Santa Claus Must Be a Student Affairs Professional

December 23, 2013

Santa Student Life

Santa Claus is one of the most revered mythical icons that inspires fun, hope, and joy across the globe. Now that the holiday season is upon us, I starting thinking about how we as student life professionals share many of the same attributes as our trusted friend from the North Pole. I feel that Santa Claus could be the perfect Student Affairs professional!

Santa Claus Nurtures and Appreciates Diversity – Santa delivers toys to children all over the world. In order to do this, he must understand all of those cultures and languages. Santa does not discriminate as he spreads the spirit of the holiday to all children. Likewise, Student Affairs professionals serve and help develop students of varied and diverse backgrounds, cultures, abilities, socioeconomic statuses, and a multitude of other differences.

Santa Claus Inspires for Life – We believe in Santa as children, but this only lasts for a short time. However, we continue this tradition with our own families and enjoy the spirit of the holiday for the rest of our lives. The practice of Student Affairs holds this same value for the students we help develop. Students are only in college for a few short years, but the work of Student Affairs professionals will impact them for the rest of their lives. (Those of you reading this are a perfect example of someone who was positively impacted by at least one Student Affairs professional!)

Santa Claus is Everywhere – From midnight to before the break of dawn on Christmas, Santa magically accomplishes the impossible task of spreading excitement across the globe. Furthermore, he is in cartoons, movies, holiday decorations, and most importantly, in the hearts and minds of everyone during the Christmas season. Student Affairs professionals also perform magic throughout the year to assist, educate, and inspire college and university students. We are seemingly everywhere within the university community. Whether we are participating in committee meetings, sporting events, conduct hearings, training sessions, and advising conversations, our mission is to be involved in all aspects of the student experience.

Santa Claus is a Servant Leader – Santa Claus is a shining example of a servant leader. Not only does he serve children all over the world, but he also takes care of and supervises an army of elves and a herd of magical reindeer. Student Affairs professionals are also servant leaders at heart. Our core mission is to develop and serve the students who come to our colleges and universities. We aim to make students more educated and prepared for when they leave us.

How else does Santa Claus embody the spirit of Student Affairs? Please share your thoughts below and “Like” on Facebook and Tweet if you enjoyed this post. Thank you for all that you do and Happy Holidays!

* Awesome Illustration by Norma Andriani

10 Keys to Effective Student Employee Evaluations

December 10, 2013

10 Keys to Effective Student Employee Evaluations

Being able to supervise student employees is one of the most rewarding parts of being a student affairs professional. It is crucial to offer each student employee a formal evaluation at least once per semester. While there are a diverse assortment of paper evaluations that can be used for this purpose, there are essential tactics that need to be used when formally evaluating your student employees.

1. Permit the Student to Self-Evaluate

  • Let your students evaluate their own performance. This can come in the form of a paper assessment or simply a conversation during your scheduled meeting. This process will aid you in helping to grasp how that student leader perceives themselves and the work they have accomplished. A self-evaluation assists them in thinking critically about their performance and how they are perceived. It will also benefit your evaluation, insomuch that there may be areas that both you and the student know needs improvement so bringing it up will not be a complete shock.

2. Remain Objective

  • Being objective when evaluating your student is paramount. Regardless of any personal feelings or issues that may have occurred throughout the year, you need to keep an open mind. You are evaluating the work and work ethic of your student, not your personal feelings of them. Additionally, be fair and do not play favorites.

3. Seek Understanding

  • Be open to the fact that there were a number of factors that played into their performance. Go into the evaluation with an open mind and willingness to listen. See this as an opportunity to understand what went on from their perspective, but also having the opportunity to have express yourself as well. Then you can work together on developing ways to make improvements.

4. Listen

  • The evaluation is an opportunity for you to not only share your perspective, but also listen to theirs. See the evaluation process as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of your student employee. Also, see it as a chance to learn about what you can do as their supervisor to support them and help them to become a better employee.

5. Provide Honest Feedback

  • Be open and honest with your student. The evaluation process can be stressful and cause anxiety. It is as much an opportunity for them to learn and grow as it is for you as well. Explain the evaluation process ahead of time so that any anxiety is reduced. Be sure to help them recognize how their work and work ethic are perceived; use as many examples as possible. The student also needs to have a clear sense of the areas where they need to improve.

6. Remain Positive

  • The evaluation is an opportunity for you to not only address areas that need improvement, but also to highlight your student’s strengths. Be sure to strategically inject statements that show you realize and appreciate their strengths. Being positive with your student will help further develop your relationship with them, as well as let them know you appreciate the work they have done.

7. Think Like a Mentor

  • See the performance evaluation as a chance for you to mentor your student employees. Remember that one day soon your student will become a professional in the employment world. They could even be one of your next professional staff members so this is an opportunity for you to help them develop and grow into a positive and productive employee.

8. Be Thorough with the Evaluation Process

  • Don’t just rush through and try to get each evaluation done as quickly as possible, spend time on each one. Being thorough in shows that you value and appreciate the work they do. Spending time on the evaluation also lets you to think critically about and process their performance. Spending time aids in your being thorough and effective in your assessment.

9. Plan Together

  • Part of the evaluation is figuring out what you need to do together to make improvements. Spend time at the end of the evaluation working on specific goals that your student needs to meet for improvement. Also, ask your student how you can help them meet these goals. Be sure that these goals are achievable and fair.

10. Follow-Up

  • Don’t let all your hard work on the evaluation process lead to improvements not being made; follow up with your student employee. Let them know that you expect the goals outlined in their evaluation to be met, but that you are also there to help them if needed. Offer suggestions for how they can meet their goals and encourage them to come up with creative solutions. By following up, you are letting that student know that their improvement is important to you and the organization.

The evaluation is as much about the student as it is about you as their supervisor and the organization. Encourage the student to be honest about their performance so you can help them improve to best benefit themselves and the organization. Although there are strong expectations for our student employees, they are still learning, and we need to mentor them appropriately. Keep in mind that learning and growing is a part of the process for all of us.

What are some tips and tactics that you use when evaluating your own student employees? Please share your comments below.

* Graphic courtesy of Dominik Gwarek

5 Career Mistakes to Avoid in Student Affairs

November 18, 2013

Mistakes in Student Affairs

1. Job Hopping – While switching jobs is endemic in higher education, job hopping is typically not a good idea. Chasing money, position titles, or trying to find the perfect institution that emulates your alma mater can unintentionally make for a sketchy-looking resume to prospective employers down the road. A resume that illustrates a job for every one or two years can communicate that you are hard to get along with, never happy, or “too big for your britches.” No one goes from being a resident director to a vice president of student affairs overnight. Promotions, responsibility, and a higher salary come from experience and patience. “Paying your dues” is very true in our field.

Friendly Advice:

  • Do your best with where you are at. While your current work situation may not be the best, use it as an opportunity to further develop your skills and your experience. If it is a negative experience, do your best to turn it into a positive for you (no matter how difficult that may seem!)
  • If you are excelling in your current role, ask for more responsibility without the expectation of increased income, which typically should not be expected anyway given the current financial climate of higher education in the U.S. This can only help you in the next step in your career path. Create the experience you want to showcase on your resume and portfolio.

2. Getting Involved in Negative Politics – Colleges and universities are rife with politics in both academic and student affairs. Unfortunately, negative politics can consume your time and energy and get you away from your department’s mission and vision. While it’s easier said than done to avoid the politics of your institution, ultimately you are in control of how to interact with your colleagues and contribute to the success of your students. That’s why we do what we do, right?

Friendly Advice:  

  • Simply put, stay away from those who exhibit negative energy. There’s enough challenges and complications within the institution outside of negative attitudes and drama. Contribute your time and energy in creating solutions and not more problems.

3. Negative Social Media Presence – Social media is now ubiquitous and entwines both our personal and professional lives. Gone are the days when all that a prospective employer knew about you was from what you listed on a paper resume. Many employers screen your online presence, and in some cases, will expect that you will have a positive and impactful presence online related to your department and the field in general. We should be role models for our students after all, right?

Friendly Advice:

  • Understand that it is extremely difficult to have a completely separate personal and professional life online. Given this, the best practice is to keep your online presence as positive, professional, welcoming, and “restrained” as possible.
  • Social media outlets are not the place for uninhibited opinion and “diarrhea of the mind,” particularly if you are looking to land the next best position in student affairs.

4. Failing to Seize Opportunities – There will be the proverbial “two roads diverged” at some point in your career in which you will be faced with a choice to participate in various opportunities. This could be anything from committees, travel, presentations, grant writing, and other institutional initiatives. It pains me when I hear colleagues complain about such opportunities and whine about extra work or not getting compensated for projects outside of their normal workload. By failing to seize these types of opportunities, you limit your exposure to meet new colleagues across the institution, share resources, and impact students on a larger (or simply different) level.

Friendly Advice:   

  • Don’t be the person who said, “Man…I wish I would have been a part of that!” Hindsight is always 20/20 so take on the prospective of keeping your eye open for opportunities as they arise. Even better, create opportunities rather than waiting for them.
  • Keep in mind that NOT every opportunity is a good one nor has to be pursued. Keep your options open and take advantage of those that will fulfill your department’s mission while also appealing to your own interests and expanding your student affairs experience.

5. Failing to Make a Difference – You are what you do; And if you’re not doing much, you’re not making a difference. I will share the same message with you that I try to impress upon student leaders: what are you creating, what are you changing, and what are you influencing? If you don’t have much to show during your next job interview other than a bland job description, others who have made an appreciable impact upon their institution will clearly win out.

        Friendly Advice:

  • Like Stephen Covey stated, start with the end in mind. What difference do you want to make? Figure that out and work toward that end. Develop goals, write them down, and display them so you can see them daily. Also, create initiatives that you can assess. This way you can qualitatively and quantitatively illustrate the difference your work has made.
  • Don’t spin your wheels to impress colleagues. You’re there to impact student learning and retention (among other goals) and not create a club of cronies. As was the case with #2 above, stay clear of drama and concentrate on your work.

* Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian

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


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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,391 other followers

%d bloggers like this: