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Vantage Point banner.jpgBarbra Wallace, University of California, Riverside

Editor’s Note: In this article, Barbra builds on her June 2014 contribution, Ten Skills Advisors Need for Promotion to the Next Level.

Barbra Wallace.jpIn my career as a college administrator, I’ve had a number of professional academic advisors from around campus ask what their next steps should be as they worked to ascend the campus career ladder.  While some advisors have been able to work on their next steps from a position they already held, others needed to find a new position with more responsibility to acquire the skills needed to reach the next level.  From those observations and conversations, I created a pyramid similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (Bloom, et al., 1956) to try to describe what an advisor needs to focus on at each step along the way to their next promotion and eventually to their ultimate career goal. 

Like Bloom’s Taxonomy, I believe that advisors must achieve expertise in the first step before they can fully move on to the second, etc.  However, it is important to note that advisors may be on a different level for one part of his or her job than they are for another.  Regardless of their ultimate goal, I believe it is important for advisors to strive to reach the next step in each and every area of their job.  It isn’t sufficient to reach the next step in just a few or even most of the entire portfolio of responsibilities. 

In addition, every time an advisor is assigned a new task or a new area of responsibility, he or she will most likely need to begin back at Step 1 again.  Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a linear path, but probably more circular in nature.  It’s not as if an advisor will ascend each step in order only once during their career, then get to Step 5 and say “Whew, I’m glad that’s over, now I’m done!”

The advice here may be generic enough to be applicable to nearly any profession, but since my career experience is in higher education, I’m offering this pyramid as a step-by-step guide beginning at being hired as a new academic advisor through to promotion to a college administrator.  My hope is that this advice will be helpful to advisors who are working to reach the next level.

Step 1: Learn

When an advisor is first hired, there is an extremely steep learning curve.  Not only do advisors need to learn all of the policies, procedures, and tools necessary to do their job, but advisors must learn their job duties and responsibilities and become familiar with their boss, colleagues (other advisors), clients (students), and customers (the university faculty and administration).  Advisors need to learn their organizational chart.  Who’s really in charge?  Who’s the tiebreaker if there isn’t consensus?  What is the mission of the office?  What is the focus, the philosophy?  Where is the bulk of the effort focused?  What are the office’s service goals?  What are the supervisor’s expectations?  How are service goals communicated to the advisor?  How will advisors know and what will happen if these goals aren’t met?  Finally advisors will need to ask a lot of questions and listen carefully to the answers, and then ask even more follow-up questions to thoroughly learn their job. 

Step 2: Practice

Now that the foundation is built, it’s time for the novice advisor to strive for excellence, efficiency, and independence.  I believe some of the most important hallmarks of excellent academic advising are quality and consistency.  Advisors at Step 2 need to make sure the information provided is right each and every time and consistent for other students facing the same set of circumstances.  In addition advisors should make sure to double check their work and access resources to confirm accuracy to avoid a “sophomore slump” where advisors may begin to make careless mistakes.  Advisors should work to develop independence by developing and practicing research skills and trying to find the answers before asking their supervisors.  Once tentative answers are found, advisors at this level will need to confirm with their supervisor to make sure the information found has been correctly interpreted and applied.  Advisors at this level should engage their supervisors and assess their abilities, employ their strengths, and seek professional development to improve in any areas of challenge to prepare for the next level.

Advisors at this level should also practice their research skills to learn the office and institutional history.  It’s important to know the foundation of the current advising philosophy.  How did we get here?  Advisors should work to identify the “decision-makers” both inside and outside the advising office.  Beginning to look at the bigger world outside the advising office since changing campus administration can also change advising philosophy and goals.  Novice advisors need to begin to follow the information trail—keeping up with campus news cycles, attending open forums, and engaging mentors in conversations on current topics of interest for the campus at large.  Once the campus history is understood, it’s important for novice advisors to begin to figure out where the campus might be headed next.

Step 3: Analyze

Advisors at this level are practicing or at a journeyman level (experienced but not yet experts).  Journeyman advisors should now be experts in what’s written down and openly communicated.  The next step for advisors at this level is to seek to learn what isn’t written down.  Where are the “gray areas” in the advising policies, areas where the exceptions lie?  Journeyman advisors will need to expand their circle of knowledge and influence.  Although typically a solitary profession, advisors at this level need to develop their teamwork skills by beginning to work on cross-team collaborations within their advising offices.  Continuing to expand their knowledge of the campus at large, advisors at this level should also seek to learn what other people do outside their offices and why those jobs are important to the campus.  These advisors will also need to learn and begin practicing effective advocacy, practicing advocacy not only for individual students but for various student populations as a whole.  Finally, advisors at this level should begin to develop and implement new advising programs and services to increase efficiency and effectiveness while taking the first steps to learn how to analyze these programs and services to prove effectiveness and efficiency (data analysis).

Step 4: Contribute

When advisors arrive at Step 4, they are expert at examining each advising issue from one side, but they need to learn to see the other sides too.  While practicing the advocacy skills learned in Step 3, advisors at this level should also continue to expand their influence by seeking out leadership opportunities on cross-campus committees and projects.  At this level, it is important for advisors to keep listening and learning at the campus level.  It is also important for advisors at this level to practice and gain expertise in the assessment methods learned in Step 3.  If possible, advisors at this level should begin to take on a supervisory role and/or participate in training new employees.  Advisors who don’t have the opportunity to supervise professional staff should consider creating a volunteer peer mentor team which will allow them to gain valuable experience in hiring, training, and supervising personnel.  Finally, it is crucial for advisors at this level to work to communicate their expertise when opportunities arise, both within and outside their office.

Step 5: Lead

At the final step, expert advisors will most likely be practicing professional supervision.  But remember, true leadership means working to create, communicate, implement, and analyze philosophies and goals, not merely supervising other advisors.  By this time expert advisors should work towards suggesting policy changes using major data analysis projects to prove policy changes are both necessary and likely to be effective.  Expert advisors will frequently be required at this level to write reports on program needs and effectiveness as well as new proposals to enhance services, again using data analysis to support their proposals.  Expert advisors at this level will also be responsible for development and implementation of advising training programs and will most likely be responsible for reviewing and/or creating new advising organizational structures.  Finally, at this level expert advisors will frequently be called on to take on significant supervision responsibility and campus-wide leadership roles in their area of expertise.

And remember, once an advisor has ascended to Step 5 and they find themselves in a brand new position, they will most likely have to start all over at Step 1 again.  Happy climbing!

Barbra Wallace, Director
Undergraduate Academic Advising Center
College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
University of California, Riverside
Barbra.wallace@ucr.edu

References

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company.

Cite this article using APA style as: Wallace, B. (2015, September). A taxonomy of professional development. Academic Advising Today, 38(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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