Onboarding New Professional Staff to a Student Affairs or Residential Curriculum

Student Affairs offices, particularly those within residence life and education, typically see a steady turn over of professionals year-to-year. When building and maintaining a curriculum, it can sometimes be a challenge to onboard new staff members who (1) may not be familiar with the model at all or (2) are not familiar with your institution’s specific implementation of the curricular approach. There are a number of strategies you can employ to ensure greater traction and continuity for your curricular efforts while maintaining progress over time. The following are five strategies you can use to help in the successful onboarding for new staff members to a residential curriculum.

1. Keep your archeological dig documents updated and accessible.

One of the foundational steps of crafting a curriculum is completing an archeological dig. An archeological dig is a way of surfacing the relevant data and knowledge sources that will guide your curriculum and its resultant priority, goals, and outcomes. During this “dig” process, participants collect and audit of relevant educational theories and documents as well as institutional data including statements, philosophies, cultural artifacts, and assessments. After completing this audit, the educational priority is written and derived based on the uncovered information.

Maintaining, updating, and using the information collected during the archeological dig can be an excellent way of identifying what knowledge new staff members will need to be in successful in their roles. You may consider assigning new staff members reading from the key documents uncovered in your archeological dig. You can also use these documents for ongoing professional development and common reads. Staff can continuously add to these resources as the literature develops and your sophistication in these areas increases.

2. Document your curriculum.

Because the creation of a curriculum can sometimes be a messy process involving many partners and stakeholders–both internal and external–it is supremely important that you work to document the core of what informs your curriculum. This “core” includes items like (1) your educational priority statement, (2) your goal statements and related narratives, and (3) your outcome statements and related rubrics. You should also document and describe (1) the educational strategies you use in implementation, (2) the maps and inventories of your scaffolded and sequenced outcomes, and (3) your plans for implementation, delineation of responsibilities, assessment, and campus partner engagement.

Having all of these components in one summary document or set of summary documents will ensure you stay organized. Furthermore, revisiting and revising these foundational documents can help ensure that the curriculum’s consistency is maintained and that continuous improvement-through-revision is possible. For new staff members, these documents can be especially important in onboarding as they will provide the staff member with all of the key pieces of information they need to be successful.

on boarding

3. Make sure everyone own’s the curriculum.

Although the first two items entail physical documents and products that can help in onboarding staff with the knowledge required to be successful, the third strategy is more process orientated. In order to be successful, staff at all levels must own or “buy-in” to the curriculum. A curriculum cannot just be one staff member’s project or owned by a small committee. All staff must be involved in some aspect of continuously developing and maintaining the curriculum. Ensuring that curriculum is a team effort can help set a culture that welcomes new staff members into the learning community in a way that involves them in the process and sets expectations for engagement. Developing a curriculum is as much about organizational change and culture as it is the nuts and bolts of planning and development.

4. Share and utilize assessment data and analysis.

Part of developing buy-in and a culture of continuous improvement is ensuring that feedback loops are developed and maintained. The systematic sharing of assessment data can help with this. Staff at all levels need to understand how their participation in the curriculum helps in the achievement of learning objectives. Furthermore, through data sharing and analysis, staff can better engage with the curriculum. These assessments can also be useful tools for onboarding new staff members–allowing them to get more quickly up to speed on what is working well within the curriculum and what requires more work. This knowledge can help new staff set goals and understand where their energy is best focused.

5. Consider holding a “mini-ICA” each year during training.

Although the use of curricular methods is becoming increasingly popular at a number of institutions, it is still probable that recruited staff may possess varying levels of knowledge of what a curricular process is and how it works. Curricular development is a sophisticated process that can often take years of learning to become fully competent in. For this reason, many departments may choose to hold a “mini-ICA” on their campuses every year and typically during staff training time in the summer. A “mini ICA” borrows from the model created by ACPA’s Institute on the Curricula Approach, ICA, (Formerly the Residential Curriculum Institute, RCI) and replicates aspects of it to train all staff on the curricular process. Having all staff members attend the Institute every year is often cost prohibitive and holding an internal “mini ICA” can be a way of achieving some of the same ends. Sometimes the training is completely developed in house at an institution or an external facilitator is hired. Either way, continuous professional development and remedial education on the basics of curriculum development can be useful for returning and new staff alike.

Key Questions

  • How do you ensure that new staff members are appropriately onboarded for a residential curriculum?
  • What knowledge and skills must a new staff member possess in order to be successful in developing curriculum?
  • Do you maintain and continuously revise key documents that outline your curriculum?
  • How can you systematize the onbaording process and build continuous improvement into your organizational culture?

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