Professional Development: Who Needs It?

Posted on October 3, 2012


From our friends at RMC Health:

At RMC Health, one of the questions we hear most frequently is “What is professional development?”

Here’s our definition of professional development: the processes and activities consciously designed to strengthen professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

“Oh, so you mean training?”

We think it’s a little more complex than that. In the course of your career, you’ve probably had a lot of training. You may be required to complete a certain number of hours each year to maintain a teaching or nursing credential, or you may seek out new knowledge and skills to improve or maintain the quality of your work, or both. Often the terms “professional development” and “training” are used interchangeably, but there is­ a difference.

How many training programs have you attended where the learning ended when the training did? The program promised to give you just what you needed to solve a problem or make a real breakthrough in your performance, and you left with some great new ideas to try. But then, when you went back to work, the things you had learned seemed difficult to apply.  You were “trained,” but you didn’t feel ready or able to do things differently.

That. Right there. That’s the difference between professional development and training.

Yes, quality professional development often includes quality training, but it also extends to what happens AFTER the training.  Do you need more resources? Do you need some coaching?  Is there someone you can turn to for support or to answer questions?

The goal of professional development is to build your capacity—to take you all the way to the point where you are ready and able to put your new abilities to work. It will increase and strengthen your knowledge and skills. Beyond that, it develops in you an attitude of empowerment and readiness to use what you’ve learned. It can be a transformative experience.

The employer benefits, too, whether that’s a school, school district, government agency, or non-governmental organization. By providing quality professional development to employees, an organization receives the benefit of employees with a greater capacity to achieve organizational goals. These employees not only have more knowledge and skills. They are also ready to incorporate these things into their professional practice. Further, they can share what they’ve learned with their colleagues, increasing and sustaining the impact of the investment, and building the capacity of the whole organization.

ASHA’s mission centers around this type of impact: “to build the capacity of its members to plan, develop, coordinate, implement, evaluate, and advocate for effective school health strategies that contribute to optimal health and academic outcomes for all children and youth.”

We all want to see those outcomes, and our membership in ASHA gives us access to information, training, and resources that build our capacities, resulting in better school health strategies. We network with others who have the same goal, and share our knowledge and experience with them. In turn, ASHA can leverage our knowledge, abilities, and diversity to create positive change.

Building healthy schools and healthy students is a formidable mission.  Nearly all of us wish we had a few more tools in our professional toolbox.  That means, in the school health community, the question really isn’t “Who needs professional development?”  It’s “Who doesn’t?”

RMC Health is exhibiting and speaking at ASHA’s School Health Conference in San Antonio and would love to hear what you think is effective professional development.  Even if you are not attending we would love to continue this conversation on professional development.