Professional Development

Individualized Professional Development Plans to Support Career Pathways

Success in any career requires the continued development of skills and knowledge. This is not an automatic process. Instead, it begins with a vision and a strategy. It requires a commitment to lifelong learning, continuing effort, and accountability. Setting career goals is an excellent means of self-motivation and actively steering one's life toward their desired direction. This page explores Individualized Professional Development Plan (IPDP) tools and resources that program leaders can use to help staff identify and pursue career pathways.

Professional development is especially important for staff in early childhood education because they must continuously keep their skills and knowledge current to keep pace with the field. It also gives staff a competitive advantage in achieving their career goals. Benefits of professional development for employees may include:

  • Increased earning potential
  • Networking opportunities
  • A boost in confidence
  • Enhanced competency, capacity, and service delivery for children and families
  • Timely attainment of required credential degrees or certifications

For Head Start programs, professional development helps ensure effective delivery of comprehensive services to enrolled children and families.

Are Head Start programs required to support employee professional development?

Two women looking at a computer screen.The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) require program leadership to implement a systematic approach to training and professional development for staff (45 CFR §1302.92(b)). Programs must also collaborate with employees to create a professional development plan that is regularly evaluated (Sec. 648A(f)). Employees share the responsibility of investing in their own professional development by contributing to discussions and planning.

When considering an employee's individual professional development, the 70-20-10 rule is an important concept. It emphasizes that:

  • 70% of all learning is experiential – reflective practice, hands-on experience, team project, rotational assignment, volunteer work
  • 20% is social – networks, mentors, coaches
  • 10% is formal –  structured courses, professional development workshops

While the Office of Head Start does not require a specific form or method for building professional development plans with staff, an IPDP can help employees achieve their goals.

What is an Individualized Professional Development Plan?

An IPDP is a written plan developed by the employee and their supervisor that outlines career goals and describes the steps the employee needs to take to meet the necessary competency requirements. It directs the employee through self-assessment and reflection and helps them identify the learning and development objectives for their chosen career pathway they want to pursue. An IPDP plan with explicit goals provides structure for future learning and a blueprint for achieving goals at every stage of a career.

The IPDP also serves as a reference tool to track progress, set new goals, and adjust career plans as needed. It can also be used to communicate career objectives and achievements to direct supervisors and other professional contacts. Creating and following an IPDP encourages staff to take ownership of their professional development and enhance their career opportunities.

Why should Head Start programs invest in having staff complete IPDPs?

Ensuring that all staff have an IPDP requires the Head Start program to make an investment of time, finances, and energy. However, research shows that the return on investment can be significant not only for the individual, but also for the organization. Investing in employee professional development can help programs:

  • Combat the nationwide skills shortage 
  • Stay up to date with industry and technology trends
  • Increase engagement and reduce turnover
  • Aid in succession planning
  • Increase earning potential
  • Provide networking opportunities
  • Attract better talent
  • Boost confidence
  • Enhance competency, capacity, and service delivery for children and families
  • Ensure the timely attainment of required credential degrees and certifications 

What is involved in developing an IPDP?

Career development is a valuable opportunity for individuals to identify their potential career goals and create a road map to achieve them. A well-designed professional development plan should consider an individual's aspirations, motivations, preferred learning styles, and encompass their overall career path, rather than focusing solely on their current job responsibilities. This may include continuing education or training to fulfill the requirements of a current position or exploring a new career pathway.

The IPDP Guide provides information programs can use and a process to design and document one's professional development efforts. The process and related forms may be of special interest to programs without a formal approach to staff professional development or programs exploring planning options. The sample forms in IPDP Profile and Action Plan Sample can help staff and their supervisor or human resources specialist explore potential career goals and plan steps to achieve them.

Check out the IPDP Decision Tree infographic for a visual representation of key considerations when creating an IPDP and addressing HSPPS and local program requirements.


A closeup view of the hands of two people taking notes.Review step-by-step instructions and other considerations in the IPDP Profile and Action Plan Guide.

STEP 1: Complete the IPDP Profile.

The IPDP Profile helps staff reflect on their skills, knowledge, interests, and abilities. The completed form provides valuable information for an individualized professional development action plan.

STEP 2: Create IPDP Action Plan.

The IPDP Action Plan is developed by the staff and the supervisor or a human resource professional. It captures career goals and outlines the steps, resources, and time frames expected to achieve desired career goals. The form includes a mid-point review date for revising the plan. The IPDP Action Plan provides space for one goal. Use one Action Plan for each career goal and make additional copies of the form as needed.

STEP 3: Document progress.

The IPDP Action Plan, Follow-up Notes, and Status Updates helps staff capture meetings and identify personal barriers, coaching opportunities, related resources, and additional considerations as needed.

Here are some tips for developing IPDP goals

While vision defines the direction of development, goals and action plans support professional development outcomes that bring the greatest rewards.



Is the goal clearly written, with no uncertainty?


What is the metric that will show you have accomplished the goal?


Does the goal stretch you while still being possible? Will the goal make a difference in your career? Will the goal significantly impact your work in the field of early childhood education?


Does the goal connect to your true direction? Can you get support to achieve the goal?
Do you have all the resources needed? Are the expected results realistic?


Does the goal state a clear and specific completion date?

Things to consider when developing IPDP goals:

  • Identify desired career goal. Goals should be simple and clearly define what will be done. Consider the SMART model for writing goals.
  • List steps needed to achieve the goal. Examine and identify gaps in training and education.
  • Identify key resources needed to achieve the goal. These might include training and professional development, non-credit training or college courses, financial resources, coaching, mentors, etc.
  • Create a timeline to review and revise the IPDP plan as needed.
  • Identify potential challenges that may prevent goal achievement and ways the program and staff can address them.
  • Consider how to measure progress toward   achieving goals and how and when to adjust the plan if needed.
  • Schedule regular meetings to assess the need for additional resources, determine if adjustments to the plan are necessary, and celebrate progress toward goals.
  • Encourage staff to share their goals. Telling others about goals boost accountability and commitment to the action plan.

Resources to Support the IPDP ProcessA man and woman in front of a computer screen.

The resources below can help program leaders and staff develop individualized professional development plans and work toward career goals.

The following example IPDP forms show how plans can support individual growth and development, as well as succession management for staff in various roles.