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Personal and Professional Development – What Do You Want to Learn?

Even when we are in crisis, we can be thoughtful and deliberate in our personal and professional development. Using the Management Plan model, you can focus your efforts on what skills to learn

Personal and Professional Development - What do you want to learn?

I have been watching my Facebook feed and reading news about the shift to remote learning and virtual office work on college campuses. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to process where my own work fits into this new office environment. I spent years working in an office and worked to justify my programming that happened on campus. Seriously, I can only imagine how my friends and peers must feel trying to make sense of this new learning environment. I applaud your ability to stick to the mission of your institutions during this time. And above all, I am in awe of your ability to learn new technology on the fly.

During these times of crisis, we can often ask ourselves tough questions. Who am I in this? What can I give? What more can I do?

I can’t speak to developing those new tech skills. Working outside of a traditional student affairs office, I haven’t had the immediate need to learn how to move completely online. But I have had to learn how to continue to grow while working in a remote office atmosphere. That got me thinking about how we can pivot our strengths to add new skills both personally and professionally in order to survive in the ‘new normal.’ I think it might be a good idea to share some tips with you on how to manage your professional and personal development while working remotely.


Creating the Management Plan

I have written about the Management Plan in previous posts. I addressed them from a place of working on your strengths in order to grow into your work and identify areas for personal development. Understanding management plans helps supervisors work with their staff to gain new and innovative skills that highlight their professional responsibilities. Especially now, I believe the present situation is a great time to begin looking at your strengths again.

Simply put, a management plan is different than developing and measuring operational and programmatic goals and objectives, since the focus is on the personal and not on the output related to your job title.

Often the annual evaluation gives some space for speaking about professional development but I find that when we remove our professional goals from our personal goals, we can look at what we personally need to do over the course of a year that will impact our professional work.

From Supervising to Strengths: Creating the Management Plan, April 22, 2019

A management plan is different than the development plan we put together for our annual reviews. In a management plan, we focus on what your personal goals are. We identify areas for new learning and refining skills we already have. Plus, we look at ways to share these new skills with others.

Being Open to the Possibilities

It occurred to me that asking our field to jump into remote supervision and program development may favor those with the skills and strengths to do so quickly. I’ve read countless posts from professionals all around the country about how to do the work we do, but virtually. And how to make sure we’re still meeting the needs of our students.

Even reading through the lists of ‘Does anyone know how to…’ posts made me feel anxious. And I don’t even work in a student affairs office now!

But the conversations also told me that we have the capacity to do our jobs in any number of ways.

We can and should remind ourselves that we are always capable to do and be more. Even when we feel pushed to the edge of what we know – that only shows us what we can and will learn to do!

Ultimately, these conversations reminded me that there is always room for the unknown in our personal development. We have the capacity to learn skills on the fly to do our jobs. And when this health crisis has abated, it might be a good idea to focus this untapped energy and your strengths to learn additional skills that help you both personally and professionally.

Using the Management Plan techniques, you can focus your efforts into three areas. Learn. Refine. Teach. Three simple concepts but each of the ideas helped me begin to own my professional development in ways that continue to serve me today. This post will focus on what and how to learn new skills.

How to Create a Personal Development Plan – What to Learn?

A simple Google search reveals a number of approaches to creating a personal development plan. Many focus on so-called soft skills, like developing empathy and improving time management. These are great personal goals, if you don’t have natural empathetic or time management skills.

I suggest delving a little deeper.

In order to grow, sometimes we need to dig deeper – what do we need to prioritize? What is our motivation? Do we have a timeline to do the work?

The Muse suggests that your professional goals and personal goals have areas that overlap. “Career growth tends to focus on tangible performance-related goals, such as raises [and] promotions,” career-change coach Sumayya Essack explains. It may also emphasize hard skills, which depending on your field could include things like data analysis or proficiency in a certain language or type of software.

However, if you think of personal and professional growth as two circles of a Venn diagram, there’s a healthy overlap between them. “Your career success and enjoyment of your career aren’t just the result of domain-related skills and knowledge. It’s also a result of what you bring to the table as a person,” Essack says.

I have found that supervisors only ask us to write about our professional skills, since they are the ones on which we are traditionally evaluated on. But in order to advance our careers, we need to learn how to apply these professional skills differently in different situations. Like during a international health crises.

Look at your professional skills as the work required to do your work and your personal skills as the way to improve their impact. This may help you create ways to connect these two spheres of learning and create ownership of your own development. Your personal development is what you bring to the table – it includes your strengths, your experience and what you have learned. And I believe it is an equally important part of our development to focus on.

Personal and Professional Development Skills Exercise

Begin your management plan development by making two lists.

List Professional Skills Required to Do Your Job

The first list contains the professional skills you feel are necessary to do your work. Add to the list skills you want to learn professionally but don’t have firmly in your toolbelt.For instance, you could list supervision, policy development and learning assessment techniques.

List Personal Development Skills Required to Do Your Job (and Your Aspirational Job)

On your second list, make a list of personal goals you want to work on developing from scratch or to refine as they apply to your work. This could include improved communication, developing empathy, introducing your personal strengths in the office. It can also include strategies to improve how you use your strengths, like learning how to use Woo when working with faculty and senior administrators.

Compare Your Lists and Look for Overlapping Needs

Compare your two lists. Look at how you could improve your professional skill set with improved personal skill development. For instance, as a supervisor, what kind of communication do you need to learn to do better? For me, it was learning how to listen more when supervising and not speaking over others I supervised when in staff meetings. Also as a policy developer, learning to empathize with the students impacted by generalized and poorly written policy helped me improve the language of our policies and how to develop contingency plans for students unable to meet the outlined protocols.

I think this summarizes what you can do with your two lists.

Experience has taught me that you can be a supervisor without being a great communicator. Or write policies that negatively impact the most marginalized of us. But developing personal development skills like communication and empathy, among others, can help you put your strengths to work and help you advance your career.

Or it can help you recognize skills you had previously untapped that allow you to advance in an entirely different career. There are countless reasons why people choose to leave the student affairs field, but one common factor is working to grow personally and professionally. By putting in the work to focus on your own professional growth, you may see chances and opportunities that might have missed you otherwise.


Starting Your Learning Journey

Making a list of skills to learn without actually putting effort into learning them is a fools errand. Some of the skills you want to learn, you can learn on the job. Others may require some kind of money investment. But all of the skills you want to work on will require some level of effort.

Look at your local adult and community education classes taught in the cities where you live and work. You might find a low-cost course, taught by local professionals, that can help jump-start your learning. Also look for courses to audit where you work, using untapped professional benefit, for skills that require some in-depth knowledge. Even joining committees within your professional association of choice can help you gain skills.

There is no one way to develop these skills. But like all good goal setting plans, you should commit to your goals with established timelines and benchmarks for tracking your efforts. Download the Management Plan document from the E-Store or create your own.

In whatever method you use to track your progress, make sure you reward yourself when you finish. Since these goals are not attached to your professional evaluation, only you know when you’re finished and can evaluate your progress. And unlike these annual evaluations, give yourself more than a year if you need. We do better when we give ourselves the grace to be human and listen to ourselves.

Take the energy you have – nervous energy, impatient energy, whatever the energy – and start the journey on you personal development!

I hope that you find a learning journey to go on in the coming year. Especially if it brings you closer to your own personal growth and potential. In the next entry, I will focus on how to refine our skills for our own personal growth.


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2 thoughts on “Personal and Professional Development – What Do You Want to Learn?

  1. Pingback: Personal and Professional Development - Teach to Reinforce Your Goals | Leadership and Values in Action, LLC

  2. Pingback: Supervising to Strengths: Creating the Management Plan | Leadership and Values in Action, LLC %

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