Goals for the year ahead
The year ahead is full of promise for improvement. Your diary is still crisp and clean. Your calendar still has potential for meaningful development time for your room, team or organisation. You even have a bit of budget to work with…So why haven’t you set your professional development goals yet?
Overwhelm is a major cause of procrastination when it comes to long term goal setting, even when the goals are as crucial as learning and development. PD planning is a classic victim of the busyness at the end of one year and the start of the next, yet it can be managed and the load shared across a team if you take it step by step.
A goal without a plan is just a dream
Why bother to plan?
We all need regular updates and refreshers or we grow stale in our professional knowledge and tend to fall into poor habits or lag behind new and positive developments in our field. These can be as simple as some well chosen TEDTalks on YouTube, or as deep as the commencement of post-graduate studies.
Whatever you engage in, you will not be making the most of your time, effort and budget if you don’t set up a plan to examine the learning outcomes you want and the best path to achieve them. Planning forces you to reflect, research, and make informed decisions.
Failure to plan is planning to fail
Without a plan, for example, you could enter a costly degree program and realise later you may have qualified for a government scholarship. O you might waste hours of staff time working with PD materials that haven’t been updated for the revised National Quality Standard.
You could also lose goodwill and motivation among your team by pushing a set of studies they think are irrelevant, because you haven’t shared your background thinking. And if you’re an educator on a team, you might be unable to convince your director, committee or group training manager of the need for a particular course because you haven’t given the planning time over to preparing a strong rationale.
So how do you make a plan? And how do you do it in a manageable way that doesn’t eat up your already busy hours?
Fortunately for you, CELA’s Learning and Development team are generous with their knowledge and share this eight step approach to refining and achieving your learning goals for 2019 and beyond. Effectively, it’s a plan for making a plan!
You could take one step each week, or you could accelerate the process to get a faster set of goals.
Step 1 – evaluation
Look carefully at the training that was undertaken – if any – in the past year and what impact it had on your own development or the overall quality of education at your service. Can you make a direct connection between a conference attendance and an improvement in practice? Or how about that workshop and the skills it presented: are they being applied well today?
Evaluation is how we learn from our past. It helps guide us into good decisions now and in the future. Evaluation could also mean contacting a colleague who attended a program you’re interested in now and asking their honest opinion about its value.
You might also find your evaluation of external training gives you ideas for internal learning programs. The educator who attended that conference could be asked to share more of her session notes in brief presentations at team meetings, for instance.
Make a list or create a table of the past year’s learning, and make some judgments about what was good value, what’s worth trying in a different way, and what you might avoid in 2019.
Step 2 – guiding tools
Your service’s philosophy, your Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), and your budget come to the fore in this step as you look for specific outcomes that can be supported by future learning. How clear are the gaps in your, or your team’s, knowledge and skills when held up against the philosophy and QIP? How well did you spend your previous PD budget? Will you need help to tailor your training in 2019 to meet budget and QIP outcomes?
Don’t forget to include any administrative staff in this process, as they count in your efforts to meet or exceed Quality Area 5, and need to be well prepared to support the service even if they are part-time. Your cook, bookkeeper, office manager or any other ancillary staffers may also need PD to help the service meet its QIP goals.
Step 3 – collaboration
If you’re working alone on a personal PD plan, this is a time to consult others who can have input into your professional growth, like an informal mentor, a head office colleague, a peer at another service, or an old study buddy.
If you’re working with a team, now is the time to bring everyone together, share your evaluation and quality guiding tools, and gain as much insight as possible into what others see as the most pressing needs for external and internal learning in the year ahead. Get as much information together as you can and be prepared to look at all the options.
The CELA L&D team suggests using a group session with a whiteboard or butchers paper to record every idea, no matter how left field, without judgement. It would also be a good idea to offer separate personal discussions for staff who might be shy to share individual dreams or worries about capacity.
Step 4 – forecasting
The new year has just begun, what changes has it brought with it? If you’re in a larger service, there has probably been some staff movement either leaving the service or changing rooms or rosters. Is the profile of your families changing with new developments or greater competition from other services?
Are you up to date on any regulatory changes in your state or territory, and how about new funding opportunities for resources or study that might be appearing from your state government or managing organisation?
Check those emails waiting in your team inbox – sometimes big news is released towards the end of the calendar year when you’re too busy to see it!
Step 5 – 360 degrees
To really get a good sense of professional skills needs in the whole team, you should take a global view. Apart from looking at staff appraisals from the past year and pursuing agreed improvements, it’s time to look at the quality of supervision and leadership too. In most workplaces, there are training needs at every level, and directors and educational leaders need at least as much support and input as the educators and ancillary staff.
Can your whole team agree to be brave, kind, and honest and give constructive feedback from every angle? If this is a personal plan, you will need to be brave and kind to yourself as you ask others – including the children! – how you could improve in 2019.
Step 6 – competency audit
By now you should have a fairly full set of notes and ideas about the kinds of learning and development that will be a priority for you or your team in 2019. Look now for defined gaps in the key competencies for each role under the plan. What do your job descriptions say? Are they still accurate? Are there new or old gaps in the competencies that absolutely must be filled? How about skills compared to regulatory requirements – like first aid, asthma and anaphylaxis training?
Has someone been promoted to room leader without any training in leadership or management? If so, how much of the role needs more training and what are they already highly competent in?
Step 7 – the shortlist
As an individual or a team, you’re now at the pointy end where you have to create a shortlist and set budget priorities for all the finally agreed PD. You might have to make some hard decisions about sending one educator to a conference when five wanted to attend, or about signing up for a weekend workshop instead of a year-long qualification for now.
Budget will usually have the last word, but if you keep an open mind you might be able to move more of those items off your wishlist and onto the shortlist instead.
For instance, it can be more engaging and cost-effective to bring tailored training into your service than to send staff out to workshops that only partly meet your needs, and replace them on the floor while they are gone. Webinars have come a long way in recent years, too, and often recordings are available even if you miss the live delivery. Blended delivery is an excellent model for meaningful professional development and as long as it’s handled by high quality trainers you will get strong results that instantly apply in the workplace.
If you rely on approval from a board of management or parent committee, try to keep them informed at each step of your planning and include them where you can (and where they have time). It will make it easier for them to sign off on the expenditure if they are expecting your request and they clearly understand the reasons and expected outcomes.
Step 8 – commit and celebrate
You’ve made it! It’s time to book in and celebrate. Block out those calendar dates, break out those future diary pages, and make sure everyone who is involved in PD this year gets all the additional information that’s usually sent through at the time of booking.
Once you’ve booked, share the news with the families, colleagues and managers who need to know. If you’ve set these goals for your team, post up the plan somewhere it can be celebrated by all – even if it’s just a simple list of names, PD titles, and dates. And don’t forget that if you’ve booked with a not-for-profit PD provider, you’ve got the best possible value for your budget this year!
Looking for help with self-assessment tools or a consultation on great value, high quality learning and development? Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet the author
Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.