“Drive-In’s, Tweet-ups, and Conventions, Oh My!” Making the Best of Your Conferencing Experience

January 31, 2012

Conference season is fast approaching with the major student affairs and higher education-related conventions occuring within the next few months. Conferences are packed with educational sessions, professional networking opportunities, and the chance to socialize and reconnect with colleagues and friends from across the country and world. I would like to offer some suggestions on how to make the most out of your conference experience.

  • Spent Time to Meet New Colleagues – I am confident to say that we are all friends in student affairs! We share the same professional culture and experiences and love discussing what we do. Nowhere can we do this more than at national and regional conferences. Introduce yourself to colleagues you are sitting next to during sessions, attend Tweet-Up’s, and participate in conversations related to what is going within our profession. Making new friends and professional connections is not only fun, but can also help you down the road if you you ever need to contact someone  outside of your own campus for objective advice or ideas.
  • Make the Most of Using Social Media – With the advent of application-ready hand-held devices, we all have the ability to share our thoughts and the thoughts of session presenters with those who are not in attendance at the conference. By using a conference-related Twitter hashtag, you can create tweets by sharing snippets of the educational information you learn during sessions as well as your own feedback (this is called the “backchannel“). Not only will this help you to pay attention to the main points, but this is basically public note-taking that you can refer to later and that your campus colleagues and superiors can follow as well. In this regard, you have a lot to share when someone asks you, “So what did you learn at the conference?”
  • Do More Than Just Interview –  For those of you who will be interviewing and networking for new positions, particularly graduate students, do not spend your whole time at the conference interviewing. By only interviewing, you are missing out on a whole host of other educational opportunities and chances to interact with professionals you normally would not have. Set a reasonable limit as to how many interviews you will schedule and take the rest of your time to participate in other conference activities.

Enjoy the conferencing season, and I hope to see you at #ACPA12.

What are some ways in which you maximize your conference experiences?


Communication & Teamwork Lessons from USAirways.

January 23, 2012

This past week I was lucky enough to be able to take my community assistant staff on a field trip to USAirways in Pittsburgh, PA. Through the efforts of a friend, we were able to tour the Operations Command Center (OCC) and aircraft maintenance in one of the hangars. While lately many airlines come under the criticism of passengers due to fees, cancellations, and other customer service issues, I gained a whole new respect for the work that airline personnel do.

The depth and complexity of what it takes to manage a fleet of commercial airplanes is absolutely fascinating! I took my staff on this trip because I knew they would learn more about appreciating the value of communication and teamwork.

Delegating Tasks Among Colleagues – Because USAirways flight controllers and mechanics cannot work 24/7, they have to delegate what they are working on to their colleagues who are starting a new work shift. Their shifts are purposely designed to overlap at least 30 minutes so that they can accurately communicate what work needs to continue. A flight dispatcher in charge of five airplanes currently in flight cannot simply walk away from those pilots and let their incoming colleague guess as to what is going on in the air. The same goes for the aircraft mechanics. A first-shift mechanic will walk their inc0ming second-shift colleague through what projects are currently open and their progress on that work so the second-shift mechanic can continue that work. No one goes home until everyone is on the same page as to the status of what is currently occuring.

Timely Group Decision-Making – USAirways’ Operations Command Center (OCC) controls and manages all flight operations for the world. The building was specifically engineered so that all work groups responsible for a particular flight operations responsibility (e.g., flight dispatch, maintenance control, pilot scheduling, etc.) can interact with one another on the same open office space. On the control floor, there are no closed offices so that everyone can easily move and interact with each other on the open control floor. Groups are given the ability to make decisions on-the-fly without lengthy approval processes and excessive supervisor scrutiny. In this manner, groups can quickly come up with a course of action to solve a particular problem, whether it’s a flight that needs to be rerouted because of a snowstorm, a plane that needs to be repaired, or passengers that need to be scheduled on another flight because of a cancellation.


Working with a Mission-Driven Purpose – Nowhere is a mission-drive purpose and teamwork evident than within the OCC and maintenance operations at USAirways: “The safety and satisfaction of our customers is a top priority for our airline…” It is clearly evident that all communication and teamwork centers on passenger safety. Numerous redundacies and plans are created so that all operations can always continue. Mechanics and inspectors all sign off on repairs as an accountability measure.  OCC employees quickly communicate with one another in order to resolve a problem so that passenger safety is never compromised. Working with the organization’s mission in mind sets the stage for how communication and teamwork must occur.

A special “Thank you!” goes out to USAirways for their gracious hospitality in allowing us to visit and see their operations.

How to Facilitate Great “One-On-One” Supervisory Meetings

January 18, 2012

Meeting with your staffers on an individual basis to discuss their performance is an important part of being a supervisor and a leader. However, these meetings do not only have to be a means to critique your employees from an evaluation standpoint. “One-on-one” meetings can foster a rewarding mentoring relationship as well as a means by which to engage your staffers as a true partner in meeting the mission and vision of your organization.

Here are a few tips that I have found helpful in facilitating great “one-on-one” supervisory meetings:

1. Set the Parameters for Meeting Participation – As a part of the hiring process and during staff training, set the parameters for what is expected during one-on-one supervisory meetings. By setting the tone that these meetings are important and participatory in nature, your staffers will embody this as part of the team’s culture and act accordingly. Tell them that they should come prepared with feedback, questions, and suggestions for making your organization better. As I tell my own staff, I don’t want to hear complaining for complaining’s sake; if there’s a better way to do something, I want a suggestion, solution, or plan of action.

2. Always Keep Your Appointments with Your Staffers – This seems like common sense, but it is very easy to get sidetracked by other important meetings and activities and either forgot or attempt to reschedule your supervisory meetings. By making this time important, you are symbolically demonstrating that these meetings and, more importantly, your staffers are crucial to you and your team’s success.

3. Purposely Seek Out Feedback to Enact Change – Allowing for and seeking out honest feedback from your employees is a great way to keep your employees engaged in continuous improvement conversations. People take a part in what they help create so allow them to help create team goals, policies, and practices during regularly scheduled supervisory meetings. Be a servant leader and ask them how you can better help them in their position and if they need any particular type of resource or support so that they can be more effective.

4. Have an “Activity” Planned if There is Nothing to Talk About – If there is nothing of note to discuss, do not simply cancel the meeting. Utilize the opportunity to connect with and mentor your staffers. One-on-one meetings can be used for personal development and skills building. Have a “bag of tricks” developed that you can utilize quickly and easily if you’re stuck in one of these “I-have-nothing-to-talk-about” situations. Skills building activities can include role playing and case scenarios related to topics pertaining to your staffers’ positions. Using this time for brainstorming can also create productive ideas for the entire team.

One such example of a “one-on-one” activity is the Supervisory Discussion Cards activity developed by Student Life Consultants. These handy cards contain multiple questions that are conversation starters related to personal development and teamwork. Each set of 25 double-sided cards contains 50 questions and comes complete with a four-page PDF activity handout that is downloaded immediately upon purchase.

Use the SLG032013 code to receive $3.99 off of your entire order.

What are some practices that you use with your employees to facilitate great “one-on-one” supervisory meetings? What advice can you offer to your colleagues related to what works and does not work for “one-on-one” supervisory meetings?

Rethinking Spring Training for Increased Success

January 16, 2012

Most of you are already in the process of (or will be) training your student leaders for the spring semester. Spring training offers the chance to re-establish the mission, vision, and values of your department (or student organization) as well as revisit important expectations and goals.

Unfortunately, I have encountered departments and student organizations across the country that give little credence to spring training and do not do it or simply see it as another task to accomplish rather than an opportunity to reconnect with team members to plan for a more productive semester.

Here are some strategies to use when re-thinking your spring training:

  • Purposely Build in “Fluidity” into Training –  Outside of the announcing the days and times that everyone needs to be there, do not set your agenda in stone. If you are receiving feedback during the course of your spring training that something could be added, changed, or deleted, do it! Mentally evaluate or “check-in” with everyone to see how they think things are going. You could get feedback that other skills need to be covered that are not on the schedule or that something could be eliminated because it is simply not needed.
  • Dust Off Previous Staff Evaluations – Your training should be tweaked based upon previous feedback you have received from your team members. Many great topic ideas and areas needed for improvement can be found by looking at evaluations from previous training sessions. If you have team members remaining who gave this feedback, meet with them to further pick their brain about how you can improve spring training.
  • Do Not Add Something Simply because it is Tradition – If a topic or session does not add value to the team’s skill set, eliminate it. Training takes a lot of time and work so do not include something because of a “that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-done” attitude. Get feedback from your team members ahead of time about a tentative schedule of topics so you can delete items they feel are not necessary.
  • Dictate the Agenda for those Who Come to Speak – One excellent piece of advice I learned years ago from a colleague is to make sure that invited speakers (especially from your own campus) are teaching what you need them to teach. Through campus politics, some departments can find their way onto your schedule to meet their own needs. Training should NOT be glorified commercials for campus departments. So if you are told that someone from outside of your organization is coming to speak, meet with them to set the session content and objectives so that your team members are actually receiving useful information to utilize in their position.
  • Treat Your “Returners” with Reverance – As I stated in a previous post entitled “How to Avoid Creating Resident Assistant Boot Camp,” 2nd year and subsequent year returners going through the same process every year can be torture. Mix it up for them; get them involved in helping to teach or develop advanced topics for them. You could also bring them back a day or two after all the new team members have already covered the basic topics.

Make the most out of your spring training sessions. Do something new, do something innovative, and most importantly, teach information and skills that add value to your team.

What are some new strategies that are a departure from your normal spring training routine? What have you added and / or eliminated from your schedule and why?

All of those who share an example as a comment will enter into a raffle to win a Discussion Cards activity through the mail from Student Life Consultants. The raffle will occur on 01/20/12 at 8pm (EST) and the winner will be announced via Twitter @studentlifeguru and through this post’s comments. 

Social Media as a Programming Strategy (*free resource handout*)

January 13, 2012

My Assistant Director, Justin Schiefelbein, (@ResLifeSynergy) and I have decided to use social media as component of our new community programming model with our community assistant staff. While most student affairs departments use Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like as a means to simply market or communicate departmental announcements, social media can be used as a platform for facilitating and assessing student learning outcomes.

We have decided to think “outside of the box” and incorporate the use of social media as a programming requirement with our community assistants. While the “traditional” programming model still has merit (which will we will continue to use), the opportunity to engage students online to educate and encourage dialogue is ripe with opportunity. This is even more so particularly because we are in charge of a large student apartment community, in which traditional programming can be a challenge.

Our community assistants are each required to develop two social media programs per semester. Each is given access to the community’s WordPress.com account (http://vulcanvillage.wordpress.com) so they can easily write blog posts related to their program. We provide them training so they know how to public using WordPress. Their submissions are first approved by us prior to us actually submitting them (i.e., they do not have direct access to publish). Access to other social media account are coordinated through all of our full-time staff so the CA’s have access.

Here are the guidelines / requirements that we are using for developing a social media program:

  • Utilize social media as a vehicle for the program (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogging, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Thoughtful, focused, and developed
  • Primarily educational in nature
  • Must include interaction in some form
  • Must be planned at least two weeks in advance, including sumission of program proposal
  • Cost = Maximum of $50 for any materials and / or prizes to induce participation and interaction (with prior approval); will be specific to your institution’s budgetary arrangements
  • Marketing: Use all avenues, including social media, email announcements, invitations, signage, etc.

Social media program examples:

  • Participating in Green Practices
  • Online Harassment & Bullying
  • Sex Ed: Are You Being Smart & Safe?
  • Alcohol Use & Abuse: When Enough is Too Much
  • How to Develop a Resume

Suggested tips:

  • Social media programs can be either one time or part of a semester-wide campaign. Example: our “Green Education” programming will continue over the course of the semester with multiple blog posts, Facebook and Twitter advice, YouTube videos, and educational webinars.
  • You can do polling and simple surveying to see what students want to learn at your college or university (“What do you hope to learn while here?” could be a simple Tweet or Facebook comment.)
  • Tie your social media programming to student learning outcomes based upon CAS and Learning Reconsidered Outcomes.
  • Assessment efforts can be utilized by using SurveyMonkey.com or another survey tool to pre-test and / or post-test participants. You can also simply use comments from Facebook and Twitter as qualitative and quantitative assessment data.

Here is a free Social Media Programming handout, which illustrates guidelines, programming examples, modes of interaction, how to encourage participation, and ways to assess.

Please feel free to share this resource with your student affairs colleagues.

10 Uses for Twitter within Student Affairs (free educational handout)

January 6, 2012

Twitter is a very powerful resource that all Student Affairs professionals should embrace and utilize on a daily basis to enhance their work. While many individuals within Student Affairs feel that Twitter is merely a novelty or distraction, there are in fact many purposeful ways in which Twitter can be used to advocate, educate, empower, and network with students and other Student Affairs professionals from across the globe. Here are 10 ways in which you can use Twitter within your department and division: 

  1. Program Publicity – One of the most practical and least complicated ways in which you can use Twitter is to publicize any and all events and programs that you may have. Tweeting event information days and hours prior to the actual program can serve as an easy event reminder. Program announcement tweets can also include website links for more details about the program, including registration information if applicable.
  2. Advising / Mentoring – Because Twitter is based on an SMS system (messaging), you can use it in order to communicate with students whom you advise and / or mentor. Simple tweets of encouragement or advice with those students who “follow” you can prove helpful in developing meaningful relationships. This can be done publicly for everyone to see or you can “direct message” the individual privately so only they can see the tweet.
  3. Program Assessment – Mining tweets for qualitative and quantitative data can be invaluable for program assessment and even departmental reviews. After a program, simply ask the students who attended to tweet the most important thing they learned and one question that they have remaining in 140 characters or less (or two tweets if necessary); this practice is called a “One Minute Paper.” Create and give them a “hashtag” associated with the program (e.g., #Greeklife12; #AOD12; #Wellness12; etc.) to include within their tweets so that you can track everyone’s tweets afterward. To encourage participation, those who tweet are eligible to win a raffled prize. You can aggregate tweets from over the course of a semester to illustrate evidence of the various student learning outcomes you have developed.
  4. Club & Organization Communication – Organization advisers and student leaders alike can tweet valuable information to the student members of their curricular and extracurricular clubs and organizations. Content related to the club’s interests can be tweeted and even discussed during regular club meetings.
  5. Staff & Student Recognition – Public displays of recognition for both staff and student achievements and contributions can mean the world to them. Tweeting a few words of kudos is a free and simple way to recognize students among their peers. As a bonus, this can help them to acquire more Twitter followers in the process.
  6. Staff Development & Training – Twitter is a wonderful way to find and share a wealth of resourceful information related to literally any topic. Using a “hashtag” along with a keyword in a twitter search (e.g., #leadership; #reslife; #greeklife; #studentaffairs; etc.) can help to easily find resources that others are tweeting and re-tweeting.
  7. Vendor Discounts – Tweets can be use as a marketing platform to create and spread bookstore, campus eatery, and special event (i.e., concerts, comedians) discounts. This tactic can be combined with various contests to reward those who respond to trivia questions 
  8. Leadership Development – Many tips, blog articles, and other associated leadership resources can be shared and discussed through Twitter. Students can tweet about their leadership experiences throughout the semester.
  9. Advice, Facts, and Tips – Twitter is a free and easy way to distribute department-specific educative information. Tweets related to student learning outcomes can be utilized as a part of a semester-long educational campaign. These tweets can include links to online resources for more extensive reading.
  10. Emergency Announcements – Twitter can be used as an effective way to send out emergency announcements to a large amount of students, faculty, and staffers. Keep in mind that individuals must follow you in order to receive the tweet. Obviously this emergency announcement strategy should be used in junction with other options such as mass texting, website updates, and email given that not everyone uses Twitter. 
Downlaod the FREE Twitter 101 for Student Affairs Professionals 9-page PDF handout. Please feel free to share this with your colleagues and students.

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