Wanting, Yet Not Needing Examples: Competencies at the Heart of a Professional Development Plan

naspa professional standards division

Chris M. Lucas

December 7, 2017

Chris M. Lucas“Can you share an example of this Professional Competency Plan assignment?” Predictably, this question arose in my graduate level doctoral seminar, “Student Affairs Administration.” I utilize the 2015 ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators and the 2016 ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies Rubrics as the guiding standards and frameworks, as well as incorporating complementary texts for further discussion.

The final assignment for the course is a Professional Competency Plan (PC Plan) representative of an individualized professional development plan spanning a reasonable completion time. Three initial assignments serve as connected scaffolding for the PC Plan:

  1. An outline to identify three of the ten competency areas a student wants to develop further,
  2. A selection of an existing educator who will provide specific feedback upon the outline, and
  3. An in-class workshop session where students receive both peer and instructor feedback.

So, back to the question. It is often the case that people learn new materials more efficiently and more effectively if provided an example of an end product, or better still, an exemplar. They can compare the new materials to what they already know and determine how it fits, or not, to what they deem as truth. I need to now share why I do not employ this strategy. Myself, I avoid providing examples, beyond those articulated in the Rubrics, in order to emphasize just how unique each student’s plan can and should be.

During course sessions and in other communications outside of class times we have numerous conversations regarding the assignments. I introduce the Professional Competencies and they are read the first week. I encourage students to create a tentative plan for how to develop in three of the competency areas within what they deem is a reasonable time. All decisions are made by the students. I suggest that they can seek to increase development in competencies they view as strengths or those that they consider to be less strong. No consistent option has been apparent to date.

Students act as the key filter of both the information and any choices throughout the process of finalizing their individual personal professional development plans. Even at the graduate level and for doctoral students, students can be hesitant to determine their own path forward professionally. I describe my own experiences verbally and encourage each student to feel free to act as a filter and consider, incorporate, reject, or modify information and advice received by peers, external educators, and myself.

And, thus far, the end products (PC Plans) are of a consistent high quality and very distinct from one student to another. Should we not expect a recently hired academic advisor to have a plan that has little in common with an SSAO that possesses sixteen years of experience? Each PC Plan is appropriate because it is carefully crafted for the lone end user. The unique characteristics, demographic variables, and relative work opportunities are, simply, individual in nature. An expected byproduct of not distributing examples has also occurred: students are quite attached to and have built a greater amount of vested energies and interest towards continuing to reflect upon their plans and make more progress after the conclusion of the course.  

Students need only a framework or a set of standards (Competencies and Rubrics), some inspiration, and an ongoing dialogue about how to facilitate one’s own development as a student affairs educator. Specific examples and exemplars would likely be a mismatch to the real context of a particular student affairs educator, not to mention the often constraining and limiting effects that examples can have.

Chris M. Lucas, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Educational Administration
University of Hawaii at Manoa

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