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All higher education professionals are encouraged to participate in professional development opportunities throughout the year. A common misconception coming out of graduate school is that institutions will provide development opportunities for professionals. Although this can be the case on some campuses it doesn’t always happen! And, if opportunities are provided it is usually done so either once or twice a year and they are typically geared toward group cohesion/team work or customer service related topics. This means that if you have a particular competency (i.e., technology, social justice and inclusion, leadership, etc.) that you would like to focus on you would have to search out opportunities to refine your skills on your own. Depending on your institution, they may provide you with a document to help you come up with a professional development plan. If not, I have created a template that you are free to use!
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Although every institution and professional may say something slightly different, I believe a professional development action plan contains three phases: planning phase, feedback phase, and assessment phase. Each one of these phases incorporates multiple best practices. Let’s discuss the three phases below so that you can map out your success!
During the planning phase, individuals want to ensure that their goals are clearly defined. Professionals in higher education should link their goals to NASPA/ACPA’s professional competencies. Then, individuals should brainstorm what type of activities they can perform to accomplish these goals. Next, individuals should set a number of performance measures that will allow someone to gauge success. Then, an individual will need to brainstorm the resources needed to accomplish these goals (i.e., finances, time, support, conference, etc.). Once those four steps are completed an individual is advised to complete the planning phrase by creating a timeline or deadline to accomplish each individual goal.
The next part of your professional development action plan is the feedback phase. The timeframe of when you complete this phase will be dependent on multiple factors. Many institutions require professionals to complete mid-year review (usually around December or January) and then an end of the year review (usually around May or June). This may be different depending on your institution, academic year structure, and position type/level. It is always important to keep your institutions’ review process in mind when completing your timeline task in the planning phase of your document. But, once you know when you will be completing this phase with your supervisor there are a few things to keep in mind during your meeting. First, both you and your supervisor want to discuss what behaviors have been observed and /or completed. A good habit to form is to keep track of the professional development activities that you’ve completed as you go. Second, discuss with your supervisor some barriers you are experiencing around accomplishing certain activities or in grasping concepts of certain skills. This is an important step so that you can identify what hindrances are preventing you from accomplishing your goals. Third, once you identify the barriers and reflect on the successes (or failures), work with your supervisor to refine your goals. Some of the goals may change completely or they may stay the same (either is fine)! The refine step is an important step to ensure that you are staying focused on accomplishing your goals.
The last phase is the assessment phase. During this phase there are three steps to accomplish. First, you must collect the data to gauge your success around achieving your goals. Second, you must use your data to discuss your success. This step requires both you and your supervisor to go beyond whether or not you completed activities. This step requires an in-depth analysis on your performance on each competency you identified as a skill to refine. Last, both you and your supervisor should discuss where you will go from there! Are there some skills you need to continue to focus on? If so, that is fine! Are there other skills that you discovered a need to refine based on this process? If so, that is great! If you came out of this process thinking you are amazing at everything then I would encourage you to push deeper. We all have weaknesses and it is important to continuously work to refine them.
Are you more of a visual person? Don’t worry! I am too! That’s why I created this graphic to help explain the three stages listed above!
Creating a professional development plan can be very beneficial for professionals of all levels! Are you a new professional? If so, talk to your supervisor to discuss your plan! Supervisors and colleagues are vital in the completion and follow through of your professional development action plan. We all would like to think we know the areas we need to refine but someone else may see something we don’t! And, if you are a senior student affairs officer, it is always important to complete a plan! Gaining insight from both your superiors and direct reports will allow you to see areas that need some fine tuning!
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