Sunday, January 28, 2007

Opening up an oral tradition

יום ראשון ט' בשבט תשס"ז

One of the things that shocked me the most when I started to get to know people training to be CPE supervisors was how many of them -- even people who had been training for years! -- had serious concerns about whether they would ever be able to finish the process. In all my encounters with various professional educational processes, I had never seen anything like this. In rabbinical school, for example, there was some attrition. But that was mostly in the early years (of what is typically a five to six year process); by the time people had invested a lot of time, they were almost sure to be able to finish.

The stress and grief that these supervisors-in-training (SITs) I was meeting were experiencing was so high. It's hard for me to imagine what it would be like to invest years of your life in a demanding and consuming processes and have it all come to naught. [A CPE supervisor, by the way, is essentially a person who trains other people to be chaplains or who provides chaplaincy training to seminary students.]

It turns out that the "powers that be" in the CPE have recognized that there is a problem. They issued a report that summarizes the problems and recommends solutions. Basically, the report identifies a great deal of inconsistency in the education of SITs. There is no real standard path or curriculum. But, perhaps worse, there is a great deal of inconsistency between how supervisors are trained and how they are certified. That is, the people who serve on the certification boards that decide whether someone will be approved (certified) to be a supervisor are not the same people who are actually involved in training SITs. So, the SIT hears one thing from the person who is training him or her, and then goes before a committee and is shocked to be told that they have it all wrong and maybe should give up trying to become a supervisor at all.

Here is the way the report puts it (emphasis mine):
. . . there are often differing expectations between those who provide supervisory education and those who certify. We note that the language, concepts and methodologies valued by the volunteers who work in certification is often different from the expectations (and understanding of the standards) of both supervisory educators and candidates. This has unfortunately led to too many painful and conflicted experiences. One systemic result may be that our methods of evaluation of supervisory candidates and associate supervisors tend to focus more on subjective assessments of personal integration than on professional competency. Both are essential, but the feedback from those who have experienced the certification process as students and as educating supervisors suggests we have erred on the side of subjectivity, with an “oral tradition” that is difficult to comprehend.
I was really interested here by the use of the term "oral tradition". This expresses some of how I have felt about the process of entering supervisory education. I felt like I was approaching a very closed world where it was impossible to get information except by meeting an insider who was willing to talk with you. That is -- unlike let's say law or medical school -- I could not just get on the Internet or go to a bookstore and find things to read that would help me understand what was involved. Finding out about rabbinical school, also, I must say was something of an "oral tradition", but there were more people to talk to and more ways of getting at that information.

There was another thing that shocked me when I started to meet SITs -- learning that, for many of them, the obstacle is completing some theory paper. I found this very surprising. Although these theory papers are major projects, the assignment didn't seem to me to be much more demanding than for a term paper in a graduate school class (ie, we're not talking about a PhD dissertation here!!). I would have thought that a person with so much at stake in terms of his or her career would just, at some point, force themselves to sit down and write the thing.

But, it turns out that it is not just the people I met who are having trouble with the theory papers. The problem is endemic according to the report:
. . there is broad acknowledgement of the value of theory paper requirement and there is clear evidence that theory papers required of supervisory candidates are a significant stumbling block for a large percentage of students in supervisory education

Here is the introductory paragraph for the report's recommendations to fix the problems (emphasis, mine):
Recommendations: It is evident from the above analysis that the goals of streamlining the supervisory education process and ensuring attainable and measurable outcomes will only be met with significant structural process improvement efforts. We believe a cultural shift in the supervisory education and certification components of our organization is necessary, toward objective and quantifiable competency assessments and definable measurements of personal and professional integration. We believe that the education and development of our future supervisors needs to be organized around a universal core curriculum, definable best practice standards for supervisors who provide supervisory education, and clear competency standards for candidates. We believe that the ACPE needs to assure consistency, standardization and expertise in its certification processes or move toward professional certification processes used in other parallel professions. And we believe the supervisory education experience itself needs to move toward a collaborative, mentoring model that supports both personal integration and professional competency development. At the same time, we recognize that the subjectivity that is inherent in our education and certification processes is of high value and contributes both richness and depth to our unique organizational culture. Indeed, we find ourselves wanting to protect the subjectivity of our individual educators and certifiers while still promoting consistency in our interactions, assessments and evaluations.
The report has a series of recommendations about the theory paper requirement. They include:
require that all written material, including the two theory papers, be submitted five months prior to the scheduled Certification Commission appearance date; that one month be given to the committee to assess the materials according to a scoring grid (adapted from CAPPE); that the results of the scoring grid be provided to the candidate, including specific recommendations for satisfying the standards; that, if necessary, the candidate be given sixty days for a re-write and re-submission of papers; that the committee again have one month to assess the materials, and that, if the papers do not meet standards upon second submission, the appearance before the Certification Commission be canceled
Probably one of the most important recommendations of the report was that the "associate" level of CPE be eliminated.

I also, by the way liked the way the report phrased some of the problem that chaplains and CPE face today:
We are also aware of two significant challenges to the future of our organization. The first significant challenge is the changing landscape of American religion and its evolving role in culture and society. We note that religious expression has become more diverse and that health care institutions, in particular, have given rise to new – and some would say competing - forms of spiritual care, leading to experiences of marginalization and decline in authority.

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