6 Creative Pathways for Professional Development

Folks can have a complicated relationship with professional development.

For some, it may be a wonderful thing: An opportunity to learn, network, engaging and learning with others invested in the same topic or issue.

For others, it can bring a sense of dread of forced participation in activities that do not pertain or interest them. Still, others may temper their expectations: They appreciate professional development but never know if they will have the funds to support their endeavors.

Even if you are a fan, sometimes that is not enough.

In some offices and for some individuals, professional development can be viewed as a nice-to-have element and not a priority. I know that I often prioritize projects, tasks, and initiatives over my own professional development. I guess I assume I can always revisit my needs once things calm down.

As such, professional development can be neglected or sit at the bottom of my to-do list – sound familiar?

Don’t feel guilty about investing in yourself or your needs. Professional development is an important element for faculty and staff success (Diamond, 2002). It helps enrich personal and professional interests and skillsets, while also ensuring people remain aware of emerging trends and competencies necessary to best serve students.

Before drawing up a list of excuses, barriers, or limitations, recognize that professional development can come in many forms. Not only that, but some forms are completely free and asynchronous – meaning folks do not have to engage or participate at a particular time or day.

If you want to work on your professional development but aren’t sure where to start, check out this list of options and considerations:

1. Conferences

While these can be abundant (and perhaps overwhelming) concentrations of content, they can also be costly and pose geographic limitations. Seek out local or regional conferences if national or international conferences are too expensive or you have travel limitations.

Don’t be afraid to explore new or different conferences from larger, long-standing events. More and more institutions are also beginning to offer their own symposiums and showcases – consider starting your own, as well as inquiring to participate or partner with nearby institutions.

2. Courses

See what courses might be available for you to enroll at your own institution and if this is considered part of your benefits package. Consider modality options for what might work best for you and be intentional – if you take enough courses, you may be on your way towards a new credential.

There also exist many free or low-cost massive open online courses (MOOCs) at institutions and through organizations like Coursera. Some entities even string together a number of courses to make a specialization or micro-credential that you can earn.

3. Webinars

There seem to be online or digitally-broadcasted presentations and workshops happening every week, all year. There are lots of free webinars hosted by individuals, organizations, or companies with thought leaders or institutional practitioners as guest presenters.

These sessions are often recorded and made available online or emailed to interested participants. Take advantage of these structured and topical interventions. These are often highly-specific, and if you’re looking to do some “lunchtime” professional development, they’re a helpful option.

4. In-person trainings/workshops

If face-to-face sessions are preferred, don’t forget about in-house talent available. Human Resources, offices of teaching and learning, and still yet other entities on your campus with a responsibility to inform and train others are presenting content for faculty, staff, and students on campus.

Like with conferences, don’t be shy exploring or asking neighbor or like-institutions to present or conduct workshops on topics of similar interest. Schools can also trade knowledge, each leading a training at the other institution to afford a mutually beneficial relationship.

5. Publications

Books, journals, news articles – all still great sources of information. With open educational resource efforts, more and more content is becoming freely available online. Another free resource to check is your institution’s library.

Most institutional libraries subscribe to multiple online databases and participate in book loan systems, making obtaining print or electronic resources a likely possibility. And don’t forget to check out blogs – they can contain some pretty helpful (and free information), too.

6. Social media

Multiple avenues can share images, ideas, and resources for free (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). Groups and hashtags allow topics and issues to be categorized, searchable, and sortable.

YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter also afford synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to engage, participate, and bring one’s voice to a conversation. These media create opportunities to connect with others, providing a collaborative option to one’s professional development journey.

It is worth noting these above options can combine to form hybrid professional development opportunities. For example, organizations like NASPA are offering virtual telecast of keynote sessions from conferences. Twitter also affords a backchannel of attendees sharing information, resources, and thoughts in response to sessions. These examples enable folks to participate from afar and engage at discounted or no cost.

Regardless of the avenue or opportunity, one must make the time and prioritize their own professional development. Make it a point to invest in yourself for your own well-being, as well as feeding your ability to engage and support others.

While conference season may feel like it’s over, your professional development calendar could be just beginning.

Enjoy exploring and learning!

We’d love to hear about your own professional development journey! Tweet us @themoderncampus.

Joe Levy

About the author: Joe Levy (he/him) is the Executive Director of Assessment and Accreditation at National Louis University. Joe is passionate about data-informed decision making, accountability and promoting a student-centered approach inside and outside of the classroom. Learn how we can help get your students involved.