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


50 Leadership Resolutions for Student Life Professionals

January 2, 2014

list of resolutions on blackboard with three blank, numbered sticky notes

As we begin a new year, it is good to reflect back on what we have accomplished while also examining areas we can improve upon going forward. Here are thoughts to consider as you develop your own resolutions related to your work in Student Affairs.

  1. Modesty is key; be humble.
  2. Open your mind and listen more.
  3. Seek out feedback while implementing changes.
  4. Engage in positive thought for encouragement.
  5. Help yourself by helping others succeed.
  6. Forward thinking encourages positive change.
  7. Embrace and foster a shared vision.
  8. Nothing is impossible when you put trust in yourself and others.
  9. Recognize the value and talent in quality staff.
  10. Make data-driven decisions.
  11. Self-motivate to stimulate creativity.
  12. Get out of your head and into the now; live fully in the moment.
  13. Don’t pop bubbles; think outside of your own bubble and inside others.
  14. Challenge yourself to examine issues from multiple perspectives.
  15. Re-evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).
  16. Set attainable and result-driven goals for you and your team.
  17. Focus your energy around creative collaboration.
  18. Encourage on-going and engaged teamwork and development.
  19. Don’t like something?  Then change it.
  20. Check your attitude at the door, while holding that door open for others to shine.
  21. Give more than you receive.
  22. Use that which you receive efficiently.
  23. Be honest with yourself.
  24. Practice transparency with others.
  25. Simplify daunting tasks; let go of some rigidity.
  26. Manage your time efficiently; prioritize.
  27. Be good to and take care of yourself.
  28. Encourage collaborative problem solving.
  29. Discover something new about yourself and others.
  30. Smile, laugh, and then laugh some more.
  31. Do the footwork it takes for the team to be successful.
  32. Don’t settle for the quick fix, find a long-term solution.
  33. Take value in the presence and work of others.
  34. Be innovative while encouraging team synergy.
  35. Patiently respond rather than immediately reacting.
  36. Always give the best you possible.
  37. Learn to say NO when you are overwhelmed.
  38. See opportunity where others see uncertainty.
  39. Empower those you lead by embracing change and unconventional thinking.
  40. Focus on your strengths by leaving your weaknesses.
  41. Breathe deep and let go of lingering frustrations.
  42. Be yourself and let others see the real you.
  43. Be deliberate and reach out to those you lead.
  44. Inspire others to exceed your expectations.
  45. Maintain a healthy balance of positivity and honesty.
  46. Acknowledge and address problems straight away.
  47. Emerge from uncertainty stronger than you went in.
  48. Seek out opportunities to learn and grow as a professional.
  49. Look back to remember but forward to inspire.
  50. Listen to and accept constructive criticism.

What specific resolutions are you working on related our profession? Please share your comments below. If you liked this article, please Like and/ or  Share it on Facebook and Retweet on Twitter. 


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.


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