Hiring Professional Staff for a Residential Curriculum

When transitioning your residence life program to a residential curriculum model, it becomes increasingly important that you hire professional staff with the requisite skills and competencies to enact the curriculum. Although these skills are desirable in any residence life professional, they take on added importance in a residential curriculum. Some of the competencies required of staff under a residential curriculum include:

  • A strong command of student development theory, research, and trends
  • Ability to translate broad educational statements and philosophies into practice
  • Ability to write clear, specific and measurable learning outcomes
  • Ability to assess learning outcomes through multiple methods
  • Ability to translate student development theory into developmentally appropriate learning opportunities

Although some of these skills are taught in Higher Education and Student Affairs Master’s programs, many are not, and many candidates do not demonstrate a competency in them to the level required by a residential curriculum. These skills can be trained on-the-job, but it’s far easier if you can hire a candidate with a strong level of skill from the start. So how does one find these candidates?

One method is to follow the model of behavioral-style interviews. Behavioral-style interviews are predicated on the notion that the best indicator of future performance is how candidates performed in the past. Questions under this style typically ask for an example or a story of a time that a candidate did something or encountered something. For example:

  • Can you tell me about a time that you developed learning outcomes for an educational intervention and enacted them in practice? How did you arrive at these outcomes? How did you ensure they were present in the intervention? And how did you know you were successful?
  • Student affairs professionals are increasingly called upon to justify their work through data. Do you have an example of a time that you used assessment methods to measure the effectiveness of an educational intervention? How did you choose these methods and what methods did you choose? Did you measure what you set out to understand?

More generic interview questions are not able to achieve this level of specificity. If you ask a candidate if they can write learning outcomes, they are going to say yes. This doesn’t provide you with the answers that you need. Behavioral-style questions like these get at the candidate’s ability to actually do the actions prescribed and do them well.

Another approach you could take in interviewing candidates is through a demonstration or presentation. Provide the candidate with a statement of your educational priority and learning goals. Ask them to create a plan/presentation that includes specifics like: relevant theory, learning outcomes, justification for the appropriateness of those outcomes, strategies for achieving those outcomes, and assessment measures.

Then, in evaluating these presentations/demonstrations, use a rubric for scoring specific skills and competencies. For example, we may want to know about the candidate’s ability to write learning outcomes. You might create a rubric that looks something like this:

Candidate is unable to articulate any learning outcomes.
  • Candidate’s learning outcomes lack clarity, specificity and are not measurable.
  • Outcomes are a mismatch with the audience’s developmental capacity.
  • Outcomes are not achievable with the intervention and within the time frame suggested.
  • Outcomes cannot be assessed.
  • Candidate’s learning outcomes are somewhat vague, could be more specific, and measurability may be problematic.
  • Outcomes are at a questionably appropriate level for the audience’s developmental capacity.
  • Outcomes may not be able to be achieved by the intervention and/or within the time frame suggested.
  • Outcomes are difficult to effectively assess.
  • Candidate’s learning outcomes are clear, specific and measurable.
  • Outcomes are at the appropriate level for the audience’s developmental capacity.
  • Outcomes are reasonably achievable with the intervention and within the time frame suggested.
  • Outcomes are able to be easily assessed.

Rubrics such as these would need to be field-tested and modified as appropriate, but this rubric provides an example of the type you can develop. Utilizing this strategy in your hiring will give you far more specific and actionable information on which to make your hiring decisions. Furthermore, it’s possible that some of these skills may be more important than others and that some may be more easily taught than others. Take these factors into account when you’re making hiring decisions.

The beauty of these types of approaches is that they utilize many of the same principles and methods as the residential curriculum approach itself. ACPA’s Residential Curriculum Institute is also designed in this fashion. It utilizes the method while teaching the method. Roompact is a proud sponsor of the Institute.

Key Questions:

  • How do you hire staff for a Residential Curriculum? How is this different from past ways of hiring?
  • How can you incorporate real-world application scenarios into an interview?
  • What criteria would be important to include in a hiring rubric?

Image credit: Flazingo Photos

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