5 Ways to Treat Students Like Family

Advice_5cents

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.

Bridging the Gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs

HoldingHands

Last week I led a workshop for our Student Affairs Winter Recharge on the topic of “Bridging the Gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.” My experiences as an instructor, as well as my personal experiences in education, have given me an appreciation for the transformative effect of a rigorous academic curriculum. And my interactions with students outside the classroom have confirmed the importance of reinforcing the academic components through additional opportunities for student development. As a result, I often feel like I have my foot in both camps.

In my role as a service-learning coordinator, I served as a liaison between academic affairs and student affairs. Many faculty have limited interactions with student affairs and are unfamiliar with the variety of services and programs offered; not surprisingly, student affairs professionals often feel misunderstood and unappreciated by faculty. The relationship between academic affairs and student affairs may not receive as much attention as retention or graduation rates, but its impact can be just as great for students. Ever since I stepped foot on campus as a student affairs professional I have seen and felt the real “division” between the Division of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.

Historical Background

Prior to the 1960’s, faculty was responsible for intellectual and social development of students. Around the 1970’s, enrollment increases created a higher demand for student affairs professionals to address needs for co-curricular programs and services. In the 1980’s higher education researchers began focusing on the need for collaboration between the growing student affairs divisions and academic affairs. By the 1990’s, national student affairs organizations like ACPA and NASPA released Best Practices (which are still pertinent). In the past ten years, High Impact Practices have gained the spotlight highlighting many of the practices that fall within student affairs as being critical to academic success.

Benefits of bridging the gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs:

  1. Seamless connection between in- and out-side of classroom experiences. When a student is trying to navigate a process that involves multiple departments (like coordinating disability services), lack of communication between departments can lead to frustration. If the student is already distressed, these disconnected experiences can exacerbate the student’s situation.
  2. Co-curricular experiences that enhance and compliment the curriculum. There are many opportunities, including Service Learning, for students to apply the knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world environments. When student affairs and academic affairs work together, students benefit from a richer learning experience.
  3. Holistic support and development of the whole student. Both faculty and student affairs staff are critical to student development. Both play a major role in orienting students to campus, helping students transition into college, and advising students in various aspects of personal and professional growth.
  4. Increased resources and support for students resulting in academic and personal success. Students need many types of role models, mentors, and advisors, and student success is greatly improved when the faculty and student affairs staff who are supporting a student are working collaboratively.
  5. Increased satisfaction with the overall university experience. The success of an institution is dependent on the quality of education and service provided to students. Taking care of our students improves the relationship between the student and the university.

Barriers

Barriers exist on both sides of the university. Barriers specific to faculty include lack of recognition and rewards for participation, significant turnover in student affairs, and lack of orientation and training on student affairs. Barriers specific to student affairs staff include, restricted freedom within the university due to classification (lack of tenure status), lack of understanding of tenure process that drives academic affairs, and perceptions that student affairs play a subordinate role in the university.

Barriers to both Student Affairs and Academic Affairs:

  1. Lack of knowledge or understanding of roles
  2. Assumptions and incorrect perceptions
  3. Competition for resources
  4. Lack of trust
  5. Organizational culture and language
  6. Values and priorities
  7. Organizational structures

Opportunities

The opportunities for collaboration are endless. Partnerships can range from formal strategic decisions to informal alliances. Some of these ideas can be implemented overnight, and others will require long-term planning.

Opportunities for collaboration:

  1. Classroom announcements and in-class trainings provided by student affairs
  2. Faculty office hours in Living Learning Communities/Housing
  3. Service learning courses
  4. Campuswide Task Forces
  5. First-year experience courses
  6. Academic-Student Affairs Partnership Meetings
  7. Campus-based Leadership Institute
  8. Conferences and Presentations
  9. Collaborative Grants and Research
  10. Institutes and Centers
  11. Advisory Boards
  12. Internships in Student Affairs
  13. Recruitment & Outreach
  14. Search Committees

I chose to pursue my Ph.D. because I wanted to leave the door open to academic affairs. I see the changes taking place in education and realize that in the academic world understanding student development theory, the learning process, and factors for success are critical supplements to a strong knowledge base in the academic field.

The gap between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs will not be bridged overnight. We will need both formal and informal processes to build collaborative partnerships. At the center of these collaborations will be professionals who understand the value of both academic affairs and student affairs.

Resources:

American Association for Higher Education, American College Personnel Association, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (1998). Powerful partnerships: A shared responsibility for learning. Washington, DC: Author.

Kellogg, K. (1999). Collaboration: Student affairs and academic affairs working together to promote student learning. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education.

Kuh, G.D. (1996). Guiding principles for creating seamless learning environments for undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development (37)2, 135-148.

Martin, J. & Murphy, S. (2000). Building a better bridge: Creating effective partnerships between academic affairs and student affairs. National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc.

7 Blind Men and An Elephant

elephant

Working in a large public institution has given me the opportunity to observe several leadership styles. Given the segregated nature of the functions of the institution, it is not surprising that many leaders have adapted their leadership style to ensure the survival of their department. At times, this can be frustrating because in my experience it creates seemingly unnecessary conflict.

I was recently reminded of the story of seven blind men and an elephant. In the story, each man is feeling a different part of the elephant. The one touching the tail thinks it is a rope. The one at the leg thinks it is a tree trunk. They start to fight about it. Whether or not the conflict between the men and their perspectives was resolved depends on which version of the story you believe. The lesson I take away is that we all think we know how it is but in reality we only see a piece of the whole.

I like this story because each of the men was right. In my own work life, I have recently started trying to identify the elephant. How can it be that we are viewing the same issue from opposing positions? What could the issue look like from your side of the elephant? And how can I best describe my side in a way that helps us both get a better idea of what the elephant really is?

In some cases, this has required assembling an elephant that doesn’t yet exist. In creating collaborative programs within the institution, different departments bring their components or values. Sometimes they are open to integrating these components and often they want their components to be the whole elephant.

I have recently encouraged the students I work with to see how they could combine their seemingly different perspectives to create a greater outcome. This is especially challenging because the temptation is to recreate our existing structures – silo-ed departments, specialized colleges, two-party systems. Everywhere we look we can find examples of people holding on to their piece of the elephant.

10 Interviewing Strategies Used by Top Candidates

People waiting for job interview

My department has hired 10 new full-time staff members in the past 12 months. I have been involved in many of the searches, and currently am chairing yet another search committee. It’s literally a full time job to review applications, develop interview questions, schedule search committee meetings, contact candidates, organize forums, and run everything through Human Resources. But I can’t complain too much because we’re fortunate to receive funding for these positions, and each new successful hire brings much needed expertise and resources to our student programs and services.

Each interview has been an opportunity to see into the life of another professional, learn more about the interpretation of these positions across the field, and clarify the needs and priorities of our department.

These tips are based on the strategies that strong candidates utilized to rise to the top:

1. Take the interview seriously – Submit a complete application packet, dress professionally, research the department, and look at similar models on other campuses. As a candidate, you are being judged the minute you submit your application. A sloppy presentation of yourself on paper or in person can send the message that you may not be completely interested or even qualified for the position. When you put time and effort into preparing for an interview, it is obvious to the search committee that you are committed to getting the job.

2. Ask questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the big picture and the major concerns in the field. Your questions say a lot about you so choose them carefully. Avoid questions that can be easily answered on a website, such as demographic or historical information about a university. A question about the culture of the department or how the department is approaching challenges in the field (such as social media) will tell you more about the reality of the position, as well as communicate to the search committee that you are well versed in current issues.

3. Stay on topic and answer the questions. Interviews can be stressful, and being nervous or unprepared can sometimes lead candidates to lose track of their thoughts, speak too quickly, or get off topic. Practicing your answers, visualizing your ideal interview, and learning meditative techniques can help you prepare for the interview, calm your nerves, and improve your responses. It is also acceptable to ask, “Did I answer your question?” during the interview if you suspect you have missed the mark in your initial response. If you tend to be chatty, try to tone down your answers and monitor the length of your answers.

4. Communicate your passion and how it relates to the position for which you are applying. Our passions are sometimes more obvious when we interact in social settings, but may be less obvious in an interview. I think it’s inspiring when a candidate has committed him/herself to a field and enjoys the work. As a supervisor, I prefer to hire someone with passion and energy who may have less experience rather than a candidate who has more experience but lacks enthusiasm for the position.

5. Expand on answers and give good examples. You want your answers to be concise, but not too short. You still need to provide the search committee with enough information to evaluate whether you are qualified for the position. Be prepared to give examples of how your previous experiences and education have prepared or qualified you for the job. Opt for a short description of an experience that demonstrates your skills (like when you solved that challenging problem or resolved a sticky conflict) rather than a laundry list of accomplishments.

6. Establish a connection. We all want someone who can get the job done, but we also want someone on our team who is likeable and approachable. Smile, make eye contact, and be aware of your body language to convey confidence and warmth. How you say it can be more important than what you say.

7. Elude to ways you would take the position to the next level – either directly or indirectly, without suggesting that you would change everything. New hires bring fresh energy, creativity, ideas, and perspectives. I enjoy hearing about tools, processes, or approaches that candidates may bring to the team. However, be aware that not everything is broken and some traditions are deeply rooted in the institution. It’s appropriate to share your ideas, with the caveat that whether or not they are adopted depends on many factors.

8. Speak with confidence about your abilities without bragging or using laundry lists of accomplishments. Confidence is one of the top traits employers are looking for in new hires. You may have all the skills, knowledge and abilities, but if you lack confidence it shows in the interview. People with confidence know themselves – their abilities, weaknesses, priorities, values, and goals – and can talk about their successes without having to overcompensate for their faults.

9. Limit your use of common phrases like “I think…,” “That’s a good question…,” and “I guess I would…” These phrases are often used to fill the space when a candidate is thinking about his/her response. The problem with these filler words is they make a candidate look insecure and unprofessional. Instead of filling the space, just be silent. The silence conveys the message that you are giving thought and consideration to the question.

10. Speak articulately about your experiences, previous employment, projects, and successes that qualified you for the position. Focus on specific examples that translate to the position. Describe the skill sets and how you used those skills. Identify the achievements you want to share before the interview and weave them in where appropriate in your answers.

How do you recruit the most qualified candidates to your institution?

6 Strategies for Helping Parents (without violating FERPA)

Locked files

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.