One of the primary roles of residence life professionals is to advance student learning. But given the myriad of hats and tasks that housing and residence life professionals take on, it can sometimes become lost in the mix. It requires professionals to remain vigilant. When developing educational plans, writing position descriptions, and training staff, these processes should be constantly evaluated in against what they do to advance student learning. Staff members should also be familiar with the justifications and reasons why advancing student learning is so important to their work.
The literature on student learning in higher education and student affairs settings from the past few decades has been clear that a revolution needs to take place. The Student Learning Imperative, Powerful Partnerships, and Learning Reconsidered 1 & 2 have consistently reiterated the need for institutional transformation that places student learning at the center of what residence life and student affairs professionals do. These documents serve as excellent guides when developing a residential curriculum or alternative educational models in residence life.
The following provides some links to the documents as well as select quotes that encapsulate their message:
“Both students and institutional environments contribute to what students gain from college. Thus, the key to enhancing learning and personal development is not simply for faculty to teach more and better, but also to create conditions that motivate and inspire students to devote time and energy to educationally purposeful activities, both in and outside the classroom.”
Powerful Partnerships: A Shared Responsibility for Learning (1998) “People collaborate when the job they face is too big, is too urgent, or requires too much knowledge for one person or group to do alone. Marshaling what we know about learning and applying it to the education of our students is just such a job. This report makes the case that only when everyone on campus–particularly academic affairs and student affairs staff–shares the responsibility for student learning will we be able to make significant progress in improving it.”
Learning Reconsidered (2004) “Learning Reconsidered is an argument for the integrated use of all of higher education’s resources in the education and preparation of the whole student. It is also an introduction to new ways of understanding and supporting learning and development as intertwined, inseparable elements of the student experience. It advocates for transformative education – a holistic process of learning that places the student at the center of the learning experience.”
Learning Reconsidered 2 (2006) “Learning is fundamental to living and is, of course, the reason for higher education. But there are good reasons to rethink our ideas about learning—how it happens, what supports it, and what its outcomes are. The way in which we define and understand learning is critical to our effectiveness in working with students and professional colleagues.”
Focusing on student learning is more difficult than it may seem. It requires intentionality and continuous review to ensure that it is advanced and maximized. There are also a number of barriers to developing a learning-centered organization. Time and budget constraints can sometimes cause one to cut corners, hiring and training the right educationally-minded staff requires a consistent focus, and stakeholders and other partners can sometimes question the educative roles of student affairs professionals. Despite these headwinds, developing a clear and consistently communicated message about student learning is important in the development of a true residential education program.
Key Questions To Ask Yourself
- Are you an educator?
- Are you viewed as an educator?
- What are the challenges to you fully realizing your role as an educator?