By: TINA MELLO
It can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day activities of getting your job done, and lose track of big picture, professional development activities that will ultimately keep you current in your work and your skills fresh. As educators, particularly those of us who work with students pursuing internships and co-op opportunities, it’s essential to role model productive, professional behavior to our students. That’s not only basic behaviors like showing up to work on time, but taking a proactive approach to our careers, assessing our strengths and weaknesses or gaps in knowledge, seeking out or creating opportunities to fill in those gaps, and continuously striving to excel in our work.
Like many educators, the nature and pace of my work as co-op faculty changes during the summer months, turning more to company visits, curriculum design, and other project work, with student communication coming mostly in the form of emails rather than in-person appointments. There’s a little more breathing room and time to generate ideas. This summer, one of my personal projects is developing a more deliberate plan for my own professional development. It’s easy for me to see an announcement of a conference or a drive-in workshop and think “Oh I’ll go to that (if there’s funding).” But what about the rest of the year? What about topics or skill sets the conferences don’t cover, that I may want some guidance or even just brainstorming about? What about informal resources, including campus resources that I could be utilizing more, such as my own co-op peers? I learn new things all the time, both intentionally and simply by the nature of working with students, but I think I could be more strategic, in terms of maximizing my time and prioritizing my biggest learning areas to work with my students in more effective or meaningful ways. Or just satisfying my own professional curiosity.
Here are some of things I’ve started with so far this summer:
- Updating my own resume. I try to update it every year in conjunction with my annual performance review and planning, but it slipped through the cracks last year. It’s an opportunity to review what I accomplished this past year, what didn’t get done and why (reassessing shifting priorities), and what I hope to accomplish in the coming year. I believe this is a great reflective opportunity, and I encourage my students to do it as well, especially when we discuss mindfulness about their co-op experiences.
- Drafting my own teaching philosophy. Admittedly, I would not have thought of this one on my own, but Northeastern requires this of co-op faculty (in addition to academic faculty) when applying for promotion. While I wholeheartedly view myself as an educator, and I do teach a professional development class, I’m not academic faculty and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to formalize a teaching statement. Northeastern hosts the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning through Research (CATLR), and I arranged for them to facilitate a teaching statement workshop for my whole co-op group in the College of Science, which everyone agreed was extremely helpful and informative. I feel like this was a professional development win all around – not just drafting my teaching philosophy and how it helped me stop and think about why I do what I do, but also organizing a training with another office on campus, not just for myself but also for my own colleagues.
- Organizing group brainstorming sessions. My co-op peers in the College of Science are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, and someone is always around if I want a second opinion or to spitball ideas. But I’ve been feeling like one-to-one conversations weren’t always capitalizing on the group’s cumulative knowledge and synergy, and our weekly group meetings got bogged down in time-sensitive topics, like which employer needed more candidates or which students were still looking for co-ops. I collected topics of interest to my colleagues, and scheduled 6 voluntary brainstorming sessions during the summer, ranging from mediating between students and employers when there are challenges or conflicts to using case studies with students to creative marketing and promotion techniques to employers. We’ve only had one session so far, but I enjoyed it and I think my group is looking forward to them as well. Depending on how these go, I’d love to continue them during the semester, though maybe only once a month, given the frantic pace when school is in session.
These activities are things that don’t necessarily need to happen all the time or even frequently (I’m content with updating my resume once a year, unless something really dramatic comes up), but are useful ways to tap into existing resources in a more interactive and dynamic way. During the academic year, much of my professional development comes from reading, whether it’s books like Hope Jahren’s “Lab Girl”, Wall Street Journal or Boston Business Journal articles, or my FAVORITE blog of any kind, Alison Green’s Ask a Manager (askamanager.org). Her advice and feedback is practical and straight-forward, and always helpful. It’s literally the only blog I read daily, and I even know her daily schedule for posting!
AUTHOR: Tina Mello is currently Cooperative Education Faculty for the biology program in the College of Science at Northeastern University, having also worked in Northeastern’s Career Development office for many years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Advice for Colleagues, Professional Development
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