Importance and Purpose
The infamous first floor meeting is your opportunity to set the pace for the school year. It is the first impression that your residents will have of you. What you cover in your floor meeting may differ depending on the demographics of your floor (first year vs. upper-class). The first floor meeting allows you to introduce yourself, your style of leadership, and the level of involvement you wish to role model for your residents. Another crucial part of the first floor meeting is sharing pertinent policy and facility information with your residents. The way in which you approach this meeting will set a tone for the remainder of the year. Therefore, it is important to plan in advance for this meeting, not only in content, but also in style.
Since your first floor meeting will probably be your first formal group interaction with your residents, the tone in which you facilitate the meeting will influence residents perception of you as an RA, a leader, and a person. Prepare for this meeting by developing a well thought out agenda. Think of all of the things that a returning student or a first year student needs to know and make a list. Once you have developed the list, be intentional about the order in which you discuss the various issues. The order in which you organize your meeting will influence resident’s perceptions of you. For example, if you begin your floor meeting by discussing all of the rules and policies of the university, your residents’ will immediately assume that your primary role on the floor is to be an authoritative policy enforcer. This is not the message that you want to send to your residents.
Consider beginning your floor meeting with a fun, innovative, and low-risk icebreaker. This will send the message to the residents that you have a sense of enthusiasm, creativity, and genuine interest in getting to know the residents. It also demonstrates that you value residents sharing and getting to know one another.
Discuss policy issues in the middle of the meeting. Beginning or ending the floor meeting with an overview of policies will send a negative message. Approach the policy portion of the floor meeting by conveying to the residents that you want them to be successful and in order to be successful they will need to make wise and responsible decisions. This will convey to the residents that you care about more than simply enforcing policies; you care about their success.
Personal introduction – Upper-class students have already experienced living on a residence hall floor at least once before. They are bringing with them positive or negative experiences of past Resident Advisors. Therefore who you are as a person and your relationship with them, may be very important to your residents for a variety of reasons. When you are planning this initial introduction, think about how you want people to remember you, beyond the fact that you are the “RA.” When thinking about the personal information that you will share, remember that brevity is important. You have the whole year to share information with your residents. Balance self-disclosure with not sharing too much information, and remember; a healthy ego is a humble ego.
Selection of icebreaker – There are two things to remember when selecting your ice breaker – most people do not enjoy forced interaction, but by nature residents are curious about the people living around them. Whether they have a large group of friends elsewhere on campus or not, fellow residents are the people they will see in the hallway, coming and going in their daily life. A suggestion when selecting an icebreaker for this meeting would be to think about the type of community you hope to have and use a similar type of activity. For example, if one of your goals is to have a floor where people are respectful of one another, select an activity that facilitates residents sharing what individual respect means to them. If you want a lively active floor where individuals all know each other, select a very interactive activity where many people are talking to each other and sharing personal information.
Role of RA – Returning residents know the basics of the RA position. They know you’re the person on duty, they know you will be programming and having other floor meetings, they also know you may have to write them up at some point. Therefore covering the basics for them would not be effective. Instead, consider the goals for yourself and the community that you’d like to accomplish this year, and share that information (i.e. that you are interested in getting to know everyone, that you hope to provide them with opportunities to learn and get involved, that you are interested in creating a floor where studying and doing other work is possible and supported, etc). As a floor leader it can be helpful to work with your floor in creating a shared vision for what the floor will be like in the upcoming year.
Information Sharing – Although they may know the basics of how to navigate the building, this is your opportunity to share helpful hints of what amenities are available in the building (vending, ATM, study lounges, etc). You may want to inform them about the other staff in the building (including your supervisor) and that staff in the building are there to support residents. Another good piece of information to share is what services are available in the building and what you can personally assist them with. For example, if they are locked out of their room, who can help them the quickest? Or where they can go on campus if they may need something.
Policy Changes and/or reminders – Your residents have lived here before, and they know the policies of the school. Returning residents may not need a full review of all of your campus policies, but check with your supervisor to determine the critical policies that you need to briefly remind your returning students about. Additionally, be sure to speak to your residents about any changes to the rules and regulations from last year, (i.e. no smoking in the building). Guest policies are a very hot topic, and it is important that you stress that your hall should be considered home to your residents and that guest are welcome, but that residents are responsible for their guests.
Leadership opportunities – The final piece of information to share with your floor members are the quality and quantity of leadership opportunities available to them within the residence halls. Whatever form of leadership that takes place in the building or on campus (floor or hall council, RHA, Student Government); the skills and experiences they can gain from their involvement in these activities are the topics to discuss. Upper-class students are beginning to think about resume builders, connecting them to these opportunities benefits both the organization and the individual resident.
Agenda: First Year
Personal introduction – Remember that you are setting a tone for first year students about what they can expect from you and the residence hall experience. New students are probably nervous and anxious; remember that it is your job to assist them in being comfortable. Share a little information about yourself and what they can expect from you as their RA. Convey to your residents that you are a caring person who can be trusted. When you are planning this initial introduction, think about how you want people to remember you, beyond the fact that you are the “RA.” When thinking about what to share about yourself, remember that brevity is important. You will have the whole year to share information about yourself. Balance self disclosure with not sharing too much information, and remember; a healthy ego is a humble ego.
Selection of ice breaker – There are two things to remember when selecting your ice breaker – most people do not enjoy forced interaction, but by nature residents are curious about the people living around them. New students may be more willing to participate in an ice-breaker, as they most likely do not know anyone who lives on their floor or in the hall. Facilitate an activity that allows your residents to begin building connections with each other. A suggestion when selecting an ice breaker for first year students is to minimize the amount of personal risk in sharing information. It is okay for the first ice breaker to be somewhat superficial. Remember, these residents are both anxious and excited. Make sure to demonstrate a sense of enthusiasm when facilitating the ice-breaker, as your excitement may catch on.
Role of RA – Many new students may assume that the RA is there to primarily enforce university policies, when in reality this is a very small portion of your position. Be clear with your residents about what they can expect not just from you as an RA on their floor, but from all of the RAs in the building. It is important that residents perceive you as a person that genuinely cares about their personal and academic success. If you convey this message, residents will view you as a person that is both approachable and caring, and this will help you greatly throughout the remainder of the year. Be honest with them about policy enforcement, but do not dwell on it, which, in turn would send a message that it is more important than the other roles that you have. Be sure to discuss with residents the importance of floor programs and floor meetings, and encourage their involvement in planning these events.
Information Sharing – This is your opportunity to share helpful hints of what’s available to residents in the building (vending, ATM, study lounges, etc). You may also want to talk about the role of the live-in staff, and that they are there to support and help students. You also need to explain to residents the services that are available in the building and what you can personally assist them with. For example, what do they do if they are locked out of their room? How do they get something fixed that is broken in their room. Explaining about campus resources can be helpful too. It is imperative that you share with the residents issues of safety and security (locking their doors, not walking alone at night, emergency blue lights, Security Assistants, escort services, etc.). Many first-year students will know very little about the campus and you may want to schedule a time to take your floor on a campus tour. It is important that this happen before the first day of classes so residents know where campus buildings are located.
Policies – You want to convey to residents that you care about their success, but you also want to articulate what they need to do to be successful. It is important to discuss policy issues, but remember tone is key to their perceptions of you. Most of the residents will probably know that alcohol (unless 21 or older) and drugs are not permitted on campus, but share with them what the consequences will be if they are found responsible for violating those policies. Do not forget to cover important policies related to safety and security. Educate your residents about your role in policy enforcement, which in most cases is to simply document the situation. Emphasize the issue of respecting everyone and at times that may mean respecting an RA that is required to document a situation. Your residents will have a lot of questions for you related to policy and it is important that you do your best to answer as many questions as possible. Many RAs end up spending a very large amount of time answering policy-related questions during first floor meetings with new residents. Do not dwell on this part of the floor meeting. Let your residents know that they can speak with you individually if they have further questions.
Leadership opportunities – The final piece of information to share with your residents is the quality and quantity of leadership opportunities available to them within the residence halls. Whatever form of leadership that takes place in the building or on your campus (floor or hall council, RHA, Student Government), the skills and experiences they can gain from their involvement in these activities are the topics to discuss. First-year students are looking for ways to meet other students and leadership opportunities are a wonderful way for residents to meet others and develop a peer group.
Questions or concerns that you might have about the first floor meeting should be discussed with your supervisor. Your supervisor will have great ideas and suggestions on how to run a first floor meeting, so be sure to review your meeting agenda with them, and have them provide you with feedback.
Although the first floor meeting is a crucial piece in setting the right tone with your residents, what can be even more effective and helpful down the road is the individual follow-up you do with your residents. The message delivered when you go door to door to see how everyone is getting settled and to connect with them, begins to demonstrate your interest in them as individuals and your commitment to building a relationship with them. Within 24 hours of your first floor meeting you should have individual contact with each resident. Furthermore, being able to identify your residents by name is imperative. Although memorizing names is difficult for some, set goals for yourself with regard to when you hope to have all their names identified. A second goal to set would be remembering the personal interests of each of your residents.
Submitted by Mary Triano, Area Coordinator, Syracuse University