Why Your Programming Sucks! (And What To Do About It)

February 10, 2014

sucks_stampCampus programming is part art and part science mixed with some luck. While programming efforts vary from institution to institution, there’s no denying that many veteran student affairs professionals agree that attracting the attention (and attendance) of college students has become increasingly difficult. With the advent of Facebook, Netflix, smart phones, and an ever growing catalog of video games and entertainment options, campus programming can easily be perceived as passé by someone out of the realm of Student Life.

Please understand that I myself am a programming “purist” and wholeheartedly believe that student programming efforts add to the extracurricular personal development of our students. However, programming without a strategic plan can lead to poor results, including a waste of time, resources, and the creation of disillusioned staffers and students alike. Having over 20 years of experience in campus programming, I would like to share some thoughts on why your programming sucks and what to do about it:

1. Your Programming is a Mainly a Means to an End: If your activities are simply there because it’s required of you, you’re probably not putting your heart and soul into program development. This is going to be obvious as you won’t be inspiring your staff or your students into putting forth innovative and quality work. If you don’t want to be there, your students certainly won’t want to be there either (i.e., circular causality). Furthermore, if you are programming simply for programming’s sake without any formal goals or student learning outcomes in mind, there’s a good chance your programming will become stale because there’s nothing to challenge you to push past mediocrity.

Resolve: Whether you’re an RA, hall coordinator, assistant director of student activities, or director of a student affairs department, if you find programming a chore and something you have to do for the paycheck, it’s time to refocus and recharge or simply get out. You can refocus by finding out what colleagues are doing across the country. Suggestions include subscribing to Student Affairs blogs, reading tweets from other college and university departments, participating in webinars, and attending regional and national conferences. Get out of your own department and find other colleagues at your institution who inspire you and achieve great results with their own programs. Additionally, ASK FOR HELP if you find yourself struggling.

2. You Concentrate Solely on Attendance: While numbers are certainly good, they shouldn’t be the sole reason for why you program. Rather than focusing on worthwhile activities that students will appreciate and find worth their time, programmers can easily fall into the trap of offering gimmicks and prizes to attract attendees. Of course pizza, gift cards, and t-shirts are awesome, but don’t create a situation in which students only come to grab the free stuff and bolt.

Resolve: Refer to your department and university’s mission and vision when developing your programs for the semester and year. Determine the purpose behind your programming and plan accordingly. If success is only determined by numbers at your institution, I challenge you to illustrate the student learning outcomes you achieve to your superiors rather than following status quo. It is hard to argue against programs that foster student development and education. (It’s even better if you can do this without spending a lot of money to achieve those results!)

3. Your Marketing is Lacking: Throwing up a few flyers and sending out an email and a tweet isn’t going to cut it. Students are inundated with loads of information and a lackluster advertising effort will go unnoticed. In large part, the bulk of students don’t care about what you’re doing. Furthermore, if they don’t see your message, they can’t make plans to attend.

Resolve: For all intents and purposes, your marketing campaign should be as well planned as the program itself. Try to make the marketing fun as well. A message that sets itself apart from all of the other “noise” of departments hawking their events will have a better chance of getting noticed. Don’t simply use one avenue of marketing, such as only using Facebook, but use all of the tools you have, including social media, email, handwritten personal invites, flyers, announcements at organization meetings, sidewalk chalk, and even guerilla marketing techniques.

4. You’re Trying Too Hard or Not Trying Hard Enough: We’re not going to compete with the likes of Playstation, Netflix, and off-campus parties so don’t try to. You’ll quickly burn yourself out on multiple half-assed programs that little if nobody will attend. On the other hand, if you’re hosting programs that you yourself wouldn’t want to attend, why would you think your students would come? Programming takes creativity, and most importantly, hard work.

Resolve: Sometimes simple can be better. In large part, students want the opportunity to interact with one another and do something fun. If you can add in some education in there, all the better. Yet, you can’t just throw a pizza in the study lounge and expect 100 people to show up. Float some ideas by a bunch of students prior to rolling out a program. You’ll get a quick sense whether or not an idea is decent or not. Also, consider giving some program types a rest while bringing old ones back that haven’t been done in awhile. What’s new is old, and what’s old is new.

Good coordinated and creative programming is challenging, but should be fun for you, your staff, and your students. Spend the time to develop a programming and marketing plan to ensure better success. And if something doesn’t work, get rid of it. Don’t hang onto traditions just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Programming needs to stay fresh, innovative, and fun.

For further information regarding programming, I encourage you to read Developing Activities (Free 650+ Activities Handout) as well as What is Your Programming GPA? (***free handout***)


Why Your Spring Training is Largely Ineffective

January 15, 2014

Why Your Spring Training is Largely Ineffective

Now is the time Student Life staffers are looking for advice and resources regarding spring training for student employees and student leaders. Each college and university has its own tradition regarding how they provide training at the beginning of the spring semester whether its for resident advisors, orientation leaders, student government representatives, and other student leaders. The philosophy behind that training and how its implemented can be very different from institution to institution. In some cases the results of spring training can be largely ineffective.

Here are some questions to consider and strategies to implement as you assess your own spring training program:

Do You Have Loosely Defined Learning Outcomes? What is the purpose of your training? What is it that you want your students to learn as a result of attending your training? Do you have any formal or informal learning assessments to implement during and after your training? Define what you want your students to learn and create your training to teach that knowledge. Don’t simply present random topics loosely related to your department and hope that your students will learn something from it. Create short and simple surveys, quizzes, and / or require a demonstration of some sort so you can determine if they learned what you wanted them to learn.

Are You Are Training for Training’s Sake? Is your training strategically created or are you simply following tradition of what was done in the past? Take stock in the value of your current training practices and assess whether or not you need to need to modify it. I don’t like to waste people’s time, and I don’t like my time wasted. With that being said, create something that is worth everyone’s time. Don’t simply bring students and / or staff back early just for the sake of bringing them back early and force lackluster training content. Also, don’t outsource all of your sessions to guest speakers from across campus who may not add real value to your training just to get a training schedule together.

Is Your Training Actually “Training” At All? Are you scrambling to find activities just to fill the schedule? Is your schedule mostly filled with social rather than educational activities? What would happen if you didn’t have your spring training altogether? Would it truly be missed and have a negative impact on your semester? Have sessions that are impactful, memorable, and directly relate to your daily “business.” Understand that fun activities and team bonding are appropriate as a part of training, but they should not constitute your entire schedule.

*** Photo courtesy of Tomasz Szkopiñski


Creating a “Leadership Kit” Passive Program (***free handout***)

November 14, 2013

Leadership Kit

For many years I have been putting together and distributing small “Leadership Kits” to my employees and various student leaders whose leadership skills I aim to develop further. Recently I gave these to my students in our Leadership Living-Learning Community to help emphasize some of the attributes of being a “servant leader.” Although I themed the kits for servant leadership, you can adopt them to serve your own particular leadership needs.

The kit comes in the form of a Ziploc bag that includes the following inexpensive items that correspond to various aspects of leadership:

  • Snickers Candy – leaders need a sense of humor
  • Dum Dum Lollipops – leaders learn from their mistakes
  • Rubber bands – leaders are flexible
  • Pen / Pencil & Pad (Post-It Notes) – leaders write down good ideas
  • Highlighter – leaders highlight the strengths of their team members
  • Light stick – leaders show the way
  • Glue stick – leaders keep the team together
  • Super Ball – because leaders are super to their team
  • Index cards for the leadership quote(s) and item explanation

Outside of the symbolic representation of the items, the kit also serves as a small resource supply bag that students and employees can use from a practical standpoint to accomplish such tasks as homework and other school and job-related projects. The kits can be used for staff welcome back gifts, primers for team discussions, marketing efforts for an upcoming leadership activity, and even as a simple passive activity / program for your students.

You can create your own “Leadership Kit, by downloading this free, ready-made leadership kit label template in order to print out the leadership cards and quotes you will need to assemble your own kits. These can be printed on Avery labels (Template #5163) and adhered to index cards or you can simply print them on paper and cut them out.

Enjoy and please share with the handout with your colleagues!


Conflict Resolution Questionnaire (***free activity handout***)

August 21, 2013

Conflict Questionnaire Activity

Each of us has our own personal conflict style. Because of this we may handle situations in different ways, which can cause various conflicts. There are five basic conflict styles, which are briefly described here:

Competing – “Fighting the good fight” is par for the course for this particular style. In most cases this is counterproductive to resolving conflicts.

Compromising – “Give-and-take” is the approach for someone who normally compromises.

Avoiding – Conflict is never encouraged and typically avoided. This can create further conflicts because issues aren’t being communicated and shared.

Accommodating – Accomodaters sacrifice for the sake of others to resolve a dispute. While this may be an ends to a means, it can ultimately lead to their needs and wants not being taken care of.

Collaborating – “Let’s work on it together to come up with a solution” is the driving force behind this particular style.

Here is a Conflict Questionnaire that can be utilized as an activity for conflict resolution training and / or to have a discussion about communication among individuals. Please feel free to share among your students and colleagues.


Blogging Group Interview Activity (Five Dollar Download)

June 19, 2013

Blogging

The goal of any student employee interview process should be to assess the attitude, personality, and skills needed for the open positions. As with any job, candidates should be assessed on their ability to listen, follow instructions, demonstrate knowledge, and display a positive and professional attitude through their writing. This “Five Dollar Download” Blogging Group Interview Activity was created to do just that.

In a nutshell, student leader candidates are taught how to use the WordPress blogging platform in order to create a short (two to three paragraph) blog post / article on a student life-related topic. The professional in charge of the activity creates a free and private Wordpress account ahead of time and teaches the students how to create a short post using this account. This blogging demonstration should only take 5 – 10 minutes to accomplish allowing time for any questions. The candidates are instructed to choose a topic from a list that is provided to them. Examples include: Tips for Getting Better Grades; Safety Tips for College Students; and Advice for New College Students. Candidates can also create a topic of their own as long as it is related to college life and is educational. The suggested topics sheet also purposely includes a “trap” that some unsuspecting candidates may fall into and ultimately prove to be an unsuitable hire. (*This will be obvious to student affairs professionals and the more savvy candidates.*)

The hiring professional(s) can have the students accomplish the task after the instructional demonstration in a computer lab, on their own portable devices they are instructed to bring with them, or even on their own time with a set deadline. Once the time has expired, evaluators utilize the rubric in order to assess each candidate’s article. This helps to demonstrate a student’s knowledge on college life, and to see if they can professionally articulate that information. This activity not only teaches a great skill that students can use during their lifetime (i.e., blogging), but is also a suitable activity as one point of evidence to assess the employability of student leader candidates.

My assistant director and I developed and utilized this activity as a part of our own student group hiring process, which proved to be very insightful and successful. This was included as one of a handful of assessment activities. The 6-page Blogging Group Interview Activity includes the following: Activity objectives; CAS student outcomes domains & dimensions; materials list; setup; procedure; closure / discussion; activity variations; topics list; blog login instruction sheet; and rubric and assessment form.


30 Ways to Motivate Organization Members.

May 13, 2013

Leadership with education

Motivating organization members can be the most challenging part of a leader’s responsibilities. Yet, this should be the driving motivation behind why the leader is their position. Mentoring and motivating people is key is accomplishing the mission, vision, and goals of the organization. Here are 30 ways to motivate organization members:

1. Make the members in your group WANT to do things.

2. Study members, and determine what makes each tick.

3. Be a good listener.

4. Criticize constructively.

5. Criticize in private.

6. Praise in public.

7. Be considerate.

8. Delegate responsibility for details to members.

9. Give credit where it is due.

10. Avoid domination or “forcefulness.”

11. Show interest in and appreciation of others.

12. Make your wishes known by suggestions or requests rather than demands.

13. When you make a request or suggestion, be sure to tell the reason(s) for it.

14. Let the members in on your plans and programs even when they are in an early stage.

15. Never forget that the leader sets the style for the members.

16. Focus on the positive.

17. Be consistent.

18. Show your members that you have confidence in them and that you expect them to do their best.

19. Ask members for their advice and help.

20. When you’re wrong or make a mistake, admit it.

21. Listen to ideas from members.

22. If an idea is adopted, tell the originator why, and that you appreciate their ideas.

23. Accept that people carry out best their own ideas.

24. Be careful what you say and how you say it.

25. Don’t be upset by little hassles.

26. Use every opportunity to build up members a sense of the importance of their own work.

27. Give your members’ goals, a sense of direction, something to strive for, and to achieve.

28. Keep your members informed on matters affecting them.

29. Give members a chance to take part in decisions, particularly those affecting them.

30. Let your members know where they stand.

What are some other ways in which you motivate your organization’s members? Please share below.


What is Your Programming GPA? (***free handout***)

February 6, 2013

MH900400047

Planning and attending programs and activities is typically the most fun part of a student affairs professional’s year. Successful programming is not only a skill, but an art. However, we need to be able to teach our programming standards to our full-time and student staffers so they understand what is and what is NOT an excellent program. Unfortunately programming expectations can be very nebulous, subjective, and many times concentrate on quantity rather than quality.

In order to better define the standards programming for my own student staff, I developed a simple, one-page Programming Rubric. Simply stated, a rubric is a written set of criteria for which a task is measured against. Rubrics are typically used by K-12 teacher and professors in the classroom in order to set the standards for how an essay, research paper, presentation, or other assignment will be graded.

The rubric includes a rating of Excellent, Good, Average, and Poor for five areas, including Pre-Planning, Marketing, Finances, Evaluation, and Overall Assessment. There is also a section for comments specific to the actual program being evaluated. Each rating has a numerical value attached to it so you can evaluate a program by creating a programming grade point average (GPA). Given there are five areas of evaluation, including the overall assessment, the points will range from a minimum of five to a maximum of 20. After adding each area together, you divide by five in order to get the program GPA. A programming GPA is a great standard for students because they can relate to it very easily, is easy for them to conceptualize, and offers you the opportunity to discuss results during one-on-one’s and semesterly and / or annual evaluations.

As a specific example, imagine you have a resident assistant who plans a resume writing workshop in which she invites an employee from career services to speak and offer tips. The RA discusses the program with you ahead of time and gets the proper consent as well as advice on how to improve the program. She advertises only using Facebook and spends $75.00 on pizza. Unfortunately, only five students attend the program, and there is little follow up of regarding student feedback and / or learning outcomes assessment. Using the rubic, you give a grading of “Good” (3.0) for Pre-Planning, “Poor” (1.0) for Marketing, “Average” (2.0) for Finances, “Average” (2.0) for Evaluation, and “Average” (2.0) for Overall Assessment. Adding these together, you get a score of 10 points. Divide that by five (for the five areas of assessment), and she earns an “Average” (2.0) GPA for the program.

Download the free Programming Rubric handout to help assess your programming. Feel free to utilize the rubric as a template that you can edit in order to create an appropriate tool for your own department and staffing needs.


The Leader’s Pocket Guide (book review)

December 5, 2012

LeadersPocketGuide_lg

The road to leadership begins with self-understanding and so does John Baldoni’s leadership book, The Leader’s Pocket Guide.  “Leadership has often been defined as a journey. The journey begins with a starting point, and that starting point is the self.” He immediately catches the reader’s attention as he describes leadership as a journey of understanding, learning, growth, and humility. The first of three sections (“SELF”) provides the reader with 20 suggestions for improving their self-leadership skills and helps the reader understand how they interact with others as a leader. At the end of the section, there is an assessment that evaluates how well a reader leads and understands who they are as a leader. Baldoni outlines tips for growth and learning as a self-leader.

In the second of three sections (“COLLEAGUES”), Baldoni declares that one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is leading your peers. He captures the essence behind interacting with peers and improving the relationship with them in the 33 different suggestions. He encourages the reader to understand how they are influencing their peers and gives them knowledge on how to do it in a positive manner.  The book also gives the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they interact with their colleagues and tips for improving those relationships.

In the final section, (“ORGANIZATION”), Baldoni coaches the reader on what it takes to lead an organization. He addresses everything from authentically interacting with your people and instilling a purpose in them to making time for yourself outside of the organization. Like the other sections, he provides the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they lead their team. To lead a team successfully you must execute positive change so that your team is learning and growing together. Baldoni understands what it takes to be a leader and passes on his knowledge so they are developing into positive and productive leaders.

The Leader’s Pocket Guide is an excellent tool and resources for all leaders because it provides well-rounded and diverse suggestions for improving leadership skills that can be applied to any field and any leader. It would be an excellent resource for new supervisors because it would help them evaluate how they lead themselves, interact with their peers, and supervise their workers.  It is a book that can be used over and over again to improve how a leader learns and grows.

The first 25 people to tweet this post on Twitter, like or share on Facebook, or pin on Pinterest will be entered into a raffle to win a copy of  the book. Two books will be raffled.


How to Minimize Employee Mistakes

November 12, 2012

Employee Mistakes

Recently I dealt with a vendor who made some mistakes on a product that was delivered to our office. Upon discussing the issue with one of the company’s employees, I was told that I would receive a refund for the incorrect work, but was being discouraged to have the work corrected by them and to go elsewhere. This was puzzling because I simply asked for them to fix the product without being demanding, rude, or disrespectful.

I came to find out that the owner told his employees that they would have to discourage me from getting the product fixed or the supplies for the fix would come out of their own pay, which was hundreds of dollars. Granted, that is one potential strategy for handling an employee mistake, but not one that I myself would use nor recommend.

Here are some proactive strategies for minimizing employee mistakes:

  • Build in Room for Employee Mistakes – Always assume that your employees are going to make mistakes. Set the parameters for the goals of a project or task, and allow them to do it. Guide them in how to prevent mistakes from occuring with whatever project they have been given.
  • Anticipate Common Mistakes – You can better prepare employees to minimize mistakes by envisioning those common problems that arise for staffers in your organization. Give them the resources and training in order to overcome those typical problems.
  • Do Not Set Up an Employee for Failure – Delegate tasks with the proper levels of authority for the employee given the assignment. As the supervisor, you are the one who should have sound judgement as to who can handle what. Challenging employees is fine, but do not play games by setting up someone to fail to prove a point for whatever reason you may have.
  • Provide Thorough Training – The more employees know how to do their jobs, the better. Employees should always know the mission and goals of your organization. This is important because they become guiding principles for your staffers, which help them when faced with various decisions. This can be accomplished through regular staff training. Skills building through training is paramount.
  • Reward Accuracy – Staffers who achieve success by accomplishing tasks as assigned should be rewarded. This can be as simple as saying “Thank you” or acknowledging their accuracy during supervisory meetings or even publicly during staff meetings.

* Photo courtesy of Mark Puplava


11 RA Staff Development Activities (free resources)

September 28, 2012

The aspect of leadership I most enjoy is being able to create development opportunities for my staff. Staff in-service opprtunities can include anything from skills building activities, trips, discussions, and games. Here are 10 different staff development / in-service activities you can prepare for your staff:

1. Show-and-Tell – We all like talking about our personal stories and things that hold special meaning in our lives. Have each of your RA staffers bring something to your staff development meeting to share with the group. I’ve had RA’s bring special awards, mementos from family members, and other items that hold special sentimental value. The activity allows staffers to learn things about one another that they may not have known before. This is a no-cost activity that usually sparks great discussion.

2. Teamwork Field Trips –  Take your staff on a local field trip to meet with leaders who manage a team in a business or non-profit organization. I previously wrote a post on how I took my staff on a trip of the USAirways command center and aircraft maintenance facilities. I connected with a friend who manages mechanic safety, and he was able to get us a tour where he and his team spoke about the crucial importance of communication and teamwork. You could plan a similar trip by contacting leaders of organizations in your local area. Businesses typically like to show off their work and accomplishments so you should have luck setting something like this up. The worst they can say is “no.”

3. Article & Book Discussions - I am a big advocate of reading and recommending those resources to my staff and colleagues. If your budget allows, purchase a particular book for your staff. They can read the book prior to your having an in-service meeting to discuss the book and how you can apply its content to your own organization. You can even prepare “discussion prompt” worksheets so they can jot down ideas prior to the meeting. To simplify things, assign a particular chapter or even a small journal or magazine article for the discussion.

4. Games & Simulations – I enjoy creating and leading games and simulation activities for my staff. Games and simulations should be centered around learning specific aspects of their RA position, including teamwork, basic counseling skills, and communication.  Click HERE to find a handful of simulation activities related to diversity, delegation, and communication. I also highly recommend Barnga: A Simulation Game on Cultural Clashes by Thiagi.

5. Case Studies – You can create various case studies that your staff can work on to determine various solutions. Pair up newer RA’s with your veterans so they can work together. Case studies for RA’s can range from conduct and mental health issues to diversity and teamwork challenges.

6. Community Service Projects – Arrange for your staff to participate in a local community service project. Projects can range from helping at food banks, YMCA and other youth group organizations, churches, and local municipalities.

7. Photo Scavenger Hunt – While I understand that scavenger hunts can be discouraged at some schools due to hazing policies, photo scavenger hunts can be an easy way to build team collaboration and spirit. Larger staffs can be broken up into smaller teams and sent out to get photos of various objects and situations. The team that gets the most photos of the objects listed in the time alloted wins a prize (or simply kudos). Here is a photo scavenger hunt sheet you can print and use.

8. MOOC Courses – A “MOOC” is a massive online open course. MOOC’s are free (hence the “open”) and offered by various universities and organizations, such as Stanford, MIT, and Khan Academy. Some of the course materials would be appropriate to use for staff development activities, including business, management, and psychology lessons. RA’s could work on various lessons you assign on their own time or read the content prior to attending a staff meeting where it will be discussed.

9. Webinars – Similar to #8, webinars are online presentations that can be viewed as a group or individually. There are many webinars available online for a fee and for free. Topics range from business, marketing, and social media use, leadership, and student life-related areas. Pre-tests and post-tests tied to student life outcome efforts could be created and administered.

10. Arts & Crafts – Sometimes staff development activities can be simply for fun. The completed projects can be kept by the staff or donated to local care homes and hospitals. Craft supplies can be purchased at Walmart, Target, local craft stores, or even online at Oriental Trading.

11. Leadership Chats – Facilitating leadership-related discussions between RA’s and executive administrators at the university can prove to be very insightful and expose them to individuals they may not normally interact with. University staffers, such as the Vice President of Student Affairs, Vice President of Finance & Administration, and the Director of Housing & Residence Life can be invited to in-service meetings to discuss topics regarding career development and being a leader.


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