12 Ways to Spot and Fill In Skill Gaps Among Your #SAPro Team

We’re bound to make assumptions in our professional lives. 

But knowing the old saying about assumptions, it’s important to consult with appropriate, diverse perspectives (and data whenever we can!) to make informed decisions and hopefully avoid future problems or barriers.

This holds true for making bold assumptions about the competencies and capacities of student affairs employees, including your supervisees and coworkers.

This isn’t to say that your teammates might be unqualified. Rather, I’m encouraging you to recognize that everyone has certain strengths and areas for improvement. If we — as leaders, managers, and individuals — aren’t transparent and aware of areas for further professional development, we’ll set ourselves up for failure in assigning responsibilities, taking on new initiatives, and relying on one another for support.

Recently, I’ve seen many conversations (and concerns) about this very topic and how the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing assumptions of competency and capacity to light. A majority of institutions are making rapid changes to their operations and charging employees with added responsibilities in order to best serve students. 

Institutional adjustments like these can put incredible burdens and strain upon people, processes, and elements of practice which may already have had inefficiencies or were in need of major improvements anyway. 

As I expressed in my tweet above, we need to understand the competencies and capacities of our teammates in order to best serve students. Without that knowledge, we’ll likely stretch ourselves to the point of breaking, causing harm to both ourselves and the students we are trying to support. 

But here’s the good news: We can be proactive and set ourselves up for success!

gif of a man saying 'we can make this work'

Although we can’t predict the next crisis, we can proactively shape an agenda for professional development by leveraging known areas for improvement or desired further learning. 

Not clear where to start? No worries. I’m going to give you 12 methods to support professional development for your team. Although I’ve structured these with some thematic grouping, they are not listed by priority nor in any particular order.

Reflection based

1. Ask your team to self-report knowledge gaps or deserved areas for improvement. This could be directly in relation to their current roles or related to larger divisional or institutional initiatives. 

2. Use a peer process to identify or rank needs. Whether aggregating self-reported needs or responding to industry trends, teams can collectively prioritize opportunities and interests. A lens for team needs could incorporate elements of teamwork or establishing group culture, separate from individual goals for growth.

3. Use student voices to inform growth. Formally and informally, we are aware of student needs and interests and should be equipped to best foster their success. You get bonus points in my book if you actively engage students in brainstorming ideas for how faculty and staff could better support students.

Institutional Practices

4. Leverage accreditation efforts. As an external mechanism of quality assurance, accreditation efforts can be great opportunities to inform you of areas for improvement or capacity building. Ideally, teams are doing this proactively or on their own accord without sanctions or mandates from an accreditor.

5. Complement strategic plan direction and goals. Teams should be able to identify the roles they play and the contributions they make to institutional strategic initiatives. If there are elements that your team is not as familiar with or wants to be better positioned for future support, factor that into a professional development agenda.

6. Act on assessment results for development. Often, assessment results indicate opportunities for faculty or staff to adjust their interactions with students or deployment of interventions. So, use these results to set a professional development or training agenda. I’d venture to guess that some of your teammates could frequently benefit from some assessment-inspired professional development. 

7. Draw from performance evaluations. Take advantage of these regularly occurring activities to set development agendas for yourself as a supervisee or your team as a supervisor. Set achievable goals aligned with current responsibilities (plus a new interest area!).


8. Meet and respond to professional competencies. Beyond required experience for a given role, disciplines and organizations can agree upon and promote expected competencies. Professional development can be used to increase knowledge or adjust services to meet or respond to changes in competency content.

9. Look to practically apply curricula or theories. Student affairs is rich with opportunities to apply student development theories. Whether or not your faculty or staff are well-versed in student development theories, there are fairly straightforward applications for challenge and support, motivation, personality types, and more. 

10. Adopt peer practices. Most of the work you are doing has likely been attempted before in some form or fashion. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying or wouldn’t be innovative at your institution. But remember: You do not need to start from scratch. Engage colleagues across campus, at other institutions, or even using conferences as inspiration to inform and guide your efforts.

Remote work

11. Reflect on your new work needs, such as technology that you could become more familiar with. Seek out their resources, tutorials, or a colleague you know with more experience. Practice self-awareness for your remote self; and listen to your mind, body, and soul to take breaks when and how you need them. Share with your colleagues what you find helpful in centering or rejuvenating yourself.    

12.  Provide multiple options for professional development (such as live vs. recorded or self-paced webinars, and readings vs. videos) to your supervisees. Make concerted efforts to stay connected and ensure your team is aware that you support their learning and growth in ways beyond their immediate responsibilities. Whenever possible, be flexible with schedules to accommodate breaks, family time, or other at-home needs that can interrupt a nine-to-five workday.

add with a link for 'building online orientation'

The bottom line is that people need to be aware of and honest about their capacities and capabilities. The more that occurs, the more likely that individuals, teams, and leaders can determine an appropriate approach to professional development. Whichever way you go, you can’t go wrong investing energy to grow, prepare, and protect your team members for the current and future work environment. 

I hope the examples above are useful in thinking of what you can be doing for yourself or your team. Feel free to engage and share ideas you might add to the list! Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence and @JoeBooksLevy.

Joe Levy

About the author: Joe Levy is the Executive Director of Assessment and Accreditation at National Louis University. Joe is passionate about data-informed decision making, accountability, and promoting a student-centered approach inside and outside of the classroom. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBooksLevy! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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