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Research skills and techniques education essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5442 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This report highlights and evaluates my personal, academic and professional reflections throughout this course and applies the learning to consideration of my professional practice and ongoing future development. It explores opportunities for career paths within and outside of the prison service and how my range of skills can advance my aspirations as well as enhance the environment in which I work. To this end, I have critically evaluated my transferable skills and their development through this learning journey together with opportunities to enhance these further. In looking to the future, a revised Professional Development Plan (PDP) for ongoing future development has been compiled and included in Appendix I.

Many of the learning outcomes have been already been covered in some depth within my PPD5 assignment and I have sought to elaborate on key areas of these within this paper.


When first offered the opportunity to undertake further education through a Foundation Degree, I was initially excited at the prospect. However, this soon gave way to dismissive thoughts of successful completion as unattainable and self doubt about my ability to pursue such a venture which resulted in me not collecting the application form. It was only when a colleague, who had done so but decided not to take this forward, passed it to me, that I took the plunge. A lot of self talk was required to consider how valuable this opportunity was for me. I considered that several of my peers would have similar experiences and feelings which would make a natural and powerful support network meaning that I would not be learning in isolation. Later, I was able to reflect and realise that procrastination is a particular trait and pattern of behaviour for me, deep rooted in negative schema (Beck 1967:233) which I have been able to reflect on and write about at some length throughout my further education. Even coming towards the end of the Honours Degree (which I undertook with greater enthusiasm), it is still evident and something to guard against. This has been particularly important in considering what has held me back from pursuing advanced career development until recently.

Reflective Practice:

Applying a range of reflective models throughout my further education studies, I now appreciate how analysis of my skills can help towards the goal of professional advancement and, importantly that of job satisfaction.

I apply Gibbs’ (1998) Reflective Cycle readily to areas of my personal and professional life developing skills of evaluation and analysis, both of self and situations which has led to effective problem solving and informed conclusions as will be illustrated below. Doing this effectively, I have found, can widen the scope for a more in-depth and wider encompassing plan for ongoing development which hitherto, has been somewhat narrow in its view. In other words, from being resigned to thinking “this is my lot, I’ll just get on with it”, to an active desire to apply new learning, seek more and become motivated for career progression.

Straker (2008:172) whose work builds on the research of Gardner (1983 and 2006) summed up the importance of purposeful reflection for me

“Knowing yourself includes knowing that there are parts of yourself that you do not know and being ready to listen and explore these. It also means considering what parts of yourself you should expose or hide, based on how it will help your purpose rather than simply based on personal preference”.

The danger of reflection is that, for a procrastinator such as myself, one can get stuck in self analysis without doing anything about it or use the results of one’s analysis to stay within a ‘comfort zone’.

Kolb (1984) helped to evaluate my experiences and test hypotheses about myself, values and work ethics but it did not spur me on to action whereas Gibbs sets out the plan for ongoing development which is crucial for me so as not to remain procrastinating. In PPD5, I considered how Moon (2004) has been a useful resource on reflective practice, in particular reminding me that reflection is important but it must always lead to action and the making of positive changes. She stresses the importance of experiential learning which includes reflection but qualifies this to incorporate active learning, ensuring intent to learn and mechanisms of feedback to ensure the whole process is effective and meaningful for development (p.122). SchÃ-n (1983) explains how, as one becomes more experienced, it becomes increasingly possible to reflect in action rather than simply after action. This is something I am becoming more accomplished at and is particularly evident in critical incident situations in my role as a hostage negotiator where this has immediate and practical as well as personal value.

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Interestingly the Cycle of Change by Prochatska and Diclemente (1982), illustrated in Appendix II, highlights the phases which I can identify with through my learning, professional and personal journey. I can often remain in contemplation and need to find the drivers and motivators to avoid lapses but, I am encouraged that these now exist more in abundance which are sourced from many areas and the Honours Degree has been one of these.

I am mindful that the grades and feedback I have received throughout my further education have been of a consistently good standard and this has served as a source of encouragement and measurement of progress and achievement. I must maintain measurements and goals for my future development and there are means in place such as the Staff Personal Development Record (SPDR), in Appendix III and Professional Development Plan (PDP) which I can use as signposts and yardsticks. It is important that, as the current period of study draws to an end, this motivation to achieve continues and I now feel best placed to ensure this happens.


As mentioned in my PPD5 essay, in the past I have questioned the decision making processes of management though this is being reshaped into a desire to gain a holistic overview of the work environment. “Overcoming objections to understanding others, for fear that this might disprove our own theories about ourselves and the world, are key hurdles for which I must continually be mindful”. (Elliott, 2011) This has also enabled me to evaluate what I can offer to roles to enhance the establishment’s performance.

In my first Reflective Essay from January 2007 (Appendix IV) I described schema theory and the work of Beck (1967). From this I have developed an interest, not only in interpretation of situations which influence our beliefs but, particularly, how to develop the stimuli and positive emotional and cognitive drivers for professional and personal well-being. In observing what gets in the way, rather than being stuck in analysis, to move beyond and set goals for positive development has been essential learning for me and reading this first essay shows how far I have come. The focus of this paper is skills evaluation but moreover, the ‘action’ phase of my development, identifying opportunities and the practical steps required for ongoing development.

Employability Skills and Development Needs

A range of self analysis tools have proved helpful in ascertaining and evidencing personal skills which pave the way for ongoing professional satisfaction. This has involved being critical as to what is and may realistically be attainable as well as widening the scope for a range of career advancement opportunities.

Using a range of self analysis tools I have been able to evaluate my employability skills and an example is in Appendix V. Examining these proved personally gratifying and formed the basis for an in-depth critique in a personal SWOT analysis (Appendix VI) which I had only ever previously applied to businesses within the scope of the Honours Degree.

On completion of this, it seemed logical to me that the values which businesses ascribe to should find their ‘roots’ in the personnel employed by the organisation as, ideally, they should embody the same corporate beliefs, ethics and work practices. As I will highlight later, this has brought me into conflict with my own work establishment where, using newly honed skills of assertiveness and corporate awareness, I am more readily able to challenge what I may perceive to be unsafe practices. This has been possible through balancing my potential “weakness” of being mission-focussed and developing this alongside effective and robust empathy towards management decisions

At the time of writing my Performance and Development record for this year has not been recorded but as my SPDR for last year (Appendix III) illustrates, I can remain pleased that I continue to meet targets set and work collaboratively with others to ensure that the benefits of development are felt personally and by the organisation. I have expanded this further with creation of a new Development Plan (Appendix I) in order to maintain continuity and ongoing development.

In order to consider the range of skills necessary to achieve my goals and aspirations, I completed a Career Values Tool and the report can be found in Appendix VII. To help with this I referred back to a Personality Type Questionnaire competed for the PPD5 assignment. This was an important analysis as it accurately highlighted the potential careers which fitted my profile. The role of ‘Counsellor’ featured prominently which is something I have long been interested in (incidentally, Musician and Actor which are personal interests and also featured high in the analysis). My roles in offending behaviour treatment over the years have been the source of immense personal satisfaction as they met the values and skills which I have enjoyed developing the most. Using the Career Values Tool, I input ‘Counsellor’ as an alternative career choice and it was interesting to note how this featured against the profile which had me as balanced between ‘intuitive’ and ‘logical’ in my approach to work. Featured highly were communication skills and my ability to work alongside people and knowing that my work benefits others.

When seen alongside my ‘white knight’ mission schema of wanting to help others, which can potentially be unhelpful, the balance of taking a logical, measured approach to problem solving is something I now know I possess and is to be worked on continually. The development of analytical skills in my reflections and projects throughout this last year have helped to redress this balance whereas before, if I had taken the Career Values Tool, I might have been much further along the ‘intuition’ side of the continuum which, is not healthy or helpful for one seeking to develop a managerial role. As well as reflective and study skills, it is important to develop the practical skills required for current and potential roles. At my SPDR review later this month I can explore the options for this with my line manager.

The need to develop business awareness, in order to understand corporate strategy in the workplace and enable promotion prospects, is ongoing and the last few months have proved to be a testing time in that regard. This has largely been due to having to take a grievance procedure against the Programmes and Psychology management for what I perceive to be discriminatory and unethical behaviour against myself. Having weighed up the options over the last 12 months or so, this action was the only possible course and has required a measure of focus, assertiveness and an analytical overview of the situation to make this decision and take this forward. Without this, I would have reverted back to how I was prior to undertaking further education and left the situation unresolved and dwell in unhelpful rumination which would have affected my work and well being. The grievance is proceeding at the time of writing this report and, whatever the outcome, I can be satisfied that I have taken appropriate steps to ensure best ethical practice and well being for the workforce and organisation as a whole.

This has not been without an emotional response (acknowledging this is a strength identified in Gibbs Reflective Cycle, 1998) as I don’t like conflict or ‘rocking the boat’ but then, appropriate levels of assertive management and effective analysis are crucial management skills which I have developed over recent years and is ongoing. This is particularly important as I consider options for my future and it is gratifying that I can take the positive skills development learning from even the most testing of circumstances. The best measure of how appropriate one’s actions are in the workplace, I have found, is one’s own values of decency, ethics and responsibility and, in the above situation, to have these confirmed and used as my ‘yardstick’ for decision making and professional integrity, has proved rewarding and strangely ‘comforting’.

No one should ever consider themselves to be the finished article and being confident in pursuing continued development is a positive trait. In my case, this helps to overcome the schema driven low self-esteem and has certainly enhanced a more positive belief for the future. Among the key learning experiences for me, alongside the above, are a recognition of the roles of others, networking and effective communication. My career path has involved working closely with and taking an interest in people, both clients and colleagues alike. In Appendix X I have conducted my own skills self appraisal which covers a range of academic and professional areas. This was motivated by a definition of entrepreneurship by Rothstein and Burke (2010) as one who is “…skilled in recognizing opportunities, exploiting those opportunities and creating value” (p.217). Whilst I will never be an Alan Sugar or Duncan Bannatyne, I can be just as entrepreneurial in my skills base so as to add value to the organisation. The fact that funding was made available to allow this period of study serves as a reminder that, to some degree, this has already been recognised and how I choose to utilise this for mutual benefit is now being considered.

Career Appraisal and Development

During the Foundation Degree I was able to undertake and pass the selection examination for Senior Officer though I was unsuccessful in role play assessment. I was, however, able to take that experience and, rather than berate or chastise myself and dwell in self-doubt as I previously would have, I have decided to take the step of applying for and undertaking the assessment again later this year.

For this, I will seek to use my Line Manager as mentor together with the training department as immediate point of reference and begin to research prison policy, security and management skills. I am now feeling positive and motivated to succeed in this not only from a practical, self-development perspective, but also the pride and sense of achievement this will bring.

Following the disappointment of having to step down from Sex Offender Treatment work last year, I have reappraised my personal development and, using reflective skills developed on the degree studies, particularly Kolb (1984) to help evaluate the experiences and Beck (1967) to understand how I was interpreting them. Having specialised in Drug offender rehabilitation for the last twelve months I can take the benefits of new learning and role experience forward as I return to Sex Offender therapy later this year. Drawing together the range of experience and interests I have enjoyed over successive years keeps me, first and foremost, actively engaged in working for and alongside others. This is encouraging and, in this period of change, I have come to realise the importance of job satisfaction as a key motivator for me.

Pursuing a Counselling qualification would serve as a path to an alternative career should personal circumstances change for me in the future. This could be due to cutbacks in the public sector or an establishment transition to the private sector. This could also potentially be utilised in my current role should a counselling or mediation function become available which I can argue would value to the establishment.

A significant area of personal development has been in key skills of assertiveness and negotiation. These were identified early on in my reflective practice as things I needed to work on. I was able to negotiate a role within drugs support having originally offered an office based assessment position which I would have found unfulfilling. Alongside this, within my current grievance procedure, I have assertively requested a clear professional development path from senior management which also ensures that all officer grades in the Programmes team are offered the same which has, hitherto, been lacking.

Learning and Continuing Professional Development

The Honours Degree has been immensely challenging and rewarding and, despite early fears, has worked in with my social and work life and has encouraged me to ongoing learning and consideration of developing career prospects.

There has been useful overlap of the various modules of this course in which the learning and reflections from each have been transferable. An example is in studying ‘Effective Management Decisions’ has been important for my dissertation which evaluates Crew Resource Management. Learning to examine the former, in an objective way, has enabled a critical approach for the dissertation ensuring the focus remains on the advantages to business performance and not just to areas of personnel safety which I might otherwise have concentrated.

It has been gratifying that I have been able to use the modules of this course to look at areas which I find personally interesting and challenging which included designing projects to create best practice in offender management. Also, I have long been interested in the commercial aviation industry and to explore competitive advantage of an airline was good fun, whilst also rewarding in the study skills that were required. Similarly, the dissertation which looks at human factors in critical incidents arising from aviation accidents takes that same personal interest but analyses the learning points from that sector and explores what the prison service can benefit from this within its own operations.

This seamless learning extends to the previous Foundation Degree which I frequently refer to including the module on ethics, cultural awareness and diversity where the strong principles I ascribe and have documented, are continually evaluated and applied to my work practice. It forms the basis of my ‘mission statement’ for development as recommended by Covey (2004) where focussing who you want to be and what you want to do should be on the values you ascribe to each (p.106).

I am currently exploring options for Higher Education such as a Masters Degree as well as qualifications in counselling. At this stage, I am unsure as to whether I should these at the earliest opportunity and continue the momentum of learning or have a year break in order to spend time focussing on my personal life which does need some attention. Whether I choose immediate and specific training at this time or not, I can develop and enhance the skills required for possible future roles in my current position utilising the training department, mentors and line management. All of these are part of my ongoing Professional Development Plan so I can maintain the motivation to keep personal and professional aspirations at the forefront of my future work.

I am now certain that my further education will continue as will the depth and breadth of my career development. With the ongoing role in Drugs Support, a move back to Sex Offender Treatment later this year, together with the Senior Officer assessment in October and exploring accelerated promotion prospects in the prison service, I have much to keep me motivated and stimulated. These are key drivers for me as I have learnt in my four year journey and I can now realistically consider a managerial position and explore such options. The Honours Degree is regarded as a valuable qualification both for its relevant content to the Criminal Justice System and Business and Management but also symbolises the desire and commitment I have and have shown for continued self development.

For me, this highlights how seamless the transition has been through the learning journey and that it will continue to be so. This awareness has made further education and career progression options less of a mountain to climb but a gentle path to enlightenment as some learned and revered man of faith probably once said.

A helpful resource has proved to be www.CIPD.co.uk which I have accessed throughout my studies. This organisation’s definition of learning is ‘a self-directed, work-based process leading to increased adaptive capacity’.

http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/factsheets/learning-talent-development-overview.aspx [Accessed 18 February 2011].

This highlights the importance of personal responsibility in using employer resources to develop an ever-widening scope for career development. Appendix VIII shows an extract which proved helpful in critically evaluating my development plan and ensured it was appropriate to my needs and abilities as well as offering value to the workplace.


I regard my new Curriculum Vitae (Appendix IX) as a valid working document whereas I had considered my old one, prior to commencing Further Education, to be somewhat archaic, irrelevant and out of date. The core skills I have developed over the years and significant achievements are included which serve as a reminder that, just as I have now added the Honours Degree (final result permitting), more is to come. As I look over it now, the transition and learning process which has brought me to this point in my life now is clearly evident. I can see the journey of learning and experience I have been on and, with a renewed and positive view of myself and professional development potential, I will enjoy and apply myself to the opportunities that lie ahead.

Appendices: I. Personal and Professional Development Plan

II. Cycle of Change (Prochaska and Diclemente, 1982)

III. Staff Performance and Development Record (SPDR)

IV. Reflective Essay (Jan 2007)

V. Study Skills Self Assessment

VI. SWOT Analysis

VII. Career Values Tool

VIII. Extract from CIPD website

IX. Curriculum Vitae

X. Research and Employability Skills

Appendix I

Personal and Professional Development Plan

Appendix II

Cycle of Change (Prochaska and Diclemente, 1982)

Appendix II The Cycle of Change: Prochatska and Diclamente (1982)

This example is taken from the internet and the source is in the bibliography.

The cycle of change has 6 phases and, for me, this diagram highlights well the areas at which I can lapse, particularly contemplation and, therefore am encouraged to maintain motivation.

In ‘pre-contemplation’, the person does not see any problem in their current behaviours and has not considered there might be some better alternatives.

In ‘contemplation’ the person is ambivalent – they are in two minds about what they want to do – should they stay with their existing behaviours and attitudes or should they try changing to something new? It is this area which I need to be particularly on my guard to as not to lapse.

In ‘preparation’, the person is taking steps to change usually in the next month or so.

In ‘action’, they have made the change and living the new set of behaviours is an all-consuming activity.

In ‘maintenance’, the change has been integrated into the person’s life – they are now more ‘enterprising’.

Relapse is a full return to the old behaviour. This is not inevitable – but is likely – and should not be seen as failure. Often people will Relapse several times before they finally succeed in making a (more or less) permanent to a new set of behaviours.

Appendix III.

Staff Performance and Development Record (SPDR)

Appendix IV.

Extract From My First Reflective Essay (Jan 2007)

Extract From My First Reflective Essay (Jan 2007)

My earliest employment from leaving school was within the travel industry. From the outset, I sought to improve my practical skills base and enjoyed the challenge of meeting the needs of customers, budgetary targets, training of staff, problem solving, through to the opening and management of a travel agency branch several years later.

Apart from the GCSE qualifications gained at school, any further academic or professional learning has been gained whilst in employment. Copies of certificates attained, both school and work based can be found in the appendix.

The skills and achievements I have attained in my personal life are equally transferrable to my work life. For example, as Chairman of a genealogical society for several years and public speaking engagements both serve as reminders that I have organisational, research and presentation abilities which I can and should be utilising and developing along my career path.

I have had no formal management training, yet gained significant supervisory experience through showing aptitude and dedication to task, client base and personnel. It is important for me to demonstrate, through the Foundation Degree and subsequent training that I can learn management and personal development skills, but also show I am able to apply this learning in my work and personal life. At the same time, I need to focus on a specific career path which includes, in the first instance, promotion to Senior Officer.

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The next logical progression will, therefore, be to apply for and undertake the senior Promotion Examination later this year. For this, I need to obtain details of the main job requirements for this role and, using my Line Manager as mentor and the training department as immediate point of reference, begin to research prison policy, security, management skills and training opportunities. Whilst I have considered undertaking this before, I am now feeling positive and motivated to succeed in this not only from a practical, self-development perspective but also the pride and sense of achievement this will bring.

On successful completion of this examination, I can seek to specialise in either offender rehabilitation or staff training which I would relish. This draws together the range of experience and interests I have enjoyed over successive years and keeps me, first and foremost, actively engaged in working for and alongside others.

It is important for me to develop assertiveness skills and, whilst these have been improved upon over recent years, I am aware there is a continued need for development in this area. I need to be pro-active in my own learning, seeking opportunities and not over-relying on others to simply recognise my needs or opportunities and make recommendations. Part of this includes my need to develop and seek out management training and practice/demonstrate the skills I have. It is equally important for me to enlist the help of others in my development. My personal statement highlights how I can become too self-reliant when I perceive no one understands my needs or are genuinely interested in my development. Seeking a more collaborative approach to my learning will not only engender positive belief in myself and others, it will make the next stage of my career more rewarding, satisfying, creative and productive as well as opening up a wider range of opportunities in all areas of my life.

The Study Skills Self-Assessment which I completed on 23 October 2007 (Appendix) highlighted three main employability skills I need to develop as:

Improving own learning and performance

Application of number (data collection and interpretation)

Information and technology proficiency

Alongside these, to develop, are my personal attributes of

Self confidence

Flexibility and adaptability


In this self assessment I also reflected on my own specific weaknesses which include being too self-critical and not praising my own achievements enough which can affect my ability to be objective about my performance. I have a strong underpinning need to defend others and leap to their rescue which I have come to see as a hindrance to my own development and of those I seek to help. This is a particularly important area for me to address as future management roles will require me to allow others to take their own personal responsibility and only offer guidance as appropriate. This ‘rescuer’ style I have is schema-related and I will write a piece for my portfolio on schema theory and how this applies to me. Beck, 1967 described a schema as “..a cognitive structure for screening, coding, and evaluating the stimuli that impinge on the organism”. In short, schemas are the filters or core beliefs we have about ourselves or the world around us and, thereby, how we interpret different situations in our lives.

The nature of the work I do in offender rehabilitation requires me to undertake regular de-briefing, supervision, yearly health reviews and bi-monthly counselling. This, together with schema theory and other therapy models I use with prisoners, which I have also applied to myself, means I spend a lot of time being introspective and sharing this with colleagues. Add to this, the personal development elements of the Foundation Degree, means I need to be mindful of balancing this wealth of introspection with practical steps for a successful future.

One of the handouts for self-appraisal from this course has helped me consider what can get in the way of things I want to do. These include poor time management and a lack of structure and balance in and between my work, study and private life. This is important as I can become frustrated by unnecessary last minute attempts to meet deadlines. By having a clear coherent plan I can plan my work and life more effectively and, this alone gives me a sense of excitement and motivation.

Appendix V.

Study Skills Self Assessment

Dowson, Paul., (2004) Study Skills Self Assessment, Leeds Metropolitan University

Appendix VI.

SWOT Analysis

Appendix VII

Career Values Tool Report

Appendix VIII.

Extract from www.CIPD.co.uk {Accessed 18 February 2011)

Possible benefits of development planning

Relevant learning and development is more likely to happen in practice when you are goal directed.

Learning that is planned is more efficient.

Unanticipated learning opportunities are more likely to come to your attention when you are prepared for them.

The choices of learning methods are more likely to be appropriate following completion of a development plan and their use can be designed and managed to provide a tailored fit with your needs and interests.

Motivation and confidence in taking responsibility for one’s own learning can be enhanced.

Possible limitations of development planning

The quality of a completed development plan can suffer without timely and relevant diagnostic information from others.

The creation of a valid and useable plan is particularly difficult to achieve without the active support and agreement of others who are relevant to you in your current role.

The successful implementation of even a well-crafted plan is not guaranteed without continuing support and challenge from others.

Operating hints

Ensure that there is ready access to relevant and valid diagnostic data in the identification of learning needs.

Ensure t


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