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Good profile essay questions



Here's a sample interview guide that Professor Peters and his students use in developing profiles of community educators.

  1. Spend some time introducing yourself to the educator, and ask the educator to do the same.
  2. Proceed to some version of the following script:

"We’re glad you’ve agreed to be interviewed. I want to explain how this will work. We’ll do about a 90-minute interview that will be tape recorded, transcribed, and then edited into something we call a "profile" that will include only your words, with my questions edited out.

In the interview, we’d like to focus on a particular project or piece of your work that really shows the challenges and possibilities of what you do as a community educator. It’s important that we focus the interview on a specific piece of work, so we can get a close look into what makes what you do so rewarding and challenging. We want to understand what you do as a community educator as you work with others in promoting learning and action around public issues or problems.

We’d like you to focus on a project that you've learned a lot from, something that others who want to do this kind of work might find instructive. You’ll have the option of choosing whether or not you want to be identified or remain anonymous in the final profile. We’ll send you a permission form where you can indicate the level of confidentiality you want to secure. We won’t use your profile in any way that you don’t personally approve."

  • Do you have a specific project that comes to mind that might serve as the focus for our interview? Can you give me a quick overview of it? What was your specific role or roles in the project? (Ask prompting and clarifying questions to see what the story is and how they tell it.)
  • (IF THE STORY IS GOOD AND STRONG) That sounds like a great story. Let’s set up a time for the interview.
  • (IF THE STORY IS WEAK) What other projects might fit what we’re looking for?
  • Once you agree on the practice story, explain to the educator that the interview will be divided into three roughly equal parts: (1) an overview of their life story and experiences, (2) the practice story, and (3) reflections. Make sure they get a chance to ask any clarifying questions they might have. Finally, schedule the interview.
    1. Note: The following description of process and questions is presented as a guide. Except for the background questions, you are unlikely to ask every question in every interview. Further, while the conversation should flow according to the three main sections (background first, then the practice story, then reflections) the questions within each section do not need to be asked in the order listed. Rather, they should follow the flow of the conversation as naturally as possible. It may be helpful to think of the interchange as a “structured conversation” with someone whose story you are interested in learning, rather than as a formal “interview.”

      1. What’s your current position? How long have you been in this position? Can you give me a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?
      2. What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? What are you most excited or passionate about? What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work? Not so much the goals that are in your job description, but the goals you hold personally?
      3. I want to understand how and why you ended up here working as an educator in_______. What led you to this job? What were you doing before you came here? What attracted you to work for ________?
      4. Now if we can, I’d like to go way back for a little while. Where did you grow up? What was it like to grow up in _______? Did you go to college? Where did you go, and what was that like?
      5. Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.
      6. Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? Tell me about them.
      1. So let’s move on now to the story you’re going to tell. What’s the specific project you’re going to be telling us about today? Give us a brief overview of it.
      2. Tell us about your specific role and contributions in this project. Let’s start with the first thing you did. What was it? (Use lots of prompting questions to get the story out and keep it focused on what they did. REMEMBER THAT THIS IS THE HEART OF THE INTERVIEW!)
      3. In the course of getting the story, ask the following:
        • Were there any key turning points in this project?
        • Were there any surprises?
        • What were the key relationships that mattered most? What were the key sources of support or resistance you encountered?
        • Tell me about some of the memorable characters in this story, the ones that give this story color, or brought in drama, comedy, conflict, etc.
        • What was most difficult or challenging? What did you do to deal with these challenges?
        • Did the work fail in some ways? How? What might you have done to prevent those areas of partial failure?
        • What was most rewarding
      1. What are the lessons for someone like me, or for a junior colleague, who might be embarking on a project similar to this one?
      2. If you could do this project over again, would you do anything differently? Why, and what would you do?
      3. What did you learn from the people you worked with in this project?
      4. What do you think you taught them?
      5. Do you view your contributions as successful? In what ways? What specifically was accomplished?
      6. Do any metaphors come to mind to describe the kind of work you do, especially in this project? (If needed, give examples like “orchestra conductor,” “coach,” etc.)
      7. What were the skills you had to have to do the work you just told me about? Where and how did you learn those skills?
      8. What does the project you’ve just talked about tell us about adult/community education? What exactly is community education to you? Who taught you what community education means and how to do it? What did you learn from them? How did they teach you?
      9. What does the project you’ve just talked about tell us about the central benefits and challenges of community education and development?
      10. When you think of the future of the kind of work you’ve talked about here, what gives you a sense of hope? What makes you concerned or worried?
      11. What’s next for you in your work? What are you looking forward to?

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