Taking Charge of Your Professional Development

Alyssa Burks

August 16, 2018

Everyone has a different definition of Professional Development. In the Student Affairs, world we constantly throw this term around to define different experiences we participate in – whether it is a webinar, Strengths workshop, or conference. Maybe you have a great handle on your professional development goals and you’ve mapped out the next 10 years for yourself, or maybe you don’t have a professional development plan at all. Both of these things are okay. Everyone works at their own pace and style, but this blog series is here to provide tips, tricks, and advice on navigating the different facets of professional development in Student Affairs.

 The first post of this series is focused on utilizing the NASPA/ACPA competencies to help create your professional development goals. If you aren’t sure or have never read these competencies you can find them here: https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/ACPA_NASPA_Professional_Competencies_FINAL.pdf

 I remember the first time I was asked what my professional development goals were. I was in an interview at the Oshkosh Placement Exchange for a graduate hall director position. It stumped me. I barely knew what I wanted to do in Student Affairs, let alone how I wanted to develop within the field. I remember thinking, “ummmmmm, everything….I plan to develop everything professionally in this role.” I have no idea what I ultimately answered but I am sure it was a jumbled mess of something I had no idea about. Little did I know how many times I would be asked that question in the next 4 years as I made my way through grad school and my first professional position. Luckily, my grad school program was ready and willing to help me understand what all of this meant.

 The NASPA/ACPA competencies can be overwhelming. They contain a lot of information and feel disconcerting at first, especially as a grad student or new professional, when you are seeing a document of expectations for the field that you still haven’t been fully immersed in yet. When first reading them, I felt inadequate and as if I would never get to the point of achieving these competencies. I am still learning to navigate these expectations of the profession as well as the those I set on myself. One way I have begun this navigation to analyze how I truly fit when it came to the competencies.  The document first describes each competency and then breaks down Foundational, Intermediate, and Advanced Outcomes. These outcomes are extremely helpful in creating a professional development plan for yourself.

 The first thing I did was simple: I went through and circled the outcomes that I have accomplished. Easy, and confidence-building… look at all the things I do know!! Okay, now with a different color, circle the things you are close to achieving… your “maybes” or “possibly” category. Now focus on all your circles for a moment. Where do you have the most circles? Where do you have the least? These are the areas I chose to focus my attention when it came to my pIan. I wanted to give myself the opportunity to truly enjoy the things I was learning and give my special interests in the field some focus. These are the things I was good at and wanted to continue getting better at to get to the advanced level. Next, I looked at a couple of the competencies that scared me the most, the ones with the least circles. I am honestly so bad with Technology, and the Achiever in me does not like to do things I feel I can’t achieve. However, I knew that I needed to get to a point where I could develop some skills in this area. Professional Development is about developing as a whole and I wanted to make sure I was escaping my comfort zone.

 My next step was to develop goals. The good news is that the competencies come with the outcomes already written for you! With the outcomes provided, my next task was to create an action plan in order to reach them. Write the outcome, write action steps to get to that outcome, do those actions. Boom – professional development. In theory, it is simple. In reality, these goals, actions, and outcomes change over time and take a lot of time to accomplish. Keeping a living document of your goals and adding what you have done to achieve each one in the document is what will help keep you motivated, or at least that is what helps me. Even the smallest, simplest addition can bring you closer to your goals.

 There are many different ways to accomplish these goals and if you don’t know what type of action steps to place in each category, reach out to your supervisor, your peers, NASPA Knowledge Communities, whatever resources you have available. Professional Development should be unique to you but can be informed in many different ways. In the next piece of the blog series, we are hoping to help you get some ideas for professional development and ideas on creating your own. Stay tuned!

Alyssa (she, her, hers) works at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX  as a Residence Director. She serves as the Professional Development and Advancement Co-Coordinator within the New Professionals and Graduate Student Knowledge Community with NASPA. She loves coffee, fishing, and hanging with her husband and dog.

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