Who, Where, and How to Engage Partners and Stakeholders in a Residential Curriculum

Educational and curricular efforts exist in context. Furthermore, residence life and education departments do not exist on an island. When developing a campus or residential curriculum, it is important to identify partners and stakeholders early on and include them in the curriculum design process. This inclusion can include stages from planning to implementation, and throughout assessment and review processes.

Potential Residential Curriculum Stakeholders

Who are these partners and stakeholders?

Partners and stakeholders can be both internal and external. Internal partners and stakeholders are those within your own department. For example, in residence life, they can include your resident assistants, professional staff, residents, and student leadership organizations (such as your hall governments or Residence Hall Association). External partners can include on-campus constituencies (such as student affairs departments or faculty), or off-campus constituencies (such as parents or community members).

What is the potential impact on these stakeholders?

The transition to a curricular approach entails a complete rethink in the way one approaches and accomplishes their work. Because of this, a shift towards a curricular paradigm can have a profound impact on internal and external stakeholders. For internal stakeholders, moving to a curricular model can impact everything from position descriptions, to how staff are selected, trained, supervised, and evaluated. Change in these areas can often be difficult. Therefore, it is imperative that departments transitioning to a curricular approach engage their staff members and students in a transparent way that involves everyone in the process. Not all staff members or students will want to help in the transition, however. It’s probable that a department may find resistance amongst staff members who have different ideas as to the direction of the department. Perhaps these staff members were hired with a skill set that is no longer suited to the work or maybe they have been with the organization for years and are invested in the status quo. Knowing potential reactions to change from staff members and students can help departmental leadership prepare and include these stakeholders in the journey.

External partners are also impacted in the transition to a curriculum in a way that may change previous ways of interacting and open up opportunities for new partnerships. Reestablishing relationships with existing partners often requires you to help educate your colleagues about how the curricular approach is different. Part of this process is establishing credibility. Partners often possess expertise that you may lack. You can gain traction with these partners by sharing the principles of the curricular approach and how it is predicated on building deep and lasting relationships with campus partners. Besides educating partners about the curricular approach itself, another strategy is to start with your mutual learning goals and outcomes and look for areas of overlap. If previous programs and other engagement activities do not reach towards these newly articulated goals, discuss how you can re-envision these activities for mutual wins. Also be on the look out for initiatives from partners that you may wish to support by bringing the initiatives into the residence halls or by designing your own curricular strategies that can help support your campus partner’s goals. Engaging with external partners requires relationship building, crossing real and perceived boundaries, and a commitment to honest communication about shared learning goals. Remember to always put student learning at the center.

Attitudes Towards Partnerships

How can you involve partners and stakeholders?

As you develop and implement your curriculum, campus partners and stakeholders can be involved in the process in numerous ways. They can be involved in the planning of your curriculum, the development and sequencing of learning objectives, and the development of facilitation guides. Partners can also be useful in the implementation of your strategies. One of the key insights of curriculum is that learning opportunities need not always originate within one’s own department in order to help in the achievement of stated learning objectives. Approaching external stakeholders to discuss partnerships is an excellent way to gain buy-in for the curriculum and an opportunity to achieve better mutual understanding of how your goals align. Finally, partners and stakeholders can also be useful in analyzing assessment data and in curricular review processes. This fosters further and deeper investment.

How can you foster investment by partners and stakeholders?

For your internal partners and stakeholders, it is critical that you include them in the journey towards a curriculum. Change can sometimes be intimidating for individuals and being transparent about the process and what the process entails can foster inclusion. Connecting the curriculum to the mission and strategic plans of the institution can help individuals connect the curriculum to broader themes in their own work. Finally, being clear in articulating the change, its benefits, and how this can transform your work (collectively and individually) can ensure that staff understand this is not just an incremental change, but a complete change in ways of working.

Many of the suggestions above also apply to external stakeholders and partners. Our external constituencies, however, often require more attention to their needs, an explanation of the benefits of a curricular approach, and an understanding of how they can fit into the overall picture. You’ll want to recognize your external partners’ expertise and include them in the development process (as appropriate). Depending on who these partners are and where they are situated, you may rely heavily on their content expertise, recognizing that this expertise does not exist solely within your own department.

There are a number of different factors that may influence how you engage your partners. Your unique institutional culture, intuitional trends, and the attitudes and disposition of the individual partners themselves can all have an impact. From some academic partners, there may even be prevailing attitudes that residence life staff shouldn’t be involved in working on “curriculum” at all. Engaging with partners, particularly external ones, can sometimes require cross-cultural communication skills that allow both parties to understand how they can fit into the overall goal of promoting student learning.

Outstretched Hand

What are the challenges and strategies for developing curricular partnerships?

Developing a curriculum is a journey that can take years before one feels they are on a solid footing. The transition to a curricular approach is as much about cultural and organizational change as it is about developing the nuts and bolts of your learning program. Don’t let fear of not having it “perfect” be a barrier for building partnerships. Begin with developing partnerships internally and with select external partners. Gaining buy-in from your internal stakeholders and partners is perhaps most important at the start of your journey. Keep it simple, be transparent, and model the types of learning community behavior you hope to foster through establishing your curriculum. This can help partners overcome fear and perceived loss of ownership. Overall, developing these partnerships requires time and dedication. It requires meeting with folks one-on-one, helping them understand why change is occurring, and the development of formal and informal relationships. By centering student learning throughout the process, it can provide you with a common ground and potentially deeper relationships than ever before.

Key Questions

  • Which current internal and external partners are critical to your success?
  • What new partners and stakeholders does the curriculum open you up to partner with?
  • What are the shared goals you may have with your potential and current partners and stakeholders?
  • How can you educate others about the curricular approach, why it is important, and why you are transitioning to this model?
  • What regular, sustained commitments can you make to ensure these relationships remain healthy?

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