Taking professional development to new heights…Implementing a Common Reading Program

By:  Heidi Verticchio, MS & Teri Farr, MS Illinois State University Academic Advisors

Support of advisors from the upper levels of higher education advocates the importance of continuing to develop advisors professionally in order to promote continued learning.  Illinois State University (ISU) advisors are fortunate to be supported by the Academic Advising Council (AAC), which is an advisory council to the Office of the Provost.  The purpose of AAC is to “discuss and promote systems and policies that are necessary to the overall effectiveness and cohesiveness of campus-wide advising.” (Constitution, 2013).  One of the standing committees of AAC is the Professional Development and Training (PDT) Committee.  This committee is comprised of advisors from University College and Department Advisors. The PDT committee has two main charges:  “1. To assess the needs of advisors and create training opportunities for all advisors;  2. To provide opportunities for professional development, based on current trends and needs with higher education.” (Constitution, 2013).

In order to foster the professional development and training of advisors, three to four academic advising meetings are scheduled in each of the fall and spring terms (Typically one session is also arranged during the summer term.).  The typical length of these sessions is one and half to two hours.  Topics for the PDT sessions are developed by the PDT committee and are based on feedback from campus advisors. Past meetings have focused on various topics that are relevant to all university advisors, for example, legal issues and advising, working with students with disabilities, options for minors, and transfer student needs.  All advisors on campus are provided with a listing of the PDT session dates, times, and topics at the beginning of each semester.

The major emphasis of the PDT sessions is on training.  PDT solicits topic suggestions from the advising community as well from other constituencies integrally involved in the advising process. These sessions are necessary to ensure that advisors are equipped with the most current information related to campus wide initiatives and policy/procedure changes and updates.   In essence, the sessions provide advisors access to the fundamental resources that are required to continue to ensure that students receive confident and competent advising.

In an effort to promote improved professional development and foster small group discussion about the topics presented in the PDT sessions, the PDT committee began implementing a common reading program prior to each of these sessions in the Fall 2012.  The goals of the common reading program are to 1.  Provide a foundational knowledge base for learning prior to the monthly PDT session, 2.  Encourage advisors to stay current in the field of academic advising, and 3. Promote campus wide discussion and collegial sharing.

The common reading consists of a short reading(s) from sources such as the NACADA resource clearinghouse and the NACADA journal.  The selected reading is chosen by members of the PDT committee to relate to the topic of the upcoming PDT session.  The common reading selection is shared on the advising list-serv and advisors are encouraged first to complete the reading and second to come together for a reading discussion over lunch.  The luncheon is typically conducted one week prior to the PDT session and the common reading is usually disseminated about three weeks prior to the luncheon.  Although the PDT committee does provide a list of questions to initiate and guide the small groups, discussions are not limited to these questions.

The typical size of the common reading luncheon discussion group has been ten advisors.  Feedback from the advisors that have been involved has been positive.  Participants have welcomed the opportunity to informally gather to discuss timely scholarly issues with campus wide colleagues that are encountered in everyday advising practices.  Additionally, feedback has indicated that participation in the common reading has provided a deeper meaning to the topics explored in the subsequent PDT session.  Finally, the small group discussion gives advisors the chance to connect with each other and explore various viewpoints.  It’s really advisors training advisors, in a sense.

The PDT committee plans to maintain the common reading program in the future in order to continue to provide professional development opportunities for the advisors.  There is potential to strengthen the common reading to include a common book reading during the summer semester in order to promote continued growth while having the opportunity to examine a topic in more depth.


Constitution of the Academic Advising Council.  Retrieved February 22, 2013, from http://emas.illinoisstate.edu/aac/