Professional Development Provides Growth and Resilience During Times of Crisis
But amid challenging circumstances, international educators should remember the power and value of investing in themselves and their teams. Photo: Shutterstock
Global health and economic crises, budget cuts, furloughs, and constant change have made professional development seem like a luxury lately. But amid challenging circumstances, international educators should remember the power and value of investing in themselves and their teams.
Professional development not only helps international educators stay abreast of ever-changing regulations, trends, and best practices in the field but also builds a sense of collective care within teams, institutions, and the wider international education community. Strategies to support individual and team development can be organized around four themes: learning, transferrable skill development, leadership and service, and strategic networking. Together, these strategies take into account a variety of institutional types, staff sizes, bandwidths, and budget resources.
Focusing on learning is one relatively easy way to develop individually or as a team and provides a much-needed pause from the stress of day-to-day operational concerns. Reframing daily work into the bigger picture can be a refreshing exercise and help international educators think critically about how they support students, scholars, and teams and contribute to their campuses and the field of international education. Several free ideas offer examples of how to focus professional development on learning.
- Social justice reading: Select an article on a topic related to social justice and, as a team, discuss how it applies to the team’s work as international educators. Give staff a chance to lead the discussions to create investment and interest.
- Case study discussions: Within regular team meetings, use case studies to generate discussion and opportunities to learn and apply knowledge about a specific regulation, program, or service.
- Postconference debrief: When budgets allow only one or two staff members to attend a conference, capitalize on this investment upon the staff members’ return by having them share information and best practices they learned so the entire team can benefit.
2. Leadership and Service
Contributing to their communities, their institutions, and the field through leadership and service opportunities allows professionals to pay forward their skills and talents while gaining new ones. Taking into account limited staff and budgets, many of the following examples have little or no impact on budget, though some require time commitment and supervisor support.
- Campus committee service: Contribute to broad campus work; network with colleagues; and build communication, organizational, and leadership skills. Taking on the leadership of committees through chair positions builds confidence and contributes to the larger scope of the institution’s work. Considering team bandwidth, rotating such opportunities is helpful.
- Community engagement: Volunteer in local, state, and national organizations. Gain transferable skills, such as budget management, volunteer management, and event planning, while contributing to the organization’s mission. Advocate to elected officials on behalf of students, institutions, and colleagues. Advocacy efforts develop communication skills and represent institutions in a positive way.
- Professional organization leadership roles: Accept a leadership position in a professional organization, which can expand one’s understanding of the field, develop cross-functional skills in student affairs, and help new professionals develop their professional skills. Shape the strategic plans of the organization.
3. Transferable Skill Development
Connecting teams to valuable resources that exist beyond their institution, office, or department can broaden the scope of experiences and lead to the development of transferrable skills and personal growth. In turn, this learning enhances individual and team productivity and the general attitude toward daily responsibilities. These two accessible, free (or inexpensive) resources may already be available at many institutions.
- LinkedIn Learning: Many institutions already have a subscription, but if not, the local library may offer this service for free with a library card. Discuss and explore topics as a team or encourage staff to create a “study plan” based on their needs, complete a module, and share their learning. Opportunities can be as simple as learning new Excel tricks to make life easier when working with reports or accessing the more advanced LinkedIn courses on management, customer services, and social justice topics.
- Institutional resources: Utilize human resources department offerings of programs on stress management, personal financial management, Safe Zone training, and lunch-and-learns on topics including health, resiliency, team building, and personal well-being.
4. Strategic Networking
Networking is an effective strategy for professionals to learn more about the field, receive support, discuss ideas for resolving challenging cases, and even help achieve career goals. The key to networking is building relationships and nurturing them by keeping in contact. Strategic networking helps improve communication skills, opens career opportunities, builds self-confidence, and promotes self-esteem.
- Conferences: When resources allow, attending state, regional, and national conferences offers a way to meet new colleagues and reconnect with old friends. Conferences usually include dedicated time for networking to create connections with other professionals. As this can be an overwhelming and daunting task for some, make a plan and set a goal of how many new people to meet at each event. The effort is worth it, and conference attendees often walk away with not only professional connections but also lifelong friends.
- Peer engagement: NAFSA offers 11 professional networks sponsored by five knowledge communities. Use these networks to discover new ideas, access a wide range of resources and training events, and stay abreast of the latest news and trends in different areas. These networks provide opportunities to share resources, connect with peers, and engage in discussions.
- Train the trainer: Those interested in enhancing their teaching and training skills should consider joining NAFSA’s Trainer Corps Preparation Program, an excellent way to give back and contribute expertise to the field by facilitating various educational programs for one’s peers.
These strategies provide a variety of options that allow international educators to create personal or team professional development plans, with considerations for different institution types, staff sizes, budgets, and bandwidths. Professional development is a way for individuals and teams to expand their knowledge and expertise, broaden their horizons, and break away from the routine of everyday work. It can re-energize a team’s creativity and build a strong and resilient community of international educators, especially during times of challenge and adversity.