As Part one of this series concluded, I mentioned the importance of aligning our (student affairs) work with “institutional anchors” to emphasize the contributions and illustrate the learning that occurs in our discipline. This will aid in closing the gap between student affairs and academic affairs and assist in a greater appreciation of the learning that occurs in both arenas.
As members of the academy, student affairs professionals must recognize that there are differences in how people define student success and we must effectively articulate our contributions in the language of the academy.
Too often we talk about leadership trainings and residence council meetings where pizza parties and snacks are what start the conversation, versus leading with the desired cognitive non-academic competencies or human relations skills that were taught. Additionally, when we are asked what we do, we often respond with our titles and not with what we teach and how we contribute to student learning.
I am of the opinion that we have to begin our conversations with
what it is we teach before we talk about what we “do”.
I would much rather hear about how we provide tools that allow students to successfully navigate formal and informal social networks, explain the importance of understanding interpersonal and intrapersonal communication or teach critical thinking skills and competencies instead of stating our titles.
There are a number of ways that we can start to educate our colleagues about the impact we have on student learning and begin the process of closing the gap between student affairs and academic affairs:
- Understand our “role” in the academy; we are all educators and we should act, speak, and behave accordingly. If we do this, we will be treated as such, educators and not “administrative bloat”. (No more second-class citizenship.)
- Effectively articulate our contributions to our colleagues; we have to stop talking about the intervention (pizza parties, ice breakers, and the like) and start talking in terms of the impact we have to the cognitive learning process as a result of our practices.
- Demonstrate our effectiveness through identified student learning outcomes and assessment; as members of the academy, we are not just practitioners, we are educators.
- Tie our expected learning outcomes to tangible and recognized learning domains; learning outcomes that are associated with institutional anchors such as employer’s expectations, the institution’s learning goals, or espoused values of the institution will help our counterparts in the academy understand our contributions to student success.
Using the aforementioned areas as a foundation for learning allows others to see the intentionality and connectedness of the out of class experience. Our disciplines vary based upon our areas of study and we contribute to the learning process in ways that are very difficult to duplicate in a formal classroom. I often say,
“Student affairs professionals are partners with our colleagues in academic affairs whereby the classroom provides the ‘formal’ education and the out of class learning provides ‘formative’ education, creating a holistic learning experience for our students.”
This is why our living learning laboratories or non-traditional classrooms (residence halls, recreation centers, student centers, student employment opportunities, clubs, organizations, leadership opportunities, etc.) are the best possible spaces to teach human relations skills and cognitive non-academic competencies that often require “on-time and real-time” execution.
Whether the learning happens in class or out of class, it is all important to the development of the student. As a result, it is imperative that student affairs professionals identify, communicate, articulate, and translate desired learning so others can begin to understand, appreciate and respect our contributions.
I am of the opinion that our work is NOT extra-curricular and should never be communicated or accepted as such. In fact, I would postulate that if the desired learning is clearly articulated and based in an “institutional anchor”, the experiences that happen in student affairs could and should be considered as important as what happens in the classroom.
Remember, student success has many forms and multiple definitions. It is up to you and me as members of the academy to continue helping others see our worth and impact in this incredible learning environment.
I welcome your questions, comments and thoughts. How do you communicate your work?
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dean Kenneth Elmore on Student Engagement Efforts