The dual stresses of keeping your current staff strong while also trying to select a strong staff for the upcoming year can be dizzying and draining! Late nights, stressful situations and the desire to do more and more can take a toll on you. Keeping a RA team motivated and strong as the year continues is difficult, especially when RA selection for the next year is being decided. Here are some tips on how to keep your staff dynamic strong from hall opening to hall closing.
Keeping a staff strong:
• Keep things consistent. As you continue the year keep consistent with the amount of time that you spend in 1 on 1s and staff meetings with your RAs. This provides the comfort of familiarity and regularity and also shows them that you care enough to continue to take the same amount of time with them in September as you do in May.
• Treat each RA the same. This of course sounds like a no-brainer but it can be tempting as RA selection begins to take place to show more interest in your RAs that are hoping to return in the upcoming year. It is usually not intentional, but it happens. Make sure you are showing the same level of interest in your staff members that are moving into another leadership role or off campus as you are those that are going to continue in the RA role.
• Never underestimate the power of a staff activity. If it seems that the staff is beginning to section off and do their own thing in clicks based off of their plans for next year, bring them all together for non work related activities. Go bowling, take them to get gelato, eat a meal together – do something that isn’t work related. This will help them to spend a little extra quality time together so that they keep those personal ties strong which in turn strengthen their professional ties with each other.
• Accountability. Continue to hold accountable members of the staff in their duties despite their plans for the upcoming year. RAs that don’t plan to return can sometimes reach a point in their thinking as the year winds down of “what does it matter what I do, I’m not coming back next year anyway”. Hold these RAs just as accountable if not more so, as the others on your staff that are planning to return. If other members of your staff notice that the RAs that aren’t planning to return are slacking off and you’re not holding them accountable, they will be frustrated and in turn sometimes slack off themselves. This creates a bad situation for everyone involved.
• Recognize. Along with holding your staff accountable, don’t forget to recognize them. It’s easier to give lots of support and recognition at the start of the year but it can fizzle out without you even noticing it as the year goes on. Remember to recognize members of your staff that go above and beyond each week through the passing of an item at staff meeting, notes, shout outs in staff e-mails, etc. Recognition helps RAs to feel valued and this is more important than ever towards the end of the year.
While winding down by staying strong with your current staff is fun, welcoming a new staff and beginning the team bonding process is always exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. Here are some ideas to help you welcome and motivate a new staff before the year has actually begun.
Welcoming a new staff:
• Welcome cards! Once staff have accepted a position for the next year, send them a welcome card through campus mail. Let them know who other staff members are, your aspirations for the next year, and include any contact information they might need to get a hold of you. Offer up the opportunity to have coffee and chat about next year.
• Plan an activity. Take them bowling, out to dinner, to a theme park, play putt-putt, anything that gets them laughing and enjoying time together. These activities are non-threatening ways to get the ball rolling for next year.
• Have them write letters to themselves. Many staff are nervous about what a new year will bring. As a beginning activity, have them write letters about their plans, fears, and expectations for next year. Keep the letters and give back to them at the end of first semester as a way to bring together the past and the present. These letters can also be a great way to help staff measure their progress.
• Have each staff create their own bio sheet. As their supervisor, you can use some of the information from the bio sheet to buy welcome goodies for their return in August or create staff bulletin boards that are ready when they return.
• Explain summer communication expectations. If you are going to be communicating with them throughout the summer through their school e-mails, remind them to check them or forward them to an account they will check. Some staff end up on vacations or working in places they might not readily have access to communication. Find out if this is case with any of your staff members, and develop alternate plans of communication based on their needs.
• Consider summer reading. Just as some institutions have freshman reading as a way of providing a common experience for incoming students, staff reading can also provide a common thread for discussion when they return. Try to pick something fun, reasonable in length, not too heavy, but great for discussion.
• Give them end of the year reports. If you have your current staff write wrap up or end of the year reports about their communities before they leave, send these reports to your new staff during the summer. These reports will give them some insight into what to expect for next year and allow them to start planning over the summer.
• Remind them of when they need to be back for training. Yes, in the blur of summer, sometimes even the most all-star staff let the day they need to be back slip a bit. Have each of them address a snail-mail postcard to themselves with the reminder date of when they need to be back and send them mid-summer.
Hopefully with the help of these tips you will be able to handle the delicate balance of a current and incoming student staff with success and grace. These ideas will help all your student staff feel appreciative, and more cohesive as a team both in the present and in the future.
Submitted by Brian Stroup, Oregon State University & Jill Yashinsky, Gonzaga University