Reflective practice is not narcissistic because rather than falling in love with our own beauty, we bravely face the discomfort and uncertainty of attempting to perceive how things are. We seek to uncover dark corners by asking difficult questions. We reflect in order to try to perceive ourselves with others’ eyes (employers, clients, colleagues) to gain a clearer picture. Bolton, 2014, p. 17
Crafting this professional portfolio is one of the most challenging tasks I have ever completed. This is not an overstatement. While I never thought the process of dissecting and reflecting upon my professional practice would be easy I could have never imagined that it would be this difficult. As someone who would rather not be the centre of attention, focusing so much on myself required more mental and physical energy than I have invested previously into a single activity, certainly any academic related task. And, if this process was not difficult enough on its own I found myself adding to the stress, pressure and process of reflection.
Having left an unfulfilling professional role in December of 2016 in search of greater meaning, I found myself searching for the right role, being rejected from many and eventually securing full-time employment in more recent months. Relevant to where I would like to head with my career and fulfilling one of the long-term career goals identified on my application for this Master of Adult Education program, this process was an extremely tiring and demanding activity on its own. And, over the past 6 months I found myself reading items I did not intend on connecting to this assignment. A dissertation about being a first generation academic from a blue-collar family (Hodges, 2016), a book about the nature of vulnerability as it relates to the roles we assume (Brown, 2015), literature about an African perspective on the nature of community (Tschaepe, 2013) and collections of highly personal accounts shared by individuals whom have found ways to live in harmony with their depression. Consuming these items outside of the process I had defined for this portfolio required me to confront additional questions of myself and of my practice. Eventually many of these items, consumed for purposes unrelated to this portfolio, informed the final product. As I shared with my peers two months ago, the process of completing this portfolio has me questioning so much about my work and whom I am as an individual. When combined with searching for meaningful employment and reading more broadly, I have found myself in tears on more than one occasion in more recent months. But, all this energy and intention was not invested without reward.
Although initially intended as a tool to help find meaningful employment, with potential employers as the primary audience, as the process unfolded I was happy to identify myself as the singular audience for this portfolio. I realized that I needed to first understand myself and my professional contributions so that I could convey the nature of my practice to those I build relationships with. Beginning with an initial mapping of my work then connecting it to some adult education and community development theories, I needed to comprehend a practice that I often consider sporadic. The resulting portfolio has taken me down a journey of understanding and it is this journey, along with the creation of this product, that I find great reward within.
With that said, I am not happy or satisfied with the results of my efforts. The format of this portfolio leads much to be desired. Longer than I would have liked, but shorter than it initially was, this portfolio lacks additional graphics and is heavier in text. Created with myself as the primary audience and for academic purposes, I can live with the presented format as it contains what I require however, this is certainly not a portfolio I would present to parties outside formal academia or use as a marketing tool for employment purposes.
Finding it a challenge to better connect my work to adult education theory, I struggle to adequately evaluate my practice against the most relevant literature. In trying to understand the foundation of my work, through the strands of practice I focus so much time and attention on, I regularly find myself questioning the actual value of my professional efforts. Feeling that I have not focused my practice enough on relevant activities I am often uncertain whether it is appropriate to draw meaningful connections to the literature, or in some cases where to begin in drawing such connections. The result of this was an investment of time in trying to make greater sense of my practice more generally rather than specifically as it relates to adult education. I feel that I have fallen short in the efforts required to not only meet the requirements of this academic assignment but to leverage this portfolio as a tool to develop a deeper understanding of how my work connects to adult education beyond what is more obvious on a surface level. This is my failure and I find myself now asking, “How can I improve?” and “Where do I go from here?”
I believe that my new professional role which has me working with students in an academic setting will provide some stability and help to immerse myself in adult education. The steps I am taking in leadership and volunteer efforts, with an emphasis of integrating theories and praxis to serve adults in their communities, will support efforts to merge and understand the relationship between the strands of my practice. And, with the start of the next phase of this academic program, the literature review, I am interested in how a focused reading list aimed to connect research interests back to adult education can help me to better situate my studies and attention where they need to be. I am hopeful that the combination of these actions and recognizing a need to take greater strides to connect my practice and research to the most relevant adult education literature will help to focus, refine and improve my work.
- Reflection dated September 13, 2017