Cultivating Self in the Context of Transformative Professional Development

Article excerpt

Self-conception is a central notion in transformative professional development (TPD). TPD is an emerging approach to improving the personal and professional lives of practitioners in the serving professions, such as health care workers and teachers. Unlike traditional professional development, where experts impart the technical knowledge necessary to be successful in one's field, TPD assumes participants already possess the knowledge they need. The assumption underlying this approach is that self-knowledge, which one may have lost sight of in the busy-ness and stress of life, is the cornerstone of personal and professional success.

Despite being elusive and intangible, the "inner self" is the primary focus of a TPD program for public school leaders called the Courage to Lead (CTL). From the CTL perspective, there is an essential self within us that needs to be revealed so that we can act and believe in ways that are better aligned with our personal truth. This view of the inner self has been the focus of a wealth of writing from philosophical and religious traditions (e.g., Merton, 1968) and used by investigators studying the value of the Courage retreats for participants (both the CTL retreats for leaders and the Courage to Teach retreats for teachers) (e.g., Intrator & Scribner, 2000). The view employed in this analysis differs from that taken in prior studies of the Courage work in that it takes an agnostic view on the notion of the inner self. Specifically, I treat the idea of the self as a social and discursive construct that can be personally and powerfully experienced in moment-to-moment and more sustained interactions. Following from this view, in this study, I combine insights and methods from ethnography and discourse analysis to examine how a particular kind of self was cultivated through the social practices of the CTL retreats. The focus of this article is not in making an ontological argument. I am not trying to address the question of whether we have a true inner self, which is a hotly contested topic (see Gergen, 1996). I am interested in how the concept of an inner self was communicated through the talk and activities of the retreat. The research question that leads my analysis is this: How did the talk and interactional practices of the program meetings aim to facilitate participants' access to the notion of an inner self?

What Is the CTL?

CTL is one of a set of retreat series provided by the Center for Courage and Renewal whose tagline reads "reconnecting who you are with what you do." According to its Web site (Center for Courage and Renewal, n.d.):

   ... the Center for Courage and Renewal has helped
   foster personal and professional renewal through retreats
   that offer the time and space to reflect on life and work
   ... this approach was initially created to renew, sustain,
   and inspire public school teachers* Educators remain at
   the heart of our mission, but retreats are also offered to
   those in serving professions such as healthcare, clergy,
   and law, as well as to anyone yearning to become more
   wholehearted in their life and work.

Two assumptions of the Center's work are embedded within this description. The first is that the personal and the professional should be connected. The notion that "who you are" and "what you do" should be linked has multiple and tangled roots, including Marx's (1844/2000) discussion of the alienation of the modern worker from his nature, the transcendentalists' emphasis on self-realization through following one's true path (e.g., Thoreau, 1854/2005), and Maslow's (1954) theory of self-actualization. These and other varied spiritual and philosophical traditions (including Quakerism) informed the retreat practices.

A second assumption is that it takes "courage" or daring in the face of difficulty to connect these two aspects of our lives; workplaces and the sites associated with the personal realm such as families, it seems, are not designed to encourage this type of integration. …