Tara-Jane Sutcliffe MIfA, Community Archaeology Training Coordinator, Council for British Archaeology
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is at the core of my role with the Council for British Archaeology, working in partnership with heritage organisations located across the UK to develop training opportunities. Foremost, I manage the Community Archaeology Bursaries Project, a Heritage Lottery Funded programme of one-year work-based learning placements. Part of the broader Skills for the Future scheme, the project aims not only to equip individuals with the skills to work effectively in community archaeology but also to enhance the capacity of the heritage sector to deliver sustainable training and share good practice. As a result I provide professional development support to our trainees as well as to their supervisors and mentors within host organisations; this includes input into training plans, guidance through learning agreements and delivery of ‘train-the-trainer’ events. I also contribute to the sector more widely as a representative on the Archaeology Training Forum (ATF) and as a committee member of the IfA’s Voluntary & Community Special Interest Group (VCSIG).
I find my role immensely rewarding and in fact it’s fair to say that ‘I love my job’! I am a firm advocate of workplace learning and in many respects this is borne out of my own experience, having benefited from an English Heritage Professional Placement in Conservation (EPPIC) in Aerial Survey & Investigation. Perhaps the most important lesson that I learnt from completing the one-year training placement, administered by the IfA, was that of planning for professional development. It’s crucial to have SMART objectives: those which are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. It is this fundamental principle that underlies the success of the Bursaries Project. At the outset trainees undertake a ‘skills and needs analysis’ to identify key areas for development. This feeds into the creation of a Personal Development Plan (PDP) that itemises specific learning goals, how these will be achieved and measured, when they will be achieved by and who will provide support. Trainees are encouraged to take ownership of this document and to include personal, professional and work-specific learning goals. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on this being a dynamic document, one which should be regularly reviewed and updated to allow progress to be measured.
The PDP operates in conjunction with a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) log that facilitates the recording and, more importantly, reflection upon learning activities. For learning to have effect we should always reflect, otherwise we court the criticism of merely ‘collecting certificates’! There are two fundamental questions to ask after any training: what have I learnt? How will I put this into practice? The promotion of critical self-awareness is furthermore reinforced in completion of monthly learning logs in which trainees are required to record key achievements, challenges and lessons learnt. Further, bursary holders are required to complete the Level 3 NVQ in Archaeological Practice: a work-place qualification based upon National Occupational Standards and assessed via a portfolio of evidence that demonstrates professional competence. Pursuit of the NVQ provides trainees with an additional mentor from outside their host organisation as well as opportunity to develop the vocabulary to effectively describe their professional competencies: all so crucial for making applications for employment and in seeking professional accreditation.
With professional accreditation in mind, over the past few months I have had cause to practice what I preach and look to my own CPD for the purpose of upgrading my IfA corporate grade to that of full Member (MIfA). This required submission of my Personal Development Plan, CPD log and a Statement of Competence together with a portfolio of work. Professional competence is assessed across four key areas, those of knowledge, autonomy, perception of context and the ability to cope with complexity. I found it a really useful exercise to ‘take stock’ and reflect upon my experience; and timely also, since with a year left on the Bursaries Project I am now at the point where I need to start planning in which direction to steer my career next. Cue the Professional Development Plan 2014-15, aka ‘work-in-progress’!
In many respects I am a product of my professional placement, since which I have assiduously maintained a yearly PDP, avidly sought out learning opportunities and duly reflected upon them in my CPD log. This has facilitated progress from initially being a Student member of the IfA through to corporate membership at Practitioner and subsequently Associate level; the latter having been validated through completion of the Level 4 NVQ in Archaeological Practice. Indeed, keen to support the NVQ and to mentor early career professionals I am myself training as an NVQ Assessor. To this end I am working towards an A1 Assessor’s Award, which is achieved through a portfolio of evidence that demonstrates the ability to develop plans for assessing competence, to judge evidence against assessment criteria, to provide feedback to candidates and to contribute to the internal quality assurance process. This complements the teaching that I undertake with young people and adult learners, respectively as a Branch Leader of the Young Archaeologists’ Club and as a Tutor with the Workers’ Educational Association. To support my development in these roles, in 2012 I completed a City & Guilds Level 4 Award in Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector. This was especially useful to develop understanding of differing learning styles and, as a result, I have altered my teaching and training to greater accommodate the needs of kinaesthetic learners.
More recently, in August I was fortunate to undertake a week-long cultural heritage training placement in Bulgaria as part of the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme. This ‘mobility’ initiative enables individuals to train in another country, to exchange best practices and innovative approaches, as well as to network focusing on topical themes such as sustainable rural development and European citizenship. I was especially interested to learn about the maintenance and transmission of ‘intangible’ or living heritage: the traditional food, dance, song, customs and costume of the country. Travelling across the country from Sofia to Ruse, our party of eight heritage professionals from the UK visited a range of sites, monuments, and museums. This provided an overview of Bulgarian heritage from early prehistory through to the current post-communist state, by way of the Chalcolithic, Thracian, and National Revival periods. The history and historiography of Eastern Europe is largely unfamiliar to the British student of the past and it is telling that none of the British Schools abroad are located here. The placement therefore provided a real education in the chronology and cultures, as well as the manner of their study and the impact of socio-economic and political change over the past 200 years in Bulgaria. Post-placement I have started to cascade my learning; in a recent YAC session an introduction to Bulgarian archaeology provided a point of departure to develop understanding of our own ‘intangible’ heritage and how this contributes to regional and national identity.
I should add that formal qualifications and training courses are, however, just one aspect of CPD, which encompasses a much wider spectrum of learning activities and experiences. Indeed, educators often talk of learning falling into the categories of being formal, informal, or non-formal, with a need for greater validation of the latter two. It is important to recognise and reflect upon learning opportunities that occur in the course of the everyday and the adage that every day is a school day is a particularly useful mnemonic in this respect.
Ideally ‘graduates’ of the Community Archaeology Bursaries Project will also continue to practice reflective learning post-placement in support of their Continuing Professional Development. And of course you need not have undertaken a work-based learning placement to be an aficionado of CPD … surely, ultimately, we each of us wish to progress our career?!