The diversity of a business manager’s role (or principal, bursar, payroll officer, registrar, PA) and the ever-changing environment means that the modern Christian school professional is always having to acquire new skills and knowledge. I know this from personal experience – not only while I was working in a school, but my time since – being out of the school business management environment leads to what I have heard referred to as ‘professional dementia’ – not only does one forget things but the changing environment means that what you once knew may no longer have the same currency.
So - the answer is to rock up at an ASBA, CSA or CEN conference right? Well - that is one way – and those conferences do provide diverse opportunities to learn but also to mix and network with others, as well as providing some much-needed respite from the school office where you can clear your head and reassess.
So why learn? Here’s a quick brainstorm…
How does one board the train of professional development (pun intended)?
Those who fail to plan… In her article ‘How to Ask Your Boss for Time to Learn New Things’ (https://hbr.org/2017/11/how-to-ask-your-boss-for-time-to-learn-new-things, November 2017) Rachael O’Meara promotes the idea of undertaking a ‘stocktake’ of what you have and what you want:
Identify how you want to learn and grow. If you don’t yet have a clear picture of what you want to develop, spend time honing in on exactly what you need. Do you want to build your emotional intelligence skills to be a more attuned business leader? ... Set aside a specific period of time, such as one evening or even a week, to explore ideas and research what appeals to you. Write down what you want to learn and how you would grow from the experience you’ve identified.
Maybe better known as ‘pleading your case’, the essence is to identify what you and the organisation will receive in benefits compared to the cost. Like all begging, there is sacrifice involved, and this is in the form of spending time before, during but especially after the professional learning.
Open the purse strings.
As the business manager, making use of budgeted PD funds can be a balancing act. You should lead by example and not stake a disproportionate claim on the PD budget just because you control the purse strings. However, you shouldn’t cut yourself short either. Overall, it’s about accountability for the budget funds used. Like the parable of the talents, if you are given an investment, make sure you don’t bury it, but increase its value in return. Take a ‘return on investment’ attitude to the learning funds you draw upon. More about this below.
Go your own way.
There are plenty of ways to be self-directed in your professional learning. It might be about finding out more about the financial system you use; or learning the intricacies of FBT; how to use more of the features of Microsoft Word; or how to establish a risk management framework for your school. There are plenty of sources of information – many of which are free – so check them out! If it were me, I’d start with an inventory of my role and identify my weak spots or look at areas where I can expand my influence if I knew more.
Join the dots.
What is your school missing? What skills and experience are you missing? Can you become the conduit that joins the two by acquiring new knowledge or expertise?
Go for distance.
Short and sweet can be effective and palatable, but sometimes the type of learning that builds over time – layer upon layer – can be very effective. One of the methods to achieve this is through formal study – the problem I have found with this approach (but which can also sometimes be a benefit) is the lack of direct connection to the daily challenges in your role. Tertiary study can be a little too removed from the practical realities/application in the workplace. Formal study does provide an accredited form of learning and is very useful at providing theoretical underpinnings. There may be some courses of study that have more practical components than others. Another approach is do your own planning and packaging of your learning plan. Let’s face it – tertiary study is a series of related modules of learning accompanied by accredited assessment. A parchment may be important to you and if so, you should take this route. However, if it isn’t, and you know where you’re headed, you may be able plan your own long-term learning plan by connecting a series of diverse learning opportunities that build upon each other.
Sharing is caring.
One of the biggest challenges is finding the time for professional learning. Can you negotiate paid or unpaid time off to do this? To achieve this, there might be part of your role that you can ‘package up’ for another which provides them with an opportunity for learning, as well as making sure the organisation does not have only one person knowing it.
Soft and hard. We can sometimes focus purely on task-based skills and knowledge and not enough on the soft skills e.g. interpersonal, communication, emotional, pastoral. Another way to look at this is what do you need on a technical ↔ management spectrum. Rather than knowing about FBT, it might be about developing your people skills.
Ideas for professional learning