Conference Contemplation [GLACUHO 2019)

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Conference

A Brief Message from Your Sponsor

I wanted to spice up my professional development so I joined a regional housing organization’s committee structure. I have served on the Professional Foundations committee through GLACUHO and it all culminated in attending this year’s annual conference in East Lansing, Michigan. This was my second GLACUHO and the only conference where I was the entire delegation (big yikes). I took a chance and presented at the conference. I can confirm that I still have a deep discomfort with public speaking.

I really enjoyed my time at GLACUHO. I was able to see old colleagues and supervisors from a new context. I even was able to see several of my graduate school peers! It has been a little while since I have been to or presented at a conference. I forgot how much I missed learning from the many other professionals across the Great Lakes region. I am at a unique point of my life and career where I am not entirely sure that residence life or student affairs is for me any more. I want to and feel that I am capable of so much, but I simultaneously feel stuck in place. I like money and need (not want) more of it to live my best life. Seeing so many awesome professionals has not helped any of these feelings; in fact I feel more confused than before. Well…. onto the fun stuff!

In the sections below, I am going to tell you what session I attended, provide a brief summary of what the session was about, and then post a few takeaways. I won’t include my own presentation, because you can find that here.

Shane’s GLACUHO Summary

When Individual Rights vs.  University Values Collide

Presenters:

  • Chelsea Knarr, Kent State University
  • Richard Danals, Kent State University

Summary:

The presenters speak about a contentious rally on campus that made regional and national headlines. How do campus organizations respond when outside organizations want to come to campus and speak about divisive topics that invoke large counter rallies? Who pays for security? What were the key issues faced by the administration and what lessons did they learn?

Takeaways:

  • Even when facing a crisis there will still be plenty of time for multiple stakeholders to interpret and reinterpret existing policies in new and sometimes imaginative ways.
  • Sometimes your job is to be the bearer of bad news to multiple parties.
  • One of the key responses that I found the most interesting was that professional and student staff members were not required to be on campus during this time. The leadership asked that those who needed or wanted to not be on campus during that time simply let them know. As a professional who has been asked to “ensure that we have bodies available” I thought this was a good move. 

Unpacking Our “Profession”

Presenters:

  • Kyle Sabin, Michigan State University
  • Kim Christian, Michigan State University

Summary:

This session was a panel presentation from some Michigan State University faculty and staff to discuss professionalism within student affairs. The beginning started with identifying what the word “professional” meant in its most basic definition. I do not recall the exact definition, but I believe it was “a person who has obtained a certain level of competency within a selected field.” Professional has moved from this noun to an adjective and because now of its descriptive nature there is an expectation of what professionalism means. The panel discussed their marginalized identities and how the concept of professionalism has resulted in negative life experiences.

Takeaways:

  • It is important for our offices, departments, divisions to review dress codes and policies and make them more inclusive
  • Professionalism is rooted in whiteness; in oppression

Diversity Education Training: Where Are We, Where Do We Want to Go, and How Do We Get There?

Presenters:

  • Lloyd Graham, Indiana University Bloomington
  • Jackie Mayfield, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  • Elijah Zagorski, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Summary:

The Inclusion and Equity Committee completed a survey of GLACUHO institutions focusing on diversity education training. There were 67 responses; 51% of them from public institutions, 28% from  private (non faith-based), 20% from private (faith-based), and 1% from community college. The three main topics of the survey were: learning outcomes for diversity education training, type of training provided, and what assessment was conducted afterwards.

Takeaways:

  • A majority of these institutions indicated they did not have or were not sure if they had learning outcomes for diversity education training.
  • Most public and mid-size to large institutions had diversity offices complete training
  • Most smaller institutions would have their own professional staff complete training for student staff
  • 24/67 provided responses assessment that was done.
  • 10 of those 24 indicated that no assessment is done.
  • My takeaway: we have to do better. 

Not Another Training Montage: An RA Training Revamp with a One-Two Punch of Outcomes and Assessment

Presenters:

  • Joshua Maxwell, Bowling Green State University
  • Brittany Krisanda, Bowling Green State University

Summary:

After noticing that staff performance in certain areas were dropping, that staff were focusing too much on session titles, that there were so many campus partners who wanted full training sessions within training these professionals finally took the time to complete revamp their training planning. They developed a 10 step training road map and shared it at the GLACUHO conference.

Takeaways:

  • Job Description Bullets > Learning Outcomes > Training Topics > Actual Sessions is a very simple and easy to follow method for transforming training.
  • Training Presentation Outlines sent to presenters that they need to fill out/return is a fantastic method of presenter accountability.
  • A Daily Wrap Up is a great way to give opportunities for questions.
  • A Morning Report where professional staff respond to all questions based on the evening’s assessment is something I am 100% going to add to my training.

Being the Squeaky Wheel: Advocating for Yourself & the Collective

Presenters:

  • Cassie Govert, IUPUI

Summary:

The presenter recognized that “there are many ways we’re taken advantage of in our roles” and that we are not always well trained on advocating for our selves or our students. The presented used the analogy of Residence Life as a Dumpster Fire. The presenter asked us to identify a topic from our home institution and as we went through each of the steps they identified we applied that knowledge to our own issue and discussed it with another person in the room.

Takeaways:

  • One must know thyself in order to advocate for oneself or others.
  • You are in the room for a reason.
  • There are multiple ways to advocate.

Sound the Alarm: Crisis Management – Before, During, and After

Presenters:

  • John Kendall, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

Summary:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially in crisis management. The Presenter for this session provided some research backed tips on crisis response by breaking down the responsibilities of crisis management into before, during, and after. Afterword, the presenter shared a compelling story about their own crisis that they handled.

Takeaways:

  • It is important to clearly identify who does what during an emergency before one takes place.
  • When a crisis begins one of the most important aspects is to begin gathering facts and identifying an effective way to communicate them between various response teams.
  • The before and after is important, but after a crisis it is important to review everything that happened and make necessary changes. Sometimes what we plan for isn’t what happens and we need a new plan for the next time.

MBAs in Residence Life: Why Get Another Master’s?

Presenters:

  • Jim Herman, Western Michigan University
  • Alex Peterson, Western Michigan University

Summary:

Both presenters are master’s level student affairs professionals from different backgrounds, but both of them are in the same MBA program. They discussed the MBA in general as well as the results of a brief survey that they conducted regarding MBAs and skills perception from Senior Student Affairs Officers. Recognizing that higher education is a business, the presenters spoke on the new context they were getting from their newfound skills and knowledge within their own work.

Takeaways:

  • According to ACUHO-i standards completion of an MBA may qualify candidates for a Director of Housing related position.
  • MBA professionals average salary is significantly higher than student affairs professionals.
  • A lot of the lessons and skills learned from an MBA is applicable to housing operations.
  • Excel is very important (I knew that, but this just reinforced it more).

 

Scary (and not so scary) Things every SApro Should Learn

Scary Thing #1

How to receive negative feedback about yourself from others

When I am told that I did something wrong my first instinct is usually to defend myself and defend myself until the bitter end. It is not easy to receive feedback that indicates that I was wrong or that I need to complete something better. In fact, I find it easier to generate reasons why I performed the way that I performed. Some of these reasons may be:

“You didn’t tell me how you wanted it done.”

“No one asked me to do anything.”

“I didn’t know that.”

It is really easy for me and, I believe, others to fall into this immediate sense of defense. Our brains often take negative feedback and make it feel like these other persons are insulting your very existence. That is not always the case when we receive negative feedback about work that we have done. Over the years I have rarely received negative feedback and when I did it was surprising to me. An internship supervisor did not rank me as well as I thought that I performed during an evaluation once and their comment was “I can tell that wasn’t what you were expecting.” I remember being dismissive of the comment thinking that my face seemed permanently disappointed. It was not until later when I was relating the story to my friends that I suddenly realized that I was angry at the feedback I received. I remember thinking: Why didn’t you tell me this was a problem at the time it was a problem? Why does that one instance matter this much?

This instance was one of a few that has influenced my beliefs on effective feedback. As a professional it is important to realize that there will always be persons who offer negative feedback first and foremost. When a person is offering negative feedback about the work that you have done – it is professional feedback. It’s not that you are a bad person, but the work you did was not the best. It is a small difference, but you are not your work. A word of caution: there are professionals whose negative feedback is personal. Those persons are your peers, supervisors, and even your directors. Much like I separate professional feedback from myself as a person I also separate negative feedback about my person. I rarely choose to reflect on this type of feedback because its impact on my life as a whole is minimal.

Scary Thing #2

How to give negative feedback to student staff

Kim Scott wrote an entire book on feedback and being a kick-ass boss. One of the most important lessons from the book is about giving negative feedback. Failing to give negative feedback is a disservice to the employees under your supervision. If a student is not performing to expectations or has violated expectations it is necessary that the behavior is addressed and corrected. Many of the students that we supervise are still trying to discover themselves. They are joining campus organizations, Greek life, maintaining one (or more) jobs on campus. They are going to make mistakes and college is the perfect time to make and learn from them. The section about receiving negative feedback from others is applicable here too. Student staff may not know how to receive negative feedback and differentiate it from the work they did and who they are as a person. It’s a part of your responsibility as their supervisor to begin this lesson with others as well as yourself.

Scary Thing #3

How to give negative feedback to supervisors

I have never had difficulty offering my strongly worded opinions to persons in power – but I have a significant amount of privilege that has shielded me from many consequences from my rather opinionated voice. This skill may be harder to navigate because of the power dynamics of race, gender, disability and more in addition to the inherent hierarchical power structure. However, supervisors are not exempt from negative feedback simply because they are in a position above others. Some of the our supervisors are mid level managers or even senior level professionals. They have had a wealth of experience working in student affairs and maybe even other careers. This does not mean they are infallible.

If you have difficulty hearing negative feedback about your job performance you can bet there are a lot of professionals who feel similarly. Sometimes they are our bosses. However, without your feedback – no matter what it may be – they cannot address it and improve. As a member of several Facebook groups for student affairs practitioners I have read the anonymous posts where my peers have explained some pretty terrible work environments. A significant portion of the comments suggested that the poster “have a conversation” with their supervisor and although that seems really basic… it’s a step that my peers have skipped a lot in my own professional experience.

It won’t change anything.

I don’t feel like I will be heard.

I’m just going to bear it. It will let up eventually.

These are all comments that I have heard from colleagues and peers. Giving negative feedback, especially to those in positions above, seems like a confrontation. It is easier to not confront those negative behaviors. However, doing this keeps your emotions regarding those situations in a bottle. Your supervisor, never knowing that you took issue with issue #1, will take another action and create issue #2. A couple more months down the line and your bottle explodes because you just cannot handle it any longer. Confrontation is uncomfortable but it will help keep your work environment healthier in the long run.

Not So Scary Thing #1

Basic Microsoft Excel Tools

Microsoft Excel is one of the most utilized software in any job. There are entire classes dedicated to how to find and apply its features. I am not suggesting that you learn how to build giant spreadsheets with VBA code as a not so scary thing you should know as a student affairs professional (although it would not hurt…). What are some basic things you should be able to do?

  • Sort: Home Tab > Editing > Sort & Filter >
    • You can sort lower to higher, A-Z, Z-A or some custom ways
  • Filter: Home Tab > Editing > Sort & Filter > Filter
    • This makes each of you headers an option where you can see only specific data. For instance you can filter by Residence Hall, persons who answered a specific way in a survey, etc).
  • Conditional Highlighting: Home Tab > Conditional Formatting > Highlight Cell Rules
    • Doing this will let you easily color code your documents based on criteria you set up. I’ve used this for budgeting documents. Green if they spent less than what they expected and red if they spent more!
  • Format as Table: Home Tab > Format as Table
    • I really like there to be a little bit of difference between rows so if/when I am looking are large sets of data I can tell the difference. Formatting a range of data into a table will do that automatically so you don’t have to manually highlight every other row.
  • Drop Down Boxes: Data Tab > Data Tools > Data Validation > Allow =List
    • Sometimes I am not the only person who might be using a form. If I am using other formula in Excel that require correct spelling I want to go ahead and take away the ability for the user error of misspelling by having preset options.
  • Split a cell: Data > Data Tools > Text to Columns
    • I usually use this to split first and last names in case I need them in separate columns, but it can be used for a variety of purposes

Excel Formulas for Success

  • Subtotal
    • It’s nice to use the Subtotal count because it will dynamically show how many options are present even when you filter them. Need a quick count of how many “Yes” there are? Subtotal can help.
  • Combine two cells
    • Sometimes you need to put first and last names together. I prefer to combine with the “&” symbol.
  • Countif
    • My favorite place to use this? Counting the number of duty days assigned to staff. I have also used it to show how many events have occurred in the first half vs. last half to disprove the notion that our student staff was waiting until the end of their month to host/ propose programs.

Not so Scary Thing #2

How to Mail Merge

As a committee chair for recruitment and selection for a couple years there are times where I have to send out personalized emails to over 100 persons at a time. It is probably one of the most important productivity skills that I have added to my skill set. There are two main phases – one involving Microsoft Word and the other Microsoft Excel. I’m going to talk about Word first, but you can do this is any particular order.

Step: Word

I like to take time to fully write out the email that I am planning on sending in advance. This way I can have supervisors or others read the content while I work on other steps. When I am writing the letter I will add the items that I want my mail merge to input within {Brackets}. For example, I would use {First Name} {Last Name}. My document would be filled with these brackets and indicators of what content I want to go there.

Step: Excel

I then use the content of those brackets to create the headers in Microsoft Excel. The header is important because the content there will help you pick out what content you are adding to the Mail Merge. Build your Excel sheet with those Bracket titles as headers and then fill the cells below with the content you want to see.

After you’ve completed those steps you are ready to open this URL and check out the rest of the steps! 

Not so scary summary

Sometimes things seem scarier than they actually are. Giving and receiving negative feedback is moderately terrifying until you break it down and realize it’s just a conversation about something that you did and could to better. Mail Merging can seem overwhelming because it involves learning a new skill when you could simply do what you have always done and know works.

 

These are just a few of the skills I think are necessary for student affairs professionals to learn and you may have noted that I included a lot of links to further explain items. That was purposeful. There are hundreds of resources available at your fingertips. Google it. Bing it. Yahoo it. You never know what you might learn.

Shane’s Sensible Guidelines for Communication

I was reviewing my PowerPoint presentation at work and my coworkers AND my nemesis really, really wanted me to cite myself on a slide where I was offering student staff some sensible guidelines on communication, specifically how to protect themselves. I suppose this can be a blog post because I am terrible at keeping up with blogging.

“Can I get that in writing?”

  • Always ask for important information to be written or emailed to you
  • If you don’t have it – ask for it again – in writing
  • You can also summarize what was discussed from your perspective and ask if that is the same understanding the other party had

“Thanks for chatting with me. I’m going to send you a follow up email just indicating that we had this conversation and what I believe I took away from it.”

  • This email shows that you did have that conversation and the other party had the chance to correct anything that may have been incorrect.

“Right on. Let’s meet at 2:00 PM to do your checkout. I’ll send a calendar invite to you so we don’t forget!”

  • Putting this in writing helps keep both you and others accountable to deadlines you’ve mutually set up
  • Very useful to put any deadlines for follow up on your own calendar as well immediately after receiving a deadline.

This I believe

A long, long time ago

Years ago in my graduate program’s Leadership in Educational Organizations course I was asked to write a “This I believe” statement. This statement was meant to be a brief introduction to me, my values, and philosophies within student affairs. I rediscovered this document recently. There have been a lot of changes in my beliefs and opinions over the years. After four years I believe it may be important to revisit what it is I believe as a professional. I am no longer enrolled in a graduate program therefore I have no need to write this in an essay format!

This I believe – Bullet List Edition

Obviously I could not record every single thing that I believe about the work that I do, but this is a good start that I’ve worked on for several days. See something that sparks interest? Send me an email at syoung@sensiblyshane.com

Accountability

  • Hold persons accountable. 
  • Accountability is about correcting behavior inconsistent with the expectations of the position and educating that particular employee.
  • Sometimes correction and education is termination.
  • All employees should know their rights within corrective action and be given access to detailed, written explanations of that process and their rights.
  • Holding persons accountable is a more effective practice than adding a new rule or expectation for small offenses.

Assessment

  • Collecting good data on performance and then using it to improve is not a suggestion – it’s a requirement.
  • If the department leadership are too busy to do assessment – then create a position for someone who can.

Education

  • A Master’s education is not necessary for every entry level residence life and housing position.
  • If an organization is hiring a master’s level staff then their responsibilities must also be master’s level.

Expectations

  • If you have an expectation that includes the word immediately, always, or 24/7, reevaluate that expectation
    • This is not applicable to situations such as “Immediately call the police if a student is being chased by an ax murder.” Think more along the lines of “employee must respond to tasks and communications from the Director of Housing immediately.”
  • An employer should not be able to prevent their employee from having employment outside of the organization.
  • Expectations should be updated regularly to fit with current times and technologies.
  • Job expectations are for the job only.

Hiring & Search Committees

  • Ghosting should be left to actual specters. I once asked for any information on next steps for an interview and received an email back a month later. This was not typical. Usually I never heard back.
  • Every search committee needs to have a rubric to evaluate candidates. People have a lot of opinions and implicit biases against (or for) candidates and can easily lose sight of whether a candidate meets the basic qualifications. Rubrics may reduce that.
  • All candidates should be given the position expectations (especially if they are more in-depth than the job description).
  • Group Process for resident assistant candidates is too inconsistent to be used for hiring decisions.
  • All day on-campus interviews are not necessary for every position.
  • “Fit” can be used as a tool of discrimination by hiring committees.

Leadership

  • Never let your staff find out news about your department from the student or local newspaper.
  • If a senior level professional only appears at meetings to give bad news then they are not effectively leading their department.
  • Leaders should not rely on their direct reports to inform them of student and entry level staff well-being. Instead they should ascertain it themselves.
  • The higher in the hierarchy you are the more likely you are not receiving the full picture.

On-Call

  • Being on-call should be responding to emergency situations – not providing services offered during the day after/before hours.
  • Even if no calls are received there is a burden experienced simply by holding the phone.
  • I do not believe the prevalent form of on-call (admins who work all day and hold a phone for a day or a week) is anything other than cost-effective.

Professional Development

  • “We will do professional development in house” is a statement that is 99% guaranteed to fail
  • Every professional should receive some funding to attend a conference
  • If staff are not being professionally developed then the organization is not adequately preparing itself to respond to a changing educational environment.

Salary

  • STOP HIDING THE SALARY.
    • I am looking at you “commensurate with experience” or “competitive”
  • A master’s level live-in professional should make no less than $35,000 annually. Honestly, I want to say $40,000. We have advanced degrees, crippling student loan debt, a 50% burnout rate, are essential personnel, have irregular work schedules, often work over 40 hours a week, and have very limited advancement opportunities.
  • “Other duties as assigned” is not a justification for a static salary and regularly increase responsibilities.
  • A salaried position does not justify regular work weeks above 40 hours.

Staffing

  • A staff should be representative of your student population or more diverse.
  • If staff are doing the work typically assigned to another person then they should receive some form of compensation for that additional work – especially if it lasts a month or longer.
  • Hire enough staff to cover responsibilities.
  • Re-organizing a department without involving the staff that are being reorganized is a mistake.

Training

  • “Fundatory” or “forced fun” activities are not fun.
  • Team-building is important…  but not for multiple days in a row.
  • Current research is suggesting the use of online modules to facilitate learning. Even ACUHO-I has an RA 101 online course. Use your institution’s learning management system to create better training and curate the content.
  • A person responsible for training should receive additional training in curriculum or training design.
  • Only certain training sessions should be mandatory for returning staff members
    • Title IX and Emergency response come to mind as important sessions to be reviewed annually.
  • Planning for training should not begin in the summer.

Nostalgia at Work: Replaying our Greatest Hits

I started a new job a little under two months ago. It was a lateral move, but it is 9 hours closer to friends and family. It is the first time that I have had a new job in 3 years and it is weird, yet refreshing, to not have an immediate answer to every question. My student staff has been directly supervised by the Associate Director for the past couple months while that same AD was still doing every part of their AD position. For some of my staff I am their third or fourth supervisor. I am brand new to this university and there are many things I do not know, but I have dedicated myself to listening to my staff to obtain the information necessary to maintain the status quo.

With over 3 years of residence life experience finding that balance was not particularly difficult. In early April I started being on-call for campus and quickly learned all the ins and outs for our crisis response. I consider myself a quick learner and felt good about where my understanding of the procedures, policies, and protocols were for my new department. This is when I started to think about the future. Over the past few weeks and during one on one meetings I have asked my student staff to tell me what their experiences in have been. What did they think was done well? What improvements could be made? I asked them about their frustrations and their successes to help me better understand what my role could be in the future of this department.

My number one strength in Strengths Quest or Clifton Strengths is Restorative. When I see something that I know can function more effectively I feel compelled to do what I can to do so. However, over the past week or so I have found that hesitant or unsure about some of the changes I think would be beneficial. I have verbally expressed to the staff member’s that I am speaking with that “I don’t just want to replicate what I have done elsewhere.” That phrase has stuck with me over the last couple days and I feel that I need to write about it.

Living in the Past

I had a great undergraduate experience. There were so many positive experiences during that time that they fundamentally shaped who I am as a person. I truly became a person representative of the liberal arts. It does not surprise me that when I went to graduate school that I tried to bring pieces of that experience with me to my new context. I can think of two distinct examples of me attempting to do so. The first example was an event called a “study a thon.” The premise of this event was to provide students, during finals week, a place to study with sweet treats served at regular intervals! I really enjoyed my experience at my undergraduate institution with this event, which was implemented during my last year. It seemed obvious that it would be a success anywhere. However, the student reaction to the event was less enthusiastic than I anticipated. I was determined to make this a success. I planned and hosted the event again but made some changes to location and our offerings during the next semester. Still, I found myself less than satisfied with the response of the students.

The other example was to mimic my undergraduate institution’s leadership application process or LAP: a student leadership position recruitment and application process for nearly all the student leadership positions on campus that happened simultaneously. I thought it was clever to have one application for a wide variety of student leaders. I wanted to bring this experience to where I worked as a graduate assistant, but there was no incentive for orientation leaders of welcome weekend leaders to recruit as early as resident assistants. Admissions staff wanted to maintain their hiring process as it was. I should have taken the hint that it was not going to work, but instead I replaced the word “process” with “portal.” Instead of a streamlined process I was going to lead in the creation of a web portal where all our student leadership positions would be posted. This would open the opportunity to use the learning management system (where the portal was housed) for webinars, resources, and more. I believe it was cast aside the moment I left.

Deciphering my Thoughts

These are just two examples from my own experience. What drove me to work so hard just to replicate pieces of my past? Reflecting on the study a thon example, I do not think there would have been any threshold that would have satisfied me. I continually struggled with the fact that these students were not loving the event or concept of the event as much as I did. It’s taken me a couple years to realize just how naïve my thought process and actions were. I was frustrated because students were not enjoying the same things I did or utilizing them the same way I did. I thought that my reaction, my lived experience, was the one that made the most sense. It just made sense that college students would want free food and a place to study during finals, right? Wrong. My mistake is that I thought that my experience and feelings were generalizable to a larger group of students who were not like me or the student population at my undergraduate institution. I was not adapting to, learning from, or understanding my environment. I was trying to force my environment to meet my desires and conform to my experience.

Although I have reflected on my own personal experiences, I know that these things happen throughout the field of student affairs every day. “At my previous institution” is a phrase that I have personally used and have heard at department and committee meetings. Ideally, our offices and departments are constantly updating and changing themselves to the changing needs and wants of our students and our staff. We should compare ourselves to others and make changes. We should evolve. Let me rephrase that: we must evolve. There have been times where I have seen ideas from a person’s former institution be extremely successful. There have also been times where I have seen those ideas flop and be done away with within a semester because it never fit the way it was supposed to.

I write about this topic not to discourage the utilization of great ideas, but to offer words of caution as we, collectively, strive for improvement. Just because you loved a program, process, or policy does not mean it is generalizable to a new context. As a professional you are making decisions that impact multiple students and employees. Your responsibility is to create an environment for them to thrive, not to maintain your own status quo.

What can I do about it?

I have already begun to take these experiences and turn them into action. Earlier I noted that I have been saying “I don’t just want to replicate what I have done elsewhere” to my staff members. Saying this out loud, with witnesses, is an important step. By stating this I am creating the ability to be held accountable in the future if I stray from this cautious approach to instigating and instituting change. Another verbal effort I make is to make it clear that I am inclined towards a change I am suggesting because I have used it elsewhere or I created and implemented it elsewhere. In other words, I acknowledge that I am biased. This added transparency can be useful to peers who are advocating in a different direction. In my case, I hope that it makes my peers challenge me more vigorously.

The most important action that I can take is simply recognizing that I have tried to recreate my past experiences for others and utilizing this recognition as a context for future brainstorming. This realization will help develop me into a better professional and a better decision maker. What I have done previously will always inform and influence my future actions, but I should treat these experiences as guides.

 

Thanks for reading.

Cheers,

Sensibly Shane

Choice

Content warning: mental health, depression, self-harm, suicide

 

What feels like an eternity ago I was a student at an undergraduate institution. It was, honestly, the best time of my life. My experiences, although not always great, defined who I am today. It took whatever I was when I graduated high school and molded me with a strong liberal arts background. The foundation of my supervision style was developed from the experiences that I had appointing vice presidents as student government president. I probably peaked in college and everything else is a downward spiral, but that is probably a conversation for a paid professional. However, I have been remembering bits and pieces from my college experience lately that I wanted to discuss with you, mysterious person who clicked the link.

I have been through ample training for my multiple positions throughout life, but I can clearly remember one particular training with a theme. The theme was the FISH! Philosophy and, at the time, I loved it. I thought it made so much sense because I obviously needed to “Choose [my] Attitude” and pick something more constructive than cynical and suspicious. If I made that choice then things would be better, right? I could choose to see the light, and everything would be fine, right? It took far too long for me to be able to see that this is not the case. Sometimes a person can make a choice, but that choice does not matter. When it comes to your mental health a person does not always have a choice.

One cannot choose to stop feeling hopeless. One cannot choose to stop wondering if it will get better. One cannot choose the lethargy they feel every moment of every day. One cannot choose their symptoms away. One cannot choose to get better just because they choose to. Mental health is one of the most difficult subjects to talk for many reasons, but the one thing that we, as a society, fail to grasp is that mental health is health. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes we feel good some days and some days we do not. We cannot make a choice to feel better when we have the flu. We cannot make the pain disappear when we twist an ankle.

However, we can make a choice that impacts others. We can choose to notice the signs of depression. We can choose to ask those we care about if they are okay. We can ask if someone is considering harming themselves or ending their life. We can ask how we can help. We can offer a ride to the hospital or the first therapist session. There is a lot that we can choose to do, but it is up to you to make the right choice.

5 Reasons: Careers in Student Affairs Month

October is Careers in Student Affairs Month and a month where I attended the Ohio College Personnel Association’s (OCPA) Careers in Student Affairs conference and decided that I was going to become a student affairs professional. That was over four years ago. A lot has happened within those four years that have shaped my career in this field. Recently, I have seen a lot of colleagues on Twitter discussing Careers in Student Affairs Month and they inspired me to write this post.

Careers in Student Affairs Month has a very heavy emphasis on recruitment of undergraduates into graduate programs for student affairs. OCPA’s conference was one such effort to give undergraduate students the opportunity to experience a conference setting where they could meet like-minded students, graduate students in programs, and other professionals who held an interest in recruiting “the next generation.” However, with the burnout rate in student affairs being quite large (40-50% within the first five years) and not enough positions for the number of recent graduates Twitter is filled with critiques about this month’s emphasis on recruitment. What about retention of current staff members? What is being done to promote a continued career in student affairs?

The subject of my post is not necessarily to discuss that. There are lots of great posts in #sachat and #sagrad on that exact subject. What I wanted to do was focus on a list: a list of reasons why not to go into student affairs.

Payment for Services Rendered

Student affairs positions are not always well compensated for the education required or for work outside 35-40 hours that goes uncompensated. If you check out this link you will see some average salaries for some careers (not specific student affairs). My context is primarily Residence Life where there is an emphasis to be visible at events, be visible in the halls, and be visible when students are around. This all translates to not working a traditional 9-5 (or 8-4:30) but these expectations are all in addition to being in the office during business hours. Having it both ways leads to burnout.

Years = Experience

There once was a time, in the functional area of Residence Life, where a professional would have a moderate chance of becoming an assistant director with three years of experience. That threshold has increased to 4-5 years of “progressive responsibility” for an assistant director job. If you recall earlier, I pointed out that the burnout rate is around 40-50% for persons within this same year category. Coincidence? Unlikely. Quantity of experience does not always yield a better professional.

Introverts Beware

I am an introvert. My blog post on training indicates that my experience with training was not built for introverts. Neither is the entire profession of student affairs. Extroverts are highly sought after and are usually the ones that are most heavily recruited because they are just so obviously good at people and that’s our job, right? That was sarcasm, in case it was not clear. Luckily for me, I have gained a lot of skills in increasing my capacity for other persons. Though, if you ask my coworkers it is still small.

Care & Concern is for Students Only

There is a lot of stigma with mental health in the world today, unfortunately. And although Student Affairs is moderately good at encouraging a general student to go to counseling we have a long way to go when it comes to ourselves and our peers. Overall, we may not be the best at taking care of ourselves, which is only exacerbated by the fact that we need to take so much care for ourselves to prevent stress overload every day that ends in “y.” In my relatively short career thus far I have encountered far too many situations where a senior level administrator asked if a person was qualified to do their job because of “insert mental health reason they elected to tell us about.” Where was the care and concern? Lost in liability concerns.

You are the Administration

One of the most important things that I struggled with when I became an administrator is that I no longer had student rights to voice my concerns about the administration. I am the administration. You are lumped into that category and all the responsibility (whether fair or unfair) that comes with it.

Final Thoughts

My intention is not to stop you from pursuing this career if you truly feel passionate about and the work that can be done. My only desire is to offer a view of the field without rose colored glasses. A career is an important and expensive decision and a person needs as much information as possible before deciding. If you have read this post and still feel strongly about entering the field – go for it. If you suddenly realize you want something else – go for it. It’s your life; you must live it.

Tried & True: Training

It is a little cliché to start off a blog post or any sort of writing with a dictionary definition . . .  So, I made sure to give you this little warning that I am about to do exactly that.

According to Merriam Webster the definition of the transitive verb train can mean several things such as “to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient” or “to form by instruction, discipline, or drill.” Based on my educational background the second definition offered by Merriam Webster does not quite fit what I consider training to be; better put I do not believe that the latter is effective training. Once I started working I was put through so much training. Once I became a resident assistant I was introduced to the sheer agony that August brings so many student affairs professionals and paraprofessionals. Training is a season that my body expects. Just writing about it brings pain to my joints. That being said . . .  I sort of liked training. Note the past tense.

I really enjoyed training when I was a student staff member. I felt connected either as a learner or someone who could offer their experience to a younger member. I was and still am not a fan of teambuilders or anything involving the usage of limited social energy, but I was not miserable during these times. As I attended graduate school and began working as a part of my assistantships I was introduced to Safe Zone and Green Dot training. These were fantastic trainings and because of them I was able to work with a Dean of Students on the development of a hybrid training curriculum for Title IX and Safe Zone training at a small, private, Catholic, liberal arts institution. While building these curriculums I was taking a course on e-learning through my graduate school. I was learning the basics of how learning works and how to adapt these foundations and apply them with curriculum design. To this day, I feel it is one of my best accomplishments though could use some updates.

After I had taken Green Dot training I felt the need to learn about how to be trained as a trainer. I remember thinking “This is my thing. How do I find a job where all I do is training?” This feeling is no longer a part of my persona. I have become critical of training and its usefulness. Context is important, so I will indicate that I am residence life professional returning to a third year at the same institution. I am introverted. All my thoughts on training are ripe because I have been in training from July until last Wednesday. Below I am going to indicate several of the mistakes that I have seen, experiences, or noticed throughout my years of being trained.

Changing the fonts, but not the content

The number one critique that I have about annual training is that it is the same exact information that I received the first year, then the second year, and now again. My dislike of this practice may stem from a pet peeve that I have: I do not like to be told information that I already know. In many cases, my pet peeve is irrational because how is (insert third party) to know that I know the information? However, in the cases when the third party knows that I know because they have already trained me in the process there is little reason to make my presence a requirement.

There are laws and rules requiring persons to undergo the same training annually. It is a standard protocol for Title IX, alcohol, or consent trainings. However, this is not a practice that is generalizable to all trainings. There are no national trends indicating that students do not know how to file maintenance reports that the state or federal government has spent thousands of dollars to implement a mandatory training. Re-read the definition of training above: are you training or are you drilling information?

Suggestions:

  • Utilize curriculum design principles to build on the experiences a staff member receives, especially student staff members
  • Ask returning professional staff members what their professional interests are and arrange “training” meetings around these content areas for that specific staff member

Designed to Deplete

If you design a training that puts people together for over 10 hours a day you are inherently building an ineffective environment for introverts. I am an introvert and have a relatively small amount of social capital to exert. I am also in a leadership position meaning that the expectation is that I am always “present.” There is very little time to recharge. A training session after dinner? My ability to pay attention to details is gone and I am more likely to make a mistake. If your training schedules requires 10-12 hour days, you are not effectively training and are setting up your staff for failure and exhaustion come the academic year.

Suggestions:

  • Learn more about humans. Want to know more about how introverts function? Check out this link.
  • Cease repeating the cycle of exhaustion by building schedules that allow staff members to just be people

 Two Places at Once

As I write this blog post I have been in “training” for nearly two full months. The only days that I have to work in the office are Monday and Friday both of which are the most unproductive work days ever (Well, according to this source Friday is the least productive, but Mondays are terrible too).  While I am being “trained” there are dozens of tasks being left unattended to, several other administrators frustrated that I am not in my office, and preparations that need to be made. It is frustrating to be in a position when you are being training to do your job and your campus partners already feel that you are not doing your job because they cannot get ahold of you. Build a schedule where employees feel like they are doing and learning their job not learning how to do their job while not doing it.

Suggestions:

  • Ensure that you are giving effective time for persons to do work in their own offices (8:00-9:00 AM every day is time, not effective time).
  • You’re not training returning staff, you’re developing them. They are already trained to do work. Let them.

Final Thoughts

I could go on for several dozen more pages, including specifically nitpicking the trainings I have been through recently – but I think that these general comments with assorted suggestions offer a lot of content to consider. Ultimately, there is a need for training our employees and ourselves, but my observations of the status quo show that there is a need to do better. If we expect students to grow and do better in college it is more than reasonable that we can do the same over a career.

What suggestions do you have? What do you do to effectively train? Share in the comments.

Words as Themes: Where do I go from here?

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My Word

For the past two years our office has engaged in an activity in which we establish a “word” whose definition outlines a theme that we want for our professional and, in some cases, our personal lives. This activity is one of my favorites because it does not involve other persons. It is a thought exercise that forces me to look within myself and reflect not only on who I am, but who I want to be. These types of exercises are my favorite. Personally, I think these activities can build a stronger team than any human knot, hula hoop, or rope team building activity. This year, I want to showcase some of the thoughts that I have had over the past several weeks as I attempt to determine what my Word will be for this year. The future is meaningless without the past so how about a review?

2016-2017

Word: Heuristic

I chose this particular word because at the time it was representative of my supervision style. Also, it was a word I have had never encountered until I looked for it and looked cool. Throughout my liberal arts education I was taught too never accept the answer or solution given to me at face value. I was to analyze it and consider the meaning behind it and the consequences of accepting the action. In many cases I was presented with complex problems with no clear solution and forced to defend and critically analyze the solution I came to. This rigorous education created a supervisory style that asks for others to give me their answer.

Heuristic

Image that reads: Heuristic to me means that I am not always capable,and in some cases, am unwilling to give you the answers you seek. Why? Sometimes you need to find the answers on your own. Plan, try, fail, try again. Twitter symbol @ShaneYoung15 

 

2017-2018

Word: Logos

I chose this word in response to what I perceived to be an influx in emotion based decision-making in my professional life. It was not something that made sense to me and still confuses me to this day. This word was chosen to further define who I am as a professional. I am logical. I focus on facts and reason in my decision-making and make the decision that makes the most sense.

Logos

Cartoon image of the author with a half full progress bar titled “Thinking” and a thought bubble reading: Logos: Convince b use of logic or reason’ use of critical thinking to reach a conclusion or solution

2018-2019

Word: ???

I do not have a word yet. I am still trying to figure it out, but here are some thoughts.

Exodus: My current position considers itself a “three and up” curriculum where at the end of my time here I ought to have enough experience to move up the food chain (most assistant director positions are now requiring 4-5 years of experience, but that’s a whole different story). My time is ending and I must make my exit. My life is a series of exits, but how does one leave a place? Because my watch is ending do I have more hills to die on? How does one set up a supervisory area for the unknown next person? Should the theme of my final year be the fact that it is my final year? Perhaps even my final year in student affairs?

Reality: One of my major struggles with other persons within my own work is that we often have very different experiences and expectations of the same scenario. In many respects I think that leaders often have idealistic notions of reality that they espouse without the consideration of the actual state of things. I see the world through mild pessimism and severe realism. I think and speak with candor in order to make my bleak reality make a little more sense.

Conflict: Internal reflection brings a lot of conflict to the surface. As someone who is often lost in their own thoughts I am often internally conflicted about my place in the world and struggling to acknowledge and accept the changes that are occurring within my life. In addition, and you may have caught this impression from my last post, I believe that conflict is a part of life both professionally and personally. As I exit my time in my current role and react to a harsh reality there is bound to be conflict. I want to be prepared and I want to prepare others for this eventuality.

These are just a couple of possibilities. What are your thoughts? Do these fit? What other theme might represent me?

Sensible Suggestions: Politics in the Workplace

Image result for i hate politics meme

Above: An meme of rap artist Xzibit stating “Yo Dawg!  I heard you hate political memes so here’s a political meme about politic so you can comment on how you hate political memes”

I have recently began reviewing my notes from some of my former graduate courses and I came across a casually typed statement that inspired me. In my notes I wrote “we are an organization of people and that is political.” For context the “we” is referring to colleges and universities and their composite parts. I know why this statement struck me then and still does now. When talking to colleagues or graduate assistants I often hear them bemoan the fact that there are often political systems that exist in their work environments. “I hate drama! Why can’t we just do our jobs and help students?” is one phrase that I have heard on more than one occasion. The struggle of power and influence exists in every aspect of our lives. Although most will espouse a distaste for engaging in “politics” persons will always work to ensure what they perceive to be a desirable outcome. It bears repeating that we are political because we are an organization of people.

I hope that does not terrify you. As a student of political science, I am energized by the prospect of watching power and influence in action. I view being able to competently engage in this as pivotal to my profession. In this and future blog posts on this topic I hope to offer even a small amount of usable advice to help you avoid or respond to the situations that I have found myself in throughout my career.

Control the narrative

One of the keys to ensuring that you have an upper hand in disputes in the workplace is to ensure that you control the narrative. I am not referring to having reporters on your payroll, but if you can do that . . .  it may be worth it. What I am referring to is ensuring that you limit the situations in which your supervisor or someone above the chair receives information (or a complaint) that takes them by surprise. Worse yet is when that person asks you to respond and you have no information on the situation because you didn’t document it with as much detail as the other party. these situations occur in my professional life and the one thing that I have taken away is that I HATE being surprised by these things. Over time I have developed a series of protective behaviors which include:

  1. Verbally request what it said in writing at the time it is said
    1. If that request is not granted within 48 hours – request it via writing
  2. Write up a small summary of the interaction for your own notes
  3. Send an email summary of the conversation to the person you had the conversation with.
  4. Send your supervisor an update including the information that was agreed on as a rudimentary update
    1. You can CC the individual you had a conversation for extra security

How many of you are wondering if this is really necessary? I bet that some of you may haven even thought “Wow, this is petty.’” I challenge your disbelief and your dismissal of these actions because these guidelines are responses to actual incidents in my professional life. I have been involved in disputes with students, parents, supervisees, Deans of Students, and other professionals who have years of experience on me. I have lost out on hundreds of dollars because I didn’t have written documentation of an agreement between myself and an employer.  I will not let this happen again.

Please note that these guidelines do not immediately absolve a professional from all their disputes against other political actors. For instance, I have had supervisors confront me asking about a situation that was reported to them (usually by their own supervisor). It is a relief to indicate that they received a status update via email on xx-xx-xxxx date. I prefer this to panicking and attempting to remember that you stopped by their office two weeks ago sometime after lunch while wearing purple and any other clues to help jog their memory as well as your own.

That’s all folks… for now!

After some thought (and due to time crunches) I think I am going to start this as a series of posts with chunks of information rather than a large one with all the information. I will probably collect some better examples if I write sporadically as well! Thanks for stopping by and reading about controlling the narrative. Check back sometime in the future for more sensible solutions to politics in the workplace!