Professional Development

Staff Development Initiatives

University Housing strives to be a learning organization. Professional staff attend the All-Housing Tuesday Quarterly Meetings four times a year. These are an avenue to share critical information regarding Housing's long term goals, projects and strategic plans. University Housing staff are also a part of Student Affairs. Student Affairs sponsors professional development opportunities to encourage networking, resource sharing, and collaboration. Strategic Planning, New Staff Retreats, Program Committees, and Outstanding Staff Awards Receptions are all part of this program.

Staff Training and Development Programs in Residential Life

The Department of Residential Life within University Housing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a long, rich tradition of investing in strong training and development programs. It is often one of the reasons candidates tell us they choose UI for their next career move, as they know they will be offered many ways to grow as a professional.

Our training & development programs are planned each year to support and advance our Department’s “guiding documents”, particularly our VISION STATEMENT: “Learning, Growing, Mattering: for every person, on every floor, in every community.” Specific T&D topics are chosen each year to assist staff in gaining the competencies to carry out our annual Action Plan and Strategic Priorities, to address hall, campus, and national trends in student life, and to respond to knowledge and performance needs as determined by supervisors. Additionally, participant evaluations are used to improve the methods, venues, and approaches to training programs each year.

The Department’s T&D programs are intentionally multifaceted. The T&D Committee work under the assumption that there are always a variety of learning styles among our staff that require a diverse offering of formal, informal, on-the-job, self-directed, and coaching programs over the course of the year. Many programs are required of all staff so that work teams can explore not only a given topic together, but work on group dynamics and team building during the learning process. Other programs are optional, helping individual learners to attend their professional and individual learning goals. With half of our full-time staff being “entry-level” and close to half of our paraprofessional and student staff naturally turning over each year, we are also committed to devoting intentional time to the orientation and training of new employees.

Examples of our Training and Development Programs include:
  • RA/MA/PA New Hire Orientation
  • RA/MA/PA Summer Training
  • RA/MA/PA Weekly Staff Development
  • RA/MA/PA Winter Retreat Day
  • RA/MA/PA Centralized Staff Development
  • Professional Staff Orientation and Summer Training
  • Professional Staff Coaching
  • Staff Learning Series
  • RD "Fast Start"
  • "Ops & Admins" optional, occasional refresher training or updates on campus policies
  • Teaching Opportunities
  • Professional Staff Conference & Workshop
  • Travel Collateral/Central Assignments
  • Student Affairs Committees
  • Support Staff Retreat Day
  • Desk Clerk Training & Development Programs
  • Multicultural Advocate (MA) Training and Development Programs
  • Program Advisor (PA) Training and Development Programs

Our Training & Development Planning Process

Staff Training & Development programs in the Department of Residential Life are planned and implemented by a variety of professionals within our organization who have an interest and competency in T&D. The committee is trained to use an instructional systems design model (ISD) to guide their planning, analysis, design/development, implementation, and evaluation. They will use participant evaluations, meet with various stakeholders to learn their priorities for their staff’s learning, collecting summaries of themes that have emerged from annual performance appraisals, and investigating Guiding Documents as well as current literature and trends in the field of Student Affairs for indicators as to what are training and development needs for the staff. Then comes the design and development phase to sequence, schedule, write lesson plans, select both content experts and highly skilled trainers, and creating materials. After implementation, the project managers will launch “utilization-focused evaluation” techniques to gather practical and manageable feedback. This planning takes place 12 months out of the year, although project managers may change as new staff members join or specialists are recruited to assist with special work projects.

Our Training & Development Goals

Preparing staff to carry out the Department’s Vision and Mission and University Housing’s Strategic Plan and Priorities are the overarching goals of our Training & Development programs. Specific outcome goals and learning objectives are developed for the various T&D programs throughout the year. 

Orientation programs are designed to help new staff feel welcomed to the Department, assist them with navigating the campus and community, and introduce them to the values of the organization. Training programs aim to provide staff with the necessary knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes to carry out their basic job descriptions. Staff development programs are learning processes that improve professional practice for the individual and the organization. They bring new levels of knowledge, skill, or attitudes to staff to foster innovation and advancement. It is the priority for individual learners to be able to contribute further to the organization’s ultimate vision: to create a Learning, Growing, Mattering experience for every person, on every floor, in every community.

The Training & Development Theories That Guide Our Work

The T&D project management team utilizes a hybrid approach of theories to guide its decision making and planning about training & development programs for our staff. Principles from Pedagogy, Androgogy (Adult Learning), Student Development, and Identity Development Theories guide the practice of T&D in the Department of Residential Life. These four areas of theory are critical since the majority of student contact is carried out by a diverse group of paraprofessional and new professional staff.

Simply stated, it is implied that we are serving a diverse group of adult learners who possess multiple intelligences and skill sets. We strive to utilize interactive teaching and facilitation techniques to appeal to various learning styles.

Paraprofessional (RA, Ma, PA) Training & Development

New Paraprofessional Staff Orientation & Training

Preparing our new paraprofessional staff for their roles starts by giving them an introduction to the philosophy of the Department, an understanding of their job responsibilities, and a chance to make connections with their new colleagues. This is a 3-part process for new hires: to meet their new supervisor to get guidance on their EOL/EPOL Community Plan assignment, to attend a Staff D meeting to meet the returners, then to attend August Basic Training.

August Training

New RAs, MAs, and PAs report back to campus about 2 weeks prior to the halls opening to participate in “basic training.” New staff is immersed in several days of critical issues & emergency procedures, and MAs & PAs also work on issues specific to educational programming, social justice, and learning community work. Once “basic training” is complete, returning RAs join their staffs for building hall staff teams and working together to prep for the building and opening of their communities. Each new paraprofessional receives over 72 hours of training pre-employment (not counting the instructional hours earned in EOL/EPOL staff class) to be ready to take on the responsibilities of their job. The most recent training schedule can be accessed by downloading the free smartphone/tablet app called "Guidebook" and opening the event "U Illinois Parapro Staff."

Winter Retreats

The Saturday before January residence hall opening is set aside for individual staffs to regroup, work on their spring community plans, and prepare for hall re-opening. Winter retreats are decentralized; each staff has its own learning & planning needs at this point in the year, so RDs & PDs are free to plan accordingly. MAs & PAs are included with their hall staffs on this day.

EOL/EPOL 199: Residential Life Paraprofessional Staff Preparation Class

Since 2002, RAs, MAs, and PAs have been learning about the complexities of cross-cultural relations in residence hall communities through this evolving 2-credit course. This small group, co-facilitator led, 10-week class plus a day-long retreat allows parapros to develop a deeper awareness of social justice issues, and exploration of self-development which can help immensely in their jobs. Over the years that we have integrated this experience into our staff preparation regimen we have steadily seen the ACUHO-I EBI results show that our staff is more competent in talking about, programming around, and navigating issues of identity, inclusion, and diversity education in the residence halls.

Staff Development

“Staff D” is our weekly staff meeting for all paraprofessionals with their supervisor. The first hour of Staff D is often spent covering “business items,” while the 2nd hour is for further training & development. In the fall semester a continuation of the “basics” is necessary: Week 1) First 6 Weeks Transition Issues, 2) Safety & Security, 3) Parapro Recruitment, 4) Helping Roommates in Conflict & Community Standards Agreements, 5) further understanding the complexities that Diverse Populations in the halls bring, 6) Academic Success, Alcohol/Drug Use & Abuse Reduction, Navigating Relationships, Wellness, and 7) Eating Disorders.

Often in the spring the parapros themselves are ready to facilitate learning topics for their peers, or campus resource professionals are brought in to assist staff in tackling the particular challenges of their hall community. Each staff has their own needs based on hall or program trends, so generally Staff Ds are decentralized, but there are a few times each semester when either common topics, or all-staff gatherings take place.

Hourly Student Staff (Clerk) Training

There are many student hourly positions in Residential Life, providing students with what is sometimes their first employment experience.  Hourly student staff are typically trained by their direct supervisors in an in-time and on-the-job format. The Department of Residential Life is devoting time to develop training materials, resources, and methods to better train hourly student in a more consistent and efficient way.

From desk clerks to library clerks, office assistants and conference clerks, the T&D program tries to find common training needs and share resources for the various supervisors to tap into when training is necessary.  Customer service, helping international students, de-escalating conflicts at the desk, and working with students with disabilities are a few of the cross-over topics that are offered to all student hourly employees in the Department.

Professional & Full-Time Staff Training & Development

Often described as the most comprehensive departmental training and development program at the University of Illinois (College of Education HRE Faculty, 2010), our Professional Staff T & D program includes over 130 hours of orientation and training per staff person in the summer, and over 60 hours per person of departmental staff development during the academic year. The Department commits not only time but financial and personnel resources to provide its dynamic and diverse professional staff with training in areas ranging from intergroup dialogue to technology skills. All staff is expected to participate in the various T & D programs to ensure base competency in the areas of Student Learning, Supervision, Social Justice, Critical Incidents, Advising, and Administrative skills. Full-time support staff is also included in ongoing development topics and often are invited to their own learning series to support their front-line roles.

With a talented group of in-house content experts as well as skilled trainers, much of our T & D is conducted by our own staff. Veteran professionals are encouraged to serve as mentors, present their areas of expertise in programs such as “Ops & Admins” (presentations covering topics the staff needs some reinforcement on to run the day to day operations of the halls), or even present at professional conferences.

Self-directed learning is highly valued and stressed by the Department. The Department encourages staff to use the “Professional Staff Competency Model” to assist individuals and their supervisors in crafting the most appropriate professional development plans for each person. After the first semester of employment, professional staff is also able to enroll in UI graduate courses to pursue additional advanced degrees. Up to one-quarter of our professional staff are typically taking courses, or working on advanced degrees.

The Coaching Program

In summer 2009 the Department of Residential Life piloted a 1-1 “coaching” model of training, inspired by the Disney Institute on People Management. The program is intended to reward outstanding staff for their excellent performance by providing them with additional skill building as a coach, while providing new hires with the most personalized, flexible, and in-depth training possible. The results were outstanding in the first year, with new staff hitting the ground running in their jobs, and our peer coaches gaining confidence and great satisfaction with being able to see measurable learning happening with a staff member they led through the training process. Since 2009 a “hybrid” approach of group training in a classroom setting with follow-up reinforcement by coaches has become the model based on coaches’ and supervisors’ feedback, and to respond to years with a larger incoming “class” cohorts.

The training model follows a “learning-practice-perform-feedback” sequence, with most of the lessons being taught in a hands-on manner right in the new staff member’s office or side-by-side in training sessions. During the 1-1 time the coaches pace the lessons based on their learner’s preferences, style, and progression. In the follow-up to group sessions the coach is able to address individual questions or practice that there may not have been time for in the large group.

A strong professional, as well as personal, support system is also a result of the 1-1 pairing that lasts long after the formal training period, which very much supports our Department’s vision and values.

Coaches are recruited in the fall semester, and trained during the spring semester in preparation for the arrival of their new staff member in the summer. The program can be implemented at any time, however, in the case of an “odd-time-departure”, as it caters to 1-1 learning. This is a great advantage over relying solely on group training in classroom settings.

Staff Learning Series (SLS)

Residential Life Full Time Staff participate in ongoing staff development during the academic year. Entitled “Staff Learning Series,” topics are directly linked to priorities outlined in the annual Action Plan, as well as needs identified by the Training & Development Committee & Central Supervisory Staff. The fall semester series is devoted to exploring a particular lens of social justice education, and the spring semester is determined by the Residential Life centralized work committees generate the topics and content.

SLS occurs approximately 4-5 times per semester on Tuesday mornings from 10:00am—noon. University Housing colleagues are often invited to attend with the approval of their supervisor, and Residential Life often collaborates with Student Affairs and other units on campus and in the community to bring the most salient discussions to the table.

FAST START!

It is impossible to train new RDs in all they need to learn during our summer Coaching sessions. “FAST START” is an extension of summer training that is conducted in the first few weeks of the semester each fall to cover training topics in real-time while staff are actually doing the work. Topics include a review of judicial procedures, various administrative processes, or to work through complex supervision issues that have arisen with staff. FAST START also allows the first year cohort to bond and offer each other support and problem solving.

Ops & Admins

“Ops & Admins” (Operations & Administrative Procedures) are typically optional workshops that allow anyone in the Department to create a training session and share their expertise with their colleagues. Although entitled “Ops & Admins”, they are not limited to technical or procedural topics. Some staff take the opportunity to present an Ops & Admin to practice a presentation for a regional or national professional conference, while others bring new & necessary* skills to our professional competencies. (*Necessary skills sessions may be "attendance required".)

Individual Professional Development Plans

Providing and supporting professional development opportunities are core to the Department of Residential Life’s ability to work toward its Vision as well as strategic priorities. The Department defines “professional development” in the broadest manner. There are many ways for individual staff members to grow in their current positions, prepare for career advancement, and progressively contribute to the Department’s priorities.

Professional conference travel is only one method for development. The Department also actively and equally encourages and supports a wide variety of experiences, from writing for a publication to taking academic classes. Individual staff members are asked to create a formal, annual professional development plan (PDP) by the first week of September under the guidance and approval of their supervisor which incorporates a wide variety of the aforementioned options. Not only do Professional Development Plans need to support one’s own development, but show direct application to the Department’s priorities. Tenure in the department, projects that support the Department’s priorities, and being able to cover campus duties all factor into funds and time being allocated/approved.

Individual Career Management

Career management is a learning process of working toward your next position by reflecting on values, interests, skills, and obtaining experiences to support that process. The Department of Residential Life encourages individual staff members to take responsibility for their own career management activities, as they are often very individualized. It is not in the scope of the Training & Development Committee to focus on the goals of each individual’s career management plan.

Supervisors and mentors, however, are a great sounding board for staff to talk through their career goals and brainstorm ways of obtaining opportunities to prepare for advancement. Career management goals can be integrated into PDPs after professional development activities that will benefit both the staff member and the Department are considered.

Local or Free Learning Resources

Department of Residential Life Training & Development Programs

Contact Person: Tricia Wolfe Anton
300 Clark Hall
1203 S. 4th St.
Champaign, IL 61820
Phone: 217-333-0770
Fax: 217-333-6343
panton@illinois.edu