Several times a year, kids are sent home early or have a day off so teachers can attend professional development workshops. Teachers look forward to their Professional Development Day because they’ll learn about new instructional strategies and acquire new skills.
Wouldn’t it be great if your members could have a Professional Development Day too? It’s easier for teachers because they all have the same employer who supports the initiative—their school district. It would be difficult to convince all industry employers to get on board.
But we’re not ready to toss out this idea completely. Before we know it, the end-of-year holidays will be upon us. Members may have time off at the end of the year because their office is closed. Or, they may take time off for a staycation at home.
If you start planning now, you can promote the idea of taking a Professional Development Day (PD Day) during the holiday break. If your messaging is persuasive enough, even if they’re working, they may make the time for PD.
What’s the point, you ask? Members join associations primarily for two benefits: education and connections. If you can get members to spend a little time on PD and give them the opportunity to connect with others while they’re doing it, you can help them develop the learning habit and take more advantage of their membership benefits.
Make a case for Professional Development Day
Why should a member dedicate a vacation day to professional development? We have plenty of answers for that one…
• Because there won’t be a better time—you’re away from the office, or your office is quiet.
• As the new year approaches, it’s a great time to start a new learning habit, like dedicating time each week to professional development.
• ‘Tis the season for giving. Professional development is a gift you can give to yourself, an investment in yourself.
• You have goals for the new year. (Don’t you?) What do you need to start learning to achieve them?
• You know that pile (list, folder, bookmarks) you have of articles (posts, reports, books, papers) to read? Now’s the time.
Make Professional Development Day easy for them—and you
As with all the other brilliant ideas you’ve come up with, you can’t plow ahead alone. Talk to your committee (kitchen cabinet, members who get it, members you want an excuse to talk to) and see what they think of this idea.
• What would they do if they took a PD Day during the holiday break?
• How could you make that easier for them?
• Could they help you gather some resources? Or would they be willing to lead a learning circle?
You’ll need help so send out a request for learning circle leaders and content curators. Don’t rely on a call for volunteers alone; personally invite members to help you too.
First, gather your content.
Some members will know exactly what they want to spend their PD Day on, that’s fine. But you want members to think of your association as a place they can turn to when it comes to online education throughout the year, not just for your conferences.
To help members develop a PD habit, you need to start small—think a walk around the block, not a hike up a mountain. Start by identifying all your free and inexpensive short-form learning content, for example, microlearning modules and anything that takes less than 30 minutes to get through. Make another list for hour-long content.
Look at your online learning content, webinars, conference recordings, leadership training content (both association and chapter), lobbying day materials, and anything else that’s educational in nature. Tell colleagues from other departments what you’re looking for—things to read, watch, or listen to. What do they have? Categorize or tag this content by topic, career track, experience level, and any other useful identifiers.
Now, it’s time for curation. You do members a huge service by cutting through the noise and finding them reading (posts, articles, reports), videos, and podcasts from external sources. Put your volunteer curators to work. Let them each pick a topic or other category. Scour YouTube, podcast apps (Apple, Spotify, etc.), and industry media.
Don’t neglect soft skills in your hunt for content. Employers often say that young professionals need extra help developing soft skills—and they’re probably not the only ones.
Second, promote learning circles.
Here’s where the connection element enters the scene. Show your learning circle leaders how to set up meetings on Zoom or the web conference platform you prefer. Ask them to select different days/times during the holiday break for both a pre- and post-PD Day virtual meeting. Agree upon a maximum number of people for each circle.
Learning circles could be general, or they could focus on a specific career track, experience level, and/or topic(s). Using an online registration form, ask members to pick a day for PD Day and then sign up for a learning circle that meets before and after that day.
In the first meeting, attendees discuss their PD Day goals and what they plan to do. In the second meeting, they report back and share takeaways. The leader could also ask circle participants if they want to make it a monthly event. You could always combine similar circles to ensure continued attendance.
Other ideas for PD Day
In addition to learning circles focused on topics, you could also dedicate some circles to goal setting and accountability. You could dedicate specific circles to different career stages or tracks. Or, if competition is a factor, you could group members from non-competing markets into circles, for example, one member each from Oregon, Utah, Iowa, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Maine, and Hawaii.
Promote Black Friday or holiday break specials for your paid educational programs. What could a member accomplish in a short amount of time? Market a webinar series, mini-course, or series of modules leading to a digital badge.
Look over conference and webinar evaluations. Which speakers and topics were big hits? See if they’re available to do a holiday break webinar. You can revisit the same topic or do a deeper dive.
If you’re launching any new online courses in the new year, consider giving away a sample as a holiday preview.
Since a new year is a time of new goals, host a virtual open house about each of your certification programs. You could do an introductory webinar that includes a Q&A with a panel of recent certification recipients.
Feeling creative? Do “12 Days of Holiday PD” with a suggested educational activity for each day.
The PD gift that keeps on giving
Why should members have all the fun. Run these ideas up your organizational chart.
Idea #1: Give each staff person a day to spend at home (or elsewhere) on professional development. Beforehand, they discuss their plans with their supervisor. Afterwards, they share new insight with teammates.
Idea #2 (the better one): Once a quarter, half the staff stays home for PD Day on a Monday and the other half stays home on a Friday. They also share plans with their supervisor and report back in a “lunch and learn” with the rest of their team.
If you want to foster a learning membership culture, you have to start at “home” with a learning office culture. Let members (and employers) see how your staff values lifelong learning and perhaps they’ll follow your lead.