Creating a Written Professional Development Plan

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In our second annual survey on The State of Professional Development in Higher Education, we learned that those who optimize the return on their investments in professional development (PD) are very intentional about making those investments. They don’t just go to the same events annually; they actively seek out new ideas for their department, and they write down their PD plans. Only 30% of managers in higher ed responding to the survey reported that their team members had written PD plans; the written PD plan is an emerging, but largely under-utilized best practice in higher-ed PD.


What does a written professional development plan (PDP) look like? What should it include?

You can download a complimentary PDP template here.

Of those 30%, most update their plans on an annual basis. But we also discovered an intriguing minority who update their plans every six months. Only 23 managers who responded to our survey do this; that’s 4% of all managers who responded, and 14% of those who say their team members have written PDPs.

But when we took a closer look at this minority who update their PD plans twice a year, we discovered that they report more ability to maximize the return on PD. And though they come from different types of institutions and from different functional areas within their institutions, they all approach PD in similar ways:

  1. They’re almost entirely from institutions that view PD as “mission-critical.”
  2. They almost unanimously say that PD is aligned with departmental or division goals and objectives.
  3. Two thirds of these managers say departmental politics rarely or never interfere with attending PD events; the remaining third say that departmental politics interfere only sometimes.
  4. With only one exception, these managers say that they do not just attend the same events each year.
  5. All 23 of these managers budget multiple PD opportunities 6-12 months in advance and stick with this plan.
  6. Two thirds say they are able to reallocate PD funds quickly to fund new PD opportunities, and that it is not difficult to secure additional PD funds if new needs arise.
  7. These 23 managers view skills training, learning how other institutions address key initiatives, or challenging how their departments do their work as very likely to justify funding for PD. They are split on whether to fund PD opportunities that provide networking, that validate the direction their department is already taking, or that provide focused planning time outside of the office for their team.
  8. Regarding performance appraisal, 14 of the 23 say that PD is either a key consideration in decisions related to promotion and compensation, or that PD has some weight in these decisions.
  9. 20 of the 23 managers visit other institutions to get new ideas, and 18 of the 23 send cross-departmental teams to PD events.
  10. 21 of the 23 managers participate in a networking group with colleagues in similar roles at other institutions; more than half do so with regularity.
  11. 22 of the 23 managers seek advice from colleagues at other institutions.
  12. 19 either “frequently” or “all the time” model active investment of time and money in their own PD.

What these 12 data points reveal about this small group is thought-provoking. These are managers who resist insular thinking, and regularly seek fresh ideas from outside the institution, whether through PD or other means. They see PD as integral to the success of their department; professional development planning is tightly linked to department goals and has weight in the performance appraisal of their staff. They budget for PD events in advance, are able to reallocate when they need to, and they make sure that investments in PD are about increasing the department’s capacity to do its work—or even about challenging how the department does its work—and not about departmental politics.

The picture we have of these 23 managers is starkly different from the picture we have of their peers. Have these 23 discovered a best practice that could be critical to advancing their department? It is certainly something we will look into more deeply in our next annual survey. And the six-month PDP tied to departmental objectives and to performance appraisal may be a practice you want to consider adopting for your own unit.

Learn more about The State of Professional Development in Higher Education in our complimentary report.