Transitioning to a residential curriculum is as much about educational plan development as it is about organizational change. The reason for this is that curricular approaches are often paradigmatic change–change predicated on an entirely new set of premises. In other words, rather than just rearranging the furniture in the room, you’re changing the entire room itself. Because of this, there are many implications for how your organization itself may need to change to account for a curricular focus. Chief among these changes may be related to your staff member duties, and your staff selection, training, and development plans.
Part of the change to curriculum requires you to take a hard look at how your staff position descriptions are written and the duties required of each staff member. Transitioning to a curricular approach need not be more work, but it is different work. Therefore, in reviewing staff member position descriptions, one may need to re-evaluate practices and determine if it remains an effective use of staff time and if the duties suggested are in line with the skills the staff member was hired for.
If your department has a heavy operational focus, this may require you to look at ways to free up your staff to focus more on their educational efforts. Although this may be more easily accomplished in larger departments, which typically have more staff members allowing for centralization and specializing, this is also possible for smaller schools. For smaller schools, technology may be beneficial to increasing staff efficiency. Furthermore, one may be able to swap duties between staff members that are more appropriate to their skill development and backgrounds. This idea is illustrated in the curriculum essential element related to student staff members and aligning duties that are appropriate to them.
Another area related to staff duties is determining “who” is responsible for the curriculum. Many of the most successful curricular approach schools typically have one (or a few) staff member(s) designated as the lead(s) to make sure the curriculum continues to evolve and that assessment feedback loops result in continuous improvement. At some larger campuses, there may be a specific staff member who is hired with curricular development as their primary role. At other intuitions, this is a shared responsibility. Regardless of how leadership is determined, curriculum should be a shared and mutually owned effort by all the staff.
Changing staff member duties can be a difficult process. Change is a difficult process. As your curricular efforts evolve it’s highly likely you will encounter resistance. Staff members who may have been hired with one set of expectations will find their work changed. This is particularly prominent with student staff members who may have been hired with the model of their previous experience in mind. Therefore, throughout this change process, it is integral to be open, transparent, and clear in your communications. Engaging returning staff members in the change process is key, while also making it clear that this change is moving forward. Be open to slowing your timeline for change implementation and adjusting the scope of your curriculum to keep work loads at a reasonable level and disruption to relative minimum.
How you select your staff members also changes under a curriculum. Curricular schools put an emphasis on student learning and therefore will look for staff members with strong backgrounds in educational and developmental theory. This need not be limited to traditional student affairs degrees. Candidates with experience in teaching and curriculum as well as psychology may provide expertise that can be useful in your curricular development. Part of the selection process entails knowing what to hire for and knowing what can be trained on. In most cases, the nuts and bolts of the curricular approach can be trained on, but general knowledge of student learning and developmental theory cannot be easily replicated.
How you structure the interview process may also change under a curriculum. Having a case study, presentation, or asking candidates to develop sample facilitation guides can all give you insights into their skills and abilities in focusing on student learning. As outlined in a previous post about using rubrics in hiring processes, you can also apply elements of curricular design to test for candidate knowledge and skill. Focusing on these themes will also help candidates determine if your position is the right one for them.
Change in staff selection processes also extends to student staff. Under a curricular approach, you will likely no longer be biased towards extroverts with programming skills. Instead, you will likely look for peer leaders with strong interpersonal, helping, and low-level counseling skills. Hiring for these skills may require you to ask different questions in your application process and re-envision what group and individual interview processes may look like.
Staff Training and Development
Once selected, staff need to be trained. Training on the curricular approach does not just occur once at the start of a staff member’s employment, but is more of a continuous journey that will start with the basics during an onboarding process supplemented throughout the year through continuing professional development. It is imperative that staff are continually trained and retrained in the curricular approach.
Many institutions utilize different methods for initial training and re-training on the curricular approach. Some send new staff members to ACPA’s Institute on the Curricular Approach (ICA) (Formerly the Residential Curriculum Institute (RCI)) every year. The Institute is an excellent way to ensure all staff members are thoroughly trained in curricular basics. While the Institute provides significant value, costs may make it difficult for all new staff members to attend. As a result, many institutions may replicate a similar institute experience on their own campus either internally or with the help of an outside facilitator. They instead reserve formal Institute attendance to key point people in their curricular development.
During these on campus Institutes, and especially during staff member on boarding processes, all staff members should become acquainted (and re-acquainted) with the theories and documents that guide the unique aspects of the curriculum at your institution. During the archeological dig process in developing the curriculum, it’s likely that you identified specific theories on which your curriculum is based and important institutional documents that guide your learning objectives. Make sure that staff members are provided with these documents, read and review these documents, and understand them through application and discussion. These foundational materials should be continuously reviewed for new insights or to determine if they continue to fit with your curriculum and industry and institutional trends.
Continuing on from these initial yearly on-boarding and training processes, it is important to establish a culture of learning and assessment around curricular related topics. You might have brown bag discussions on key articles related to student learning, or utilize social media to share inserting articles and blog posts (such as this one). The department can also bring in speaker and consultant experts in student learning and curriculum. Periodic curriculum review retreats can help ensure that there is dedicated time devoted to curricular development that may be overlooked when staff members are unable to step away from day-to-day duties.
Training will also look different for student staff members. Although they are not educational experts, it is important to help student staff members understand the learning and developmental processes they and their fellow students undergo while in college. Furthermore, you should help student staff members understand how departmental learning goals and outcomes were derived so they better understand the role they play in this work. Many institutions who have transitioned to curriculum teach their student staff members the basics of developmental and learning theory. Furthermore, they share goals and outcomes and demonstrate to student staff how these were arrived at.
For student staff practice, it is important to ensure the staff members have a solid set of leadership skills in place for the types of strategies they will enact in the curriculum. Whereas under programming models, event planning skills may have been paramount, under a curriculum, skills such as group facilitation, counseling, and interpersonal communication may become more important. The transition to a curriculum is an excellent way to develop a leadership training for staff members that connects to broader themes. You may consider mirroring the process of curriculum development in your development of a training program to model how this is put into practice.
Transitioning to a residential curriculum can touch all aspects of your department and staff. More than just a new model, it also requires a change in the way one works. To this end, a close examination of staff duties as well as how they are selected and trained is a key stage in the process. At its core, this re-examination requires staff to think differently about the way they do their work and how the department structures and rewards that work. Although change and transition are hard, there are ways that you can include all staff in these processes that ensures a smoother transition to a learning-centric curricular organization.
- When is the last time you reviewed staff member duties and responsibilities? How might these change under a curricular framework?
- What should be hired for and what can be trained on?
- How are you ensuring all staff members are knowledgeable and capable of enacting a curricular approach?
- How do you ensure ongoing training on learning and curricular concepts?
- How will you manage the transition with your current staff?