Professional development

Professional development

Professional development refers to skills and knowledge attained for both personal development and career advancement. Professional development encompasses all types of facilitated learning opportunities, ranging from college degrees to formal coursework, conferences and informal learning opportunities situated in practice. It has been described as intensive and collaborative, ideally incorporating an evaluative stage There are a variety of approaches to professional development, including consultation, coaching, communities of practice, lesson study, mentoring, reflective supervision and technical assistance.

Who Participates and Why

A wide variety of people, such as teachers, health care professionals, lawyers, accountants and engineers engage in professional development. Individuals may participate in professional development because of an interest in lifelong learning, a sense of moral obligation, to maintain and improve professional competence, enhance career progression, keep abreast of new technology and practice, or to comply with professional regulatory organizations. Many American states have professional development requirements for school teachers. For example, Arkansas teachers must complete 60 hours of documented professional development activities annually Similarly, American and Canadian nurses, as well as those in the United Kingdom, are required to participate in formal and informal professional development in order to maintain professional registration Other groups such as engineering and geoscience regulatory bodies also have mandatory professional development requirements.

Approaches to Professional Development

In a broad sense, professional development may include formal types of vocational education, typically post-secondary or poly-technical training leading to qualification or credential required to obtain or retain employment. Professional development may also come in the form of pre-service or in-service professional development programs. These programs may be formal, or informal, group or individualized. Individuals may pursue professional development independently, or programs may be offered by human resource departments. Professional development on the job may develop or enhance process skills, sometimes referred to as leadership skills, as well as task skills. Some examples for process skills are 'effectiveness skills', 'team functioning skills', and 'systems thinking skills'.

Professional development opportunities can range from a single workshop to a semester-long academic course, to services offered by a medley of different professional development providers and varying widely with respect to the philosophy, content, and format of the learning experiences. Some examples of approaches to professional development include:

  • Consultation - to assist an individual or group of individuals to clarify and address immediate concerns by following a systematic problem-solving process.
  • Coaching - to enhance a person’s competencies in a specific skill area by providing a process of observation, reflection, and action.
  • Communities of Practice - to improve professional practice by engaging in shared inquiry and learning with people who have a common goal
  • Lesson Study - to solve practical dilemmas related to intervention or instruction through participation with other professionals in systematically examining practice
  • Mentoring - to promote an individual’s awareness and refinement of his or her own professional development by providing and recommending structured opportunities for reflection and observation
  • Reflective Supervision - to support, develop, and ultimately evaluate the performance of employees through a process of inquiry that encourages their understanding and articulation of the rationale for their own practices
  • Technical Assistance - to assist individuals and their organization to improve by offering resources and information, supporting networking and change efforts

Professional development is a broad term, encompassing a range of people, interests and approaches. Those who engage in professional development share a common purpose of enhancing their ability to do their work. At the heart of professional development is the individual's interest in lifelong learning and increasing their own skills and knowledge.

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