Sunday, February 12, 2017

In the haze of exhaustion

My goal for this blog in 2017 was to post at least weekly, work got complicated and when I returned home at night I didn't have much energy to think or reflect or write. Starting Wednesday, February 8th until February 11th, I was at the NASPA Symposium on Military-Connected Students. There were about 300 attendees and a packed conference schedule. I'm on the board of the Veterans Knowledge Community, which helps NASPA plan the conference. My role is Communication Co-Chair, so even when I wasn't in a session or participating in some way, I was wandering around taking pictures or tweeting for the conference.

Being at a conference is an interesting experience for me and this one was even more unique. My paid job isn't about interacting with military-connected students, it's just a topic I'm deeply interested in. So to be surrounded by practitioners who have been doing this work for years was mind blowing. They have so many fantastic ideas and are generally brilliant. My personal network has grown in this field and I'm now privileged to call some of these practitioners and researchers my friends.

When I did have some free time, I was able to explore DC with a really fantastic tour guide, conference buddy, and friend. On Wednesday I explored on my own and then Thursday and Saturday we traveled around together. We walked and talked SO MUCH. So, when I wasn't in a conference room learning, I was learning in a different way.

So, now that I'm home, watching movies and thinking about returning to work, my brain is in a weird place. I've realized, or maybe re-realized, that I miss learning. I miss being surrounded by brilliant student affairs-focused minds who do amazing work and touch the lives of so many. I'm thinking about expectations, balance, requirements, boundaries, and lenses (among other things). My brain hasn't been this stimulated in months, even in the haze of exhaustion.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Don't burn the place down

One of my goals for this year is to write more. To let things percolate in my brain, or on paper, and then show it to all of you. Most of my blog posts are inspired by things that happen at work, which I narrow down and then find a learning moment within.

This week I've learned a lot, most of it I can't talk about here, or on Twitter, or really anywhere except private conversations. But maybe that's this week's thought: sometimes we learn things that aren't public. Sometimes our actions, our offices, our brains, are better left in the private world where they can be discussed over coffee or a beer.

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.