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DIY Professional Development
Laura Day Giarolo, Director of Learning & Community Engagement, OPERA America
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Original Content8/4/2011

Editor's Note:
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Conferences and informal conversations alike provide opportunities for professionals to learn from and share with one another, building on the strength of their shared experiences. OPERA America provides several opportunities for mentors, mentees and peer groups to reconnect through in-person Forums, online chats and listserv conversations, and other arts organizations and arts service organizations offer similar services. Weekly or monthly e-newsletters (like OperaLink) have been known to spark conversations around the water cooler, but many of the more recent transformations in do-it-yourself professional development (DIYPD) have come through the blogosphere and through social and professional networking sites.

Start your own DIYPD journey by subscribing to e-mail services like Thomas Cott’s You’ve Cott Mail and by updating your subscriptions to OPERA America’s listservs. Cott’s service started as an e-news clipping service back in the day when many organizations didn’t have Internet access, and he continues to send a daily e-mail of highlights and articles that are well worth a read. The OPERA America listservs provide peer-to-peer connections among the staff of opera companies so that professionals in education, marketing, development and other specialties can put their heads together on pressing issues in the field.

Interested parties can subscribe to OPERA America’s RSS feeds for Headlines in Opera, Jobs and Member Announcements. Multiple RSS feeds and blog subscriptions can be easily managed through Google Reader, a free service to anyone with a Google account, and these provide for some pretty interesting conversations around the OPERA America office. Some are more readily translatable to the opera field than others, but all have provoked some deep thoughts:

More interactive sharing and learning can be found on LinkedIn, through groups that cater to people from different professional specialties and specific fields. A completed LinkedIn profile makes it easy to connect with colleagues and business acquaintances — think of it as Facebook without the photos or wall posts, and dressed up in a suit and tie. Groups like Performing ArtsAdministrators cater to professionals from all performing arts disciplines across all areas of work, and group members can create and comment on conversations. (In fact, this article was inspired by this conversation within the Performing Arts Administrators group and this conversation within the Technology in the Arts group.) Regional groups, as well as affinity groups for emerging leaders, arts service organizations and even college and university alumni groups can provide food for thought to arts professionals. To find other groups that may be of interest, browse the group directory or surf your contacts’ profiles to see what they’re part of and join.

Nothing will ever replace the value of face-time for networking, learning and sharing, and when creating a DIYPD plan it’s important to take into account the local, regional and national gatherings that you wish to attend. If you’re unable to travel, seek out alternative ways of benefiting from the gathering — many organizations will stream their plenary sessions or archive recordings for future reference (like the 2010 and 2011 Opera Conferences), and others offer fully virtual conferences.

Make your professional development a priority. Work with your colleagues to use what you have learned, and let us know what you’d like to learn and share at Opera Conference 2012 in Philadelphia, and what you’ve gained through your own DIYPD! 
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