The first few weeks of the semester can be the most demanding and stressful time period for a new RA. Before new students arrive on campus, much of a new RA’s time will be spent attending intensive staff training, staff meetings and preparing their floors for check-in. How does a new RA learn to balance their roles of being a floor administrator without sinking to the bottom of the sea as a student? The purpose of this article is to provide some tips on how to manage through a tidal wave of paperwork through the first few weeks of school.
1. CLEAN AND SWAB YOUR DECK (get organized): Set up an administrative space on your desk, file cabinet or drawer with all of your administrative forms and paperwork. Purchase some sticky notes, highlighters and file folder to stay organized. Keep your administrative space simple, easy to maintain, and separate from class work. Write down your regular administrative tasks and include them in your planner. Review your planner weekly to avoid time conflicts between school work, exams and RA tasks.
2. LOOK FOR LEAKS IN YOUR HULL (touring your student rooms): After settling into your room take a thorough tour of your resident’s rooms. Look for and make a list of major times that are surely to create problems during the move-in process (things like missing furniture, ripped mattresses, graffiti on walls, broken door locks, lights that are not working). Give this list to your Resident Director, so that perhaps maintenance can take care of these major issues prior to the move-in process. If Maintenance cannot get to these items, make copies of a form that you can leave in a room that states that the repair has already been reported to maintenance. If items are not repaired or replaced prior to move-in, make note of these things on your room condition report form.
3. CHARTING A SAFE VOYAGE (touring your public spaces): Take a tour of your floor, public spaces, lounge(s), and student bathroom(s). What type of lounge furniture is provided on your floor? How many individual furniture items are located in your lounge, and what is its condition? Think about safety issues on your floor. Where are your designated fire exits or extinguishers in the event of an emergency? Get familiar with the location of safety items that you should regularly visualize as you walk through your floor (things like fire extinguishers, fire emergency exits, stairwell fire doors and door-closers). Are fire evacuation or public safety procedures posted on your floor? Are emergency phone numbers posted in public locations? Think how you will manage your floor in the event of a floor emergency. If you have safety questions, address them with your resident director or during RA training.
4. READ YOUR INSTRUMENTS (forms, forms, and forms): Prior to move-in, create a master inventory of the forms you will be using throughout the school year. Often these forms will be included in your staff manual or provided during RA training. Keep a copy of everything your will need as a reference. Write notes on your copy or attach sticky notes with important training instructions or deadlines. Will residents need access to any of these forms? You could attach file folders to a bulletin board with forms enclosed. You can also keep blank forms in a file folder and provide them upon request. Develop a paperwork system that is user friendly for you and your residents.
5. RAISING YOUR SAILS (bulletin boards and door decorations): Think about how you can make your floor feel more like a home. Visit your bookstore, campus activities, athletics or admissions departments for free stuff such as activity posters, athletic schedules, and campus maps. Create bulletin boards using newspaper articles, magazine columns or create a picture collage. Create decorations to help student to feel welcomed and get to know their neighbors names. Post a world map to help identify where your residents are from. Develop floor information centers for announcements, lists of local restaurants, bus or train schedules, movie theatre schedules, town maps and frequently used phone numbers. Take ownership of your floors initial appearance. This will help in distributing campus information and making a positive first impression.
6. AHOY MATE (collaborating with other crew members): Work with your fellow RA’s when completing room condition reports and setting up your floor. Find a RA partner to thoroughly inspect the room while you record the condition of the items. Working with a partner will help you complete the process more quickly without missing important detailed information. If you are not creatively inclined, pair up with another RA and work together on bulletin boards and floor displays.
7. TRY NOT TO DROP ANCHOR (pacing yourself): RA training can be a great deal of fun, yet very demanding. Use your free time wisely to get essential tasks accomplished. If you need to adjust your schedule or need to conduct campus business, try to schedule it before RA training begins. Speak to your Resident Director in advance of training if your have special needs. It is important to utilize your daytime hours wisely, get plenty of sleep, develop daily task lists and avoid procrastination.
8. ANTICIPATE A FEW STORMS (managing check in crises): Check in day can be very stressful and draining for new students and their parents. Even under the most organized check in conditions, someone will be unhappy about the condition of their room, room assignment or maintenance. Anticipating potential maintenance or assignment problems before residents arrive is great way to avoid problems before a resident checks in. When dealing with problems on check in day, try to be accessible to your floor, respond to problems immediately, and follow through. When dealing with a hostile parent or student, you should remain calm and refer the problem to your supervisor if needed.
9.CHECKING YOUR PASSENGER LIST (student occupancy reports): At most universities, RA’s are asked to complete a floor occupancy report during the first few days of the semester. Although the procedures can vary from college to college, the purpose of this report is to verify where your residents are living. It is important that you complete this task accurately and expediently. Knowing where your vacancies are is very important in assigning new residents and accommodating room change requests. You might consider conducting your occupancy report during your first floor meeting, which your residents are likely to attend.
10. LEAD LIKE A CAPTAIN, PLAN LIKE A CRUISE DIRECTOR (the first floor meeting): The first floor meeting is a very important milestone for a new RA. How you present yourself and share information will establish a lasting impression on your residents throughout the first semester.
Consider these four things as you plan for and hold your first floor meeting.
1. Establish your role as the RA on the floor
2. Review key behavioral issues and expectations
3. Review community standards and have resident set expectations of one another
4. Provide opportunities for residents to socialize and get to know one another
There is no exact agenda or time limit for a good first floor meeting. Utilize your resident director and fellow RA’s to identify important issues to discuss and how to conduct the meeting.