A Personal Reflection on Job Embedded Professional Learning

Cortney Graham Ameckson, Manager | June 2022

I became a high school civics and economics teacher the semester after I graduated from college. As a former educator, I have lots of memories of spending hours in professional development sessions intended to help prepare myself and colleagues for the school year, only for the learnings to be inapplicable to me or a repeat of things I already knew. A lot of these sessions took place outside of the classroom setting; Saturday mornings, after school, and on teacher workdays. 

Though a great opportunity to connect with colleagues, I still left these sessions with many questions unanswered and no information that directly related to the skills I wanted to strengthen and develop. I also knew there was no formal way to get these answers until it was time for my annual review or if I was lucky enough to get a meeting with my very busy mentor (who was also a teacher) or my grade level administrator. Teaching was my first “real job”, and though the professional development felt unfulfilling, I came to believe that all professional development sessions, no matter the profession, were one size fits all lectures or a refresher of skills that the organization wanted to make sure all employees had mastered. 

Shortly after leaving the classroom, I joined the EdFuel team, where I quickly learned that professional development does not have to be one-size-fits-all and that the development should not only enhance your skills and abilities to succeed in your current role but should also keep in mind your future goals and aspirations. I came to realize that strong professional development can occur during the workday, not after hours, and be integrated into your day-to-day job responsibilities. Enter the concept of job-embedded learning.

According to “Distinguishing Professional Learning from Professional Development” by  Lisa Scherff, professional development often “happens to teachers [and] is often associated with one-time workshops, seminars, or lectures, and is typically a one-size-fits-all approach.” Conversely, job-embedded professional learning is interactive and customized to the needs of the individual. It encourages teachers to “take responsibility for their own learning and to practice what they are learning in their own teaching contexts.”

In addition, job-embedded learning is collaborative, incorporates active learning, provides models, includes coaching, and is sustained and continuous (Scherff, 2018). Though the concept of job-embedded professional learning was derived for educators; this concept can be applied broadly to include non-instructional roles and leadership teams, as well as roles in other industries like mine; finance and operations manager at a nonprofit organization. 

Based on my personal reflection and experience at EdFuel, here are a few ways you can ensure that staff at your organization have opportunities to learn and grow their skills on the job.

  • Continue the Conversation Beyond the Annual Performance Evaluation

I have found great value in discussing the goals and metrics covered in my annual review throughout the year through frequent check-ins with my manager. Meeting weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly with a manager to discuss progress and challenges on current workstreams or to discuss work performance more broadly is a great way to ensure that performance goals are being incrementally met and learning opportunities are explored on an ongoing basis. It is important to note that these check-ins should be employee-led, which allows for the employee to raise questions and concerns and allows the manager to serve in a coaching role, which is a key element of job-embedded learning. For example, as I was working on our organization’s budget, I discovered the need for a way for budget owners to keep track of their spending. I was able to bring this need to my manager and she empowered me and coached me through solving this problem. I have also found that by engaging in these frequent conversations with my manager, when it is time for my performance evaluation, a lot of the feedback has already been discussed and the conversation is more focused on updating my goals and reflecting on the progress that has been made over the course of the past year. 

  • Utilize the 70/20/10 model

Upon joining the EdFuel team I was introduced to the 70-20-10 approach to professional learning. Pioneered by the Center for Creative Leadership, the 70-20-10 approach focuses 70% of development on on-the-job training, 20% on coaching and mentoring, and 10% on formal training and self-study. This model was much different from the formal training I was used to as an educator. I found that this type of development planning, given that it was driven by me, forced me to put my professional goals and aspirations first and think of projects or tasks that I could complete that would stretch my current skills and abilities toward those goals within the context of my current role. When I first joined the EdFuel team, my role was less focused on finance and operations. After being exposed to some small finance projects, I began to grow an interest in this area and started to seek ways to grow my knowledge and skills. To start, my 70-20-10 plan focused on me owning a small piece of the budget and provided me with the coaching/mentoring and training that I needed to successfully complete the task. This scaffolded release of work eventually led me to be able to fully manage our organization’s budget process. In this way, I benefited from growing this skill and so did the organization.

  • Create a Culture of Knowledge-Sharing and Collaboration

It is important for organizations to create a strong culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration. By sharing knowledge and encouraging employees to work together, everyone benefits and more learning occurs. Learning does not always have to be formal; there have been lots of things that I have casually learned on check-in calls with colleagues or just by simply asking someone to walk me through their process. This learning could be as small as new Excel formulas or as big as how to structure a presentation for maximum participant engagement. It is common practice at EdFuel to grab time on someone’s calendar to “pick their brain” on something that you know they do exceptionally well.  By encouraging employees to do so, you create an environment where frequent (and informal) learning occurs not just vertically, but laterally as well. It also allows you to utilize the knowledge and strengths that you already have to help support your colleagues.

Job-embedded learning has helped to take my career to the next level. I have acquired new skills and discovered new interests, all while succeeding in my current role and preparing myself for what is to come in the future. We’d love to hear how you’re approaching job-embedded professional development in your own organization. Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn to continue the conversation!