Using Self-Reflection for Personal and Professional Development in Student Affairs

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  • Self-reflection is an important component of the personal andprofessional development of those in student affairs.

    Using Self-Reflection for Personaland Professional Development inStudent Affairs

    Joanne E. Nottingham

    At the college and university level, human resource departments have longoffered professional development workshops and seminars. In addition, fac-ulty are becoming more formally engaged in the professional developmentprocess through centers for teaching excellence and the like. Divisions of stu-dent affairs, however, remain unique entities within colleges and universitiesbecause of staff involvement in the social and academic lives of students.

    For this reason, the role of self-reflection should be considered anenhancement of traditional professional development efforts. This considera-tion of self-reflection is served by an understanding of ones personality, learn-ing, and behavioral styles through the use of the following standardizedinstruments: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); the Dunn, Dunn, andPrice Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) for adults, known as the ProductivityEnvironmental Preference Survey (PEPS); and the Carlson Personal Profile Sys-tem (PPS). This chapter explores the role of self-reflection as an enhancementof traditional staff development efforts and reviews instruments that can helpin understanding how personality, learning, and behavioral styles can aid self-reflective thinking and influence the effectiveness of student affairs profes-sionals.

    Using Self-Reflection

    Self-reflection allows one to identify strengths and limitations in specific envi-ronments and the individual personality, learning, and behavioral characteris-tics that influence ones interactions with others. Other important aspects ofself-reflection are the considerations of differing attitudes, beliefs, cultures,ethics, values, and life experiences. If professional development is essential to

    NEW DIRECTIONS FOR STUDENT SERVICES, no. 84, Fall 1998 Jossey-Bass Publishers 71

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    the effectiveness of departments and divisions of student affairs, then all staffmembers, from the newest employee to the chief student affairs officer, musthave a meaningful understanding of themselves to maximize their individualeffectiveness in the department or division. This examination of styles for thestudent affairs professional serves to assist him or her in understanding whichtraits and characteristics allow for the most effective interaction with others.

    The case for self-reflection in student affairs is a powerful one. Effective-ness is an operational goal. Links to self-reflection in academia are often indi-rect and stated in terms of interdepartmental mentoring and fosteringrelationships with students. In corporate environments, effectiveness as a corecomponent of leadership has been documented by best-selling authors Bennisand Nanus (1985) and Covey (1989). These authors rely on some elements ofself-reflection in their explanations of leadership and how leaders can be moreeffective. Kouzes and Posner (1993) speak of leadership as a challenge that isdependent on the importance of perceptions of credibility; learning about one-self is key. Many authors (Cronin, 1993; Kelley, 1993; Morrison, 1993; Rosen-bach, 1993) offer substantial support for the benefits of self-reflection forleaders from a variety of business perspectives.

    Supporting the case for self-reflection in student affairs is the fact thatcharacteristics of leadership are just as valid for professional development inacademia as they are in corporate environments. The focus on the customer inmost businesses is, for colleges and universities, more accurately a focus on theroles of in loco parentis, student services, and student development (Delworth,Hanson, and Associates, 1989). The effect of colleges and universities on stu-dents has been thoroughly examined by Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) interms of the students personal and interpersonal growth. Each college and uni-versity serves in one or more of these provider roles for each class of studentsit admits. For traditional students, the institutional roles are flexible in termsof recognizing and accommodating the primary changes in psychosocial devel-opment occurring at this time: self-concept, self-esteem, and identity, as wellas the accompanying secondary changes in ethics, values, and morals. Thesechanges in psychosocial development occur simultaneously with changes inthe development of intellect. For nontraditional students, institutional rolesare equally flexible, because a delayed return to school may be characterizedby reexamination of self-concept, self-esteem, and identity. To a sizable degree,however, the issues of ethics, values, and morals have a minimal impact on thisgroup of students.

    Each student affairs department has a unique role in the lives of students atparticular times during their academic careers. For example, admissions officersand orientation staff have direct and extremely meaningful relationships withfirst-year students. Career service employees initiate relationships with first-yearstudents that the students may not consider important until their third, fourth,or fifth years. Psychological counselors provide services to students before or atthe time they enter the university, and they also provide services to students whoneed them during their university years. Different relationships exist in each

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    instance. Relationships between student groups or organizations and employeesin the many student activities areas (student government associations, fraterni-ties, sororities, and student organizations) are as varied as the groups or organi-zations. In these departments, staff effectiveness is tied to studentstaffrelationships via the type and intensity of communication created. Student affairsprofessionals, at some time or another, either directly or indirectly serve as par-ents, provide services, and foster development.

    The bottom line is that effectiveness in student affairs can be measured byhow well programs and services are received by students. Effectiveness isdependent on the relationship between a specific department and the groupsof students it serves. What does all this mean in terms of the professionaldevelopment of student affairs staff? It indicates the importance of under-standing our influence on students, what we represent in our student affairspositions and as people.

    College and university graduate programs have provided a common aca-demic knowledge base for student affairs staff members through masters ordoctoral degrees. The experiential knowledge of staff, however, is as unique aseach individual, because it is influenced by age, gender, marital status, eth-nicity, religion, and institutional location and size, among other factors.Through attendance and participation at seminars, workshops, and conferencemeetings, new information is added to the academic and experiential knowl-edge bases, after which the information and experiences are analyzed, exam-ined, and incorporated into the existing professional theory, recreating thetheory in the process. Professional theory is active rather than passive, fre-quently changing as previously unknown information is learned and as newexperiences occur.

    Understanding Self-Reflection

    Self-reflection can be defined in terms of critical or reflective thinking. It is theprocess of thinking critically about practice to develop theory, the developmentof expertise or control over professional actions combined with learning fromexperience (Russell, 1993). Specifically, the development of a professional theoryappropriate to ones growth evolves from the use of skills for thinking criticallyabout ones academic knowledge and professional experiences. To understand theconcept of self-reflection, definitions and explanations from two perspectives arenecessary: reflection, or reflective thinking, and critical thinking.

    Reflective Thinking. Killion and Todnem (1991) define reflection as thepractice or act of analyzing our actions, decisions, or products by focusing on ourprocess of achieving them (p. 15). They note that Donald Schn offers two typesof reflection: Reflection-on-action is reflection on practice and on ones actions andthoughts, undertaken after the practice is completed. Reflection-in-action is reflec-tion on phenomena and on ones spontaneous ways of thinking and acting in themidst of action. A third type of reflection, reflection-for-action, is the desired out-come of the first two (p. 15). In other words, Schn looks at reflection in terms

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    of reframing or seeing a situation in a new way as a result of unexpected mes-sages from practice and new action or a new approach to practice suggested bythe reframing (Russell, 1993, p. 53). Russells interpretation of Schns premisesfor the use of reflection in teacher education is very appropriate for professionaldevelopment in student affairs, in that learning in both areas is a process of beingtold what to do, watching others, and doing.

    For Dewey, thinking is a postponement of immediate action . . . and theheart of reflection is the union of observation and memory (1938/1963, p.64). Periods of quiet reflection are considered so only when they follow aftertimes of more overt action and are used to organize what has been gained inperiods of activity (p. 63). Deweys definition of reflective thinking considersactions in terms of problem finding and problem solving. He also stressed theimportance of anticipating future outcomes (Bauer, 1991, p. 22) and thatplanning ahead, taking notice of what happens, relating this to what isattempted are parts of all intelligent or purposeful activities (p.