5 Ways to Treat Students Like Family

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Giving my daughter cheap advice at the Live Oak Music Festival

When I look into the eyes of my students, I often imagine my six-year-old daughter sitting on the other side of the desk in eleven years. It’s unlikely that she will be sitting  across from me, but she may be sitting in another office somewhere. What will bring her to the dean’s office? What experience do I want her to have? What advice will she get?

My daughter is just entering the public school system. She will be completing first grade in a few months. She loves school and is an avid reader, but last week she received a behavior ticket. I won’t say what it was for, because years from now when she runs for presidency I don’t want her campaign tarnished by her mom’s blog post that disclosed she threw applesauce down the slide and soiled another girl’s clothes (oops! there I said it!), but it has me thinking about behavior and choices.

Personally, I’m hoping my daughter makes all her mistakes in first grade, and it’s smooth sailing from here into adulthood. But since I realize that’s likely not going to be the case, I’m embracing these incidents for what they are…teachable moments. I also realize I will not always be around to clean up the metaphorical applesauce and, as a mom, I hope that there will be caring adults throughout my daughter’s life who will also help her navigate through the messy, sticky situations that come up.

Whether it’s a mistake, a personal challenge, an academic setback, or another life event that  brings someone else’s child to my office, I try to treat all students with the respect, compassion, and attention I would provide to my own daughter in these five ways:

1. See their potential. Students who have been admitted to the university have already demonstrated they have great potential. Students also each possess unique strengths they can draw upon during challenging times. Looking for strengths and encouraging students to envision what is possible demonstrates our belief in them.

2. Believe them. It takes courage for students to share their stories. When we listen and validate their feelings, emotions, and concerns, students can ask for what they need and tell us how to best support them.

3. Give accurate information. Myths, out-dated information, and misunderstood policies can create stress and confusion for students. Empowered with information, students can make educated and appropriate decisions.

4. Advocate. Advocacy can take many forms. It can be connecting students to resources, speaking up for underrepresented students, creating a safe environment for students to express themselves, or educating ourselves on critical issues  in order to contribute to positive change.

5. Offer unconditional positive regard. Psychologist Carl Rogers developed the term unconditional positive regard, which means showing complete support and acceptance of a person. By showing students our acceptance and setting aside our judgment, we create a safe space for students to take risks, explore their possibilities, and maximize their full potential.

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7 Tips for Picking Your Major in College

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Do you ever have those moments when you’re speaking but you hear someone else’s words coming out of your mouth? It might be your mom or an old teacher. It’s a rare feeling for me, but it happened today.

I was meeting with a student who wanted to change his major. He had narrowed down his focus but was still debating between a few options in STEM. I heard myself say, “There are many paths to success. There is no wrong answer.” Huh? He looked at me with the same look I gave my undergraduate faculty advisor when he told me it didn’t matter what I majored in.

I entered college with a double major in Psychology and International Relations. My first week on campus I met with my faculty advisor and he said, “Why do you want to double major? Just pick one. It doesn’t matter which one.” How could it not matter? This was my future! A wrong choice could put me on a miserable path for my entire career! I could make a huge mistake!

I was passionate about helping people and wanted to be a psychologist, but I thought a career in International Relations would give me an exciting lifestyle traveling around the world. I continued taking classes in both majors but his words stuck with me. In the end I chose Psychology and dropped International Relations, and I never looked back.

I watched my peers of all majors follow all different career paths. For some their career paths were directed by family obligations, financial factors, or relationships. In any case, each internship, job, and experience gives us important skills, knowledge, and abilities and helps us define where we want to take the next step.

While I did say that there may be no right or wrong choice, there is definitely an informed choice so here are 7 tips for picking your major:

1. Follow your passion. Prestige and earning potential are important factors, but your passion for a subject is going to keep you going during the grueling study sessions and all-nighters.  If you have a lot of interests, spend some time reflecting on your long-term goals and what activities inspire you.

2. Talk to faculty. Each department has a unique culture and faculty. You will be spending a lot of time with your faculty so explore whether the department’s culture is a good fit for you. Are they laid back? Hands on? Approachable? Helpful? Interested in knowing you?

3. Utilize Career Services. Career Services has several helpful resources, such as personality and strengths assessments that can help you identify which subjects you might enjoy and/or areas where you might be more successful. Career Services also has industry contacts and can guide you on possible internship and career options in various majors.

4. Keep your options open. If you want to apply for graduate or medical school be sure to take the necessary prerequisites. Some majors may align more closely to these requirements so it may save you some time; however, don’t let that be the only deciding factor. Ultimately, many graduate schools are looking to see that you have taken the necessary classes regardless of your major.

5. Do your research on undergraduate research. Undergraduate research looks great on a resume and gives you applicable experiences. Look into the various undergraduate research areas on your campus to see if any spark your interest.

6. Ask other students. Peers are a great resource. Seek out students in the major that you are considering and ask them questions. What do they enjoy about the major? What is the biggest challenge? Do they recommend it? Why or why not?

7. Visit the Advising Center. Academic advisors have a wealth of knowledge and can help you identify the major that may be a great fit for you. They have a deep understanding of the curriculum, and they can tell you if you have already taken classes that might meet the requirements of a certain major.

6 Strategies for Helping Parents (without violating FERPA)

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Parents are important partners in supporting student success. They are also part of our university family. I enjoy interacting with parents and encourage them to contact me if they have questions. However, due to FERPA privacy laws I am restricted in how much information I can share with parents.

Here are six strategies I use to help parents when they have a student in crisis or in need of support:

1. Provide information about campus policies and deadlines. When a student or family is in crisis, knowing their options can relieve the pressure of the situation. I frequently explain course and term withdrawal policies, medical leave of absence deadlines, and options for taking incompletes. Many parents have questions about what will happen to a student’s on-campus housing if the student is no longer enrolled full time or takes time off during the year. Information can empower them to make informed decisions.

2. Give information on campus resources. Again, information can be empowering. There are many resources available for students and parents. With knowledge of these resources, parents can encourage their student to pursue a tutor, talk to a counselor, seek out an academic advisor, apply for disability resources, or visit an instructor during office hours. There are also resources specifically for parents, often called Parent & Family Programs, which help parents get connected with the university.

3. Share in generalities. I may not be able to talk about the specifics of a student, but I can share my approach to handling different situations. For example, if a parent asks whether her student came to see me about a roommate conflict I can explain how I would handle the situation without disclosing whether or not I met with the student. I might says, “Typically I ask the student about the situation and notifying Housing if it is occurring on campus. I may also ask the other student to meet with me. If the issue involves safety, I would notify campus police to check on the situation.”

4. Share tips for communicating with college-aged students. It can be helpful to explain to parents that this is a time when young people naturally seek independence and choose to find their own solutions. Parents might consider having a conversation with their student about how often a student will check-in with a parent to reassure the parent that he is ok. If a parent is paying for the student’s tuition, it might also be reasonable to ask for some assurance that the student is progressing academically.

5. Ask questions! I may not be able to disclose much information, but the sky is the limit on what parents can share with me. I ask parents, “Is this unusual behavior for your child?” “What is he like?” “What has he told you about his experiences here?” This helps me assess whether there has been a change in the student’s behavior and/or how much he is disclosing to his parents. This can also be helpful in determining the relationship between the parent and student.

6. Provide words of encouragement. It makes a difference to parents when they hear that other students have experienced similar situations and been successful. I frequently tell parents, “There are many paths to success.” It makes a difference to parents when they hear that other students have experienced similar situations and been successful. I frequently tell parents, “There are many paths to success.” If a parent has shared about the student, I may focus on the strengths of the student and say “From what you have described, it sounds like your student has tremendous potential” or “I hear that your daughter has great self-awareness.”

I do not share any FERPA protected information with parents, including confirming or denying whether a student is enrolled, a students academic performance, where a student lives, or whether I have contacted a student. There have been exceptions in situations when a student is an imminent threat of harm to self or others. A student does have the option to sign an information release agreement if he/she would like a parent to have more information.