Tools of the Trade: Student Development Theory

By Stephanie Wintling

Our prompt for this Monday is “how do you use student development theory in your everyday work (or do you)?”

This prompt appears as a no brainer answer, a common interview question, and a topic drilled in to us in graduate programs for student affairs. However, I genuinely struggle with answering this question. I am currently in my first entry-level job in student affairs and more and more I come to the realization student development is helpful but is only one tool in my toolbox.

As an individual with a B.A. in Psychology, student development theory was a truly fun class for me because of the familiar territory from my undergraduate material.  Our challenge everyday in the class was how we would apply theory to practice to produce learning outcomes.  As most individuals I am not as intentional as I should be with student development theory but there is one clear way I use theory.  The way I do utilize theory in my day-to-day work is when I reach a brick wall with a student and I have trouble initially understanding how I can challenge or support the student.  When I reach this wall I start asking where I think this student may be in their mental development, identity development, ethnic development, religious/spiritual development, etc. Sometimes a stage in Perry will match with the student, other times it is identifying what vector in Chickering this student may be struggling with, and lately I have had to apply Wijeyesinghe’s factor model of multiracial identity because my interactions with ethnically diverse students has increased at Texas State. When I begin to put the student’s experience through the lens of theory, the next steps for working with the student become clearer and intentional.

So yes, my answer is yes I do use student development theory in my everyday work. However the more I process the question the more I realize how much I utilize the skills from the counseling course in my graduate program over any others. In addition, I constantly reference things learned from my environments class when I think about the environment I would like to create in my hall. In keeping with my tool analogy I would place my  knowledge of environment theories as the hammer which keeps my students in place, counseling skills are my screwdriver because when used accordingly makes everything fit, and student development theory is my leveler because it lets me know when things are unbalanced and helps to keep things in balance for my students.

What our other tools do you use everyday in student affairs?

Tools of the Trade: Student Development Theory

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