Academic Advising Resources



Common reading as a forum for continuous professional development among advisors
Authored By: Janet K. Schulenberg, Maren E. Larson, and Gabriela Bermudez

Empowering practitioners to apply research to practice and to create new knowledge is of growing importance to several fields, including academic advising. For the past several decades, the fields of teaching and nursing have encouraged professional development among their practitioners (Liberman and Miller, 1990; Nolan, Owen, and Nolan, 1995). The results of these efforts suggest that academic advising would also benefit from purposeful attention to helping practitioners develop habits of continuous professional development. Both fields have shown that self-directed learning, in part through consumption of scholarly literature, is a critical component to empowering practitioners to improve practice and contribute to knowledge building in the field.

Common reading is an enjoyable way to start developing scholarly reading habits. Sharing discussion of an article allows advisors to bring their own knowledge and expertise to a subject, share their perspectives with others, and learn from others’ interpretations of a piece of writing about a topic in a much more self-motivated and self-directed setting than other more formal professional development activities may allow.

Learning from other fields: Practitioner engagement in teaching and nursing
Teaching and nursing, fields with a practitioner focus similar to academic advising, are cultivating professional development programs that include practitioner engagement in reading scholarly literature. In both fields, the ultimate goal of professional development is to improve practice. However, in both fields the subtle outcomes are significant, especially in how they affect individual practitioners. Programs in teaching and medicine suggest the benefits that widespread engagement with advising literature could bring to practitioners in academic advising.

Teaching professionals have been encouraged to participate in professional development for the past fifty years through in-service days where teachers were delivered information from outside “experts” (Lieberman and Miller, 1990). In the past several decades, a movement to empower teachers to take a more active role in their continuing professional development has emerged. One important aspect of this movement includes teachers as consumers of scholarly literature on teaching and learning. While those who advocate for these programs acknowledge that reading scholarship on teaching alone won’t necessarily directly improve a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom, they do suggest that consumption of scholarly literature will help teachers develop a greater awareness of the variety of alternatives available to solve a problem and foster greater reflection on how changes in practice impact student learning (Sanacore, 1996). Further, this engagement with scholarship is an important element of empowering teachers to construct their own inquiry projects (Liberman and Miller, 1990).

Continuing professional education among nurses, including reading and shared discussion of scholarly literature, produced a range of subtle but significant results. A mixed methods study of nursing professionals who had engaged in a continuing professional development program found that participants expressed development of:

  • Greater self-confidence and assertiveness
  • More effective contribution to multidisciplinary teams
  • Increased likelihood of challenging the status quo when it was required
  • Enhanced problem-solving abilities
  • More reflective practice
  • Ability to present a reasoned case for change
  • Better standards of record-keeping
  • Improved communication with patients and peers
  • A sense of achievement and better self-image
  • The perception that continuing education is essential to raising the status of the profession and is integral to career development (Nolan, Owens, and Nolan, 1995).

Some hospitals have developed full-fledged common reading programs, often emphasizing reading of non-medical, non-scholarly literature. These programs appear to generate the same subtle, but significant results for participants. “The reflection and conversation that takes place in the process greatly enhances the level of cooperation, collaboration, and esprit de corps within our hospital family and our community at large. The impetus in turn greatly improves the quality of care we provide to our patients and their families” (NJCH, 2008). When shared among doctors and nurses, common reading helped break down the status divides between them (Zagier, 2010). The same could be expected when reading and discussion are shared among faculty and professional advisors, or among administrators and advisors.

Scholarly engagement in academic advising
Based on the literature from teaching and nursing, it appears that reading scholarly literature doesn’t necessarily improve practice, but it clearly improves the practitioner. Although the importance of scholarly reading is reinforced at the national level through NACADA’s sponsorship of a common reading at the annual conference, developing continuous reading habits among front-line advisors is a grassroots effort. At this point in advising’s history, scholarly engagement has not been part of the expected work life of professional advisors. Establishing a local common reading program is one way for advisers to take the first step toward changing the culture of their unit (and of advising as a field) toward one that empowers advisors as knowledge creators.

Reading is a powerful first step toward becoming a contributor to a field’s knowledge base. For example, at NACADA’s common reading at the 2009 annual conference, the discussion highlighted several questions participants wished the research article had answered but didn’t. Participants walked away with ideas about important research topics, and with ideas for how they might start answering those questions from their own institutions. This outcome is significant; advisors came to read and discuss knowledge generated by an expert, but walked away affirmed that they too are knowledge experts.

Advisors come from a variety of backgrounds, often ones that were not research focused. Many advisors who do come from a research background may have drifted far away from literature and research methodology. As a group, advisors express a desire to engage with scholarship, but also express a lack of confidence to evaluate a piece of scholarly literature (Aiken-Wisniewski et al, 2008). With some practice, all advisors have the skills to read, evaluate, and ultimately write, scholarly articles. Common reading programs are a way for advisors to support each other as they delve into scholarly literature. Here, we offer some suggestions to help interested advisors develop a common reading program within their advising unit or institution.

Tip #1: Give yourself permission to take time to think, read, and grow:

  • Read on your own. Empower yourself to engage in your own personal improvement. Carve out time in your day to nourish your intellect; make it a priority as you do other important things.
  • When you find a compelling article, share it with colleagues who might be interested in the topic. Demonstrating to others that there is time in this work for personal growth is a powerful way to influence others to also engage in self-directed professional development. Ask your colleagues what they thought of the article. Be persistent; eventually someone will share. Enthusiasm is contagious.

Tip #2: Widen the circle of readers by identifying articles of interest to others

  • Identify existing opportunities where a brief discussion of an article would fit in normal work life, e.g., a regular staff meeting. Distribute an article that relates to a topic of general concern at least a week before the meeting and lead a discussion about its implications for your unit’s practice.
  • A successful beginning common reading article should be on a topic of relevance to those in your group and be well written and relatively easy to read. The more you read, the easier it will be for you to identify an article worthy of sharing.
  • Keep the momentum going. Find another article that builds on what you’ve been discussing and share that.
  • Ideas for locating a good article or book:
    • The NACADA Journal and the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources are good starting places for articles directly about academic advising.
    • Other journals related to college student affairs often have articles on relevant topics.
    • Choose a book from higher education and academic advising’s canon of scholarly literature, such as Student Success in College, Leaving College, or Crossing the Finish Line.
    • Read a popular book that can be applied generally e.g., The World is Flat, Made to Stick, My Freshman Year, Metaphors We Live By, or read literature that can help broaden perspectives and address issues of diversity, humanity, and professional ethics e.g., The Poisonwood Bible, Night, Catcher in the Rye, The Little Prince, A Mercy, Hard Times.

Tip #3: Work within the culture of your unit and show that the investment makes a difference:


  • Identify the issues of general concern, curiosity, or frustration among your colleagues. Choose an article that illuminates some aspect of that issue. By choosing an article that relates to existing needs, you will add legitimacy to taking the time to read.
  • Use what you learned from the article by applying it to your work and program. Cite the article when you use concepts from it in any context. Keep up the discussion and demonstrate that it has an impact on your work.
  • Work towards establishing a common reading discussion as a regular part of your work. Build it into staff meetings or as its own event during work hours. Suggest blocking a common half hour once a month so all staff can share the discussion. Schedule it at times of the day when students least desire appointments.

Tip #4: Give your colleagues freedom, voice, and respect:

  • In preparation for your common reading gathering, develop discussion questions and share them with your colleagues. Ideally, the discussion questions provide a starting point, but others will eventually bring their own questions, comments, and topics.
  • Enjoy listening to the discussion. Let your colleagues explore the topics they found relevant without being rigid about the discussion questions. Use the discussion questions to reframe the discussion if it becomes too heated or if one person begins to dominate.
  • Pay attention to the topics raised in the discussion as potential topics for a subsequent reading. When offering that reading, refer to the previous discussion.
  • If a colleague suggests an article to share, include it.

Tip #5: Keep track

  • Build a bibliography of the articles and books you have personally read. Once you build the resource, you will have an easier time putting your hands on a particularly useful article when the time comes.
  • Document your common readings, participation, and discussion outcomes. If unanswered questions emerge from your discussions, begin brainstorming ways your unit might be able to answer those questions through a small project. When you learn something new, remind your colleagues and administrators that reading is what helped spark the project in the first place.

Developing intrinsic motivation to engage in life-long learning through self-directed reading is an integral part of practicing what we teach as advisors, and to improving the status, consistency, and scholarship of advising as a profession. Those who advise, regardless of their institutional affiliation, should be consumers of scholarship about students, disciplines, and higher education. With some practice, many will be able to make the jump from consumer to producer, and will shape what we know about students, higher education, and academic advising.

Janet K. Schulenberg

Senior Undergraduate Studies Adviser, Coordinator of FTCAP Programming
Division of Undergraduate Studies

The Pennsylvania State University

Maren E. Larson

Senior Undergraduate Studies Advisor

Division of Undergraduate Studies

The Pennsylvania State University

Gabriela Bermudez

Senior Undergraduate Academic Adviser

Division of Undergraduate Studies

The Pennsylvania State University

Suggested readings:


Stigma consciousness and stereotype threat

Brown, R. P., & Lee, M. N. (2005). Stigma Consciousness and the Race Gap in College Academic Achievement. Self and Identity, 4 (2), 149-157.

Fries-Britt, S., & Griffin, K. A. (2007). The Black Box: How High Achieving Blacks Resist Stereotypes About Black Americans. Journal of College Student Development, 48 (5), 509-524.


McGlone, M. S. & Aronson, J. (2007). Forewarning and Forearming Stereotype-Threatened Students. Communication Education 56 (2), 119-133.


Smith, W. A., Allen, W. R., Danley, L. L. (2007). Assume the Position… You Fit the Description. American Behavioral Scientist, 51 (4), 551-578.

Diverse populations

Chhuon, V & Hudley, C.  (2008).  Factors supporting Cambodian American students’ successful adjustment into the university. Journal of College Student Development, 49(1), 15-30.

Harding, B. (2008).  Students with specific advising needs.  In V. Gordon, W. Habley, and T. Grites Academic Advising, 2nd Edition (pp. 189-203).  San Francisco:  John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.


Harper, S.R. & Nichols, A.H. (2008). Are They Not All the Same? Racial Heterogeneity Among Black Male Undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development, 49 (3), 1-16.


Howard-Hamilton, M.F. (1997).  Theory to Practice: Applying Developmental Theories Relevant to African American Men. New Directions for Student Services, 80, 17-30


Jackson, A.P., Smith, S.A, & Hill, C.L. (2003).  Academic Persistence Among Native American College Students. Journal of College Student Development, 44 (4), 548-565.


Orbe, M. P. (2004). Negotiating Multiple Identities Within Multiple Frames: An Analysis of First-Generation College Students. Communication Education, 53 (2), 131-149.


Patton, L.D., McEwan, M., Rendón, L., Howard-Hamilton, M.F. (2007). Critical Race Perspectives on Theory in Student Affairs. New Directions for Student Services, 120, 39-53.


Perez, A. B. (2008). Struggling Between Two Worlds: How College Affects Identity Construction. Journal of College Admission (198), 11-13.


Sanlo, R. (2004). Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual College Students: Risk, Resiliency, and Retention. Journal of College Student Retention Research Theory and Practice, 9 (1), 97-110.


Shuck, G. (2006). Racializing the Nonnative English Speaker. Journal of language, identity & education, 5(4), 259 -276.


Somers, P., Woodhouse, S., & Cofer, J. (2004).  Pushing the boulder uphill: The persistence of first-generation college students. NASPA Journal, 41 (3), 418-435.


Torres, V. (2003). Mi casa is not exactly like your house: A window onto the experience of Latino students. About Campus, May/June, 2003, 2-7.


Torres, V., & Hernandez, E. (2007). The Influence of Ethnic Identity on Self-Authorship: A Longitudinal Study of Latino/a College Students. Journal of College Student Development, 48 (5), 558-573.


Torres, V., Reiser, A., LePeau, L., Davis, L., & Ruder, J. (2006). A Model of First-Generation Latino/a College Students' Approach to Seeking Academic Information. NACADA Journal, 26 (2), 65-70.


Watkins, D. C., Green, B. L., Goodson, P., Guidry, J., & Stanley, C. (2007). Using Focus Groups to Explore the Stressful Life Events of Black College Men. Journal of College Student Development, 48 (1), 105-118.


Social justice perspectives

Bensimon, E. M. (2007). The Underestimated Significance of Practitioner Knowledge in the Scholarship on Student Success. The Review of Higher Education, 30 (4), 441-469.


Harris, F., and Bensimon, E.M. (2007). The Equity Scorecard: A Collaborative Approach to Assess and Respond to Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Student Outcomes. New Directions for Student Services, 120, 77-84.


Patton, L.D., McEwan, M., Rendón, L., Howard-Hamilton, M.F. (2007). Critical Race Perspectives on Theory in Student Affairs. New Directions for Student Services, 120, 39-53.

Student development and their ways of thinking

Baxter Magolda, M. B., & King, P. M. (2008). Toward Reflective Conversations: An Advising Approach that Promotes Self-Authorship. Peer Review, 10 (1), 8-11.


Beggs, J. M., Bantham, J. H., & Taylor, S. (2008). Distinguishing the Factors Influencing College Students' Choice of Major. College Student Journal, 42 (2), 381-394.


Page, L. (2004). Perfectly Hard Work: Academic Beliefs and Learning to Navigate University. Guidance & Counseling, 19 (4), 191-195.


Pizzolato, J. E. (2006). Complex Partnerships: Self-authorship and Provocative Advising Practices. NACADA Journal, 26 (1), 32-45.


Pizzolato, J. E. (2005). Creating Crossroads for Self-Authorship: Investigating the Provocative Moment. Journal of College Student Development, 46 (6), 624-641.


Pizzolato, J. E., & Ozaki, C. C.  (2007). Moving toward self-authorship: Investigating outcomes of learning partnerships. Journal of College Student Development, 48 (2), 196-214.


Aiken-Wisniewski, S. A., Black, I., Naylor, S. M., Schulenberg, J., & Smith, J. S. (2008). Understanding Research in Academic Advising: Advisors and Administrators Speak Out, NACADA Annual Conference. Chicago, IL.

Lieberman, A., & Miller, L. (1990). Teacher Development in Professional Practice Schools. Teachers College Record, 92 (1), 105-122.


New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH). (2008) Literature and Health Care: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care. New Jersey Council for the Humanities. Retrieved from


Nolan, M., Owens, R. G., & Nolan, J. (1995). Continuing Professional Education: Identifying the Characteristics of an Effective System. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 21, 551-560.


Sanacore, J. (1996). Supporting Lifetime Professional Growth Through Lifetime Professional Literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 39 (5), 404-407.

Zagier, A.S., (2010) Doctors rediscover humanity by reading the humanities together. Pressofatlanticci Retrieved from

Cite this using APA style as:

Schulenberg, J.K., Larson, M.E. & Bermudez, G. (2010). Common Reading as a Forum for Continuous Professional Development Among Advisors. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:

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