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EPAF and Professional Development

You’ve heard all the terms. Sharpening the saw. Keeping your edge. Renewing your purpose.

They all describe professional development activities and imply that we all should be engaged in some kind of ongoing learning. But finding the resources — the time, finances and energy — to step away from our to-do lists and focus on learning a new skill, engaging in something unfamiliar and challenging our status quo is not easy.Man speaking during EPAF Tuesday abstracts

That’s why I support the UF/IFAS Extension Professional Associations of Florida (EPAF) annual conference and actually look forward to engaging with my colleagues to not only learn what they are doing and doing well but explore new ideas. Being with this group is both energizing and empowering.

Sure, it’s hard to be away from the office for a few days, but once I get with the UF/IFAS Extension faculty and staff, I am reminded of the great ideas and  passion for making a difference that UF/IFAS Extension faculty demonstrate on a daily basis. I would even go so far as to say that commitment and enthusiasm are part of our DNA as Extension professionals.

This year, we visited the Edison and Ford Winter Estates as part of our kickoff event. How appropriate to be inspired by two of the most innovative and entrepreneurial minds of the 20th century, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, as we as an organization work to be more entrepreneurial and innovative in this 21st century.

Commitment and enthusiasm are part of our DNA as Extension professionals.

Tuesday, faculty shared their best practices and innovative programs in protecting water quality, using social media in Florida 4-H programming, growing  sweet potatoes in northeast Florida, cold tolerant citrus production for northern Florida, and even  teaching life skills with peanut butter and jelly.

We also visited the Babcock Ranch, a 17,000 acre planned community for a day-long program about food systems and the importance of agriculture to all UF/IFAS Extension program areas. Babcock Ranch is designed with innovation in mind and sets a new standard for sustainable Florida living. With an eye on conserving the natural environment, this community is high-tech without sacrificing sustainable practices. We learned how many of the principles we teach are put to use in a planned community.

But professional development needs to be part of our everyday approach to our job — not just a once-a-year activity. I hope that every UF/IFAS Extension staff member works to integrate learning into their daily routine. Follow an inspirational leader online, read a blog, or enroll in a community class or one of the university’s professional development courses. Visit the UF/IFAS Extension Program Development and Evaluation Center website and enroll in in-service training. View one of the Center for Public Issues Education’s webinars or UF/IFAS Communications’ webinars.

As educators, we need to be champions of knowledge and model life-long learners. The EPAF experience is a fantastic incentive to get hooked on learning and professional development. Let’s keep it alive all year long.

Follow me on Twitter @nplace01.