Tag Archives: Housing

Staying firm on expectations

I’ve been attending a training lately about helping students and colleagues in crisis.  The sessions have been taught by the head of our counseling office.  Last week we were talking about how to diffuse a situation specifically with the angry or irate person.

She taught us this great mnemonic device:  

  • L: Listen
  • E: Empathize
  • A: Ask Questions
  • P: Paraphrase
  • S: Summarize

Then, as she explained how to use it, she shared with us that at some point in the conversation you will set some expectations of the person.  Maybe you will ask them to sit down or move to a different location…etc.  Then she said: “it is really important that you stay firm on the expectations that you set.”

The light bulb went off in my head as to how many other things this applies to!  While yes, these are great tactics to use when you are trying to calm down a resident/student/colleague in crisis, these are also really great tools to use when supervising.

In my experience, your supervisee’s will respect you more if you are firm with expectations.  This boils down to three big things.

  1. set the expectations – Spend time really thinking through what it is you want out of each interaction/situation.  If you want your staff to send you an email at x time with y information in a specific format, then tell them!
  2. explain them – Take the time before your first 1:1 with a new staff  member to explain to them what a 1:1 should look like (for you).
  3. stand by them – You need to hold your staff accountable to your expectations.  This is really the focus of this whole post.

As we hold our staff accountable, they will respect us more and know how to work with us better.  Part of making your supervisor happy can make you feel better about your job and enjoy what you do more.

Interestingly enough, going back to the L.E.A.P.S. device, that’s a great way to remember and think about active listening – but, that’s a whole different blog post.

How are you at standing firm with your expectations?


Giving RAs feedback

“If you keep sweeping it under the rug, you will trip over it”
This is the quote I heard the other day & it sparked a note with me.

I think we do this a lot.  When we are afraid of confrontation or don’t want to confront something.

In this post, I want to talk specifically about supervising undergraduate housing staff & providing them with direct and constructive feedback.  For this post, I will use the term “RA” to signify Resident Assistant, Community Assistant…etc or whatever it is that you or your institution might use.

I think it is crucial in building a successful RA team to provide them with specific and direct feedback.  I readily acknowledge that not every staff member wants feedback the same way, however I think as a supervisor giving consistent and timely feedback is very important.

  • Be direct.  While some of us get butterflies in our stomachs when we need to be ‘critical’ it is the only way that our staff will learn to perform better.  Be direct.  It is worse if you ‘beat around the bush’ than if you get straight to the point.
  • Sandwich method works!  For some of us, doing the ‘good – bad – good’ type of feedback works better!  I remember that I’ve used this technique many times.  “Hey, you did a great job planning x program.  Your program evaluation was late and that is unacceptable.  However, I also appreciate how well you advertised for this event.”
  • Be specific.  “You constantly have side conversations in meetings” vs “Today during our staff meeting it was very distracting when you turned to Joe several times to engage in a side conversation.”  Which is clearer for you?  The second one.  As a supervisor, it gives you less wiggle room for the student to say “uh, I didn’t do that.”  As a supervisee, it allows the employee to say “oh, so that’s exactly what my supervisor doesn’t like.  I can fix that.”
  • Be timely.  This is so important, but also sometimes very tricky.  As a supervisor, when we see something that needs to be addressed, we need to make sure we track the student staff member down and provide them with the feedback as soon as we can.  I know I’ve had staff members in the past who seem to be ‘suddenly very busy’ when they know I’ve got to address a behavioral concern with them.
  • Provide both positive & constructive feedback!  While this whole blog post is targeted at the idea of providing ‘tough’ feedback, it is important to be direct, specific, and timely with positive praise as well.
  • Follow it up in writing!  I learned this trick from Deb Schmidt-Rodgers.  After each meeting with a student where I give feedback (positive or negative) I provide them with an email afterwards which spells out the specific feedback that they have been given.  Often times this reminds me of things I had wanted to bring up but didn’t.  Or, it helps me to phrase things in a different way that might hit home better.  Also, I’ve found that many of the more ‘challenging’ conversations I’ve had with my staff, the email has opened the door for them to respond to me and engage me in a conversation about the concern – after they have had time to process their thoughts about whatever the feedback was.

Back to the quote that spawned this post, “If you keep sweeping it under the rug, you will trip over it.”  You need to give feedback to avoid this problem.  It is important to be direct, be specific, timely, and then be sure to provide both positive and negative feedback.

What other tips should be added?

Cyber-Bullying: An approach to end/prevent it.

Saw this on FB the other day:

Name Removed:
Thinks that we forget that bullying isn’t just teasing. Yet, that’s what we focus on. I believe its as important to focus on how to be assertive without being a bully. Without that, kids turn into adults who bully-customers in stores and restaurants, colleagues, friends, and significant others. The very same people kids watch us interact with. Stop the cycle. Don’t be a bully and tell people who are – even adults.

When I started at the boarding school (several years ago in a previous life), I was caught off guard by how much bullying occurred & how much it was a concept we talked about during our staff meetings almost every week.  As a school, we had no idea what to do with this.  We were clueless.
In my previous position as a Graduate Hall Director, we found bullying occurs at many different levels — but we see the most of it in the form of students sending nasty messages about or to one another via facebook and twitter.  As an institution (the greater institution of Higher Education),  I feel like we can react to this behavior – but, we don’t seem to have a tool in-place to prevent it.

In my previous-previous life (so, before the boarding school), I worked for Mothers Against Drunk Driving as a alcohol educator.  My job was to travel around the country and both educate k-12 students about the dangers of drinking and driving — and also to work with grass-roots organizing groups of teens trying to curb such behavior in their community.  With these students we talked about a concept called ‘environmental prevention.’ 

For my Environmental Prevention sessions — I went through this explanation called the “dogs and fleas” analogy.  The basic idea is that it is really hard to get rid of fleas.  So, you have to really think about the whole bigger picture & not just give your dog a flea bath every once and a while.  But, even if you flea-bomb your house & wash the dog, your dog might still get fleas from hanging around the neighbor’s animal.
Translating this to alcohol prevention, you need to work with your students on campus to educate them, to provide awesome alternatives across campus, collaborate with the local police to step-up enforcement efforts, partnership with local establishments to enhance carding and reduce selling to underage individuals, and work with the legislators to change laws.  You really attack the problem from all angles.

I’m sure there is a way to combat bullying – specifically cyber-bullying by using environmental prevention.  I have about 1/2 the plan mapped out in my head.  The other 1/2 is still a work in progress.

What do you think? Can environmental prevention be a way to get ahead & help to prevent bullying – rather than merely react to bullying?

Another school year begins…

And so another year begins!  As with many other institutions, our year here as started.  I was at the Farmer’s Market last weekend (I snuck out for 20 min during a lul) and snapped this photo.

I have no idea if this person is an RA or not – but I like the shirt!
This fall I’ll be blogging more- specifically targeting leadership, supervision, and accountability.  I’ve already got a few blogs in the hopper and a few partially written.

I look forward to connecting with you and learning from you along the way!  Be sure to subscribe to the blog to get the latest updates in your email with the link on the side or the one on the bottom.


I’ve been attending a training lately about helping students and colleagues in crisis. The sessions have been really interesting. At one point we were talking about how to build trust with individuals who are in crisis mode. One of the tactics the facilitator was explaining was all about how we need to be honest and admit mistakes when/if we made them with such individuals. We talked about this in contrast to the opposite – which would be telling lies, deflecting answers, avoiding topics…etc. The basic premise was all about building trust which would help to diffuse the situation.

I jotted this note down:

Being honest + admitting mistakes = builds trust >>> SUPERVISION!
Obviously triggering in my mind that this also applies to supervision.

For readers who have read my blog a lot in the past, you will know that I love talking about and thinking about how I supervise & how I can supervise better. While I am not going to go out and say that I purposefully deflect or lie to those that I supervise, I do admit that I have been known to occasionally sugar coat things.

As I reflect about this concept, I think about the difference between being honest and admitting mistakes vs deflecting or avoiding topics and how this impacts those that I supervise.

I know when my supervisor (or past supervisors) say “I can’t answer that,” I respect them more. While I still really want to know the answer, I realize that they have heard my question and are being honest with me. I then respect and trust them more.

For those who know me at all, you know that I am quick to admit mistakes. I have no problem telling those that I work with and for that I have messed up. Just the other day I sent an email asking for a piece of information I had already received. Once I figured it out, I was quick to send an apology email – even pointed out that I felt foolish! For me, this is all about being honest with those that you work with.

What do you think about how this concept? Do you feel that being honest and admitting mistakes builds trust, which helps make you a stronger supervisor? How? Why?

This post was posted on http://thesabloggers.org on July 2, 2012.

Slow down!

Similarly to the Simon & Garfunkel song “59th Street Song (Feeling Groovy)”  I saw this Zits Cartoon and was struck to remind myself (and others) to SLOW DOWN!

 (11.2.11 Zits)

Even though we are neck deep in the week before finals here & it is BUSY! — I still need to take the time to remind myself to slow down.

The other obvious point in this Zits cartoon is the idea of multi-tasking & I love how the parents are just so confused by the multi-tasking concept.  I do believe that as busy as many of us are during this late-fall season… we tend to multi-task more.  I encourage you to take a breath, take a break, and not multi-task.

Going back to our friends Simon & Garfunkel – “Slow down, you move to fast…” really take the time to relax this next few weeks and celebrate as you say “Life I love you! All is groovy!”

1:1 prompts

I tweeted a few months ago a link to a google docs page  where you can see a long list of 1:1 prompts.

This is not coming from a place of me needing more prompts for my 1:1’s — instead, this comes from me flipping through papers from my previous position, and I found a list of conversation starters.  I put these on a list & then invited others to add on.

In my current job, I am in a position where I have one on one conversations with the RA’s that I supervise.  I currently supervise 16 RA’s and one Assistant Hall Director.  The system is set up to where my AHD and I both meet with the RA’s on a weekly basis.  Actually, I meet with each RA every other week, while my AHD meets with the RA’s on the off weeks.  In practice, we each meet with 8 RA’s per week.  It’s a great system.

I want to spend a moment talking about how and why I value 1:1’s.  I believe that so much of what we do as supervisors is to provide opportunities for those that we supervise to be successful.  In the RA job specifically, I help my RA’s to figure out what it is that their role really entails.  These conversations might be processing through a rough duty call or awkward resident interaction; it might be helping an RA understand their role while preforming rounds or planning a program; or it might be helping them to realize they need to be successful in their academics or listening to a challenging moment in their relationship with their significant other.  

As a k-12 teacher, I never had a 1:1.  As a public speaker before being a teacher, I never had a 1:1.  I can actually remember my first 1:1 two years ago with my first supervisor.  I was amazed at how deep our conversation went and how I grew to look forward to these times.

It takes time to develop a meaningful relationship with your supervisor — I believe strongly that about 80% of it is up to the supervisor.

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not have quality relationships with everyone that I have supervised — but, I will defend that by saying that I have tried to connect with each one.

I had a conversation earlier this year with someone I supervised last academic year.   During that conversation, they shared with me that their new supervisor is good, but that they miss our 1:1’s.  With the new supervisor, the conversation is based on going through a list of what this person has (or has not) accomplished in the past two weeks.  Rarely do they process events that happened nor does the conversation spread to topics outside of the work place.

Now, it is not for me to say that this is or is not a ‘good’ supervisory relationship — but, for me specifically with undergraduate students, I think it is crucial that we spend time (as professionals) really connecting with them.  Showing ourselves as vulnerable, learning their passions, and — of course — coaching them to do their jobs better.

So! That’s my two cents on 1:1’s.  What are your experiences? What positive and negative experiences have you had with 1:1’s?

Goal Setting #reslife

What do you want your residents to say about their experience – after living in your building?

I think that’s a great overarching question to ponder at this point in the academic year.  For me, at my new institution, our Grad’s are just now arriving.  Our RA’s arrive in a week – then RA training and residents follow very quickly behind!  Before we blink, it will be October – then December.  Soon it will be way to late to “start making goals for your building.”

So, what are you thinking?

For our building, we are launching a campaign.  I’m not going to reveal it too much at this point – want to wait till I have photos to post and show how awesome it is.  But, think of it as a basic theme that will ignite the residents to take ownership over their space, building community, and help the RA’s in the process of making our building warm and friendly.

Other goals, I want our residents to use tools other than social media to communicate with those around them.  Translated – I want our roommates to actually talk with one another.  Specifically, when roommates are challenged with difficult situations, I know this generation of students turns to their support network (parents often) and passive agressive technology related communication techniques (using Facebook/text messaging) to ‘talk’.  However, they clearly are not talking- instead they are ‘throwing their ideas out’ and never really pausing to see what the other has to say.

Moving from that goal, I want the residents in my building to have enough fun and do well enough in their classes that they realize that the residence hall is a good place.  I want them to want to return, tell their friends about how great the residence hall is, and to encourage incoming students to want to live in the resident halls.  I firmly believe that I picked the best department to work for — thus, I believe that I am set up for success in growing retention in my building.  Or, at least that’s the nice fluffy naive goal I have for myself…

What types of goals do you have for your building? How are you going to accomplish them?  What needs to happen in order for you to know you have achieved your goals? How will you measure that?

Dear my new staff

This is a letter to my new RA staff.

First off- I am so excited to be working with you.  I know that we will have a fantastic year working together.  I hope you feel the same degree of positivity that I have about this.  I know that we have an excellent Senior Staff to work with you.  Between myself,  Jac (the other Hall Director in the building), and our two Assistant Hall Directors — this is a great team to work with.

However, I think the thing I am looking forward to the most is getting to know each of you.  I mean really developing a relationship with you where you feel supported in your job, supported in your life, encouraged, and also challenged.  I am going to hold you accountable to your job here.  I am going to push you to try harder in your job.  I will ask you about your classes.  I will encourage you to study harder and to make sure you are taking the time each of your classes needs.  I will also be challenging you to make healthy decisions in your life.  Perhaps that means I will just push you to accomplish your own goals.  Maybe that means I will work with you to create goals for your future.  I bet I’ll remind you that you wanted to go to the Gym 3 days a week.

I hope that you enjoy your time working with me.  I love my job, I love that I’m doing this job, and I’m loving working at this institution.  I hope we both have fun working in this building together.  I know I have an absurd sense of humor.  I hope you can enjoy it – or at least learn to roll your eyes at me.

I’m also looking for you to challenge me.  If I tell you I’ll have something for you by a certain time – I hope you hold me accountable to that.  Accountability works two ways.

I know that you will come up with some ideas at how to better run our building — I hope you will bring these ideas to me!  I want to hear them.

Now, I’m sure not everything will be daisies and roses.  I am positive that we will have some challenging moments, challenging conversations, and maybe not all of us will be employed in our current position in May.  I know the duty phone will ring at odd hours and we’ll both be grumpy about it.  I am positive we will get a fire alarm during inclement weather.  I guarantee that I will ask you to do something that you are not so thrilled about doing.

Please know that my goal, over everything that I do, is to create the best environment for our residents.  I want them to be academically successful.  To measure this, I want them to stay in school and have good grades.  I also want our residents to enjoy their time living with us.  I know that you will do some outstanding programs that are under attended.  But, I want the overall experience for our residents to be positive and fun — all the while, we are creating a safe and secure place for them to study and be academically successful.

This department exists to “provide a high-quality, affordable living/learning environment that contributes to personal development and academic success” (SIUC University Housing Mission Statement).  Our jobs are to help carry out this mission.

I’m ready — are you?

– Your Hall Director – Brian