In my experience, student conduct may provide the single most important and effective forum for student learning. While student conduct is not typically thought of as a student learning experience as often as other community development initiatives, at Carleton University we believe that student conduct administrators are in fact educators, and should think of themselves as such. Carleton maintains a commitment to student learning throughout its student conduct process, using conduct as a vehicle to positively engage students in their communities.
As recently as two years ago, like many institutions, Carleton’s student conduct approach was primarily punitive, with a heavy reliance on financial sanctions as outcomes to negative student behaviour. There was little importance placed on the student’s perspective, and often behaviour was influenced by consequences such as monetary fines or bonds for the student. My view on student conduct is that our students deserve better than an emotionless fine, or a predetermined outcome. As educators we have a responsibility to engage with students on an individual level and create opportunities for students to learn from their experiences. We made the decision to shift the focus to student learning and develop a process that was student-centred and educational. The initial step was to create our student conduct philosophy:
“Our residence student conduct approach has a student-centred focus and is in place to support our residents in learning and personal development. Through engagement and reflection, the process provides students the opportunity to be accountable to their community and contributing to the high standards of living and expectations in residence.”
We no longer impose fines and behaviour bonds to correct behaviour, instead committing to working with students towards their development as individuals in a community. We dedicated ourselves to being educators.
Moving away from financial sanctions required us to be more creative with our student outcomes. In 2014, Lara Hof, a prominent student conduct administrator, wrote an article for the CACUSS publication Communiqué, discussing the evolution of student conduct outcomes. She captures the concept of intentionally interacting with students to create learning outcomes that are truly impactful, and not irritating. We took this central idea to heart and began to create educational sanctions focused on personal reflection and sharing individual learning experiences with the community. Some examples include an article review related to the nature of the incident, or a guided reflection through a series of questions in which the student could respond through any medium they chose.
A major aspect that changed the sanctioning decisions we were making was the adjustment of the conversations happening in our student conduct meetings. We started to involve the student in the decisions and development around what their outcome would look like, and stressed the importance of learning. By focusing on a student’s participation in the process, we created a learning experience with that individual rather than strictly adhering to the requirements and rigid approach of our Residence Contract, the document outlining acceptable behaviour.
Since then, we have restructured and rewritten the contract as the Residence Standards. As a result, we have found the standards to be significantly more user-friendly with the document highlighting the rights and responsibilities afforded to students living in residence. This starkly contrasts the previous rules and regulations expressed in the former Residence Contract.
Student engagement beyond incidents is an important part of our student conduct program. We have placed an importance on involving students throughout our process in a variety of ways. We developed several opportunities for students to interact with their peers and learn from one another. Senior residence staff meet with students on a regular basis to discuss incidents. Students serve in roles on our Peer Conduct Board and our Residence Bounce Back program.
The Residence Bounce Back program pairs at-risk students with an upper-year mentor, who we consider a peer educator, to meet on a regular basis and discuss how to be more successful in the residence community. This program has been beneficial for both the mentors and mentees, and the data collected has demonstrated Residence Bounce Back has intentionally and successfully supported behaviour change through learning in our students.
More recently, we have shifted our focus to another area of engagement. We realized it is not enough to interact solely with students as a result of the negative behaviour. With this in mind, we have adopted a 360 approach to student conduct and now engage with students who are positively contributing in our community. Our senior student staff have meetings with these students and we are continually working to find new ways to celebrate and involve them more in residence. Our positive contributor initiatives come from a desire to explicitly connect community and conduct. We found through our efforts that we had a significant impact on the number of incidents in our community. Highlighting the positive contributions of our students has encouraged them to think of themselves as peer educators in their community, and feeds into our Residence Life staff hiring process. By identifying these students we can personally invite them to get further involved in the residence community and take on larger leadership roles.
As a result of our focus on conduct as a learning experience, students are no longer being financially penalized for their behaviour, but instead are provided an opportunity for learning and development. This educational approach is mutually beneficial—the students are offered an opportunity to be involved in the process, and our conduct numbers have significantly decreased. From our statistics we know that students we see as a result of their negative behaviour only makes up a small number of our residence population (less that 1/3). By focusing on conduct and community we’ve seen a positive change in the satisfaction of students who have gone through our process, as well as our student staff who are interacting with students on the front lines.
Our success has inspired us to continue the development of our student conduct program and currently we are developing a curricular approach to student conduct. Our educational plan has already been developed and we look forward to implementing new educational strategies with an ability to truly assess the learning that is happening. These strategies are used to create intentional opportunities for student learning, both proactively and reactively.
Proactive examples include purposeful summer communication with students, our educational orientation event “Res Talks”, and multiple social media and social norming campaigns at key times throughout the year. On the reactive side, we start facilitating a learning experience through the invitations we send our students to attend a conduct meeting by clearly explaining our student conduct process. During the meeting, we build rapport with the student and personalize the learning experience for that individual. This personal connection also helps to guide the conversation and provide areas to focus on with the student that are connected to our curricular learning goals (self-awareness, positive relationships, and community engagement). Once we have explored how the student can develop within the areas of our learning goals and be a more positive contributor within their communities, we mutually decide on an outcome that is appropriate for the situation. We use intentional outcomes as another important educational strategy, as each outcome is tailored to a purposeful learning experience related to the incident. These outcomes or sanctions may include reflections using a variety of mediums such as social media or a written journal, educational workshops, or in-meeting facilitated activities such as a concept map or a Venn-diagram activity.
By implementing learning-based strategies in our conduct program, we as educators can look beyond the frequency of students’ appearance in our student conduct program and focus more on gaining a better understanding of the learning moments that our students are having. To do this, it is imperative that we include specific assessment techniques that will demonstrate the value of these types of learning moments and the effectiveness of our strategies. Appropriate techniques can include surveys, rubrics, qualitative data analysis, and other classroom assessment techniques. The information collected by this assessment not only demonstrates what students are learning because of our process, but it also provides us with the necessary information to continually improve our practices and ourselves.
I have always felt that interactions with students within the conduct program is an ideal place for learning. Moving towards a curricular approach to student conduct has only made that opinion stronger. I have seen the benefits of involving students in the process and by engaging with students through a 360 lens acknowledging both the positive and the negative, I have found that student behaviour is generally a result of contexts. When a student is engaged, empowered, and feels a sense of commitment and responsibility to their community, they are more likely to act for the betterment of others.
Jordon McLinden, Residence Student Conduct Coordinator
Jordon’s interests lie in supporting students while they learn from both their positive and negative experiences in the post-secondary environment. He has an HBK (Kinesiology) degree from Lakehead University and a MEd from Memorial University of Newfoundland. Outside of work he can be found on the golf course playing or in the kitchen cooking something delicious to eat. Follow him on Twitter: @acejordon