Strategies for a Successful Student Staff
By Leah K. Parker, Assistant Director for Residential Life at Wentworth
Institute of Technology
a strong and successful RA staff begins with the supervisor. Leading
a group of students and guiding them to their full potential requires
use of specific strategies and attention to key areas of your relationship
with your staff. As a supervisor, you need to develop your own role
on the staff, build relationships individually with your RAs, and build
the staff into a team. These three areas can help make or break your
staff and significantly impact the overall quality of your experience,
your RAs’ experience, and their student’s experience in
on the staff is to set the tone for the year and to guide your staff
through all the challenges a typical year will bring. Ultimately, you
are their primary role model and guide. As you consider this role and
its responsibilities, there are three strategies to remember:
One: be a strong role model
Two: maintain appropriate boundaries
Three: enforce expectations.
relationships with each of your staff members individually will help
you guide them to reach their own personal best. Taking the time to
really work with them and to get to know who they are will help you
help them do a better job throughout the year. The two strategies to
to solidifying your role and your connection to each of your individual
staff members, it is important that you invest in your overall staff
team and their staff development. RAs need to function well independently,
but must also come together to work as a team throughout the year.
strategies are explained below with specific suggestions for how to
implement each one. As you review each strategy, quickly assess yourself
in each area and consider if any of the ideas would help you to be a
better supervisor with a more successful staff.
One: Be a Strong Role Model
behavior and work style will set the bar for your RAs and they will
look to your actions as a guide for their own. As such, it is vital
that you really consider how to best model what you expect for your
RAs in your own behavior. The following are different ways to serve
as a strong role model:
sure your actions are consistent with how you want your staff to behave.
Some key areas to remember: patience in your interactions with residents,
commitment to diversity, policy enforcement, and attention to deadlines.
your RAs as well as you want them to treat their residents…if
you want your RAs to take the time to know their residents, take the
time to get to know your RAs.
personal wellness…RAs often struggle to find a balance between
their RA work and their lives as students. Be sure that you are modeling
wellness and that your staff understands that you, too, are human
and have needs and limits.
your behavior and the decisions you make to your staff. If you have
to make a hard decision, share your experience with them and why it
was hard (provided confidentiality does not restrict you from sharing
the matter as an example with your staff). It can be very hard to
effectively role model ethical decision making, but it can be done
if you take the time to talk to your staff about decisions you have
Two: Maintain Appropriate Boundaries
it is tempting to supervise via friendship and personal connection,
this approach will create problems as the year goes on. You should take
the time to really think about the boundaries you want to set with your
staff and how you want to maintain your professionalism. Consider the
time and/or space for yourself that you do not share with your staff.
Consider blocking off time each week to get off campus or keeping
your apartment (or at least your bedroom) off limits to RAs.
how much of your personal life you want to share with your staff…think
about the limits you might set on how much you will share with your
staff about your private relationships.
cautious in sharing your personal opinions about your department,
division, supervisors, co-workers, school policies, and so on. You
should always be especially careful about venting strong feelings,
such as anger, to your staff.
your staff’s expectations of you…if any of their expectations
are unreasonable, take the time to explain why.
sure your staff understands confidentiality and the limits on your
ability to share information in certain circumstances. Taking the
time to have this discussion before an issue comes up can save a lot
of trouble and mistrust later.
your personal and professional relationships separate…think
carefully before forming social relationships with your staff and
be mindful of other dual relationships (having a RA in a class you
teach, employing the RA as a babysitter, etc.).
Three: Enforce Expectations
easy to set expectations and share them with your staff, but it can
also be easy to fail to enforce these expectations throughout the year.
It is important that you commit to firm standards, communicate them
clearly (in writing and in an early meeting), and hold staff accountable.
Consider the following suggestions:
the tone that you want your staff to be excellent and to represent
well…remind them of it often and praise them whenever they go
above and beyond!
sure your staff has a solid and thorough understanding of their job
responsibilities. Take the time to answer questions and to clarify
any area of confusion at the beginning of the year and set aside time
during a staff meeting once a month for Q & A and use early one
on ones to review this area.
sure you include time for your staff to share their expectations with
you (as mentioned under strategy two, it is important to discuss what
they can and can’t expect of you). Be sure to also facilitate
a discussion of the group’s expectations of each other.
the chain of command and how to appropriately communicate concerns…for
example, let your staff know that it is not acceptable to email the
director with a staff concern unless they have spoken to your first.
to the expectations you have set whenever they are relevant and try
to relate them to your staff’s daily responsibilities and regular
a staff member fails to meet an expectation, take appropriate action
quickly to address it. If you are not sure what to do, consult with
your own supervisor promptly.
Four: Make the Most of One on One Meetings
one meetings with each RA is a must. Making the time to make these meetings
useful to both you and your RA will keep your relationship on track.
These meetings should be fine tuned to each individual RA. Consider
the following ideas to ensure your meetings are productive:
using a one on one report form…ask staff to complete this before
the meeting and use it as a jumping off point for your meetings.
time during each one on one to see how your RA is doing overall. Remember
to ask how classes are going or to learn more about what they are
doing outside of the RA position.
constructive feedback…let your RA know what they are doing well
and where they need to improve. If you need to let them know an area
where they do need improvement, talk specifically about how they can
do this…give them the tools they need to meet your expectations.
formal feedback…if your staff member requires a written warning,
discuss the letter in a one on one meeting to make sure that the letter
is clear. You can also use formal feedback to recognize an outstanding
success…consider writing the letter to your RA and cc’ing
the director (or other appropriate person).
feedback on how you are doing. It is important to take the time to
see if your RAs have any concerns about how you are doing and/or ideas
for how to improve something. Moreover, just by taking the time to
ask, you help establish more open lines of communication between you
and your individual staff members.
additional training, resources, programming ideas, and so on. Provide
these resources to both address specific needs and to challenge your
staff to grow in the position.
up on any big issue that you have discussed as a staff. For example,
if your staff really struggled in their efforts to put together a
blood drive, take the time to ask each RA about their role in the
Five: Remember the Informal Interactions
whole people and have lives that go far beyond their RA roles. Taking
the time to get to know who they are and to interact more casually from
time to time is well worth it. These moments are often the easiest,
but can still be overlooked. Commit to talking to your RAs outside their
RA roles and supporting their overall development as a student…try
one of the following:
the time to do the little things…celebrating birthdays, sending
notes of encouragement, recognizing achievements, and so on.
and talk to your staff when you see them on campus or around the building.
Ask how their day is going and what they are up to…it only takes
a few minutes to find out what kind of a day someone is having.
in on your RAs as they are doing their RA work…stop by a program,
join them for rounds, call to see how duty is going…stop by
the desk or duty office to say hello.
note of the individual touches that your RAs add to their floors…do
regular rounds and take special notice of creative bulletin boards,
advertisements, and other efforts.
you are on a residential floor, stop by the RA room…say a quick
hello or leave a note on their dry erase board.
remember your staff when award nominations and leadership opportunities
come across your desk. Take a moment to consider if you have a worthy
staff member that you should nominate or with whom you should share
Six: Create Staff Meetings that Matter
meetings are too often dreaded by both RA and RD alike. As a supervisor,
you should work to make your meetings effective and engaging. If your
staff knows what to expect from your meetings and knows that they will
benefit from the time, your meetings will go more smoothly. Consider
implementing one or more of the following ideas:
an agenda and know what you need to accomplish in each meeting…even
if you do not share a formal agenda with your staff, be sure to make
up an agenda for you to follow as you lead the meeting.
your RAs in the meeting…rotate who takes minutes, allow time
for floor updates, have each RA lead a team builder, and/or set time
at the end of the meet for staff shout outs.
facilitate and manage your staff meeting…if things are running
off course, get them back on track.
identify any tasks that staff need to understand…state the expectations
and due date clearly (a written agenda really helps).
and end the meeting on time. If people are late, set the expectation
that it will be their responsibility to follow up with you. Do your
absolute best to avoid running long…if you have a long agenda,
let your staff know in advance that you will go late.
any questions that do not relate to the whole group until after the
meeting wraps up. Let your RAs know that you will arrive 10 minutes
early and stay late to answer individual questions.
canceling a meeting or using the time for staff development if you
do not have enough on your agenda to warrant a meeting. Use a memo
or email to the group to cover any items that you need to share.
Seven: Develop Your Staff into a Team
development is often a priority at the beginning of the year, but is
sometimes neglected as the year goes on. If you take the time to incorporate
staff development throughout the year, your staff will become progressively
stronger as a team. The following are suggestions that may help:
to develop a staff identity…this can be built around a staff
motto, goal, logo, or even something as informal as a staff joke!
a staff photo…give each staff member a photo and post one in
your office or on a lobby bulletin board.
a team approach to tasks and problems…whenever possible and
appropriate, give the group a chance to come to consensus on a programming
idea or solution to a problem.
and support the group in holding themselves accountable to each other.
Before getting involved in a conflict, challenge your staff to resolve
the situation on their own.
some informal staff development activities: a staff dinner, a staff
coffee break, movie night, attending a campus event, or other bonding
addition to your staff meeting, schedule special staff development
meetings as needed (these could be done during your regular staff
meeting time or could be in addition to your staff meeting). Plan
activities that will help your staff get to know each other better
or will help them grow into a stronger group.
staff development part of every staff meeting. Set time for mini team
builders during each or every other staff meeting.
and implementation of the seven strategies discussed above can help
you guide your staff to a strong and successful year.
is currently the Assistant Director for Housing and Residential Life
at Wentworth Institute of Technology. She has previously worked in residence
life at Drexel University, Lafayette College, and the University of
the Sciences in Philadelphia. Leah can be reached via email at email@example.com.