Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SLLO In Action: Exit Interviews

They seem like such an easy concept yet when it comes to actually doing them, I’m a bit apprehensive.  Maybe I don’t want to hear what the student employee has to say.  Maybe they hated their job and now that they’re leaving, they will feel the need to unleash multiple semesters worth of pent up frustration.  I have a sensitive ego.  What can I say?  However, in conducting exit interviews for the past 3 semesters, I have actually learned quite a bit from my graduating student employees.  I learned our students want more to do than just to be an office lackey.  They get tired, I assume, of making copies for presentations or trying to figure out how to put restroom newsletters in the boy’s bathrooms without getting yelled at by the occupants.  Our students want responsibility.  They want to take on large projects where they can learn new skills.  And yes, they want to learn how to be leaders outside the classroom.  How has this new knowledge led me to be a better supervisor?  When I hire student employees, I ensure them this job is not just a job where they can surf Facebook or Twitter all day or where they can just sit and read history textbooks.  They will learn something at this job.  They will use their academic knowledge and finally, they will become leaders in the health field.  Am I still scared to do Exit Interviews?  Not even a little bit.  Bring it on.

- Rhonda Rahn

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SLLO Reflections: How Do We Reflect?

Reflect: among other definitions, Dictionary.com defines to reflect as to think, ponder, or meditate. I know that I do not take enough time to reflect: I'm too busy moving on to the next project, meeting, or activity. At the same time, I know that action doesn't role model positive behavior for the college students and colleagues we work with. How can we expect others to reflect (well), if we don't do it?

I even admit that I started this article while waiting for my car to be serviced at the dealership, and I'm now working on it (a couple of months later) waiting for others to show up to a meeting. Not much time to seriously reflect on life and learning, is it? On the other hand, maybe we can reflect in smaller chunks of time.

What's the point of us reflecting anyway? I do think that some of our learning and integration takes place after some event--not always in the moment. Those of you that work with students regularly (especially those that may have made a poor decision at some point) know what I mean.  I also advocate that in this day and age, we need to know how to think, not just how to perform a specific skill (that may be outdated in a couple of years). But how do we know how to think? It takes practice and challenge.

Marcia Baxter Magolda has researched the area of self-authorship, which includes reflection as a major foundation. Table 1, below, illustrates the journey of self-authorship (from Authoring Your Life, 2009, p. 4). You can see that there is a process of development as we get older and have more experiences.

Trust authorities to decide what to believe, follow others’ visions for how to succeed. External voices (those of others) in the foreground drown out internal voice.
Torn between following others’ versus own visions and expectations
Listening to Internal Voice
Recognize the importance of hearing one’s internal voice and begin work to identify it. Attempt to get internal voice into conversation with external voices.
Cultivating Internal Voice
Use internal voice to sort out beliefs, establish priorities, and put the puzzle of who you are together. Work to reduce reliance on external authorities.
Trust yourself to decide what to believe, follow your vision for how to succeed. Internal voice in the foreground coordinates information from external voices.
Trusting the Internal Voice
Realize that reality is beyond your control, but you can control your reaction to reality; use internal voice to shape reaction.
Building an Internal Foundation
Use internal voice to make internal commitments and build them into a foundation or philosophy of life to guide action.
Securing Internal Commitments
Live out internal commitments in everyday life.
Italics=elements within phases
Table 1: Key Locations in the Journey toward Self-Authorship

In her longitudinal study, Baxter Magolda also explored how good partners helped in that development. The study participants said a good partner “respected their thoughts and feelings, helped them sort through their experiences, and collaborated with them to help them solve their own problems” (p. 12). In student affairs, that’s where advisors and supervisors come into play. They can help others in that reflection and interpretation phase without taking over someone else’s life.

Here are a couple of tips for reflection:
  • Schedule time to do it--have a meeting with yourself.  We are all very busy people, and I know if something doesn't get put on my calendar, it doesn't get done. Even if it is 15-30 minutes a week.
  • Schedule time with others. The last SLLO meeting of the year asked staff to reflect. We provided people with some questions, but they could also go down their own path as needed. We provided paper, markers, snacks, etc. to help people get into their own flow. The staff who attended seemed to like it, and shared some really great ideas and reflections.
  • For some, reviewing the current day and planning for the next day helps them briefly reflect-what did I learn today? What do I intend to learn tomorrow? What resources do I need to learn? What opportunities do I have to help others in their journey?
  • Read. Whether it's The Chronicle of Higher Education, a book, a journal article, or a blog, read something once a week that makes you think. What does this mean to me? My work with students? My own professional or personal development? My future?
  • Cultivate your internal voice. I’m giving you permission to talk to yourself, without others thinking you are crazy.

- Darby Roberts

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

SLLO Reflections: Liking Isn’t Helping

In preparing for the semester ahead, I've done a lot of looking into social media and various news outlets to seek inspiration for leadership moment prompts.  Perhaps is it my own natural bias at play, but I usually gravitate towards those which don’t require a thorough knowledge of current world events.  I mostly choose those which can be set up quickly and then we can move into the conversation and reflection part without anyone feeling like they've attended a lecture at their exec meeting.  But in seeking out those inspirations today, I came across the following brief post which challenged me to reconsider my approach to those moments:

In processing the meaning behind this marketing campaign “Liking Isn't Helping”, I’m struck with the question of whether or not I've fully done my part (for myself or my students) to challenge us to move beyond just surface awareness of need in the world and into actual committed assistance.  Now, it bears stating here that one thing I absolutely LOVE about working with Aggies is that when they see a need, a very high percentage of them will mobilize to try to address is (thus the origin of Big Event, The Red, White, and Blue Out, etc…).  Nevertheless, we are all guilty at one time or becoming caught in the Aggie Bubble and not seeing what is occurring beyond the campus proper. 

Although social media news reports and heart-wrenching images can be distributed practically instantaneously, sometimes another instant is as long as we spend to click the Like button or “show support” without it ever actually breaking into our subconscious.  This might be a slight balm to our spirit to feel like we've “done something”, even if it’s something small, but I think what this campaign seeks to remind us is that we can’t stop there.  Basic awareness that the realities behind these images actually exist just isn't enough.

Therefore, my commitment for the coming semester is to push beyond the surface and not to shy away from the conversations and reflections that might take a bit longer but that help my students realize that these issues are very real in the world.  They will probably take me out of my own comfort zone, and I might have to work twice as hard to keep my personal politics out of the conversation, but if even one of my students leaves this year and chooses to commit themselves to the higher purpose of making a difference on a national or global scale, then it was all worth it.

- Sarah Edwards

Thursday, November 14, 2013

SLLO Reflections: The Best Laid Plans...

So it never fails – you set out on a big scheme that you have planned perfectly only to be laughed at by the universe that is clearly “anti-planning.” Well, at least that is how I always feel. Whether it is a morning routine gone array, a planned mental health day that turns into me or one my kids actually getting sick, or a Pinterest project gone wrong – life just happens.

Such is the case with my work in SLLO.

I clearly had grand plans of changing lives. Of making my students think harder, work smarter and be excited to discuss… wait for it… what they were learning outside of those hours spent “learning.” This work was going to change them. I was going to aid in their personal development, celebrate with them after they get that dream job, listen to their stories of discovery and then wait for the applause that follows on a job well done.

What I got was something I could have never expected.
All the time I spent evaluating rubrics, spell checking leadership learning contracts, facilitating leadership moments and sitting in on feedback sessions – ALL of that time, I was expecting to see a change.

And I did.

I saw a student determined to improve public speaking skills speak to a crowd of thousands.
I saw students afraid to give feedback evaluate friends and peers with objectivity.
I saw students connect classroom knowledge to leadership skills.

There are many more examples just like these where I witnessed change. But in all of that, the biggest change came from the most unexpected place. Me.

I changed.

I became more attentive. I reignited a passion in my work. I polished my own skills of prioritization and time management. I ran meetings more effectively. Every time I set the bar higher for my students, I did the same for myself. And together we grew as a team.

I even interacted with my children with more intention and discovered new ways of integrating learning into their lives. And while my husband hates it when I “student develop” him – I think he would even say that while my planned creation of a rubric for our children’s ability to potty train/brush teeth/follow instructions sounds crazy, it’s better than the money we spend bribing rewarding them for good behavior.

Much of the discussion of “should I or shouldn’t I” in terms of adopting SLLO into work practices revolves around the extra time it adds to work. And all those discussion are true – it does take time. But in the words of the often quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The reward of a thing well done is having done it.”

So do it. And make plans for the unexpected.

- Katy King

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

SLLO Where Are They Now: A Public Speaker

 About 11 months ago I packed up my (too many) belongings and moved to Waco, TX to start the next chapter of life…graduate school at Truett Theological Seminary. As I look around at my life I realize I have come to love this place. I get to spend my time reading and studying God’s word and learning about the church, my “work life” consists of engaging with the community at Waco Habitat for Humanity and doing research on the topic of missions for an incredible professor and mentor, and I am in love with my church. My free time is spent reading books and really digging deep into community with the people God has placed here in my life.

I sit here now writing on the same laptop that carried me through my last semesters at Texas A&M University and an experience that when I look back upon I can only describe as surreal…serving as 62nd President of the Memorial Student Center. I was thinking about this chapter in my life the other day and realized that what I love most about my time as President is that it wasn't something that I wanted to do. In fact, I turned down the opportunity multiple times. I’m not trying to be arrogant when I say this. I know and appreciate that there are many people who wanted the job…I just didn't feel equipped. I knew, in detailed description, the intensity of what I would be agreeing to do. Yet, as I look back on the experience I realize that I was prepared. It was something I was preparing for years before I even knew what an MSC President was. I attribute a vast amount of my preparation to the Student Leader Learning Outcomes.

My first interaction with SLLO was via trickle-down contact. I was a shy freshman in MSC FiSH and the student staff in the organization engaged with the rubrics and tools behind the scenes and incorporated them into their leadership. I think I probably filled out a survey or two.

Fast forward to my sophomore year and I found myself in their shoes. Sitting around a staff table setting goals for myself and marking off boxes where I felt I landed in skill level at project management. Then I sat and talked with my Chair and Vice Chair about where I would like to be and what tools and practices could help me get there.

Fast forward once more and you find me as a junior, back on the other side of the table. This time I was serving as Chair and my Vice Chair and I spent hours brainstorming with our advisor, Katy King, about how we could push this project even further and engage deeper with our staff and freshmen. We simultaneously focused on our personal growth and each picked specific rubrics to follow, drafted learning contracts, and developed staff activities to get everyone thinking beyond just planning programs.

The rubric I picked to focus on personally was public speaking. My learning contract included signing up for a speech class. Two years later I found myself sitting in front of a news camera the morning that the newly renovated Memorial Student Center was to be rededicated and reopened after a $120 million renovation and expansion. The next day I was on a stage speaking to an estimated 3,000 people as we opened the doors and invited our Aggie family back into the campus living room for the first time in three years. Life is weird and unexpected.

What I love about the SLLO project, and where I think its primary impact lies in my life, is the focus on utilizing small steps and choices. I am a huge advocate for intentionality and reflection—and this is what I consider to be the core of SLLO.

I am a big picture person, often I really don’t want to recognize that the little choices I make can actually prepare me for the next opportunity. The SLLO tools required me to slow down and to examine my long-term goals and think about what I can do now to prepare. It is a model that relies on honest self-reflection and a willingness to be open to feedback from others. The funny thing is that it prepared me for far more than any of the goals I ever conceived.

Not only did SLLO prepare me for student leadership at Texas A&M but interacting with the project instilled skills within me that I continue to utilize every day. These are things that I don’t often even think about because they have become so ingrained in me. When I allow myself the time to sit and reflect I am always surprised at how far I have developed since I entered this season of life as an 18 year old freshman. I am comfortable receiving constructive criticism at my job. I am willing to provide feedback to peers and superiors. I am willing to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to do the things I think I can’t.  
If I were to offer one piece of advice to people considering engaging with the SLLO resources it would be: just start. Choose one tool or practice and help your students implement it. And then challenge them to do a little more, and a little more.

I am so grateful for Katy King’s passion. She not only provided me opportunities to engage on paper and in the safety of her office, but she actively pushed me to do the things I didn't think I could do. She never doubted that I could stand on a stage in front of 3,000 people and represent our student body…even though I questioned my ability. The SLLO project gave me an avenue to practice little things every day. It was these seemingly little things that ultimately gave me the confidence to go boldly and serve in ways I never considered possible. 

- Liz Andrasi

Thursday, November 7, 2013

SLLO Where are They Now: Dedicating Time to SLLO

As a graduate student, my use of SLLO, best described as restricted exploration, was challenged by limited hours, stress from classes, and 9-month stents with a specific organization. Given those constraints, I have still been able to utilize several tools effectively and seen significant impacts.

Having been exposed to SLLO (without knowing it) as an undergraduate student and getting the opportunity to attend a SLLO orientation at the start of my graduate assistantship with Student Activities, I was eager to test the waters of student leader learning. I spent the first year of my assistantship advising a freshmen mentorship organization. With a moderately sized executive staff of fifteen students, I primarily utilized 1-minute papers (or more accurately, note cards) to encourage the staff to reflect on two key areas: 1) the impact they wanted to make on the organization and 2) the personal growth they wanted to achieve as a result of their work with the organization. I also worked with my chief student leader attempting to work through a rubric but struggled with buy-in from the student. I found the 1-minute papers to be moderately effective as we revisited different ones throughout the year.

As I, myself, reflected on my year in the shallow end of SLLO, I discovered two key obstacles. I struggled to obtain buy-in from students, which I believe to be a product of my limited time with them. I also found my intentionality to be lacking. With these two obstacles in mind, I set some goals for my advising position with a different organization the following year. I resolved to be more intentional in planning out how I would use SLLO tools and more receptive to my students’ reactions to the tools I introduced.

During the second year of my assistantship, I stuck with the same tools as before; 1-minute papers and rubrics. The difference this year came from my goal of increasing intentionality with SLLO. I took time at the start of each semester to select 1-minute paper prompts to introduce throughout the year that related to their experiences with the organization at a specific time. For example, I prompted them to reflect on transition, both as it relates to the organization and to their life, in April.  I also exposed my chief student leader to all of the SLLO rubrics and outcomes, allowing that student to choose a rubric they wanted to work on. That ownership led to significant student investment and improvement in our work with the effective meetings rubric. In addition to 1-minute papers and rubrics, I also employed leadership moments in weekly director staff meetings, disguising them as “advisor times,” a seemingly more fun agenda item from the students’ perspective.

I achieved much more success with SLLO in my second year, compared to my first, and I found the main cause of that increased success to be intentionality.  I sacrificed extra time to give real thought and attention to finding the most impactful way I could incorporate SLLO into my advising experiences. That extra time made all the difference.

As I transition into my first full-time professional position, when it comes to SLLO, that extra time is what I will remember. I know the principles. I have been exposed to the tools. But, if I do not make time to be intentional with how I align my work with those principles, if I don’t take the time to strategically plan out how I will use the tools, my efforts will be, at best, diluted. And, while students will change and my personalized style with SLLO will develop, without the dedicated time and attention, my student impact suffers. Time will tell exactly how I use SLLO in my next role, but the one certainty I know and keep in those regards is that time will be spent to intentionally figure that out.

- Leo Young

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Downlow on SLLO: The Importance of the First Follower

So, the universe has been trying to teach me something this week.  And, as is so often the case, it has taken more than just once or twice for the message to sink in…but I think I've got it now. 

It all began earlier this week when, as a personal celebration for surviving another semester of my own academic pursuits, I convinced a friend to go see The Hobbit with me.  For the most part I was just decompressing from the Fall and enjoying the sheer magnitude of the film, but I also, as is so often the case, heard that voice in my brain interject at a few key points in the story with “This would be a great leadership moment”, and “You could weave that into a social justice module for class, etc”.  As I was in relaxation mode, I promptly ignored those voices...but the lesson wasn't over.

Fast forward to Thursday, and I am sent this clip:

Although the message from the TED talker sounded a little bit more like “Transform a Lone Nut into a Leader”, what really stuck out to me was his emphasis on the importance of the first follower.  I began to reflect on how often I talk with my students about the courage and strength it takes to be the first follower, rather than the leader, and I couldn’t come up with much.  That’s just not a conversation we have (or have had before…).  As I prepared to leave for the night, these thoughts continued to swirl around in my brain looking for a place to latch on and mesh into next year’s assignments.

And then, the universe delivered the final blow: My grandparents wanted to go to the movies for Grandparents Night (our Thursday night tradition), and of course…we were going to see The Hobbit.  This time, with actual sleep having been had this week and my brain not still fried from writing a final flurry of papers, I watched the film for the lessons.  And I found a ton!

I won’t go into too many, but the one that stuck out the most that I knew needed to be addressed here was the moment when Bilbo Baggins did his own version of running up and joining the crazy guy dancing in the park.  Bilbo, who spends the first two hours of the movie reminding Gandolf and the dwarves that he’s never been a fighter, watches as the leader of the dwarves rushes away from the group and faces down his nemesis.  But rather than being paralyzed by fear or awe like the others, he braces himself to follow.  When the leader is struck down, Bilbo and Sting charge down the Orcs and, in doing so, bolster the others to fight back as well.

I was struck with the parallels to what I see in my own organizations.  While the dynamics rarely involve Orcs or Dwarves, they do often involve one or two leaders who seem so confident, that many of the other students sit back and watch in awe rather than stepping up to join in.  It’s only after one or two additional students break away from the pack and vocally support the “leader”, that the momentum builds and others fall in line. 

And so, this morning I find myself plotting with more intentionality about where this lesson in followership will fall into Spring’s curriculum.  And reminding myself to stop resisting the teachings of the universe…it always wins in the end.

- Sarah Edwards