New don training will personalize students’ residence experience

Current system is outdated, says Dean of Student Affairs

Matthew Brown, pictured with fellow don Victoria Au, said the changes to training and programming will be positive as long as the same educational material is covered.
Matthew Brown, pictured with fellow don Victoria Au, said the changes to training and programming will be positive as long as the same educational material is covered.

A new training and programming model for dons will allow them to tailor their programming to the individual needs of the students on their floors.

“The staffing structure will be similar. What is changing is the approach to educational programming,” said Jason Laker, dean of student affairs. “We’re moving from a template that is used universally to a decentralized model that’ll allow us to make a personal commitment to every student.

“Within each staff, they would look at what their skills, interests, talents and who the students [are that] they’re serving,” said Laker, who’s working with Residence Life to recast the programming model.

Laker said the University’s current approach is similar to the model he used when he was a don at Central Michigan University in 1990.

He said the time dons spend planning events can be used in a more personal way.

“Queen’s is a decentralized organization. The whole of Queen’s is designed on that idea. You have different faculties, they each have their own cultures and traditions. It makes sense that we’d design a residence program similarly.”

Instead of planning events around previously specified themes such as alcohol awareness or study skills, a don would talk to the students, find out what they’re learning and see how they’re doing and plan events around that, Laker said.

“The new model also allows the talents and skills of the dons to have much more influence on what they’ll do on the job.

“Where dons have not enjoyed their job, it’s when they’re not being challenged to use their skills. This model is intended to correct that,” he said.

At the moment, a don co-ordinates with the learning strategies office and is usually in the position to tell the learning strategists when to come in and what to teach.

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense … because who’s the expert on learning strategies? I would much prefer the learning strategist identify the times based on their work with students and what would be the best time.

For example, engineering students have a common first year, he said.

“The learning strategist can look at how many engineering students use the service [at the learning strategies office] and when and what their usual questions are. They can reach out directly. The don will no longer be the runner for that.”

The content could be planned around the students’ needs rather than the don’s schedule, Laker said.

“Students in residence will have the ability to interact with all these different supports, without it being filtered in one way or another.”

Jo-Ann Brierley, Residence Life activities co-ordinator, said the committee for don training hasn’t met yet but will begin planning next month.

“We want to have dons understand that learning practices have to match the needs of residence halls. It’s everybody’s responsibility to educate students,” she said.

Brierley said the committee will also look into having a more balanced training period for dons.

“They go through 10 days of long days … after eight hours we’re losing them,” she said, adding that dons will also receive professional development training during the year.

Matthew Brown, a senior don at Jean Royce Hall, said he thinks the changes are positive.

Brown, who has been a don for three years, said dons are required to complete proactive and reactive programming.

Proactive programming is a set of subjects that dons are expected to cover each month, he said. Reactive programming requires creating activities in reaction to the needs of students.

“Those are the set guidelines. What we do as dons is come up with a program or an activity to satisfy that subject,” he said.

“My gut reaction is that the direction [Laker] seems to be moving in is quite positive because in general, dons don’t come into the business with the thought that we’re going to have to run programming on alcohol awareness or the environment. We’re more interested in mentoring and community-building.”

Brown said his only concern is that if dons aren’t covering subjects such as alcohol awareness, the University will have to find another way to get resources provided to students.

“That might mean bringing in people like learning strategists who are trained … without dons organizing it and providing support.” Victoria Au, a senior don for Adelaide and Ban Righ Hall, will be a returning don next year and said this year, dons have brought up a lot of concerns about training, length of training and also interaction with students.

“I think that’s what Laker and ResLife have been trying to do. They’ve been trying to address our concerns.”

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