With spring semester comes conference season and that means it is about that time when folx start planning to attend the many events hosted by campuses and organizations. You may already be asking yourself and your colleagues, what conferences will you be attending? In full self-disclosure, anticipation and excitement builds as I wait for the reply from my colleagues and friends. The responses vary from naming a regional conference, a national conference, to a really cool webinar. Yes, a webinar! Even before the world stopped, professional development could happen in many forms and modalities. Did you know that conference attendance is not the only way to learn and grow in our profession? There are various opportunities to professionally develop and many are low to no cost!
Professional Development is a phrase that is thrown around a lot in our field. During an interview we are told about professional development opportunities. Some departments have their team members complete professional development plans based on departmental expectations paired with NASPA/ACPA/ACUHO-I competencies. There are committees titled Staff Training and Professional Development. We read emails with the subject, “Check out this pro devo opportunity!” But what is professional development and is it different from training? According to Emil Kresl, “Training gets people to be compliant. Professional development gets them committed.” I do not think you can get any more simple or blunt as that. I will add that I think training should also be about team building, building competency, and having some elements of fun. But professional development is a choice that you make to engage with your field or a topic–it is adding to your toolkit.
So, how do you decide which opportunities make sense for you? There are so many options out there. Intention is key! Without intention there is the risk that a lot of money and time will go to waste. Or you may find yourself bored and exhausted from pro devo chasing. Let’s assume you want to be intentional with your professional development planning. First, let’s gather a few things (or as many as you have available):
- Your job description
- Latest performance evaluation. If you do not have one, then jot down any notes you have about your performance to date
- That future/dream job description
- The competencies for the professional organization you subscribe to. You can usually find the competencies on their website!
- Your department’s expectations for professional development or learning
Next ask yourself:
- When I think about my role or the department, what areas would I like to learn more about?
- What is my current skill set in this area and what is needed to take my learning or understanding of the area to the next level?
- What articles, resources, events or activities exist that I can tap into to enhance my learning?
- What are my peers doing this year for professional development and how can I tag along or gain some insight?
- Does my department support professional development and if yes, how so?
- What would make me appear to be more marketable AND is an area of interest for me?
- What would my involvement look like at the event or in the organization that I am considering joining?
Once you have responded to these prompts, you are ready to plan out your professional development journey. It will be important to connect with your supervisor to inquire about departmental support. That support could be funding, and it also needs to gain approval to be away on company time, or helping you network. If you have a mentor, they can also help you craft your plan. A mentor can also give you open and thoughtful feedback about your selections as it relates to where you are and where you want to go. They will also help get you connected to folx who are a part of whatever you have selected.
If your department supports professional development through time away support, financial support, or inhouse commitment to providing learning opportunities; do it! All departments are not created equal in this area and it is important to name that. It could be a funding issue, a time issue, or maybe no one has demonstrated the importance of adding to your professional toolkit. Professional development is a privilege because not every campus can support or provide it. So, if you have the opportunity, then use it. Whenever you can also share the opportunity with a colleague, do it. That webinar? Invite colleagues. That handout you brought back? Credit the authors and the session you attended and share it. That book? Loan it out.
To Recap: Professional Development is…
- a way to add to your professional toolkit.
- connected to your role and career aspiration.
- can happen in many ways and modes, for example, attending a conference, joining a book club, viewing a webinar, reading articles, attending lunch and learns, or case studies, joining a committee or knowledge community.
- a privilege.
- something that can be shared if and when possible.
- based on planning and should be intentional.
- costly in time and money, so choose wisely.
- a recruitment and retention mechanism.