New Professionals in the Writing Classroom

In his article*, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” Parker J. Palmer offers that he became a professor “animated in part by the belief that education can humanize us.” Palmer asks “Does education humanize us?” and concludes, “Sometimes, but not nearly often enough” because we “turn our graduates loose on the world as people who know, but do not recognize that our justice system often fails the poor, that corporate logic usually favors short-term profits over sustainability, that practical politics is more about manipulating public opinion than discerning the will of the people, that our approach to international relations is laced with arrogance about our culture and ignorance of others, that science and technology are not neutral but rather means to social ends.” Palmer asserts that “If higher education is to serve humane purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it.”

Palmer makes the case for “educating a ‘new professional'” as in “a person who is not only competent in his or her discipline but has the skill and the will to deal with the institutional pathologies that threaten the professional’s highest standards.

Palmer mentions two important realities undergirding his “call for a new professional who can confront, challenge, and help change the workplace”: (1) “our large, complex institutions are increasingly unresponsive to external pressure, even on those rare occasions when an informed and organized public demands change” and (2) “the functions of a profession are not necessarily those of the institutional structure that house it . . . We need professionals who are ‘in but not of’ their institutions, whose allegiance to the core values of their fields makes them resist the institutional diminishment of those values.”

In seeking to answer the question of, “What would the education of the new professional look like?” Palmer shares “five immodest proposals”: (1) “We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless — an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue” (2) “We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects” (3) “We must start taking seriously the ‘intelligence’ in emotional intelligence” (4) “We must offer our students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support” (5) “We must help our students understand what it means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them”. Palmer suggests that overall, “The education of the new professional will offer students real-time chances to translate feelings into knowledge and action by questioning and helping to develop the program they are in . . . an academic culture that invites students to find their voices about the program itself, gives them forums for speaking up, rewards rather than penalizes them for doing so, and encourages faculty and administrative responsiveness to student concerns.”

In his conclusion, Palmer suggests that “The word ‘professional’ originally meant someone who makes a ‘profession of faith’ in the midst of a disheartening world. That root meaning became diminished as the centuries rolled by, and today it has all but disappeared. ‘Professional’ now means someone who possesses knowledge and techniques too esoteric for the laity to understand, whose education is proudly proclaimed to be ‘value free.'” Further, “The notion of a ‘new professional’ revives the root meaning of the word. This person can say, ‘In the midst of the powerful force-field of institutional life, where so much conspires to compromise the core values of my work, I have found firm ground on which to stand—the ground of personal and professional identity and integrity—and from which I can call myself, my colleagues, and my profession back to our true mission.'”

I found Parker’s piece so moving and significant, that it of course prompted me to think about how I can take advantage of opportunities within my own coursework (including GEDI) to transform into a “new professional” as he outlines throughout his article. For starters, I think I may assign this article as the first reading in my First-Year Writing (ENGL 1106) courses here at Virginia Tech next fall. I believe this piece gives students an conceptual excellent framework for understanding the need for a broad well-rounded education, including the ability to write. Secondly, inspired by Palmer’s work, I want to cultivate an environment in my classroom where my students feel free to critique the program itself. I plan to have students make some early decisions as a group about what we will study, how we will study it, and to make frequent check-ins with students to check the pulse of the class and how the learners are interacting with it. Lastly, I also hope that my writing classroom can help students develop the skills needed to cultivate and hone their professional identities, to be able to articulate their views and their opinions and needs in a clear, compelling manner.

*Parker J. Palmer “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited.” Change, vol. 39, no. 6, 2007, pp. 6-12.

Professional coaches – why I want one

I loved the article “Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?” written by Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon who specializes is endocrine surgery. To summarize the article, Dr. Gawande writes about his experiences of having a former colleague observe and critique his work and how these experiences have enhanced his performance. Dr. Gawande also discusses his interviews with professionals who have personal coaches and his experience with the Kansas Coaching Project, an organization that teaches coaching for schoolteachers and encourages schoolteachers to use coaches to improve the quality of their teaching.

Here are a few quotes that resonated with me:

I’ve just stopped getting better.” — Dr. Gawande admits that before asking for help he had peaked in his performance as a surgeon, which is important to be aware of and acknowledge. It is also something that I have feared for myself as I pursue a career in higher education. I want to continuously grow as a teacher, which Dr. Gawande also points out is difficult to do on your own. I’ve considered sitting in on lectures by instructors that I respect. However, I believe that watching others teach has its limits on what I can learn about improving my own performance. Continuing education classes and workshops might help, though they are not going to immediately change my performance in the classroom.

I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?” – Yes! Well, not about the paying part but as a youth soccer coach with limited experience and a GTA with limited experience, I have started to wonder why instructors don’t have “coaches” that observe them and help them improve their skills. I’d love for someone to come give me advice so that I can do my job better. Of course, when I am being observed I feel uncomfortable about the experience but I have always felt better and more in control afterward. I have also enjoyed and valued being the observer. While observing, I typically feel cheerful and curious. I know I am not there to scorn or criticize, I am simply there to observe and brainstorm ways to help my colleague improve. At this point in the article, I was wondering why aren’t professional coaches more common place.

Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. …They don’t even have to be good at the sport. …Coaches are like editors.” – This speaks to me for two reasons. First of all, I enjoy being a coach, which I do agree is different from being a teacher. I think coaches provide guidance and a more critical eye. Second, I have been struggling to convince myself that I will be a great teacher (or coach), because I know that I am not the best chemist (or athlete). Dr. Gawande reminds me that most famous sports coaches to date were never the top performers in their sport. However, they are effective coaches because they are able to recognize areas that can be improved and provide guidance on how to improve them.

You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula, goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. – I just love this quote. How can you really begin to improve when you can’t effectively evaluate your own weaknesses?

Lastly: “Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.” And just before that, “For society… we may not be ready to accept—or pay for—a cadre of people who identify the flaws in the professionals upon whom we rely, and yet hold in confidence what they see.” – Dr. Gawande is suggesting that the performance/abilities of humans as a whole will get better with good coaching, to which I agree. He also has good reason to believe (i.e., from personal experience) that the layperson will be hesitant to trust professionals who are being observed. However, I think that given the right explanation for the observation and with more exposure to observers, laypeople will be more receptive to observers in professional settings. For instance, I think it is understandable to have little confidence in a medical resident due to their limited experience. Yet, I’d feel better knowing that my experienced medical doctor is dedicated to their professional development and is seeking the guidance of an equally or more experienced colleague.

In closing, I think we should all strive to be better and we should always be open to being observed and accept guidance on our performance.

What is School For?

Seth Godin poses a question in his TEDx talk that I have been mulling over all semester: what is school for? I think we can all agree that a school isn’t just a building to hold students for the day; although, as Parker Palmer points out in “A New Professional,” “the fact that we have schools does not mean we have education.”

I am inclined to agree with many of the points Godin makes about how education may (should?) change moving forward and with the availability of technology:

  • Making lectures and course materials available online would give students control over their schedules, and the freedom to manage their time as they please. In concert with an expert in the subject matter– available either in person as Godin suggests, or online in real time– to direct questions toward, this seems like a promising model.
  • There may have been a time when memorizing information was necessary, but in a world where we have constant access to resources, this is an outdated idea. It is likely that students will, over time, memorize the important facts that come up repeatedly in their work but requiring memorization and regurgitation is unnecessary and ineffective.
  • Godin mentions “precise, focused education.” Products we purchase are customizable, we have precision medicine (kind of), so why not education too? I have some trouble imagining what exactly this would look like. I think of my undergraduate experience; I completed a degree with an interdisciplinary major, which gave me the ability to select courses that aligned with my interests. On the other hand, it failed to create a cohesive progression in my studies that students in established departments had.

Empathy, Always

While I am not a medical student in any way, shape, or form, there were way aspects of reading “When Do Medical Students Lose Their Empathy?” by Dr. Sonia Henry that resonated with me. I studied social work in my undergrad and am now in school for student affairs (helping in nature professions) and I saw connections between both and being a graduate student in general. First, Dr. Henry talked about the pressure and anxiety she felt being in school—while once again, I am in not medical school, but I think a lot of graduate students in other disciplines could also feel this way. I know that as I have continued in my program, I have had times where I have had anxiety and have been stressed out. I think it is universal to want to succeed when seeking graduate degrees and knowing the work it takes to achieve a graduate degree is high.                         Personally, I know that I have also rationalized my feelings of being overwhelmed with “everyone feels this way, its normal”, just as the article talked about. I am fortunate that I have a great support system in place to help me get through those times of feeling overwhelmed. However, I think more emphasis on mental health should take place in graduate programs if we know how common those feelings are for students. For example, I think it is great that Virginia Tech offers weekly drop sessions with Cook Counseling for graduate students. However, I think we need to make it more interwoven with actual programs to show students that while you should be challenged in graduate school, you should not always feel completely overwhelmed and what to do if you are.

Another aspect of this article that resonated with me was her point about losing her empathy. The author talked about how she had a patient that was given horrendous unexpected news and she did not think much of it until later in the day. Dr. Henry talked about how she went into this profession because she wanted to care for others and currently was finding herself losing that aspect of herself. I have heard this before from professions in fields that experience crisis routinely, that after a while you can become desensitized to crisis level situations because you are around them so much or you are just moving through the motions. While, my current area does experience some crisis situations, especially when serving on-call, I hope that no matter how long I am in the field, I never become desensitized to what others are experiencing. I think it helps to make you a good professional that you can empathize for what the person is going through to help them figure out how to get through it. I always want to feel and have empathy for those around me. I think this article is a good reminder of being cognizant of what you are doing and remembering why you are doing it. Theoretically, for whatever profession you are in, you started in it for a reason and it is vital to remember that reason and it keep it close to you.

Humanities as a compliment to STEM; Failure as necessary for student growth

Edelstein writes that “[to] innovate is thus less to abandon the past than it is to tinker, transform, and revise what came before” (2010). He describes the continuum of innovation and provides discipline-specific examples. Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of battery technology, something that has been around since Mesopotamia ( and which has experienced both incremental and exponential advances during different periods.  There may be more opportunity for innovation at the interface of two or more disciplines, of which one could have been on the static end of the continuum, rather than thinking of everything in its silo.

Edelstein (2010) provides examples of the value of humanities from the perspective of different disciplines that raise varied aspects of innovation:

  1. Entrepreneurship and an ability to consider ways to improve a current product, process, or situation.
  2. Engineering and medical students incorporating art to round out curriculum and ensure students can think creatively and make more connections back to the core material.

In practice the former example seems to significantly overlap with a research method or systems analysis process.

The National Research Council developed a framework that outlines practices that will aide STEM student acquisition of concepts:

NRC framework

Edelstein (2010) later acknowledges that the “cognitive processes” that underly both the humanities and STEM disciplines are similar. This seems to belie his earlier point.

The latter example hits on something more inherently-missing in traditional STEM fields – a framework for communicating out important concepts.

Melissa Marshall of TED “Talk Nerdy to Me” fame, coveys the importance of this:


Her talk helps scientists and engineers present their work for maximum impact and understanding. I haven’t seen her talk in about five years, but I remember this slide because the medical concept is given a visual analogy.

Edelstein (2010) oversimplifies the need for understanding and assimilation in the humanities versus STEM coursework, providing examples where As are given in engineering classes where everyone gets one correct answer versus the case in a humanities course where there is no singular correct answer. There are any number of counter examples to this in STEM education, but my favorite historical example gets at concepts from both Godin and Palmer:


Godin (2012) described the “obedience,” and “interchangeable parts,” nature of our educational system. A student who was not inquisitive, whose mind was not engaged, and who wasn’t willing to question the integrity of a building built by a known engineering firm for a publicly traded company might not have caught the design flaw. Coming forward as a student goes against the textbook cases and the standardized tests, it goes against memorization, and it takes gumption. This ties to what Palmer describes as the need to “help our students develop the skill of ‘mining’ their emotions for knowledge” (2007, p. 10). Student intuition can be squelched in the harder sciences, yet as Palmer notes many professions that stem from and interface with these disciplines run on heuristics.

Ultimately, Edelstein makes the case for a shift towards problem-based and other forms of applied learning.

Finally, a pitch for failure: we need to get more comfortable with what failure looks like and means in practice. Godin (2012) challenges us to consider if we “are asking our kids to collect dots or connects dots?” and then argues that we can only do the latter if we “[put] them into situations where they can fail.”

Failure abounds at both trivial and catastrophic levels across industries, some of which is expected and some of which is nearly unimaginable. The architect-engineers of the Citicorp and Hancock ( towers got it wrong. The percentage of startups that succeed is a shockingly low 10% ( In its report on a recent Massachusetts gas pipeline explosion, the National Transportation Safety Board found that field documents and sensors were were missing critical information leading to the death of one (

Failure, similarly to Godin’s (2012) observation on the lack of cooperative work in school, is one of the most overlooked aspects of our educational system. Students need to learn how to fail on individual problems, as contributors on teams (or as Palmer (2007) describes it “group inquiry”), and as part of institutions. If students are allowed to learn from their failures, they will be have more confidence and self-efficacy and be better advocates for change.



Engineering and Humanities

When I began thinking about how I could operate as a “new professional” and help revive education in my field, I found the Edelstein article extremely helpful. I completely agree with Edelstein that humanities curriculum usually demands and prioritizes originality from day one whereas STEM education usually demands reciprocation of information for most of the curriculum and then originality suddenly at the end. Demanding originality from the beginning encourages students to be developing their skills of innovation over a longer period of time and will produce students who are much more naturally innovative and productive when they graduate.

During my graduate studies, I have come to value humanities education much more highly even as an engineering students (even especially since I am an engineering student). The innovative and free-thinking mindset adopted by humanities classes is refreshing and helps develop and entirely new skillset that is equally as crucial to being a successful engineer. As Edelstein noted, innovation and creativity are still crucial in STEM fields and jobs, but we do not train STEM students to develop innovation and creativity. We train STEM students to learn and retain information and then expect them to magically have the ability to be innovative and creative as well when they graduate. That system just doesn’t make much sense.

Moving forward, I hope we can recognize and acknowledge the value of humanities studies for all students. We have seen how more diverse curricula benefit all types of students (as Edelstein gave examples for students in entrepreneurship, engineering, and medicine). Why not more fully adopt this beneficial approach more broadly as we aim to become “new professionals” instead of just continuing with the current trends?

Modern Teaching

This Thanksgiving my husband’s family came to visit and asked what classes I was taking this semester. “Contemporary Pedagogy,” I told them. Then, blank stares and looks of bewilderment before someone finally asked me “What is that?” I thought to myself a second and replied “Well, I guess it’s just a fancy way of saying Modern Teaching.” However, upon reflection of my answer and reflection of this course, I began to wonder, What is “Modern Teaching?”

I have always been a sucker for binge watching TED talks late into the night or listening to NPR’s TED Radio Hour while driving. However, I had never seen Seth Godin’s What is School For? and immediately watched it before reading any of the posted articles. I have to admit that I actually started taking notes half way through: post-it notes are now scattered across the wall above my campus desk. I especially liked, “If you are willing to be criticized for your work, then you have done a good day’s work” as well as his list of how modern education should change: things like “No more memorization, as anything worth memorizing should be looked up anyway” and “bring an end to compliance as an ending point” (in the educational system) come back to mind. His entire analogy of students being “Processed” and school running like “Factories” really hit the nail on the head for me. I was literally nodding along at my desk and remembering the traumatizing events from my grade school days.

After this course, I could say how I feel Contemporary Pedagogy should be, or what I think it should look like, or how I think it should be playing out in the classroom at a large state university. However, that wouldn’t be the reality and as a future professor that makes me sad. Yes, there is a movement towards student-centered learning and inclusive pedagogy, but by no means are we even close to my personal definition of “modern.”

Therefore, as a huge fan of Parker J. Palmer, I had to include on of my favorite quotes from the readings this week to end my final post for this course.

“But while we may find ourselves marginalized or dismissed for calling institutions to account, they are neither other than us nor alien to us; institutions are us. The shadows that institutions cast over our ethical lives are external expressions of our own inner shadows, individual and collective.”

Cheers and good luck everyone!

Do the Work

Do the Work

As the end of the semester nears and the rush begins, I found it quite refreshing to read Parker Palmer’s “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” as it reminds me of the purpose behind the work I do in student affairs.  Working with students outside the classroom, it is my hope that my interactions with students and initiatives on which I work prepare students to succeed as professionals.  While I assume their academic pursuits give them competence in their field, it is my hope that students are learning outside the classroom to live out their values and truly care about the work they do.

However, as I began reading Palmer’s five proposal for educating the new professional, I saw some irony.  While I hope to aid students in avoiding externalizing institutions, focusing on emotional intelligence, engaging with community, and working toward an undivided life, I often forget these practices myself when the stress of graduate school arises.  At different points in my experience, I have blamed an organization of which I was a member for problems and saw myself as unaccountable and powerless to fix them, ignored my own emotional needs, withdrawn from community, and attempted to compartmentalize my life.  Yet, these are these are practices I advise students against.

In light of this irony, I find myself thinking about words of wisdom I have heard from Virginia Tech’s vice president for student affairs, Dr. Patty Perillo, in various presentations she has given: “You cannot take students farther than you have taken yourself.  Do the work.”  Though I have heard Dr. Perillo say this multiple times, each time I find myself inspired to consider how I operate as a professional.  How is my work-life balance?  Am I doing the work that I truly value or just checking boxes?  Am I attune to all aspects of my wellness, including my emotional wellness?  Am I living an undivided life?  Depending on when I ask myself these questions, answers differ.  However, I acknowledge there is always room for improvement, particularly in stressful times, and in my current position, there is no shortage of such time.

While my own opportunities for growth as a professional are ample, I don’t believe they compromise my ability to aid students in their development as professionals.  While I may not be able to take students farter than I have gone myself, I believe my own struggle to achieve the standards of Palmer’s “new professional” simply provide me insight into what can make this difficult for students.  My acknowledgment that my experience is limited also allows me to engage in learning partnerships with students.  I cannot teach them how to be the ideal professional, but we can certainly learn from each other on that path.

Though there is no one answer to progress, I know it is important moving forward to regularly consider how I can be a better professional and live out my values as they relate to my work in student affairs.  How can I ensure that, in my average workday, I am helping students clarify their own values and author their own narrative, the sort of work that drew me to the profession?  Admittedly, it can be hard to find this time when there are so many external pressures to get more done, but taking this time is not just gratuitous and self-indulgent.  This sort of reflection ensures that I am modeling the way and remain able to help students reflect in the same way.  Even when times get busy and my to-do list seems empty, finding time to reflect on my own professional life is necessary to help students work toward there’s.  Simply put, I can’t be too busy to do the work myself.

Connecting the Dots!

I enjoyed listening to the Ted Talk, and was reminded of a small group task which one of our teacher assigned us in our senior secondary school. The task was simple, to pick up the text books kept on one side of the lecture hall and to carry them across the lecture hall and stack the books over there. She did not mention anything else about the task and continued reading something on her table. We were around 15 students in the class that day and we were not quite sure why were we asked to do this silly exercise. However, we did not question the teacher and obeyed the instructions. Once we completed the task, she asked us to repeat the task by carrying the books back to their original place. We were a bit annoyed but we still did not question and as ‘good students’ repeated the task assigned to us. Again, when we finished she asked us to repeat the task. Few of us were becoming impatient but were not brave enough to question the teacher that why are we doing it. After repeating the task for about 10 times, one of us finally figured out, we are doing something wrong and that is why we are being asked to do it again and again. By then we were all tired of doing this task as well. The classmate, who sensed that we were doing something wrong looked at the teacher for any hints, however, the teacher acted as if she did not see that student. The classmate thought for a bit, looked at us, and then asked all of us to stand in a horizontal line instead of each of us picking the books and carrying it to the other side of the class. Then he mentioned let us just pass books to each other instead of each of us walking across the lecture hall. This time we completed the task according to that classmate and were able to complete the task more effortlessly and saved time than before. The teacher at this point smiled at us and said did you learn something by completing the task.

This task was not the part of our regular class but we did not even thought once why we were assigned this task, and just followed the instructions. The teacher wanted us to understand the importance of teamwork. She had an objective while assigning this task. However, we did not know the hidden objective, still, we blindly followed the instructions. And when I was listening to this Ted Talk, I realized that this activity had another lesson which was to question. Question our-self, our peers, our teachers before we begin a task. In fact, this is more important than completing the task. Through this story, I would also like to highlight that being a ‘good student’ does not mean not questioning your teacher or your peers but to question, commit mistakes, learn from the mistakes and make new mistakes.

I had a great time with all you wonderful people!


This entire semester, I kept thinking how interesting it has been taking this class and “Engineering Ethics and the Public” (Ethics) simultaneously. I have been able to use what I have learned in one class to shape assignments in the other, even the required blog posts. I now have realized it makes perfect sense that they are both fulfill the course requirements for the “Preparing the Future Professoriate” certificate offered by the Graduate School.

“Contemporary Pedagogy” has expanded my understanding of some of the vital conversations that happen among futuristic academics and upper-level administrators, often providing concise terminology for some of the concepts discussed in Ethics. Ethics helped me to give a context for these ideas within my own field of study.

Parker J. Palmer’s text, A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited, illuminated that one last time before the semester came to a close. Parker walks readers through 5 “immodest” proposals to help transform the institutions that dominate professionals’ lives:


  1. We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.
  2. We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects.
  3. We must start taking seriously the “intelligence” in emotional intelligence.
  4. We must offer students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support.
  5. We must help our students understand what is means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them.

I found these suggestions made by Parker to be spot-on–especially the understanding of how, as a society, we overvalue the emotions of “anxiety, anger, guilt, grief, and burnout” in our professional lives over emotional intelligence, even in our personal lives. My friends and I say it all the time: “Americans love to seem busy.”


Two more things jumped out from Parker’s text that I believe summarized what I’ve taken away from both courses.

Contemporary Pedagogy: “The lesson our students learn is to stay safe by keeping quiet…small wonder that they carry their passivity into the workplace. They have not learned, because we did not teach them…”

This highlights the one term that I feel I obligated to subscribe to if I am fortunate enough to be an instructor: critical pedagogy. The next generation of professionals NEED it. We NEED it.

Ethics: “How do I stay close to the passions and commitments that took me into this work–challenging myself, my colleagues, and my institution to keep faith with this profession’s deepest values?”

Believe it or not, although my field’s primary value is to protect public health, people have acted pretty unethically and I never want to be in the position to do the same.


Thank you for contributing to my blog this semester.