How to get the most out of your professional development

I recently had the opportunity to attend a national conference sponsored by the National Association of Education of Young Children (NAEYC). I always look forward to these opportunities to have a break from our everyday work routine, meet new people, network with colleagues, learn about new initiatives and grow my professional development resume.

You may often be faced either with your own need to attend a professional development opportunity or requests by your staff to attend one. Professional conferences can be expensive and not all managers understand their importance or their benefits. But think about this: as a manager, how do you propose any type of allocation of resources in your organization, center or company?  I believe you need to understand two components to make decisions: expense (the investment) and the return on investment.

Professional development is a modest investment that pays off in a big way!

Many benefits from conference attendance are hard to quantify.  For example, many experts agree that the top benefit of conference training or any professional development opportunity is networking value. Where else can you find so many people facing the same issues as you face every day in your organization?

Although networking is undoubtedly the most important aspect of a conference, it also the toughest to quantify. The more important question to propose to a conference attendee is the focus on what they (or you) will specifically bring back to the organization as payback for investment. For example: session content, tools, technology, vendor contacts, best practices and training.  In my most recent experience, I attended 10 different sessions and I honestly can say that five of them gave me concrete materials to utilize back in my agency.

Another best practice for professional development is to plan ahead. Review the choices for different sessions that you can attend and make first and second choices. Sometimes a description of a course does not give you all the information that you need to make an appropriate choice. Arrive early and ask the instructor for more information to help clarify your needs and questions.

Recruiting is also a forgotten art. If your team has had trouble filling certain jobs, or know that new openings are coming for a specific area, recruit why you are there. Most training opportunities offer job posting boards.

Lastly, you are an asset to your company. Offer to train others in what you learned when you return.  Share a trip report with your colleagues. A two or three page report with website links, articles, graphs and references is very helpful.  Connect the value of the conference to business/agency goals. Remember customer satisfaction, expertise and gaining more knowledge all play an important role with the company.

Why not get started now? Learn more about opportunities to grow your leadership skills with 4C for Children.