no pretense or hope of comprehensiveness, here are a few of my own reflections:

There were the nurses and physicians who helped my mother “deliver” me into the world, and who saw to my health in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Dr. Wright, the general practitioner, came to the house when someone was sick, examining us, and perhaps writing a prescription for the pharmacist (another professional) to fill.  There were the teachers who taught me to read, write, develop new skills, solve problems and adapt (more or less) to the demands of life in post-industrial society. Mrs. Gephart, the school nurse at Edina Elementary School, took me under her wing.  She let me help in the nurse’s office after lunch, when all the other kids went out for recess.  I much preferred the company of a caring adult to braving the frigid Minnesota cold on the playground after lunch every day! Mr. Jambeck, my 11th grade English teacher, taught me to appreciate how, in order to really understand the literature and the visual arts of each era, one needed to consider the contexts in which they were produced. In many respects, this insight made me who I am: inspired my interests and my life’s work. Architects and contractors designed and built the dwellings that gave my family and me shelter from the elements. When I was 9 or 10 years old, my Dad showed me the blueprint of our suburban home.  What a wonder!  Decades later, a wise and competent lawyer helped set me free of an unfortunate relationship that no amount of time, effort, love or forgiveness could repair…

If all this suggests an embrace of an old-style functionalist and “celebrationist” mindset — well, so be it! The experience and expression of gratitude can have personal and societal benefits (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson, 2005). We tend to take professionals and their contributions for granted. So every once in awhile, we ought to drop our critical lances (yes, lances, not lenses) on the ground and recalibrate, taking into consideration the benefits we derive from the professionals whose work contributes in so many ways to our health and well-being. The system as a whole is flawed, but essential to our diverse ways of life and amenable to improvement.  — Ed Prof

Further Reading

Encyclopedia of Gratitude (A free source of things for which to be grateful compiled by Erich Origen.  Print version available in February, 2012)

Gratitude (Wikipedia.Org entry provides a useful overview as well as citations of empirical studies on the nature and consequences of gratitude.)

Leo Babauta (2007). Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy .  Posted on Zenhabits.net .

References

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N.,& Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421

Wood, A., Joseph, S. and Linley, A. (2007).  Gratitude — Parent of all virtuesThe Psychologist, 20, 1:  18 – 20.

 All rights reserved, 2012

On the Meaning of Higher Education

A small tree in winter.

Winter Tree

One of the things professors tend to forget about their students is how new many of them are to higher education, and how many pressures bear down upon them as they fight to find, negotiate, and complete their degree programs.  Those who teach in schools that serve many first-generation college students need to learn that it is almost impossible to anticipate all of the things students don’t know or understand about going to college.  Figuring out what to do about all this is part of the joy of teaching for those who can quiet their egos enough to care and do what is needed to be helpful.  Although community colleges, liberal arts colleges and research universities serve many masters and embrace varied goals, we have one thing in common.  We influence lives. I wonder what would happen if we measured our “success” in higher education in terms of lives influenced instead of more traditional, hierarchical measures of prestige-among-peers and revenue generation?

EdProf

Integrity and Leadership in Higher Education

The Center for Creative Leadership  sponsors the Leading Effectively e-Newsletter that recently published an article on team “blockers” and “activators.”  My department chair passed this along to us, and I pass it along to those who might find it of interest: “Are you a Blocker or an Activator?”  [It was a gift, so it will circulate!  But I will have more to say on this in another post.]

In higher education, issues related to academic integrity (and how to help students acquire or maintain it) have been getting a lot of attention lately.   The Faculty Focus “e-zine”, recently published some tips on deterring cheating in an article titled “Five Strategies for Deterring Cheating.”

My sense is that academic integrity has to begin with faculty members’ own moral commitments and standards.  Although this might seem to be pretty straightforward, emerging technologies and the changing contexts of academic life add new layers of complexity.  See, for example, this Faculty Focus discussion of plagiarism:  “Are You Committing Plagiarism? Top Five Overlooked Citations to Add to Your Course Materials

A Little More History of Education

James Earl RussellThere was a time when all who pursued degree programs in education were required to know something about the history of education. This is no longer the case at my own institution and many other places as well.  So, in celebration of the American Fourth of July, here are a few additional quotations from James Russell.  I was pleased to find that Russell’s (1937)  Founding Teachers College is available in the Universal Library: http://www.archive.org/details/foundingteachers011209mbp . (Readable at no cost on kindle, iphones, ipods, as PDF, and many other formats.  What a wonder!)

Here is how Russell described the excitement of working with colleagues to create something new (Teachers College) at the dawn 20th century.

Speaking for every member of the staff during the six years evenly divided between the nineteenth century and the twentieth – years in which we were getting our own professional training and incidentally defining a new type of professional school – I declare these years to be the richest of our lives. The effect, in its fervor, enthusiasm, and spiritual uplift, was akin to a religious revival.  It inspired us with a faith that we, too, could move mountains.           

Owing to the steadily growing number of students the most pressing need was for more instructors. I knew that our teachers should be scholars, not only masters of their respective fields but also products of a wider culture, who had the gift of inciting students to scholarly endeavor. Men who combined these qualities were scarce and those in collegiate positions could hardly be expected to take a chance on an enterprise generally labeled unscholarly.  Moreover, we needed men of open minds, men not confined in the ruts of academic tradition or habituated to traditional methods of research and investigation. That suggested men, to use an Irish bull, whose future was ahead rather than behind them (Russell 1937, 51-2).

It did not all fall readily into place, however. The zest of creating something new and necessary was tempered by the resistance of those who were invested in the status quo:

Our relation to the University was still uncertain in 1903.  Within a year our loyalty was questioned by the Columbia Trustees; the head professor of mathematics had denounced the appointment of a normal school man to a professorship; the head professor of history publicly warned President Butler that the reputation of the University would be jeopardized by further coddling of this parvenu institution; the head professor of Latin aired his opposition to women students by dubbing 120th Street ‘hairpin alley.’   For all of fifteen years I sat in the University Council quite aware that for me to advocate a measure was likely to defeat it. …

Anyone who recalls the character of ‘schoolkeeping’ of fifty years ago – the deadly recitation of memorized facts from deadlier textbooks all to the tune of the hickory stick, and the joyous response to ‘recess’ and the long holidays when school ‘let out’ – must realize that ‘schoolteaching’ has been a transforming agency. In this accomplishment we have had some part.

             Probably the most decisive change has been in securing popular support the country over for professional training and a broader conception of the function of the school in public education – an ideal that unifies the best interest of the individual with the welfare of the body politic. The trend has been marked by a better understanding of the learning process, by more suitable methods of instruction and school administration, and by more sympathetic treatment of individual differences.  The problem which presents the most difficulty, and one that will be omnipresent as long as civilization advances and knowledge increases, is the selection of the best materials to implement our changing ideals (Russell, 1937, 64-66).

Russell goes on to observe that the “enormous amount of new knowledge put out in recent years, added to the accumulation of ages past, imposes a prodigious task upon teachers who are obliged to choose that which will be most serviceable for a particular purpose and to adapt it to the various grades, ages, and abilities of their students.”  (66). He asserted that teachers’ attitudes, preferences and knowledge of their subjects play key parts in all this (67). Clearly, Russell seems to imagine a powerful teacher who makes key decisions about the how and what of educational practice. And one final quote, one that I think might well pertain to those who prepare professionals in all fields:

Next to smug complacency with its concomitant self-righteousness, the greatest danger that any professional school encounters is the tendency of the specialist to become so enamored of his subject, so engrossed in its elaboration, so confident of its self-sufficiency, that he makes it an academic discipline rather than a source of professional enlightenment. Whether any professional school can realize its ideal is primarily a matter of the scope of its scholarship and the attitude of its scholars toward what is needed in professional practice (Russell, 1937, 67-8).

Susan Fuhrman, President of Teachers College, pays tribute to the original TC mission and the “power of ideas” while suggesting new directions for the future (For more on this, visit  http://www.tc.edu/news.htm?articleID=5641 and http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news.htm?articleID=6046 ). I think it is noteworthy that she proposes that the relationships students form while at TC are as important as the knowledge to be gained from books.

From my vantage point in a public university, the tensions between the professional and the scholarly (e.g., school of education versus arts and sciences); the applied and the disciplinary, and the vocational versus the academic seem as real and as potentially problematic as they were in Russell’s day.  Should students be taught science because we need workers prepared for high tech occupations, or because knowing about the world around us, and learning how to think scientifically has inherent value for the individual?

A Little History

Robert H. Bruininks

Robert H. Bruininks, University of Minnesota

Robert H. Bruninks is retiring as president of the University of Minnesota.  A graduate of Western Michigan University (WMU) in 1964, he began his career in special education.  Since 1968, he has played various roles at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis: professor, department chair, dean, executive vice president, provost, and, in 2002, president. In a recent interview, Bruininks reported that one of his important achievements during his administration was improving the quality of undergraduate professional education.  One of his most difficult decisions concerned the elimination of the University’s General College.

A few years ago, I delved into the historical record to write a brief history of a small professional association — The Society of Professors of Education (SPE), which was founded in 1902 (Armstrong, 2005).  After a few months of digging into primary sources (as time would allow), I came to a new appreciation for the work of historians of education. One of the many things I gained from this project was a renewed appreciation for the tenuous status of schools of education within universities, which are a relatively recent invention, succeeding schools of theology, law and medicine. The past hundred years or so has produced a lively discourse about the nature and consequences of our situation (e.g., Labaree, 2004).

For those of us in Education, James Earl Russell’s description of the founding of Teachers College, Columbia — Founding Teachers College—  provides a wonderful glimpse into one of our professional “origin stories.” Russell was the first dean of Teachers College, and also one of the early presidents of the Society of Professors of Education (1905-1907).  His memoir captures the difficulties he encountered as he and his colleagues fought for resources and stature in an institutional context that had little regard for the low status occupation of teaching, a job often performed by women, particularly in the lower grades.

James Earl Russell

James Earl Russell

To return to the Minnesota connection, several University of Minnesota deans and professors served terms as SPE presidents:

  • George James, 1913,
  • Lotus D. Coffman, 1918
  • Harl R. Douglas, 1938
  • W.E. Peik, 1946
  • Robert H. Beck, 1970
  • Ayers Bagley, 1983

Robert Beck and Ayers Bagley were among my teachers at the University of Minnesota many years ago. They are, therefore, a part of my professional lifenet of connections to people, places and things that have shaped my professional life over the years. I will have more to say about professional lifenets in future posts. Clearly, the “Minnesota Connection” is at work here, and indeed, as I learned more about the history of SPE, I also learned about the history of my own alma mater.  And this was interesting. Yet the people I found myself most captivated by were all of the people who were SPE members who lived their lives and did their work in relative obscurity.  Most of us are among, or will one day join their ranks, and this should keep all of us humble and mindful of how we spend our time.

My historical inquiry afforded a glimpse into the decades of effort that professors of education have put into the task of creating environments suited to the preparation of teachers and administrators, and other school employees to serve the common good.  Difficulties arise — conflicts and sometimes interpersonal animosities — because “doing what one ought to do” is a matter of judgment and interpretation. Every field generates an ongoing discourse focusing on ethics and ethical decision making. The conversation continues because circumstances change, creating new dilemmas and uncertainties. Yet some of the tensions we encounter are a byproduct of the wider institutional contexts in which we live and work. Historical study affords another way to see the terrain from a different point of view. And learning to see things anew (a modernist aspiration) is one of the many skills we need to cultivate in ourselves, as we grapple with the problem of re-creating our best qualities in the next generation of professionals.

Wishing you well — Edprof

References

Armstrong, J. (2005). A brief history of the Society of Professors of Education. Professing Education, 4 (2). [available online]

Labaree, David F. (2004). The Trouble with Ed Schools. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.

Russell, James E. (1922). The Trend in American Education. New York: American Book Company.

———. (1937). Founding Teachers College: Reminiscences of the Dean Emeritus. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Robert H. Bruininks — brief biographical sketch (Wikipedia)

Robert H. Bruininks — Western Michigan University profile.

Society of Professors of Education Website

A list of SPE Presidents is available in the SPE Library.

On Doing What One Ought

One of the joys of living the academic life is the process of discovery and rediscovery that is so much a part of one’s work. This summer, I have been re-reading The Pedagodfathers: The Lords of Education and was impressed and touched that the author dedicated the book

“To those teachers and administrators who serve with the hope that their students will learn that success is measured by whether one does what one ought to do rather than by how high one rises or by what one acquires” (p. v).

The words were a “gift” to me, so I pass them along to you, gentle reader.

Clearly, we need to prepare professionals to know what they ought to do, and to do it. And we need to hold ourselves to the same principled standard.  This raises important questions, however, about how we determine our moral obligations and the difficult process of weighing the cost of pursuing these responsibilities against compelling “practical” demands.  It seems to me that one implication is that we need to preserve a place for philosophy and philosophical discussion within every professional education curriculum.

— EdProf

Reference

Simpson, D. (1994). The Pedagodfathers: The Lords of Education. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Detselig.

Fallibility: Why It’s So Easy To Be Dumb

One of the important lessons professionals need to learn is how to reconcile the need for confidence in one’s expertise with the need to be mindful about human fallibility.  This is a life skill we cultivate throughout our careers.  In my view, learning to think “contextually” about professional life, calls upon learners to accept the inevitability of both human wisdom, and human fallibility, while avoiding the twin hazards of cynicism and hopelessness.

A decade or so ago, I talked by phone with a man who had served in many university leadership roles, including being the dean of three distinguished schools of education.  At the time, I was recovering from the stress and strain of a big structural  reorganization in my own College.  It was all over — all but the pain and loss that some of our faculty members felt, including me. We had helped to achieve the administrators’ goals while losing a lot of time that should have gone to promoting our own careers.  As a relatively new professor of education, I was troubled by what had happened, and bewildered by some of the questionable decisions administrators had made.

My distinguished colleague listened patiently, and then said something that proved to be something of a gift.

He said, “Well, I don’t know Jan. All I can say is that it’s just so easy to be dumb.”  He went on to give a couple of examples of decisions he had made in his role as a college dean that turned out badly because he just hadn’t seen the whole picture, or made faulty assumptions.

Here was someone whom I greatly admired, one of the brightest people I knew summing things up in a way that helped me accept my professional calamity and move on to higher ground.  It’s so easy to be dumb — an insight from someone who drew on his own wisdom to help a novice see things from a different point of view.  Useful insights are gifts, and anthropologically speaking, gifts circulate — they are passed along from one person to another, perhaps also from one field to another.   –Edprof