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Professional development: Change agents in a pandemic

By Nicole Pokorney

stack of books

In her 2014 blog, Professional development is money in the bank for youth-serving organizations, Nancy Hegland outlines the many benefits of providing professional development to employees, such as improved program quality, increased job satisfaction and reduced stress. Her blog also describes the need for creative delivery methods. Trish Sheehan describes similar benefits in her 2018 blog, Take care of your program and your professional self. Trish continues, “Dorie Clarke suggests professional development takes on three main forms: learning, connecting and creating. Identifying what you need to gain or improve on in each of the three areas helps you to advance your work and establish your profession.”

In response to the U of M Extension Center for Youth Development's identified priority of promoting learning and hands-on activities in the outdoors for youth and families, and the increasing need for addressing inclusivity and diversity in outdoor education programs, I designed a professional development plan for research. In a pandemic lack-of-travel world, the discipline and organization of my professional development looks different. I’m not traveling to a far off country or diving deep for weeks into gaining skills with a backcountry organization. I am doing the work from my home - the same office space I was in yesterday and the day before. And the day before. I am taking intermittent days throughout the year to accomplish my goals and tackle my day-to-day work responsibilities.

I knew that if I was going to be successful in my plan, I would need to find discipline and focus. If I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people in the outdoors, I would need to create a professional development environment and experience to foster learning, creativity and productivity. I shared my goals with colleagues and leadership. I asked for feedback and accountability. I reminded myself to stick to my plan. 

We don’t have to wait for the perfect destination conference or extravagant funding. Professional development can be simple and inexpensive. However, if we are to model being change agents for our young people, we need to be deliberate in what we are learning and applying in our programming. When we see the need for improvement in our field, we need to respond. In their 2018 article, Impact of a Professional Development Experience Focused on Extension Educators as Change Agents, Scott, Weeks & Weeks explain that through deliberate professional development, we can move from being “information dispensers” to change agents for our youth. 

What has your professional development looked like this past year? In what creative ways have you gained new knowledge and skills? How does your professional development help form you as a change agent?

-- Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator

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