Tag Archives: Resident Assistants

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?

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