Five Tips for Building Residential Curriculum “Buy-in”

In my 5 years of working with residential curriculum, there have been many successes and many failures. This is perfectly natural when developing a residential curriculum—you continuously review your strategies each year and adapt and refine your work over time. However, year after year, it seemed that buy-in was something that consistently came up as a source of frustration and an area of improvement for me and my team. In order to have a successful curriculum, staff members need to be invested at each stage in the curriculum development process and understand the reason and purpose behind the approach. In the following post, I detail some tips I learned along the way that aided in maintaining staff investment in our curriculum.

1. Buy-in Must Be Sought Regularly

After my first year of heading up the development of curricular efforts in my department, I asked for additional time with all of our staff members during the upcoming fall training. During this time, I worked with a colleague to re-emphasize the importance of curriculum and how it must be infused into the daily work of live-in professionals. We helped supervisors who had less contact with students understand that they still had a role to play.

As a result, we saw a better understanding of the approach and increased buy-in as we moved forward. However, the next year we didn’t ask for as much time during training and our issues of buy-in re-emerged. Buy-in and understanding is a constant battle. This isn’t just due to staff turnover. Successful departments should always make time to introduce, train, and re-train staff members on curriculum. These conversations should continue through professional development offerings over the course of the year.

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2. Learn When to Listen and When to Act

It is important that there is a decision-maker in organizations. One of the hardest parts of a curricular approach is figuring out when it is time to gather more information and perspectives and when it is time to make a decision and move forward. If you spend too little time gathering information, those who you will ask to implement the curriculum may feel cut out of the process and will be less invested. Conversely, if you spend too much time trying to get every perspective, you’ll be overcome with information and be unable to make a clear path forward.

As you’re developing your curriculum, consider who the major stakeholders are in a particular strategy and engage them. It is helpful to have as clear a direction as possible from departmental leadership to help frame the conversation. Staff members who are able to see their ideas listened to and implemented can be helpful advocates in building deeper relationships to advance the curriculum.

3. Recognize You Won’t Make Everyone Happy

There are some decisions that may seem inconsequential that later lead to discovering larger issues about the development and implementation of your curriculum. However, there are also going to be some decisions that are made with the best information available at the time that will inevitably generate unhappiness within your staff. Some of these are issues that have to do with content and some with logistics. Developing a curriculum is crash course in educational design and delivery and in organizational change management.

It is okay to be open to changes during implementation, but also recognize that the student experience should always be paramount. There is a difference between staff members providing feedback to improve the experience of residents and staff members complaining that they’re being asked to do too much (or different) work. Be willing to engage all staff in ongoing conversations about improving the curriculum, but be able to separate what is important and what may just be frustration with change.

4. Student Staff and Professional Staff Buy-in are Equally Important

While your professional staff members need to be well versed in the curricular approach, its design, and its goals, it is also important that student staff understand the curriculum and why your department utilizes this approach. Since student staff members have the most contact with residents, it is important that these front-line staff members are able to articulate the importance of the learning that occurs while students are living on campus. Additionally, in order to drive attendance and participation by residents, student staff members need to be informed about what is happening, and why, so they can craft engaging experiences that residents will relate to.

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5. Remove the Jargon

As you craft your residential curriculum, there are times that you will utilize educational theory and academic jargon to describe your work and goals. While this may be easily understood by your professional staff members, and can also be important in establishing credibility, it may also make the curriculum inaccessible to outsiders. Parents, residents, and campus partners that don’t speak the language of curriculum and instruction on a daily basis can be shut out. It is important that the language you use for your strategies and for the structure of your residential curriculum can be easily understood. The simpler the terms you use, the easier it will be to explain your approach to your internal and external stakeholders. Consider developing “translations” of your curriculum that you can use when communicating with these different audiences.

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