Giants, Role Models, and Self-Identity: Issues in Professionalism

By Sherrill, Claudine | Palaestra, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Giants, Role Models, and Self-Identity: Issues in Professionalism


Sherrill, Claudine, Palaestra


If I have seen further (than you and Descartes), it is by standing upon the shoulders of Giants. (Sir Isaac Newton, 1642-1727)

This often-cited quotation offers food for meditation at all ages and stages of professionalism. Who, specifically, have been the giants on whose shoulders you have stood to make sense of the critical mass of adapted physical activity knowledge, envision the future, critique the present and past, and determine the best ways for you personally to serve others? This is an excellent question to ask students from middle school onward, and equally good to use on persons with degrees, now engaged in continuing education, and on retirees who most likely continue to perceive themselves as professionals, still growing and serving. The question not only generates reflection concerning self-identity but also evokes positive behaviors of gratefulness and appreciation. Who do we value? Why? Who do we acknowledge and thank? Do we include only persons we have known personally or also those, dead or alive, whose writings we have read? Do we routinely model the practice of acknowledging and thanking others? Is saying thank you an attribute of professionalism?

The purpose of this article is to enhance awareness that professionalism is a lifelong set of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that must be learned, internalized, personally constructed and reconstructed. Professionalism does not just happen with completion of a degree and certification of competencies in a selected service occupation. Professionalism must be explicitly taught, motivated, modelled, mentored, evaluated, and expected from the moment a student declares a specialization in one of the recognized professions (e.g., medicine, teaching, social work, recreation).

The rationale for selection of this issue is observation that (a) many academic programs do not emphasize professionalism; (b) few of us have thought much about content of a course on professionalism and specific ways such content can also be infused into the curriculum; and (c) increasing numbers of graduates seem not to identify with service, the essential core of professionalism. Hence, the title of this article: how should we, in all phases of professional preparation (preservice, inservice, continuing education), empower persons to stand on the shoulders of giants; to actively seek and use role models, and to assume responsibility for constructing self-identity as a professional? Note that this question emphasizes our thinking about increasing self determination with regard to using resources (e.g., getting the attention of desired role models, offering to help with projects). Research indicates that self-determination is the attribute that most often leads to professional goal achievement (Buswell, Sherrill, French, & Myers, 2001).

In adapted physical activity, professionalism is associated with qualifications, ethics, conduct, standards, continuing education, and support of organizations (National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities, NCPERID, 1995; revised, 2006). Specifics to be internalized are stated under the Adapted Physical Education National Standards (APENS) entitled, Continuing Education and Ethics. However, no attempts have yet been made to construct a definition and an assessment model specifically for our field. In contrast, the medical profession has developed a definition specifically to guide assessment:

Professionalism is demonstrated through a foundation of clinical competence, communication skills, and ethical and legal understanding, upon which is built the aspiration to and wise application of the principles of professionalism: excellence, humanism, accountability, and altruism. …

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Giants, Role Models, and Self-Identity: Issues in Professionalism
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