Continuing Professional Development- Chore or Challenge?

The inspiration for this post came about from several different threads that I have had in my mind recently. Firstly, my attendance at the Register of Qualified Genealogists Conference (which took place on 25 September) and the Society of Antiquaries Conference on 09 October. And secondly, my intention to apply for full membership of AGRA (the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives). Other thoughts have been simmering in the background, which have prompted me to think about the subject of Continuing Professional Development (or CPD).

Who needs to undertake CPD?

CPD is of course not unique to genealogy and family history- you find the idea in every job and occupation. The intention is to encourage employees to continue to be the best they can be in their job, by keeping up with current developments or by continuing to learn about best practices in their job, for example. This is something that employers are encouraged to offer, so what about those of us who are self employed, or are only researching as a hobby? Should we be concerned about CPD too?

The short answer is of course, yes, but this leads onto my point of CPD being a chore or a challenge. Those of us who do not have CPD in-built into our lives via an employer, have to work a little harder to fulfil the needs of CPD. This is where CPD can become a chore. Speaking from my own experience, thinking of CPD as a separate “subject” which has to be approached clinically (be planned, written down and evaluated), can frankly turn it into a chore.

My own experience of CPD

Perhaps it is just the way my brain works. My first career was in music, and so I was used to thinking creatively for a large proportion of the time. That is not to say that logic, planning and evaluation did not play a part at all, but everyday I had to learn how to elicit emotional responses from my work. Therefore for me, the idea of analysing the learning that I do fills me with dread, as it feels as if it takes away the feeling of having learned it in the first place. Perhaps I operate on a more instinctive level in some aspects of my life.

For me, I have had to learn to think differently in the way I approach CPD (which is still ongoing by the way!). I still find it much easier for there to be an organic initial approach. By way of explanation, I mean that I respond much better to things that I can relate to and have not had to attend, just for CPD purposes. I am sure I am not alone there, but of course life does not always work that way and a certain amount of compromise is needed!

There is no doubt that I enjoy learning. I always have, so there is no issue in undertaking CPD itself. I just prefer it when things fit together without forcing the issue. That seems like a vague statement, and indeed it is difficult to put into words exactly what I mean. An example would be my recent trip to Derbyshire (you can find the post I wrote about that here). There were so many interesting places to visit, especially from a historical point of view. I did not plan to visit specific places because they filled a certain CPD need, but because they seemed interesting and I wanted to learn about them. They just so happened to fulfil a CPD related purpose as well. After visiting Hardwick Hall, I bought Bess of Hardwick’s biography (written by Mary S. Lovell), which turned out to be much more informative and fascinating than I could have predicted (I sometimes find biographies difficult to get through, depending on the writing style). Unwittingly, I now have a much more informed understanding of not only Bess of Hardwick’s life, but also of the intricacies of Tudor court relations, the role of Lord of the Manor in the period and other small aspects of everyday life that sometimes get overlooked. As a text, it was very readable and also helped to put Bess into the wider context of her time.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

So, with my interest in Medieval and Early Modern genealogy, you could say that I undertook a good bit of CPD there. However, it was completely unplanned and that sort of CPD makes more of an impression for me.

CPD and Society Membership

But, as I mentioned earlier, life does not always work that way. As a consequence, I have to temper my instinctive way of thinking with a little bit of planning and organisation, in order to get the best from my CPD experiences. My attendance of the RQG and Society of Antiquaries conferences are a case in point. They did not come about by happy accident, but by concerted thinking about what they may have to offer in terms of CPD. As a result, I also found them full of interest and useful from a CPD standpoint.

Another point to consider, is that any professional organisations that a person joins may have their own ideas concerning CPD. Both the RQG and AGRA stipulate the provision of ongoing CPD for members. It is something that you must do to be a part of their organisation. This is again where the ‘chore’ aspect of CPD rears its head. In order to prove that you have undertaken CPD, these organisations ask that it is all recorded. Now, that is actually a very logical approach. Even if membership of professional organisations is not a goal, keeping track of the CPD you have done means that you can remind yourself of what you have already achieved. Reflecting on learning undertaken can help us grow and identify areas of improvement, or areas in which we would like to learn more.

On the other hand, this requires further time. Not only do you have to undertake the CPD activity, but you have to write it down and reflect later. This is not something that comes naturally to me, but as I have said, I have had to adjust my thinking a little. In an already busy life, the additional step of writing down and reflecting can get put to the bottom of the pile, even if the CPD activity is undertaken. Building time into the day/week/month to update a CPD log can be a helpful way to go and eventually it should become second nature. It is a) a necessary step in order to belong to certain professional organisations and b) beneficial to our CPD journey in the long run.

Just keep learning!

At the end of the day, interest and curiosity in our subjects is the key. CPD needn’t be a chore but a wonderful challenge. A challenge to ourselves to keep learning and finding out more about a subject that we are passionate about already. And the ‘chore’ portion can be mitigated with a little organisation and a realisation that both our own learning and the areas we work in deserve that little extra effort.

There are bound to be those whose experience with CPD has been different to my own. My own approach is neither right nor wrong, or the only way of approaching the issue. I only hope that if you have struggled a little with the idea of CPD, that you can still be inspired by your subject and that CPD becomes more challenge than chore!

© 2021 Shersca Genealogy.

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