Saturday, 5 January 2013

I'm Chartered! Some thoughts and tips

This is a somewhat delayed blog post, but NaNoWriMo and then Christmas got in the way of me writing anything on my experience of Chartership. I submitted my portfolio in September and received the happy news that I was successful in November. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and tips for those in the process.

I registered for Chartership in March 2011, four months after I started my first professional role, six months after completing my Librarianship MA. I had initially wondered if it was too early to start, but I was encouraged by colleagues who had completed or who were completing to register and make a start on it. I had a few reasons for wanting to Charter:

  • It would provide evidence of my commitment to my personal development, the development of the service in which I worked, and my involvement in the profession. *I* knew that I had this commitment, but having evidence to demonstrate to others is always helpful.
  • I felt that it would help me to really identify the areas on which I wanted to concentrate, the ones in which I needed to develop most. As a newly-qualified person in my first librarian post I felt a bit like I wanted to do and learn everything, a feeling which was exacerbated by the nature of my role which covered a range of aspects and responsibilities, so I thought it would be helpful to learn how to focus my development plans.
  • It seemed like the logical next step, after my MA and then getting my first professional role.

After reading the Chartership handbook and instructions, and sending off my registration form, my next step was to find a mentor. I know that recently a lot of people have been finding it difficult. I was lucky in that the first mentor I contacted was happy to take me on, and a phone conversation between us confirmed that we felt the relationship would work. However, I did find that there wasn’t a great deal of choice in my area; many mentors listed on the CILIP website were full, or only taking mentees from their own organisation. I selected my mentor because she was in the same sector as me, but in a different institution; so she would pick up on anything that I wasn’t explaining adequately for someone who didn’t work in my library. Although we were both in the South West region, my mentor was in Plymouth and I was in Bristol, so it was actually a distance mentoring arrangement (it’s a big region!). I found this worked fine; we agreed in our mentoring agreement how contact would work – email for the most part, telephone if there were problems to sort out, and me arranging a trip to Plymouth to meet face-to-face if there were problems which could not be resolved any other way. It turned out that email sufficed for us, with additional use of Dropbox towards the end when I was sending her sections of my portfolio to look at – in this way I could send her links to the documents rather than attaching large files to emails. My mentor was brilliant; she was really supportive and answered my emails swiftly and helpfully. If you’re struggling to find a mentor I would recommend considering a distance mentoring arrangement, but do make sure you both set out what is expected of each other re: communication when you put together your mentoring agreement. 

I then attended a “Preparing for Chartership” course. I blogged about how useful I found this here, so I won’t repeat it; I’ll just say that, although you can attend one of these at any point during the process, I recommend attending one as soon as you can, as it was so helpful. You only need to attend one of these courses, but I also attended a “Building your Portfolio” course a year later too, as I was struggling; as blogged here, I found this one helpful too for building up my motivation again.

I was aiming to submit my portfolio in July 2012, and it ended up being September, so I actually didn’t miss my original deadline by too far, but I do think I could have completed it earlier. I spent a lot of time feeling daunted by the process when, on reflection, I really didn’t need to. My main tip therefore is to just get on with it! Easier said than done, but hopefully my other tips will suggest ways in which the process can seem less daunting…

Be smart and organised in the way you collect your evidence. I fell into the trap of putting anything I thought might be evidence into folders (physical and electronic). When it came to putting my portfolio together, I had a lot of stuff that I actually didn’t need, and I had to spend time looking through other locations to find bits I did need. If I were doing it again I would think before keeping something; will I use it – which bit of my PPDP and which criteria does it relate to? Is it useful and meaningful or does it need something added? Is it reflective (more about reflection in the next tip)? I would also try to organise my folders by criteria right from the start – this is something I only started doing later on. Trust me, you will thank yourself when it comes to putting the final thing together.

Reflection doesn’t have to be a long piece of writing – this is something that the ever-wonderful Annette told me once, and I found it helpful to bear in mind throughout the process. Some pieces of reflective evidence will usually be blocks of writing of course – reports from visits, or write-ups of projects, for example – but sometimes all you need is a few sentences, which was the case with lots of my bits of evidence; for example, just a line or two about why this particular piece is in my portfolio i.e. what it shows.

Review your PPDP regularly. I think I was actually quite good at this – my job changed so much and so frequently during the time I was gathering evidence, I found I had to keep re-assessing what the areas I needed to develop in were. Even if you’re not in a similar position, you still need to be going back to it regularly – it is supposed to be an evolving document and should not be the same at the end of the process as it was at the start. This should also hopefully help with your smart and organised collection of evidence, as described above!

Get all the little things right. Read the submission guidelines carefully and check several times that you’ve included all the bits you need i.e. CV, organisational objectives, mentoring agreement – there’s a clear list in the handbook. Don’t fall down on copyright or data protection issues – blank out names and details if they don’t need to be there, seek permission to include things written by someone else and any names that need to be included, and state that you have done so (I put a statement in at the start of my portfolio that permission had been sought). If you’re worried or unsure about anything, ask your mentor for advice.

Find Chartership communities for mutual support! There is a fantastic Chartership community on Twitter, using the hashtag #chartership to share progress, thoughts and experiences and to ask questions. There are plenty of already-Chartered people getting involved to answer questions too. Every so often there is a #chartership chat, but the hashtag is active all of the time. If you’re not on Twitter already I would even recommend joining just for the #chartership support. Don’t forget real-life communities too – we had a little cross-campus Chartership support group at work, meeting for a coffee every so often, and I also had other meet-ups with other candidates.

Have a look at some successful portfolios – I found it really helpful to see how others had approached it. There are some on the CILIP website, some on LISNPN, your local CILIP CDG Candidate Support Officer will have some, and if you ask nicely, a friend or colleague might share theirs. That said, don’t compare your portfolio to others’ too much – successful portfolios differ wildly in length and approach. Mine was very long, about twice what many portfolios are, and whilst the feedback that I got was that I should more selective in my evidence when I come to submitting for Revalidation, it still passed. 

If you’re struggling, ask for help. Ask your mentor – that’s what they’re there for! Find out who your local Candidate Support Officer is and ask them. Email the Qualifications team at CILIP – they are really helpful. Ask on Twitter to see what others think. It can at times feel like a very vague and daunting process, and no question is too daft!

Lastly – if you’re not already aware, you can now submit electronically. I would recommend this approach as it will save you money on printing and postage! Do read the guidelines for this on the CILIP website carefully.

Was Chartership worth it? Yes, I feel. I have a document which evidences how hard I have worked to develop myself, my service and my professional involvement, during challenging times at my workplace, and I have been recognised for this effort and commitment by my professional body. I was able to devise a focused, appropriate development plan, and, as a result of the reflection throughout my portfolio, have been able to identify areas to work on in the future. I feel able to take control of my own development and to continue to identify what my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are. 

This leads me to “what’s next?” Well, I’m not thinking about Revalidation just yet, but I am continuing to think about my personal development in a focused way, and also to collect useful and relevant evidence (bearing in mind my own tips on being smart and organised with this!). I don’t feel that I could commit the time to being a mentor at the moment, but in the future I would definitely like to do this. In the meantime, I am helping out where I can, on the #chartership hashtag and also advising friends and colleagues who are in the process or thinking about it.

I hope that this post has been helpful in some way to someone! If you’re thinking about Chartership, I would encourage you to go ahead with it, and if you’re struggling, I urge you to keep going! It will be worth it.