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How to Make Time for Professional Development

How to Make Time for Professional Development

With all the hats you wear as teachers & business owners (not to include the hats you wear in your personal life), professional development can feel like an “in the future” activity.  It’s imperative you make time for professional development in your schedule!

NOTE: This article includes an affiliate link.  This means, at no extra charge to you, I get a small fee when you sign up.  However, I only recommend things I believe will be of benefit to you.  In this case, a conference I’ve loved attending for the past 6 years (at the time of publishing).

Why make time?

I know what it’s like to look at a to-do list that just won’t quit.  It feels amazing putting a checkmark next to a done item.  But, something else will always take its place.  

I also know what it’s like to juggle personal commitments, little ones who need me NOW, & that never-ending to-do list.  Even when setting aside time, sometimes it can feel like the universe is conspiring against getting even the smallest task done.  As my kids would say, “Curse you, Perry the Platypus!”

But there is the truth that ensures I always have professional development time in my schedule.

Without regular professional development, it’s impossible to master your craft (teaching) & continue to have a successful business. 

Gone are the days when you can put some flyers on a mailbox & fill up the studio with kids from the neighbourhood.  Gone are the days when you can continue to have a full studio even though your teaching & marketing haven’t changed for decades.

There is one simple reason for this.  As other teachers & business owners join our profession, the marketplace for music lessons gets better.  This is great for our industry, but not so great if you aren’t growing with the industry.

We have made incredible gains in how we teach music, market our studios & present ourselves as professionals.  And, I see this trend continuing decade over decade.

How to make time

You are busy & need the most efficient ways to get that professional development.  So, I’m going to share my best time-tested tips on how to make time for professional development.

1. Build it into something you already do.

One of the best ways to make a new habit, like doing regular professional development, is to link it to something you already do.  

As I looked at the ever-growing stack of music education & business books on the shelf, I realized something needed to change.  What’s the point in buying books if they won’t get read?  But, like many teachers, this felt like one more thing to add to an already overloaded to-do list.

Then, one day I glanced up from my novel & had a moment of clarity.  My kids were reading comic books as they ate.  I know.  This doesn’t seem like a moment of clarity, but hear me out.  What if I switched out my novel for one of the books in my dusty professional growth stash?  

By reading just a few pages (or in some cases, even a whole chapter) at breakfast during the week, my stash suddenly started going down.  I even had to purchase (gasp) MORE books because I ran out!

Look for daily short-pockets of time when you can read, listen, or watch your professional development.

We’re not looking for a big block of time.  Just something you can add to a daily task.

Some ideas are:

  • Read at a mealtime (if this is something you already do)
  • Listen to a podcast or video while washing the dishes or making dinner
  • Read a book or listen/watch with headphones while the kids watch their own thing
  • Listen/watch while you work out
  • Listen to a podcast as you go for a walk

2. Make time on your calendar (or to-do list)

Some people want to schedule their day & set aside time for the important things.  In fact, many successful professionals do this.

Others, like me, find scheduling every moment exhausting & creatively draining.  It doesn’t mean we can’t be successful.  But, it does require a different approach.

I like using a “Big 3” approach.  Each day, I write down the most important 3 things I will get done (outside of my daily habits).  Before working on anything else, those 3 things get done so I know my day won’t go off the rails the moment I get emails or interruptions.

Be honest with yourself.  Which approach is the best for you?

If your kids constantly come to talk/show/complain/explain why they are better than their sibling, scheduling time in your calendar is the way to go.  Make sure they have something to occupy them at that time.  When my twins were toddlers, a couple of episodes of “Go, Diego, Go” & “Octonauts” were the only way to get time to myself!

If it isn’t outside forces, then a “Big 3” approach can work wonders.  Just remember that professional development time needs to be listed as a priority as it becomes a habit.  

We make time for the things important to us.  What does your schedule or daily “Big 3” say is important to you?

The good news is that small blocks of time each day will have an exponential effect on your growth as a teacher & success as a business.  Just like practicing an instrument, consistent daily time is better than occasional cramming sessions.  Even just fifteen minutes a day has made a massive difference in my own life!

3. Make time in your annual calendar

When I first started teaching piano, I’ll admit that going to conferences didn’t really appeal to me.  I had this vision of being back in the classroom.  With the exception of one school (which gave us options we could sign up for), every school I worked for would have all the teachers gather in a big room for a full day of sessions.  One or two might be interesting, but the majority left me wondering, “What does this have to do with me or my classroom?”  

Then, I went for coffee with Marian.  That was the start of a mentorship & friendship that continues today.  Marian was meeting with independent music teachers to find out more about where they went for support & what types of support/information they needed.  She understood conferences didn’t seem appealing with access to online information & community.  But, she also knew as an organization they could support newer teachers with the right information & access to professional development.

This led to joining Alberta Piano Teachers Association.  Not only was their community online, but I could get to know other music teachers in my city!  I discovered there were local get-togethers on a regular basis.  The next time the organization’s conference came around, I attended.  

I’ve written about MusicEdConnect for a few years now.  This is a virtual conference that I’ve attended since 2014.  I’ve loved the community of live attendees & presenters.  And, the range of topics each year makes the geek in me happy!

For both APTA events & the MusicEdConnect conference, I’ve made time in my annual calendar for this professional development.  It has meant organizing my teaching weeks around conferences & events.  But, it’s well worth it!

Annually set aside bigger blocks of time throughout the year when you “geek out” & your students have a change from their regularly scheduled lessons.

While you learn, your students could:

  • Attend a group lesson: Before or after the days you are learning.
  • Have an asynchronistic lesson: They send videos by a particular date.  You send a short video lesson back.
  • Challenge week:  Give students a challenge for the week & give a prize to each student that completes the challenge.
  • Music project:  Assign a project that students can do independently & share the next week.

In my studio, 2 of our group lesson weeks are scheduled strictly so I can attend the APTA & MusicEdConnect conferences.  My students love the fun change in the schedule.  And, we all love that I come back excited to share what I’ve learnt.  Plus, I think they get a kick out of their teacher becoming the student again!

Your professional development

If you are looking for some ideas for this next year, consider MusicEdConnect

It’s online but doesn’t skimp on the community we all love from in-person conferences.  You get access to recordings of all the live sessions until the end of the calendar year.  And, there are pre-recorded sessions as well.

To find out about the sessions, presenters & all the other goodies, visit MusicEdConnect.  This is an affiliate link.  The fee goes directly into keeping this site running & bringing articles, like this one, to you.

What is your best tip for making time for professional development?

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