Why Professional Development can be Magical

Maybe it’s because I am watching the Disney episode of Dancing with the Stars, or that I spent some time this week at a Disney attraction, but conferences can be magical.

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The past six months have been difficult for me at work. The duties have increased, and it seems that there is never a slow time to catch my breath. I feel some days that I am drowning in meetings and there is never time to do the tasks that come from those meetings.

I have always been firm that I don’t want to work from home after hours, and once I get home to be strictly about my family. But I have found more and more days where I have pulled out my computer after the kids go to bed, or I stayed late to cross things off the to-do lists. And I am always in early to get a head start.

I try to build times into my schedule to do the tasks, but to be honest they often get scheduled over. I hate to think that this will become my norm as a Director, but it has been my current reality. I also feel like you can’t really talk about it or complain about being busy because everyone is and there is the expectation to just get all the things done. I also think it can be difficult to talk about this at your own campus so you don’t let others see you feeling like you aren’t measuring up to your role. Imposter syndrome at it’s finest.

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So I very much needed this conference. I needed a break.

The thing is I love the work that I do. I really find value in what my office is doing, and feel that our initiatives are extremely valuable. I also love the collaborative nature of my role. Reaching across all the tables to see how we can make improvements for the student experience is fun for me. I love to strategically talk through what is happening and brainstorm plans to make things better.

However I was starting to get tunnel vision and worn out from my schedule.

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Professional development is often forgotten or not prioritized, but it is so important. I try to take advantage of things that happen around campus or free webinars, and I have been strategic this year about building intentional PD into my staff dynamic, but there is something about going away to a conference that can bring life back into your work. It does some magic to my soul.

  • When I explain all the things that come from my office to other schools, I am reminded of how proud I am of what we accomplish which is no small feat.
  • It provides an opportunity to hear from leaders in the field and be inspired.
  • It helps you to not feel so isolated in your experience.
  • You are just free to think and brainstorm, which can be magical.
  • I am in my element taking notes and outlining, so it always grounds me.
  • It allows you to not directly look at a problem but take a side view with some outsiders helping you process.
  • I am not expected to be an expert or have to respond. I can just truly be in the moment and soak it all in.
  • It is an opportunity to not reinvent the wheel. There is something about the element of sharing that I get jazzed about. As higher ed institutions we are often in competition, but at these conferences there is a sense of care to help each other, and we share our struggles and wins so we can learn from one another. Again something magical.
  • The chance to engage with colleagues across the nation in general is a surreal experience. I am always amazed at all that we do in Higher Ed. We are changing the world and improving lives.
  • It is a very intentional time to be consumed with my work but not consumed by my job.

The root of it is returning to my why and the intention of this profession. I get all nerdy about all the things. And whereas I was definitely ready to put my out of office up last week, I am ready to get back to it this week and move forward. I don’t have a magical wand, but I am ready to help create a whole new world.

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And having a bed to myself and eating meals at my own pace wasn’t bad either for this worn out soul.

Why do you like conferences?

I Have Caught The Education Bug

People have told me since I got out of grad school that one day I would get the itch to go back and go after a doctorate.

For years, I said, “Never. No way. Not happening.”

I hate research, like despise it. I enjoy reading and learning from research findings, but the act of collecting data scares the daylights out of me.

The day we went over statistics in grad school and discussed how to analyze data points and the frequency and what nots, I went home and cried. In all seriousness, I may have teared up in the class because it was so over my head and I just couldn’t grasp it. I was so overwhelmed from the information. I was beyond frustrated by the fact that I just could not comprehend how those tables and numbers explained something. I had never felt so stupid and embarrassed that as a graduate student I just didn’t get it.

(I must mention that I am fairly stubborn, so if I don’t get something right away, I generally avoid it like the plague. I don’t like that feeling of inadequacy at all.)

From that experience, I vowed never to pursue a degree that required actual research.  I didn’t ever want to feel that way again, and I knew I wasn’t going to intentionally put myself in a program that required me to take more classes on statistics or research analysis. That one day in grad school was enough exposure for me!  So I have been merrily running away from anything statistical or doctoral for the past four years. I thought I had shut that door permanently and was content not searching for positions that required a doctorate. I don’t see myself in higher level positions anyway.

That was until I heard this podcast.

This by far is the best interview I have ever heard, mostly because it stirred something in me.

Rosina McAlpine is a visit scholar at the University of San Diego and originally from Australia. What intrigued me the most was how she came to infuse higher education theories to create a base for learning strategies as a faculty member.

My passion is in academic coaching. I really enjoy working one on one with students to assess their goals and explore new strategies to help them become owners of their educational experience. They can only control how they react so let’s make sure the student has all the tools they need to be successful.

But I am always stumped with how to approach them when underneath it all is the issue that “the professor doesn’t know how to teach.”

As a side note, before I get to this point I do try to help the student  adjust and analyze their own reactions to that instruction and develop strategies to adapt to any style. I do understand that education is a two way process and the student needs to be responsible for their part. Just need to make sure that is said.

However I feel that this is a growing trend in higher education with how tenure works and research expectations with a little teaching on the side. Teaching styles will need to vary from a 20 person class to 300 people, or even in person to online. From my observation,  a big concern for students is when they can’t learn from the professor.

Especially when they are paying for it.

The requirements for faculty and instructors will be different from school to school. What is expected of academic folk can depend on how long they have been there, tenure status, university mission, private vs public, and the list goes on.

I began to wonder though:

  • How many actually require some teaching experience or provide some instruction along the way on classroom strategies.
  • How many are going off their own experience of talking at the student, giving roll, and providing answers?
  • Do professor training programs exist? If so, what do they look like? And how many are required?

Now I see from my very little  exploring that there are schools that do offer various types of professional development, but most of these seem to be optional.

This interview spoke to me on so many levels of learning. Coming from a teaching certification background, I like to look at the educational process as a whole and see what all parties are doing with this investment.

How do we motivate and inspire students to work in the classroom? What is student learning to professors and are they engaging students beyond handing out a grade? What are students actually learning, and are they effectively learning? So many questions!

There are many wickedly intelligent people on the university campus. However just because they are the most talented physicist does not mean they are able to teach worth a lick.

Teaching takes skill and passion. Even in my own college experience, I could tell which professors where there for the subject versus the student. I will tell you that I respected and learned more from professors who were invested in my learning experience in addition to the facts about history.

Rosina McAlpine discussed the fact that many students pick a major and aren’t even excited about that. Why aren’t we doing more to infuse passion and excitement into learning? Are we just expecting a grade, or are we expecting them to become a new person because of the change that has occurred in the classroom?

Obviously I buy into holistic learning seeing as I am supporting students outside of the classroom and value student growth. The holistic approach comes with the territory of being a Student Affairs professional. It made me start to wonder why is this not a thing with the academic side of the house?

I have so many questions that have spurred from this one podcast.

  • Why aren’t faculty shown how college students develop and ways to motivate this population in their educational experience?
  • And if they are, is there a trend with certain degree programs, types of universities, state legislation?
  • Are we expecting too much from faculty that it detracts from student development? Some faculty teach several courses in addition to being advisers, committee chairs, researchers, presenters, etc. As with many professionals, faculty are pulled in a lot of directions. So does this leave less time for a student focus?
  • Are learning theory questions  asked when they are interviewed? What exactly do we know about their teaching style when offered a contract?
  • Do schools offer additional trainings or professional development throughout one’s career? Are they optional or required? Do faculty senates play a role here?
  • Is there a correlation in graduation rates/employment status for graduates with schools that do have a focus on teaching development?
  • Why do we expect K-12 school educators to undergo massive training requirements and not expect similar for higher education professionals?
  • Do students even care? Is this something that would encourage more students to apply to a program knowing that their professors are not only biologists but certified teachers?
  • What makes a good teacher? Are these skills we are looking for when hiring faculty?
  • And what about graduate students and teaching assistants who instruct classes, do they have instructions or are they just thrown to the wind?

Now I understand that this is still very surface level for me. If you know programs  out there that answer some of these topics, please do share with me! I am just starting to raise the questions for myself, and by no means view myself as an expert with faculty expectations. I am not here to critique and say that all professors are not effective as teachers. I really value my educational experience, and I had some phenomenal educators that have stuck with me years after the class ended. In my time as a professional, I have worked with some fantastic professors and know they are doing amazing things with our students.

Unfortunately though, I have had too many experiences with the other side of the coin that I am worried.

I am owning my biased concern that I feel that universities focus more on outside classroom merits for faculty than they do on how they can teach a student. While I do understand that there is value in having faculty who are doing great research or writing articles and the what have you, I have to ask what good is all of that if they cannot inspire a new incoming architecture major in the classroom for the first time. Where is our focus:  school reputation or the student learning? Can there a good balance of both? Faculty are molding the next generation in their field; I would hope that they would want all the best techniques to do so. I feel that this is not happening as much as it should. Again, this is my own observation and naivete on the subject coming out here. This is why I ask the question so I can learn more and understand the philosophy of faculty development.

I think there is something to be said though about the fact that so many students do struggle with some professors, or that when they sign up for classes they will avoid certain sections because they know that professor is a dud, and they will not learn anything or will struggle trying to understand because of the way information is presented. Too often, I’ve heard the phrase that there are professors who don’t care and aren’t willing to help or change the way the course is taught even if the majority of the class is below average. That is an issue for me.

I do recognize that there is a lot of student mindset training that goes along with this. Students do need to be responsible for adapting and taking control of their own learning, and not to blame everything on how information is presented to them. However when you hear this constantly, it makes you wonder why so many are saying it and if the fault really does lie with the student or are there methods and strategies we can be offering faculty as well?

If learning is to be a two way street, why are we only focusing on one side of the street for repairs?

While I have worked on the student end for many years and worked among their learning theories, it has made me curious about the theories and development on professors.

As you can see from my thought overload, this left me wanting to know more, wanting to dig deeper.

But since I hate research, I don’t even know where to begin answering these questions.

Why don’t I go back to school? Is it really just that silly data program that is holding me back? (In fact, yes it was.)

Tom has been telling me for years that I should just go for it and become Dr. Whitener.

Just as everyone has told me, the itch hit me like a wave. I am wanting to go back for that next degree. I have been out of the classroom for four years now, and I am now dying to go back.

To everyone who said it would happen and took my scowls at the idea of it, you can now tell me “I told you so.”

I really do want to understand this topic more. I feel that it would be so valuable to universities to look at on so many different levels. Again I ask, why do we expect a teaching degree for K-12, but only expect a history degree for a history professor at the university?

My research focus is somewhere in all that mess of questions. It’s a start right?

I won’t be undertaking this anytime soon because who knows what is going to happen to our personal situation in the next couple years, so I would like to be a little more settled before I begin this journey. I am however starting the process of exploring options of degrees/schools and delving more into what I can find online for this topic in the meantime.

If you have articles or know people to get me in touch with to discuss this further, I would love things to be sent my way! I wasn’t able to find a whole lot out there on this so far, so if someone can lead me in the right direction I would appreciate it. I am really interested in professor development so we can help university students in the classroom more. And anything I can learn in the meantime would be great!

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It would be nice to have a degree with Stephanie Whitener on it…just saying.

In addition to all this, that podcast also explored how women have a huge impact on the roles they have been given. She talked about work life balance as an educator, spouse, and mother in the most realistic way. I appreciated her candor and honesty about things. It was real. She talked about compromise in a way that makes you realize that it is really not discussed in education or social fundamentals.

It really is great to listen to if you have time!

Changed my life obviously.

Professional Development on a Part-Timer’s Wage

Recently, I have been bumped down to even more of a part time status at work. Who knew that you could be part time at being part time? Well you can.

Naturally, my professional ego took a hit (again) when the news came out, so I started researching/thinking of ways to stay relevant in my career so I can ensure that I am able to stay up to date on Student Affairs things once the next job search starts (not that it has really ended, but I digress).

Granted I am learning a lot of things at work for the little time that I am there, but I know that I need to be ready for other functional areas and campus climates.

Plus as a part timer, I get absolutely no professional development funds.

Coming from Iowa State where I received $2,000 for professional development just for myself on top of all the things that the department and university provided at no cost to me, having nada was a bit hard to swallow. I was super spoiled there, but it also made me very aware of how important it is to stay in touch with the field outside of my job description.

When I graduated with my Master’s, I thought the world was so open to me. I never thought that almost 4 years later I would be where I am now.

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A bright-eyed Master’s grad who has no idea what is about to unfold.

Funny thing is, the world is still wide open for me, it has just taken a few humbling experiences for me to catch on to that.

I have been collecting little tidbits here and there for the past 8 months of how I can still get quality professional development but do it on the dirt cheap. AKA FREE.

So here is my journey to find professional development on a part-time wage.

My part-time-professional-go-to guide so to speak.

–>Organizational memberships

  •  In my field, it is fairly common to be a member of one of the large professional organizations, your functional area organization, and then regional organizations. Here are the breakdown of how numbers work for someone who is paying out of their own pocket.

NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $75 to join.
  • Conference registration-$400-500 (not including transportation, hotel, and food)

ACPA (American College Personnel Association)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $93 to join.
  • Conference registration-$450-900 (not including transportation, hotel, and food)

AHEAD (Association on Higher Education And Disability)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $245 to join.
  • These are just the big guys. It does get cheaper the smaller the organization. I am sure you get the picture though that memberships cost money. Memberships do award you benefits and access to various things, but right now I am not sure it is worth shelling out my own small paychecks for. Some of these fees may not seem like a big deal, but any amount of dollars can make a huge difference for someone who is only getting 20 hours a week. So no dice on memberships.

Since memberships and conferences were obviously not going to work for me, I went on the search for webinars, websites, and online journals.

–>Webinars were quickly was scratched off my list because of cost again. I am looking for free here people!

–>Websites

  • This should be a no-brainer. Most websites are free to access, although some do require membership log-ins to gain more information, but you can get by without.
  •  My only struggle with websites are that it can get overwhelming really quickly with all the additional links and resources that you can click through. I personally get side tracked easily. I have found that I have to go searching for a purpose otherwise I get lost in time and get stressed out by what I don’t know. I mean is there a dead end on the internet?
  •  Here are some starting points for websites:

The obvious

A little more digging

  • Every functional area is going to have a website so just Google search it.

Random

  • Pepnet (This provides resources for people working with the deaf or hard of hearing population, but the information is invaluable for all professionals! I love clicking though resources, and I learn something new every time I am on the site.)
  • Student Affairs History Project (this is just really interesting to me)
  • I Google searched “student affairs professional development.” With this search, dozens of university divisions of student affairs websites popped up. After clicking through several sites, you can find A LOT of good stuff. I found presentations, articles, general knowledge. Also it was interesting to look into random schools and see how their divisions were organized and who did development on a division level. Fascinating. Mind expanded!

–> Journals, Newsletters, and List serves (oh my)

Upon digging into websites, I continued to find articles, which spawned into a whole category of its own. I have listed only free resources I use currently, but there are tons out there with paid subscriptions as well:

  • Chronicle
  • The Mentor: an Academic Advising Journal (email subscription)
  • Conflict Management in Higher Education-It is no longer being updated, but there are lots of articles you can open and read. And let’s be honest, some things are always relevant, and even if they aren’t it is nice to get historical context on some things.
  • Disability.gov-(email subscription)
  • Military.com-(email subscription) At first glance, this may be personal seeing as I am a military wife. However, most of the topics are relevant to college students, and I increasingly am seeing how military students are not talked about much on the college scene (another topic for another day).
  • Student Affairs on Campus (online articles)
  • Journal of Student Affairs at New York University (online issues)
  • I don’t use each of these every day, or even every week, but I try to really challenge myself to open something new every so often. Having a variety of websites to peruse allows me to see different views and issues. With some being emailed directly to my inbox, I can see highlights and click from my email account on topics that I find intriguing.

–>Other ideas I have had over the past 6 months

Stay with me on this one. With social media growing at an alarming rate, pretty much anything is searchable. Including presentations y’all! Bring the conference to me! Boom! You can search topics, student affairs presentations, trainings, etc. If you are willing to sift through search results you can find some pretty sweet gems in there! This takes some patience, because I sure did find some doozies. But in the name of free, it is worth it.

  • Facebook groups

There are a vast variety of groups to join.  I have a few that I follow that range from running to specific job areas. Each provide articles and a chance to connect with professionals across the world. My favorite right now as far as professional development goes is “Professional Development for the Student Affairs Professional.” They are constantly sharing articles, research, apps, relevant questions, etc. This has been easier for me because it is a quick format instead of clicking through links and tabs on websites or doing my own random searches all the time. Twitter would be able to provide similar benefits, I am just not familiar with that platform.

  • Books

I have a tub of professional books that I have collected over the years and have never read, which I am embarrassed to say. I have added this to my goals (30 for 30) to take advantage of these things I have already purchased. Also I am really excited to be connecting with Ellen on this goal as my accountability partner to actually make this happen.

  • Blogs

This one should seem obvious since I am a blogger. Some are just for giggles and are a place to relate and some are more prolific and make me ponder the meaning of my work. Blogs are a great place to see personal views across the field. I have a link on my sidebar to a large list of blogs in Student Affairs-The SA Directory. It is nicely organized in several ways so you can search a topic/area/person, whatever your heart desires. I like bloggers because it makes the profession seem more real and heartfelt to hear the personal stories.

  • Old conference schedules

In my online research, I kept coming across old conference schedules. I would find myself reading through a schedule from 5 years ago to see what topics were covered. This doesn’t give you a lot of meat, however, it is a great place to start if you are wanting to get fresh ideas or want to see what people have done. It has become a springboard for me to search topics and people (yep I look to see if people are “repeat offenders” with publications or presentations). Also, this gives you ammo when looking up things on Youtube. Sometimes you can even get the presentation material if you are lucky! (Can you tell that I am a Learner yet?)

  • Say yes to opportunities

While I may not have money for professional development, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been to any. I have jumped on free seminars here on campus and in my department. I am capitalizing on opportunities that are paid for me. I either find these by word a mouth or watching the daily APSU newsletter.

  • I did a presentation at a Wounded Warrior Conference
  • Seen a few webinars with the department
  • Attended a Women’s Leadership Series here at APSU
  • Attended a Retirement Funds Seminar here at APSU
  • Also connecting with the community I believe counts as an opporuntity-volunteering as POC (point of contact) for Tom’s Unit and working with the shelter are providing me different perspectives of interacting with people and constituents-oh and organizational structure.

–>Podcasts and Radio

My absolute favorite free professional development that I have found are podcasts and radio! Why I didn’t invest in this arena before now I have no idea! These are amazing. I love the ability to listen to people talk while I am working or doing other things. That’s what I call multi-tasking!

  • NPR is my go to radio. I listened to this while in undergrad for some political science and history courses, but I am not sure why I ever stopped. (Maybe it was my interview to be accepted into student teaching that scarred my NPR experience-I still see that professor in my nightmares.) NPR obviously covers a wide range of topics so you can pick and choose what you want to listen to. I think a worldly view is helpful when reaching out in the university realm.
  • You can find podcasts on most major professional websites. Some are free and some are not, but I have had a plethora of freebies to keep me busy.
  • As far as podcasts go, I have to say my favorite is from Life Work Balances. Each week a new interview is uploaded about various people across the field. This one PhD student (Conor) reaches out in different formats to find people to interview. Some he already knew, others recommended to him, and others who contact him. The topics range so widely, but ultimately we are all connected by the college student and striving for balance in this world. It has been really interesting and rejuvenating to hear each person’s story and context. As you know I love stories, so this is probably why this is my all-time favorite. Besides the personal stories, I have learned about various universities, programs and research focuses through these interviews. I learn best through personal connections, so this has been really meaningful for me to listen to these each week.

These are specific resources for Student Affairs and Higher Ed, however, I think the idea can go across professions. It does take some patience and diligence to find some of these things. If you keep at it, you can find a myriad of free resources out there to challenge your thinking and keep your mind fresh. It has been really encouraging to read through/listen to these resources. Being able to still connect freely has given me hope in my part time woes. I want to forever be a “student” in the profession and be able to evolve no matter what my circumstances may be.

As I reflect though, I have had great experiences since I started my Student Affairs journey and have been blessed with so many opportunities to challenge me professionally and personally. Some of my favorite learning moments have been at conferences that cost me several hundred dollars, and then others that I have done in the comfort of my own home in my pajamas have been just as worthwhile. You just have to be willing to say, “I still want to learn,” but also know your means in order to do so. Even though I can’t afford a lot of the “mainstream” professional development, I can still rock out some good stuff on my own. You have to have the gumption to make your own path sometimes, and with the way that technology is moving, you really can do so much for free. Thank you internet inventors for making this gal a little smarter!

Please note that these are all my opinions. I was not contacted by any group or affiliation to write about them. I got all links and prices directly from organization websites. I just wanted to share resources that have helped me in my Student Affairs journey and make professional development more accessible. My intention was to show that you can still obtain relevant and awesome professional development without shelling out any cash.

So there you have it. My effort to remain a professional as a part-time lackey.

Do you have other free ideas that I should be looking at?