Following the publication of our posts on the RyersonSA Blog, Jordon's presentation at OACUHO, and the roundtable we co-hosted at CACUSS, we are both overwhelmed with the support of our colleagues and the number of people, both within Canada and abroad, that reached out to us looking for tips, tricks and strategies to enhance their student conduct program. In particular, colleagues were looking for ways to begin developing a conduct curriculum, implementing different and unique outcomes, and demonstrating student learning through intentional assessment practices. We have even had institutions reach out asking if we would be willing to travel to their campus to help guide them through the process. With that in mind, we wanted to put together some lessons that we learned along the way while we developed our conduct curriculum and assessment strategies.
To all those colleagues who reached out knowing nothing about us but appreciating our articles or presentations – thank you – and here is a brief introduction of us. Jordon and I both have backgrounds working in Residence and student conduct. We have worked at 4 institutions combined – 3 universities and one college; two large residence programs and two small. The variety of experience that we have gained has contributed to our own professional development, as well as our respective interests. As we progressed through our careers, Jordon always stayed interested in student conduct because of the ‘ah-ha’ moments that it provides to students. It is a forum of student learning that is very unique and, unlike many who dislike the conduct part of their roles, he finds a student’s ability to change their behavior, outlook and more positively contribute to their community very rewarding. As I moved through my career, I found that same feeling when I was able to demonstrate that learning was happening throughout our students’ co-curricular experience, one of which, is student conduct. Currently, Jordon is the Residence Student Conduct Coordinator at Carleton University, and I work at the same institution as the Program Assessment Specialist (Acting). While our interests in student learning are very different in the way we conduct our day-to-day jobs, the end result is the same – demonstrating what students are able to know and do as a result of their learning experience. In this particular case, after moving through a student conduct process.
1. It’s important to know what your educational priority is!
Even if you don’t have a formal educational priority for a conduct curriculum, it is important to know what the mission and values of your department are. What does learning look like in your student conduct program? What principles, theories, or ideas guide your conduct practice? How would you explain what is most important to your process? In order to truly think about how to develop a strategic approach to your conduct program and effectively assess student learning, you first need a vision or philosophy to guide you.
If you already have an established curriculum, your educational priority should be the same for both your community engagement and conduct process. However, if you aren’t yet a formal curricular program, get your department together and identify what guides your conduct program and ensure everyone who works within it buys in. It is very difficult to sell colleagues on the notion of assessment as it is, let alone if not everyone agrees on the vision.
2. What are your learning goals?
Again, this is easier for schools with a curricular program, because the ones that are established are the same in the context of your conduct program. In Jordon’s case, he works under the same learning goals as the overall curriculum – self-awareness, positive relationships, and community engagement. Everything within the conduct program can be connected back to at least one of these three concepts.
Without a curriculum, it is important for a conduct program to sit down and identify what are three or four core concepts that they want to connect their outcomes, assessment, and overall process back to. Do you want students to gain interpersonal or intrapersonal skills? Is self-awareness or personal development important? Is engaging citizens a crucial part of your program? What about open communication?
In order to start to work your way down the funnel of program development and assessment, it is important that the priority or vision, as well as the goals are in place to start as a jumping off point to map your educational plan.
3. Administrative Tasks are Awkward
By far one of the greatest challenges we had when we began mapping and trying to assess the educational plan was figuring out what the role of administrative duties are. For example, most conduct programs send communication out via email or by written letter. It was difficult trying to find ways to consider that a learning component of the program, and then identifying what students have learned through that process. When the whole concept of focusing on student learning is at the core of what you do, this is a very important part of the process that can be difficult to find a home for. The approach that Jordon took when developing the conduct curriculum was to infuse curricular language related to the priority and goals into the letters. While they still need to fulfill their purpose - notifying students of meetings, outcomes, and the process - they can at least be more aligned with an educational and student-centred approach. It is also important to find creative ways to measure the learning that happens, and while that is not directly done for the communication, students are asked to complete a pre- and post-assessment to indirectly demonstrate if the communication was true to how the process went.
4. It Must Connect to Training
It is not uncommon for departments to train professional staff and student staff each year on the student conduct process and their direct role within implementing that. Like everything else, how students and staff are trained on the curriculum or process must align to the goals, mission and priority of your program. In training, Jordon has to focus on having all parties involved with conduct understand the importance of curriculum and priority as it relates to the greater department and overarching educational priority. This means emphasizing the WHY and not just focusing on the how. It is not enough to simply walk through the Residence Standards so that all staff are aware of what they are and what they mean; rather, using curricular language, focusing on the importance of student learning and behaviour change, and connecting each part of the process back to that curricular model is at the heart of a successful training. Staff, both professional and student, should be able to articulate to students at all stages of the process from initial learning connection, to documentation, to meeting, or sanction, how the learning goals are used to help support students in residence. Furthermore, effective assessment should be done in those training sessions to ensure learners have acquired the relevant knowledge and skills within this area, and course correct if necessary. Focusing on the WHY in training creates buy-in, understanding, and a shared approach, which will later help when they try out the HOW during experiential learning experiences. Far too often we are too concerned about staff being able to have a conduct conversation than why we do it at all, and how to articulate that value to students.
5. Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
While it is certainly true that Rome wasn’t built in a day, its empire did rapidly expand because of its leadership. Overhauling, revising and/or adding intentional assessment to your conduct curriculum or process is not an easy task. It takes some institutions years to do, but it doesn’t have to if you have the determination and expertise to make it happen. I’m going to toot Jordon’s horn a little bit for him, because few people know that he actually overhauled an entire punitive conduct program to be a fully educational approach within less than 60 days since starting at Carleton. Within a year of starting a fully curricular approach within the department, he has already designed a conduct curriculum with outcomes and intentional assessment. Because of the time and effort he had already put into changing the program previously, it made it much easier for him to develop a true curriculum, and I was fortunate enough to be involved in taking it to the next level by adding intentional assessment efforts in almost every facet of the process. Come September, not only will the meetings and sanctions provide evaluation and assessment data; the entire process will demonstrate how much learning is happening as students move through the curriculum. It will also compliment that tracking statistics Jordon already does regarding number of cases and repeat behaviour, which has already significantly dropped since implementing an educational approach.
While it may look like a you are fighting an uphill battle in terms of resources, if you are able to find the value, divide the workload and remind yourself that student learning is at the centre of a conduct curriculum or process, you can make change. Even small additions over the course of a term or year, such as implementing a set of learning goals or easy assessment strategies, can enhance a program and offer helpful data. Implementing change at 40% or even 20% is still better than none at all.
6. Share Your Story
Sadly, sometimes student conduct can be forgotten about in the broader context of student affairs because it is not always thought of as highly as student engagement initiatives. I have found that, generally speaking, people seem very keen to know what students are learning in regards to leadership development, career clarity, training opportunities, etc., but are less interested conduct as a learning opportunity. As Jordon mentioned in his Ryerson SA post, conduct could actually be seen as the most effective vehicle to demonstrate student learning, and after seeing assessment results, I have to agree. While looking at what students have learned through leadership opportunities is valuable to know, it tells us that students who wanted to be involved in the community were able to. Conduct, on the other hand, demonstrates how students who were negatively impacted the community learned that they could contribute more positively in the future. It doesn’t get much more Cinderella story than that.
One of the most rewarding parts of creating a conduct curriculum or process with intentional assessment is the ability to show that learning is happening, particularly when students recognize how their behaviour impacts their own success or that of others’. Using assessment to share the story of how students have changed their behaviour, positively contributed to their community, repaired the harm they caused to others, and now see the responsibility they have to others, is so important and rewarding. It offers us testimonials, quantitative numbers, and ‘ah-ha’ moments that we can share to administrators, colleagues, and students about the value that this process has on creating citizens of the future. It reinforces to professional and student staff that conduct should not be seen as “policing’; rather, it is educating. It creates awareness for parents, prospective- and current students that negative behaviour is not the norm in our communities and the ideals outlined in movies are not true to our student experience. Most importantly, it reaffirms that the hard work we invest into enhancing our conduct programs and including opportunities for intentional assessment was worthwhile and should be celebrated.
7. Reach Out for Help
We are two educators who truly believe in learning opportunities for students at all levels of their post-secondary career, particularly within the realm of student conduct; however, we did not do it alone. Creating the conduct curriculum and integrating assessment was championed, supported, and guided by several important colleagues from within our department, and institutions across North America also implementing a curricular approach. We reached out, asked questions and consulted with professionals who also shared their challenges, successes, and vision. Because we know how helpful it can be to have alternative perspectives, we are so appreciative of those who have reached out to us for support, asked questions themselves, and are seeking guidance along their own student conduct journey. Hopefully these tips will offer some help to get those looking to develop a curricular approach or enhance their process started. We certainly will be cheering you on if you decide to take the plunge into intentional conduct processes and assessment.
A creative educator striving to enhance the holistic student experience and committed to exploring personal fulfillment.