What is Learning-Centered Change?
I believe that learning is not just at the center of the work that we do with students, but is also at the center of the work that we do within our student affairs organizations. The fullest realization of impactful higher education practices involves centering learning for students, staff, and organizations. Further, I believe that learning and change are inextricably related. Effective change cannot occur without attention to learning and learning is a transformative activity that changes individuals and organizations.
What does it mean to center learning?
Just because we work at a college or a university does not mean that learning is at the center of what we do. This is one of the ironies of higher education and student affairs practice: we work at institutions of higher learning, but over time, our organizations and institutions have developed in ways that may actually hinder learning. As many colleges and universities have developed over time, student life and student affairs have been separated from the sphere of “learning.” The development of mind, body, and spirit that happens outside of the classroom has been framed as being a separate realm of “student development.” This disconnected concept of learning is also borne out in explicitly academic spaces, through pedagogy and instructional methods that treat knowledge as a commodity that can be transferred from an expert to a learner.
As higher education has changed, so too has our field’s understanding of learning, and re-framing of learning as the work of student affairs professionals. Our institutions have become more diverse and complex, and as the authors of Learning Reconsidered point out: “few of the assumptions on which our educational structures and processes were
based remain intact in the world of today’s students” (2004, p. 8). My practice of centering learning is one of reworking educational structures and processes based on updated assumptions about learning and higher education:
- Colleges and universities are comprised of learners with diverse experiences and needs. Diverse learners need diverse educational approaches.
- Learning is a “comprehensive, holistic, transformative activity that integrates academic learning and student development” (Learning Reconsidered, 2004, p. 2). The purpose of higher education is for students to learn as holistic beings, growing personally, interpersonally, and intellectually.
- Student affairs practitioners are educators of the whole student.
- Student affairs organizations must become learning organizations to adapt to changing contexts, environments, and forces in higher education. Becoming a learning organization is an intentional, focused change process.
Areas of Speciality and Expertise
As a residence life practitioner, I have been responsible over the past two years for leading the research, development and implementation of a curricular model for residential education at a large, public, residential campus. Guided by ACPA’s Residential Curriculum approach, I have integrated research, data, and theory to build an out-of-classroom curriculum to enhance residential students’ personal, interpersonal, and intellectual development. The Residential Curriculum Approach addresses the changing nature of residential living on campus, allowing us to be more responsive to student retention and persistence trends, increased student behavioral, wellness, and mental health concerns, and the mission and vision of our institutions. I have engaged numerous campus stakeholders, trained staff at all levels, overseen curriculum development and writing by collaborative workgroups, and delivered long and short-term plans to manage this implementation.
Organizational Learning and Assessment
As a scholar-practitioner, I value evidence-based practice and actively promote environments of learning and inquiry. In my professional experiences, I have enhanced the quality and breadth of assessment and evaluation techniques related to residence education, including conducting action research about staff and student staff experiences, developing systems to track and gather data on student interactions and interventions from professional and student staff, and incorporating integrated assessment techniques into a curricular model. Additionally, I focus on developing learning organizations, designing intentional training and learning experiences for professional and student staff, engaging in frequent reflection and evaluation, and promoting dialogue. My identity as an educator is one that I carry with me not only in the classroom, but in meetings, trainings, and conversations throughout my work experiences.
Supervision and Staff Development
Our supervisory relationships are some of the most important relationships in our professional lives. In my years of experience supervising full-time professionals, graduate students, undergraduate students, and with functional supervision, I have developed a learning-centered supervisory philosophy. Moreover, I have learned that the most important place to focus learning and improvement as a supervisor is on myself. Effective supervision requires motivating, inspiring, and supporting staff, and continuous learning and growth for everyone involved.