The month of March conjures up numerous images of professional learning and networking opportunities through ACPA, NASPA, and other professional associations. During a recent #sachat on professional development I offered up the following Final Thought:
“FT: Remember you are responsible for your own pro devo, we preach life-long learning so walk the walk #sachat”
Ultimately, as professionals in the field, we have to take ownership in creating our own professional development plans. These plans should be individualized and should grow/change over time, much like our students. Professional development for practitioners is not only an investment in our personal growth; it should benefit our position, institution, and most importantly – our students.
Learn Your Job
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a mentor early in my career was that “your main professional development responsibility in your first year of a job is to learn your job, and do it well.” A trend I continue to notice in the field among graduates and new professionals is the desire to jump into expanding their professional repertoire by joining committees, search teams, teaching, publishing, and a variety of other opportunities outside of their position just weeks or months into a job.
I learned the importance of this lesson the hard way. Just two months into my Resident Director job at Miami I wanted to jump into teaching a leadership course. At the time I thought ‘of course I can handle it’ and ‘I have to keep up with my peers at Miami’. While my supervisor allowed me to pursue this opportunity, I can honestly say in retrospect it slowed my ability to learn all the competencies and nuances of my RD job.
We have a fundamental responsibility to our students and institution to learn our job, and do it well.
Reflection & Intentionality
This is not to say that those new to a position should always avoid pursuing these opportunities (they really are endless), but it is about finding balance, gradually adding experiences, learning when to say no, and reflecting on how well you’ve progressed in mastering the basic skill competencies of your position.
Reflection is an essential element in cultivating an intentional professional development plan. In creating development plans, I have found several of these questions to be useful:
What skills or competencies are you looking to develop based on professional association standards and personal interests?
- What position would you like to have next?
- What is outside of your comfort zone that would promote personal/professional growth?
- What are the best intentional forums for helping achieve your development goals?
- What would benefit your department, division, or institution?
While not an exhaustive list, I believe reflection on these questions with support from supervisors, mentors, and peers aid in the process of developing a plan.
Develop a Plan
After reflection, it is time to develop a tangible development plan. The recent #sachat provided great ideas for development beyond annual conventions (check out the transcript here). Certainly annual conferences provide great educational sessions and networking opportunities; however, their inflated costs make attendance difficult in an era of budgetary constraints.
Every development plan will be different. I was initially resistant to Twitter, I didn’t understand it and found it to be redundant with the Facebook status update. In 2011, I made it part of my development plan to learn how to professionally use Twitter. It would have been hypocritical of me to not walk the walk to meet our students where they are digitally. Little did I know three years later I would be managing the Twitter account for our new student center.
As educators, we constantly encourage our students to expand their boundaries, think creatively, get involved, and progressively add more leadership responsibilities. At the end of the day, we should be able to look in the mirror and ask the same of ourselves by walking the walk and taking ownership of our professional development experiences.
Adam Z. Leftin currently serves as the Assistant Director of the new Armstrong Student Center at Miami University. Prior to this role, he has held positions working in the areas of Residence Life, Academic Advising, Leadership Development, Student Involvement, and Orientation. A native of Cincinnati, Adam is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University and member of ΣΦΕ Fraternity. He enjoys sports, working out at the Campus Rec, watching reality TV shows, and pondering an #sadoc future. He can be found on Twitter @AdamZLeftin