The NASJE Curriculum: I’ve Heard About It, Received Two Large Manuals, But Why Is It Important to Me?

by Judith M. Anderson, Washington

I have been asked to write an article about the National Association of State Judicial Educators (NASJE) curriculum designs. This is the first in what the NASJE Curriculum Committee hopes will be a series of articles about the curriculum, its origin, its vision, its components, and how to use it. The committee hopes and challenges all judicial branch educators to use it internally within their organizations to educate other judicial branch educators, when working with judges and court staff, and when designing educational programs for future NASJE conferences.

Judicial branch educators are rare. None of us attended college to earn a degree in being a judicial branch educator. We come with JDs, PhDs, Ed.Ds, Master’s and Bachelor’s Degrees in Adult, Secondary, and Elementary Education, or Training Certification. We then enter another little understood workplace called the court system and are asked to develop and conduct judicial branch education for justices, judges, magistrates, referees, court personnel, etc. So who are we? What do we do? Why do we do it? And how do we do our work?

Let’s step back a bit and look at some history. NASJE was founded in 1975 by fourteen judicial educators. Over the years, NASJE evolved by developing principles and standards of education and by focusing ourselves on sound adult education theory and use of instructional design processes. Though NASJE, members continued to refine who we were and what we did. It wasn’t until 2002 that NASJE recognized the need to formally identify and write down core competencies for judicial branch educators.

A committee was appointed in 2002 to write a description of core competencies for judicial branch educators. The committee looked at 1) the purpose and role of the judicial branch educator; 2) what judicial branch educators know and do; and 3) what infrastructure and management is required to develop and maintain an effective judicial branch education organization. At the end of this endeavor, the committee recommended eleven core competency areas.

  1. Governance: Roles, Responsibilities, Structures, and Functions of Boards, Advisory and Planning Committees.
  2. Developing and Implementing Curriculum and Program Development.
  3. Instructional Design.
  4. Faculty Development.
  5. Selecting and Managing Instructional Delivery Mechanisms, Including Distance Education.
  6. Managing Logistical Arrangements Needed for Instructional Delivery Mechanisms.
  7. Building and Maintaining Support for Judicial Branch Education Budgets and Resources
  8. Human Resources Management.
  9. Leadership, Visioning, Organizational Planning, and Building and Maintaining Support for Judicial Branch Education
  10. Needs Assessment.
  11. Evaluation.

In 2004, NASJE members reviewed these core competencies and approved them. The entire recommendation and descriptions can be found online on the NASJE membership site. This was only the tip of the iceberg.

icebergIt wasn’t until 2009 that NASJE requested funding from the State Justice Institute (SJI) to take those core competencies and create a curriculum designed for NASJE members. Even from the beginning, the committee recognized that though the original 11 competencies were correct, over the years judicial branch education had evolved and the core competencies were missing crucial and vital competencies in the area of diversity and fairness, ethical issues, and technology. Currently a diversity and fairness competency is being developed, and the committee hopes that, in the near future, curriculum designs will follow. As the need arises, the core competencies will be revisited and updated.

The task of the NASJE Curriculum Committee was to develop a curriculum to guide the education of judicial branch educators based on the 11 core competencies. It was an overwhelming task! However, there was a ray of hope. M. Christy Tull (Ohio), the Curriculum Committee chair, contacted Karen Thorson, a highly respected and dedicated past judicial educator who had retired to the wilds of Montana to pursue her art, but was willing to develop, with the help of some other incredible NASJE members, a curriculum based on the competencies.

Over the next four years, Karen and the committee, through SJI grants, drafted, reviewed, edited, discussed, debated, and led review teams on an exciting and exhausting journey. As I write this article, the committee has completed individual curriculum designs for each core competency, most having both an entry-level and an experienced-level content design. These designs have learning objectives, content, faculty resources, and participant activities that will serve as the basis for developing courses on each core competency.

Two massive hardcopy publications containing the curriculum designs on seven of the eleven core competencies were disseminated to membership in 2011 and 2012. This year, a third publication will provide designs for the remaining four competencies. By this year’s annual conference, all of the designs will be online within our NASJE membership site. Taken together, these designs constitute a curriculum for our profession.

As a seasoned judicial branch educator (since 1984), I feel like the career I have lived and currently pursue was taken and put down on paper. This curriculum, though lengthy, gets at the heart and soul of what we do every day in our role as judicial branch educators, no matter if one is new to the role or has been around as long as I have. It contains something for everyone. If someone asks me today what a judicial branch educator does, I have an enormous number of resources from which to pull my answer. I am waiting for the chance to hand the soon-to-be three extensive publications to someone and say “This is what I do!” The rest of the iceberg has been revealed.

As Karen Thorson stated many times to the committee, this curriculum has been created to be transformative. It is designed to create a common language, a common understanding of who we are and what we do, no matter what state, no matter what type of organization we come from. Directors, managers, supervisors, new educators, conference registrars, the NASJE Education Committee, and faculty can utilize the curriculum as a whole, or use individual curriculum designs focused on a specific core competency of our profession.

The challenge for you is to not let the size of the publications intimidate you. Open them up and explore instructional designs, faculty development, curriculum design, needs assessment, etc. Pull from those curriculum designs learning objectives, faculty resources, and participant resources, and modify them to your needs. I am currently using sections to help develop curriculum-based planning in my state.

What does the future hold? The last of the curriculum designs are being finalized and sent to the NASJE Board for review and approval. If approved, they will be printed and disseminated to NASJE members in another publication, and work is ongoing to move all of them to a user-friendly electronic environment. Although the electronic versions will provide many enhancements not available in the hardcopy versions, preparing and posting them will take some time. Do not wait! I challenge all judicial educators to take a little time and review the core competencies and the curriculum designs currently available. Pull out portions to conduct in-house brown bags, develop in-house education and training for new judicial branch educators, work with judicial branch education committees, and have discussions on adult education and the development of judicial branch education programming.

There is much more to discuss, but I promised the committee I would be brief. Other Curriculum Committee members will be writing future articles to keep the discussion about who we are and what we do alive and well. Future Curriculum Corner articles will address other aspects of the curriculum, such as the useful curriculum glossary.

Readers who are intrigued by the curriculum challenge and want to “crack open” those massive publications, but do not know how to begin, can contact any of the current NASJE Curriculum Committee members. We would be happy to help.

  • M. Christy Tull (Ohio)
  • Karen Thorson – Consultant
  • Carole McMahon-Boies (Nebraska)
  • Stephen Feiler (Pennsylvania)
  • Caroline Kirkpatrick (Virginia)
  • Martha Martin (Florida)
  • Jeff Schrade (Arizona)
  • Robin Wosje (National Judicial College)
  • Stephanie Hemmert (DC)
  • Kelly Tait – Board Liaison
  • Judith Anderson (Washington)

For further information contact Judith Anderson at .