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Creating a Comprehensive Professional Development Program

By Bonnie Solt Prunty, Director of Residential Life and Judicial Affairs and Assistant Dean of the First Year Experience at Ithaca College

During the interview process many candidates when asked “What is different about supervising student staff versus professional staff?” indicate “the commitment to professional growth and development”. Yet as professional staff supervisors how do we ensure a quality professional development program for our staff? In order to provide a high quality professional development program it must be comprehensive and should include the following components:

  1. A Competency -Based Model
  2. An Opportunity for Self Reflection
  3. The Creation of Professional Goals
  4. In House Training and Professional Development Programs
  5. Professional Buddies or Mentors
  6. Involvement in Professional Organizations
  7. Experiential Learning Opportunities
  8. Evaluation

A Competency Based Model - You can create a competency based professional development program in a variety of ways. You can work with the senior level staff in your department to identify the skills a professional staff member needs to be successful in his/her position at your institution. You can add to this list of competencies any skills you believe your professional staff members will need to be prepared to move to a next level position. If this process seems too time consuming you can start with the competency list used by the National Housing Training Institute 1991 Dunkel, Grimm, Schreiber. This list of 50 competencies was developed following a survey of Senior Housing Officers from the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I) in 1990. You can also use the updated list of 57 competencies resulting from research done by Diane Porter, Ph.D. in 2005. You can get copies of either of these competency lists through the ACUHO-I online library.

Your list of competency areas can then become the basis for identifying the content of your in house training and development opportunities.

The Opportunity for Self-Reflection – Using the competency list you can then develop a self reflection tool that requires staff to rate the degree of competence they currently have in each area. In addition to rating their degree of competence you can also have each staff member rate the degree of importance they place on each area. Staff members will want to work first on developing in areas that they identify as very important where they currently rate themselves as having low competence.

The Creation of Professional Goals - Staff members should work with their supervisors to develop yearly professional development goals. These goals should reflect how they are going to gain greater competence in the areas they have identified as needing improvement. Professional goals should be specific and measurable. The core of successful goal and objective setting is an ongoing dialogue between supervisors and those individuals that they provide direction for. Try to make sure that your supervisees’ goals meet the SMART test. Their goals should be

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Timely

Once the goals are written supervisors should check in frequently to discuss the progress each staff member is making in achieving his/her goals.

In House Training and Professional Development Programs - Every new professional staff member needs training to orient them to their new department, new institution, and new position. Their training schedule should be designed to include sessions covering the areas you have identified as core competencies necessary for your staff to be able to be successful in their position. Your ongoing professional development program can then focus on building further skills in these core competencies or can expand to include other competencies that you have identified as important skills for staff to develop in order to successfully obtain a next level position. Training and development sessions can be offered in a variety of formats including presentations, online courses, reading assignments, discussion groups and case studies. Further development can also happen through the individual supervisory meetings. As a supervisor you can use these meetings to discuss and problem solve real student, judicial, and supervisory issues professional staff members are addressing in their areas.

Professional Buddies and Mentors - Just like students, professional staff members tend to learn the best from their peers. One way you can provide professional support and development for your staff is to assign each new staff member a professional staff buddy. This buddy should be a staff member who is in a similar position and is an experienced staff member. During the initial training period the new staff member and their buddy should meet a couple times a week to share additional information and answer questions about material presented in training sessions. As the academic year progresses the buddies should check in with each other periodically and especially before each new departmental process.

In addition to providing staff buddies it is sometimes helpful to match new staff with more seasoned professional mentors who may work in the same department or in other areas at the institution. These professional mentors can provide another venue for professional staff to discuss their professional goals, identify different opportunities to gain experience, and assess different career options. The mentors can also help staff members become oriented to and develop a sense of connection with you institution.

Involvement in Professional Organizations - One of the best ways you can encourage the development of your professional staff is to encourage them to become actively involved in professional organizations. You can do this in a variety of ways. First you should work with your department to make sure that there is professional development funding available to support professionals who want to attend conferences. You can also involve staff by inviting them to present at conferences with you. If funding does not permit your staff members to attend a national conference encourage them to take advantage of regional conferences, drive-in conferences, or on-line training programs. You can also have staff become involved by encouraging them to write for professional publications.

Experiential Learning Opportunities - One of the ways a supervisor can help their professional staff meet their goals is by looking to provide work-related opportunities to further develop their skills. Think carefully about the competencies each staff member is trying to develop as you assign people to committees, select committee chairs and determine who is going to take leadership for new departmental projects.

Additionally, you can provide excellent development opportunities by creating an auxiliary assignment program. In this kind of program you can allow staff members, who have been in their position for a year or more, to work a specified number of hours in another office on campus. This kind of program is a win-win situation for the staff member and your department. The staff member has the opportunity to develop connections with other staff members at your institution, to learn about a different office, to develop new skills and to explore their interest in working in other areas of higher education. Your office benefits because you maintain experienced staff for a longer period of time, help staff develop new skill sets, and promote positive relationships with other offices on campus.

Evaluation - In order to have a successful competency bases professional development model it is important to have a feedback loop. This means staff evaluations must assess the progress the staff member is making toward meeting their professional development goals. Evaluation forms should be modified to include ratings in the competency areas you have identified as essential for the success of your professional staff members.

As a professional staff supervisor you know a high quality professional staff development program is a terrific investment in your staff. Incorporate the components outlined above to create a comprehensive program for your professional staff.

About the Author:

Bonnie Solt Prunty is the Director of Residential Life and Judicial Affairs and Assistant Dean of the First Year Experience at Ithaca College. Bonnie has worked at Ithaca in a variety of Residential Life positions over the past 20 years. Prior to working at Ithaca she was a Residence Director at Syracuse University. She graduated with a Masters Degree in Student Personnel Services from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelors Degree in Business from Lehigh University.