Monday, January 9, 2017

I don't care because I care

I met with someone recently who I had never met before. Toward the end of our time together, the person said "you have an 'I don't care' attitude, like you're going to call it like you see it".

My "I don't care" nonchalance is not, in fact, because I don't care. It's because I care so much that I can't care. I can't care about being nice, I can't care about sugar coating things, I can't care about making you feel good. I "don't care" because I can make this learning environment safe, even if it hurts. I can fix things, I can make calls, I can put the world right (most of the time), but I need my students to know that there are consequences.

I care so much that I believe students deserve the truth about their situation. If a student is going to fail, if they haven't followed instructions, if they are in bad shape, they deserve to know. Students sometimes need to fail, and the beautiful thing is we have the power to make a failure a really great lesson. Most of the failures I see are relatively minor and are usually fixable. Missed an appointment? I'm going to tell you that you missed it, but I'll also offer to reschedule. A student needs to be enrolled in a class at the last moment or has some type of registration crises? They deserve to know that this is a crisis, that normally this situation would take days to fix, but because they're self advocating I can make the problem go away faster than that.

Having an "I don't care" attitude means that I truly put the student first. Learning is hard. Learning can hurt. But learning in my office is also safe, mostly teachable moments, because I can fix it. The world out there isn't as forgiving.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Death by Comment

I bought a new car last week. Ok, I'm leasing a new car. We picked it up Wednesday, December 28th. In the following few days my tire pressure sensor lit up. Now, I know that temperature fluctuation can affect tire pressure, so I didn't think anything of it. By Sunday it was still on, so on Monday I checked the pressure on the front passenger tire, it was at 25 PSI. So, I think to myself, crap, I could have a nail in this. Fast forward to today. I call my dealership, say what's going on, and the guy on the other end of the phone says to bring it in. I ask if I need an appointment, and he says no. So after work, I drove there and they can't help right away I'll need to wait an hour.

I ask if they can just put air in it and I'll make an appointment to come back later in the week. The woman at the service counter asked what was going on and was like "yeah, but if the weather turns bad, you don't want to be driving around with a nail in the tire" and she asked me to wait. So, I waited. I ate some snacks. I tweeted. She came back out in about 35 minutes, said all of the tires were low, none had any nails, and that they put air in all of the tires. I was on my way.

5 minutes into my drive, the woman called me. She explained that my paperwork, whatever that's going to be, will be in the mail but that I'll be receiving a survey in my email about my service and experience with her. She explained, again, what they did to the car and asked if there was anything else I needed. After I responded, she again stated that I'd be getting a survey about her customer service.

I once worked where my life was dictated by surveys. I know of two people who were fired because of customer comments. I've been a secret shopper, in both a professional capacity and as a paid customer. I understand the need to get customer feedback. I get it from the leadership perspective. But, I also know the life that hinges on positive feedback and that life is stressful.

This woman was so busy that she couldn't get my car on a lift for over a half hour, but felt the need to take time to call me to make sure I was satisfied out of fear of a survey. A survey. This isn't people-first. This isn't customer service. This is fear-based leadership. We can do better.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Why I am here

In 2015 when I attended the national NASPA conference, I took down some thoughts for me to blog about later. One of those bullet was:

  • Why are we here? What are our motivations? What do we want to gain? Are we considering our motivations when planning our days?
And I think now is a great time to talk about these. After Ann Marie Klotz' blog post on the infamous student affairs Facebook page, and the numerous responses, and conversations about what we should be doing, I want to talk about what we are doing. What are we doing online, why are we there, and what do we want from those experiences?

I joined Twitter when I was working in a place where it was a bad fit for me. Our values were incompatible, professional development was viewed differently, and my skills weren't taken advantage of. I felt so isolated, so alone. I knew what I wanted to do, the appropriate student development theories for the work I was doing, and current practices to make the office better. I was so unhappy I was bringing that unhappiness home. Once I found the Student Affairs Collective, the #sachat group, and a list of blogs by other student affairs professionals. I read a blog post by another woman who was in a similar position and it made me cry. I wasn't alone anymore. I re-found my people.

Back then #sachat felt super clique-y. There were "elites" who contributed, who were retweeted. It was a growing echo chamber. The Thursday chats were informative, group chats. The webpage had selected blog posts that were edited by #sachat mentors and commented upon. They were reviewed for quality. I no longer check into the Thursday chats or check the collective's blog posts regularly.

I joined that Facebook group for similar reasons. I wanted to be part of the larger conversation, contribute where I could, learn from other professionals, and participate in a learning environment. I left that group a while ago.

I stopped doing those things because I no longer need that validation. I've grown my social network to a really fantastic point that I can throw out ideas or tune into others'. It's not that those groups or forums are bad, they're just not for me anymore. My motivations now are to learn and absorb as much as I can from other/different sources. Lately, I've been tuning into professionals in academia and data/institutional research. I have a great Twitter feed that posts a myriad of stuff, who retweet others, and who are just generally brilliant, good people. My Twitter feed still grows, just does so at a slower rate. My current role doesn't have anything to do with some of the more traditional student affairs stuff, but I still pay attention, because good practices are good practices, and my goal is to set up my office with the best, most applicable, good practices.

What are your motivations for being online? How are your actions online playing into your professional role?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Checking In: June

I haven't written here in a while, but I have been doing some writing. I'm working on a piece to be published in August in a new journal through University of North Carolina Charlotte. My paper will describe a new model to better understand the support systems student veterans have. It also gave me a wonderful opportunity to be surrounded by brilliant people during a writing retreat.

I really can't say enough about the retreat. I felt like I was the dumbest one there. Half of the brilliant conversations I couldn't contribute to. I just soaked it all in. I met some amazing people doing even more amazing work. I learned about new best practices, tools, theories, data, and other work being done for student veterans. I love learning and it was like being in grad school again. I also decided on my next degree and even had a few programs suggested.

The retreat was early June. Two days after I returned home, after spending one day at work, I had surgery on my left arm. Actually on my left ulnar nerve. I was out of work for four days, then took another day off. Worked for three more days, and took two off. This past week was my first full week of work since before Memorial Day. And I learned a few things, especially things about myself. I need to take more vacation days. I need to be firmer about boundaries. I need to talk about and face the problems I see at work. My job is to serve students, that is my "why". We should be evaluating everything we do against that why.

The past week I've been working on the semi-annual Veterans Knowledge Community's newsletter. That is also going to be packed (I can't fit anything else into it without adding more pages). It is going to contribute even more for those working with student veterans. I'm really proud of the things I'm able to do for the community.

Construction in my office suite to create a new office for me has started. It's also causing some confusion. I hope that we now have a timeline and a brief plan things will start to settle down.

One of the projects the Veterans Club had been working on has not received funding. Of all the things that happened in June, this one hit me in the gut. I called my husband at 7:30am, he was working nights that week, and was almost in tears talking to him about it. It was rough concentrating that day, or days after that.

June set a lot of things in motion for me. Things at work I can't talk about. Things in my personal life I'd rather not talk about. But it also brought me calmness. A focus I haven't had in a bit. A clarity and reminders of why I do what I do, why I chose this field, and why I'm not settling for the status quo.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Student Veteran

When I was an undergrad I was an RA (shocker, I know). Husband started taking classes at a private institution around the same time I realized I could do this whole higher ed administration thing. So, part of his program was to take a calculus series. He took one course at a time, and in order to attend them he had to show up to his shift 2 hours early in order to leave 2 hours early. This meant he needed to get up stupid early so he showered at night and wore a ball cap to work and class.

So this math class had a teacher, another shocker I know. And this teacher was an ass. He would make comments like "if you don't understand this, you had better practice saying 'do you want fries with that?'" He had a no-hats-in-class policy, and instead of treating husband like an adult, would knock on the brim and quip "no hats in class!" At some point, I don't remember what the final straw was I insisted that we needed to tell someone about the horrendous behavior of this faculty member. We did. We sent it to the Dean of the school. Apparently, it even made it to the Provost for discussion.

Husband continued taking classes one at a time. That takes a very, very long time in case you didn't know. He stopped working for the company that was helping to pay for it, so he stopped going to college. He worked, like most adults. Then he got hurt, and his company treated him and his injury like crap and we were running out of money. So, he looked into going to school at the local community college via the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Three semesters and a few part-time jobs later, he graduated! And then he found a job in his field! And now he's walking across the stage. And I'm very, very proud.

This will be the first time he walks across a stage (or a field).

TL;DR: Student veterans are awesome, have diverse paths, and rely on their education benefits. Don't screw it up.

Friday, March 18, 2016

My Authentic Frustration

I presented during #NASPA16. My presentation did not focus on what I do professionally or my research area. I didn't propose the session, my name wasn't listed with it. But there I was, in front of a room talking about what it means to be authentic and professional while using social media.

But here's the rub: I'm having a hard time personally curating my Twitter feed in the past several weeks.

My job isn't very difficult, it's basic support staff stuff. But it does become hectic and chaotic with a lot of moving parts. The past few weeks we had many visitors through my office, I worked on multiple projects with people from other offices, and I had meetings of my own to attend. And I got frustrated. There were days when I was angry. There were days that when I got home I wondered why I should go back the next day. Normally, I would tweet about these things as ambiguously as possible but I don't feel "normal" online at the moment

A few weeks ago I got a call from a campus colleague regarding a student, and I was getting the call because the student is a student veteran. My colleague had heard through the grapevine that student veterans were my thing, my skill set. So we talked a bit about my background and she said something along the lines of "and your Twitter feed is so resourceful". Regardless of the fact that I've been blindsided by this random call, that a student is in need, and that someone on my campus actually knows I work with student veterans my brain stopped at that: your Twitter feed.

So who else is looking? Who else is using it as a way to find out information on student veterans? Is it ok that I'm angry with my current situation? Will that lead to fewer phone calls?

I go back to Brene Brown and only being able to control my behavior and other people's expectations are on them. I know this. I practice it. I ground myself and others with those words. But I can't get over the fact that someone looked me up on Twitter before calling me.

So who am I? Am I ok with being angry? Ok with being frustrated? Ok with putting those weird non-unicorn emotions into the universe?

I don't know. And so I might be quieter than usual until I figure out who am I and if I'm ok with being that person.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

We Have Bad Days

I really like the people I work with. My entire department is friendly, respectful, collegial, and amazing. The faculty members I work with are brilliant. They balance research and teaching. The advisors I work with work hard to keep up to date with their students, providing exceptional customer service.

I am really good at my job. I support 15 faculty members, 2 professional academic advisors, 2 other staff members, about 500 undergraduate students, and 60 graduate students. I build class schedules, support faculty, create and support events, process all graduate student paperwork, admissions documents, and graduation documents, and I do most of it with a smile.

This week has been filled with planning multiple faculty interviews along with getting ready for orientation and planning guest speakers. Yep! It's all going on at once. And today, shit hit the fan. Actually, it's been most of the week (yes, it's only Wednesday).

I also have a lot going on personally. In one and a half weeks my house needs to be ready to sell. I need to be on my way to NASPA. Work needs to be set for me to be out for three days (now four).

I don't have balance. It doesn't matter how much I run, or how much of the wallpaper I remove, or how much I pre-plan for all of these events, it feels never ending. And you know what? I've been trying very, very hard to keep it off Twitter. Until today, you may have realized that a few statements about being nice to support staff, but I've been mostly quiet. Why?

Because frustration isn't professional. It's not who I am most of the time. Because I've been outright angry on Twitter before, and have been called out on it. Because "it's a small field". But sometimes we have bad days. Sometimes we have bad weeks. Sometimes we're stuck in a crappy situation and we get frustrated and angry and we want to share those feelings. But those feelings aren't professional. They aren't puppies or unicorns or baby otters.

So I go home with all of those feelings. I cook and clean and get my house ready to sell. I go back to work in the morning, get stuck in a similar situation and write another tweet I'll delete. I listen to TED talks and podcasts. I escape at lunch with my podcasts and home cooked food. I write another tweet and delete it.

So how do we break this pattern? How do we encourage truth telling? How do we accept that sometimes we all have bad days?