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Scaffolded learning can help add stickiness to your trainings with college students and staff. Consider these real-life examples and if they would work for you and your staff.

Putting a Scaffolded Learning Plan into Place: Real-Life Examples

Each year in higher ed, we would spend weeks during the summer planning our back-to-campus trainings for returning student leaders and newly hired staff. Most of these sessions would revolve around the offices that needed to be invited to present, identifying skills that had to be mastered, and understanding any new campus policies and procedures.

When I say planned, I used that term loosely. My managers would simply look at the previous year’s schedule and update it with a new year. It wasn’t often that the training was overhauled. And it was assumed that the outcomes were more important than the ways content was delivered.

And within weeks of the training, I would need to revisit the topic. If I was lucky, I’d only have to do this once, but often it was multiple times if I had a large staff. For the sake of expediency at the start of the training, I would spend time for weeks making up the learning. Not exactly the best way to train people I thought!

I believe we should center our training around the learners – the students and staff, and perhaps the faculty. What do they need to learn? In what order? To what degree of expertise? And who will mentor them as they practice the skill?

I believe that integrating scaffolded learning into the trainings would be useful. If you are new to the term and techniques, Edutopia.org has offered six steps to developing a scaffolded learning environment. I honestly believe that these six steps would be useful in any higher ed setting, with staff and students alike.

Six Steps to Scaffolded Learning

During my time training undergraduate, graduate and professional staff, I have implemented variations of scaffolded learning techniques into my curriculum. In my previous post, I identified the six steps to creating a scaffolded learning environment, if this term was new to you. As a gentle reminder, the six steps to scaffolded learning are:


The six steps to building a scaffolding environment for staff development and training likely fit into an existing training schedule you have on-hand. Too often, we stick to these lesson plans or onboarding schedules because they make the most sense for our presenters or partners. But if we were to put the learner first – our staff or students – we might find more value in the time we spend with them in training.

Anyone who has had to train two or twenty staff knows how time-consuming the exercise can be. Plus we can expect a high level of expertise when training staff without creating or acknowledging how people learn. Consider the three considerations for adding or learning skills that provide scaffolding.

Three Real-Life Examples for Adding Scaffolded Learning

For most of my professional career, I was either training staff and students or preparing to train staff and students. My last position included supervising 30 student workers working in three different locations in seven different positions – so I was always hiring and training students in a variety of capacities. Or I was a newly hired person who had to learn a whole new way to learn – and do it as quickly as possible. The three examples below are from some of my past positions that incorporate one of the six steps outlined in my previous post.

1. Create FAQs and Terms Lists to Help with Common Issues

Starting a new job at a new school, as a professional, brings its own stressors. One of them is having to master all of the new terms and acronyms. Does RA stand for Resident Assistant? Or Residential Assistant? Perhaps Resident Associate? Does the college have RDs? HDs? RCs? ARCs? RHA? URSC? The list can go on and on! You can make sure you add a glossary of college-specific terms to a training manual or policy hand-book.

Or perhaps you’re training new student organization leaders on how to use the new online engagement platform. Where do they find their old funding forms? Or how do they add new members and maintain a roster? Who gets admin access, and how do they change access if someone leaves the organization?

When I helped implement a new student engagement platform for the college, I wanted to make a series of FAQs that answered a number of questions for people trained on the platform and to use as a reference after an in-person training. These ended up getting printed out and made available to everyone. Advisors used them, new students picked them up, and club officers made their own copies. It helped remind me that our work can be sometimes complicated to remember, people know that website FAQs exist but most wanted the FAQs in print.

The printed FAQs also helped with the on-going training of our desk staff. Rather than having to remember all of the different steps, they had visual references steps away from the desk that could be updated rather than re-training everyone.

2. Informal Mentors and Established Check-In Questions

When I have had opportunities to hire returning staff to student leadership positions, one of the criteria I use is their ability to mentor and train new staff. The ability to mentor and train isn’t a skill that all students learn, so it’s a great filter to help choose staff who can help create scaffolding with their peers.

I have also found that prepping these returning students with facilitation skills around scaffolding helps them develop this mentoring relationship. For instance, rather than quiz new leaders about technique and skill (i.e. how do you….), I have these returning students ask questions about the application of skills and procedures. i.e., what does this look like and sound like in the work you do? Now the returning students know what to look for/listen for when newly hired students ask questions.

Asking this application question is also great when onboarding new professional staff. Since some staff may come with a variety of skills, but a difference in language in describing it, asking how they plan to apply what they know will give trainers, facilitators, and mentors the ability to gauge what the new staff will do. I have also found that having new staff put skills into their own voice and words empower them. It helps to center themselves in the new leadership. That the policies, skills, and practices involve them and not some faceless administration.

An example is coaching new staff on how to manage holding a student leader accountable. For new professionals, this might be the first time they have held anyone accountable to office or department standards. Asking them to reflect on past conversations as an undergraduate or graduate student may help give them context of what worked and what didn’t work. I would ask them to start the conversation in words that feel comfortable, setting the appropriate mood and learning situation. I would ask them to look at the place where the conversation will take place, paying attention to details like distractions or perhaps making tissue available nearby.

3. Build On-Going Review Over the Course of the Semester

My first year as a hall director came after working nearly 14 years in student affairs in various capacities. I followed the training scripts as I was supposed to and found that my RAs were overwhelmed with information overload.

In my second year in the role, I realized that I needed to change how we reviewed some of the essential skills for RAs, as some were more critical at the start of the year than in the middle.

I worked with my assistant hall director to identify what skills were critical for the start of the year, like handling conflict and emergency skills, and skills necessary for a little further along in the first semester. We would add daily weekly reviews of the skills during our daily training meet-ups or weekly staff meetings and would have either a review or practice the skill.

For instance, we might cover active listening skills in the meeting before their first meeting with residents and one-on-one meetings with individuals following opening the hall. The RAs would identify an issue that was happening on their floors and role play active listening with their co-RA on the floor.

I have found that doing this with professional staff, especially newly hired or young professionals, was useful as well. When speaking with them, I would ask them to role play with me how they would approach a critical issue. We would go over multiple what-if scenarios, helping the staff become more comfortable with the language of accountability or motivation. Plus as a supervisor, I could give support to their skill-building without making assumptions about their abilities.

Putting Your Scaffolds into Place

The three examples I shared are great ways to introduce scaffolds into your learning. Consider the six steps I shared above and how you can add them to your on-going training or skill-building workshops. And above all, remember that anytime you can help your learners put their skills into action will help them apply these skills later.

Skill Building Development for the New and Mid-Level Career Professional

I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years. I have helped them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.

Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.

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Joseph Rios, EdD
I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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