Many of you who are considered “New Professionals” have actually logged two or three years in graduate school spending time as Grad Hall Directors being paid meager wages for work only an imbecile could call “part-time.” You have an abundance of experiences. You have supervised RA’s, programmed, counseled students, had some level of experience with a judicial system and you felt you were absolutely ready for your first full-time job so you could finally show everyone how good you really can be.
The purpose of this article is to assist you with your transition as a professional staff member. You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed from time to time. You may be at the point when you have to come to terms with the fact that you do not know everything, even with all of your skills and talents, and you still have a lot to learn. The best part is that we as Student Affairs professionals love to help and love to teach. In that vein, I offer you a few “Pearls of Wisdom” from a “Seasoned” housing professional. I hope they are of some help.
• Supervision is not a finite skill. It’s a journey. Each circumstance is new and each offers an opportunity to learn. People are all different, and even though a situation is similar to one you’ve already had, it’s a new ballgame.
• You don’t have to be the “expert.” You don’t have to know everything. Let your staff help you and listen to them.
• Recognize individual differences. Being consistent does not always mean doing exactly the same thing with different people. It’s more about fair application of policy.
• Everyone will not like you all of the time. Don’t spend too much time worrying about it.
• Don’t confuse your roles with your staff. They need you to be their leader and they need to be able to count on you. They don’t want you to be their peer. If you confuse your roles, you confuse your staff.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
• Discipline is an important part of education. Don’t be afraid to take a hard line.
• Too much “counseling” can backfire and students can misunderstand what you are really trying to say.
• Take risks and stand up for your own decisions.
• Learn your new system before you complain about it or try to change it.
• It’s okay to give a student a second or even a third chance. If it works, you’ll not see that student again judicially. If it doesn’t, you’ll have another opportunity to educate.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
• Understand and appreciate the importance of doing things right and in a timely fashion. Those who report to you and to whom you report will know they can count on you.
• Ask questions, or you’ll be held responsible for something you should have known.
• Always document things that are important. If it isn’t written down, it never happened and you’ll be held responsible for it.
• Understand existing relationships and don’t just try to change them.
• Be patient. The people with whom you work have probably been there longer than you.
• Work hard.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH COLLEAGUES AND SUPERVISORS:
• Avoid competition with your peers. It’s a waste of valuable energy and makes you look small.
• Keep professional affairs confidential. Your first loyalty is to your supervisor and to your department.
• Try to accept and not judge your colleagues.
• Understand that you are on a new professional level. Your personal needs are not your supervisor’s top priority.
• Volunteer to take on new tasks. Showing initiative is NOT kissing up!
• Learn all that you can. Never respond with “It’s not my job.”
• When feedback is given to you, listen and don’t get defensive.
• Create solutions instead of dwelling on the problems.
• Don’t WHINE!
GETTING A PERSONAL LIFE:
• Get your own life and keep it separate from work.
• Establish boundaries. Keep your work in the office.
• Keep your private affairs PRIVATE.
• Keep (or find) your sense of humor. It will be your best friend and people will like you more.
Having been in this profession for over twenty years, I can think of no other work that is as challenging, as non-boring, as meaningful and as much fun. Working with young people and having the opportunity to impact their lives is a gift. I know all too well that this work is HARD and that is why we need to help each other. Make sure you ask for the help that you need. You colleagues, your supervisor and even other Student Affairs professionals are wonderful resources and you need to take advantage of them. Although you may feel like you’re taking a risk, asking questions will show others that you really want to learn. People appreciate that.
Submitted by Carol T. Boucher, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, Quinnipiac University, Retired