So you are going to be a resident assistant. Welcome to a community of learners who are as diverse as the global community, who possess a myriad of individual skills and talents and who use their differences to come together in a commitment to make residence living a positive learning experience.
The summer is a wonderful time for you to reflect on what this new role will be in your life. While the pre-school training program and on-going staff developments will teach you what you need to know to be an outstanding RA, you can begin the preparation now for your role. Take time over the summer to think about your position, identify what you hope to accomplish and prepare anything you can ahead of time. Anything you can do over the summer will give you that much more time once school begins to spend with your residents!
The following are some ideas that might help you through the summer, as you get ready for your new position. Read through the ideas and try the ones that you think will help you. Of course I recommend that you try them all!
Why do you want the RA position?
Why did you apply for this position and why did you accept it? Make a list of the reasons you applied. If financial reasons are at the top of the list you may want to reconsider taking the job. You will not be happy if that is your guiding reason because you will “earn your pay” during the first month. The expectations and demands of the position are high, so having reasons above and beyond financial gain will help you to be successful at the job and to maintain job satisfaction. Of course the compensation helps but it is not enough.
Often times RA candidates say they want to be an RA “to help people” or because they are a “people person”. What does that mean? You need to define “how” you want to help people. Defining that will help you identify your goals. Also, what does it mean to be a “people person”? Most people are to some degree … but how does that make you a good RA. Remember, you’ll need more than people skills as you complete all the administrative details and creative tasks as well as learning to manage your time.
Start setting some goals.
During training you will probably set goals for yourself, your floor and your staff. Starting to set goals now will help give you direction as you prepare for this exciting role.
As you develop your goals, consider the following:
How do you want your floor to first perceive you? Decide what you want your first impression to be. This can make a lasting impression on your residents, especially first year students. Even your room makes a statement about you. Will you have it set up so it is inviting to your residents? What do you want to take back with you that will make residents comfortable? You need to think about how the room can reflect your personality, yet be neat, inviting and still emphasize academics.
How do you want your floor to physically appear? Decide what you want to accomplish with your physical environment. What can you commit to do to make your floor inviting?
What specifically do you want to learn from this experience? Define what the outcomes will be for you by being an RA. This will allow you to set personal goals.
What do you want your residents to learn from living on your floor? While you will further define this at training, you should have an idea of things you would like them to learn based on your own experiences. It helps if you know whether you have a primarily upper class or freshman/sophomore floor. But regardless, there are things common to all communities including, but not limited to: respect, civility, fun, tolerance and acceptance and independence. Remember, you are an educator and learning will occur on your floor – it helps if you provide direction.
Now take your answers to the above questions and develop some basic goals to start the year. You’ll be able to come to training prepared with some ideas and direction.
Check with your Residence Life Department as to what you can prepare over the summer.
Before the semester ended your residence life people may have shared with you things to prepare over the summer. If no one shared that with you, just give a call and ask.
Work ahead this summer by considering/managing the following:
Theme. Is one set for the campus or hall or can you set one for the floor? If you can set one it is a good idea to do so because it helps you with door tags and bulletin boards.
Door Tags. Almost every school asks RA staff to make door tags/name tags for residents. Some schools may give you your floor list during the summer, others wait until you arrive. Even without names you can make your tags and have them ready for names when you arrive on campus. Also, find out if you are required to change tags on any kind of rotation. If so, you may wish to prepare more than one set. Have the tag fit your theme … and try to be creative … and neat. Nothing looks worse than a tag thrown together without thought. Remember, this is part of what sets the tone for the year.
Bulletin Boards – how many, how often? Find out the requirement for bulletin boards. What kind are you expected to do? If you can define them, think of your theme and your goals so that the bulletin board reflects them. If you have more than one, why not have one as fun and one as educational? Look through magazines, Internet and newspapers for articles you can use. Start a file so that you have some resources for throughout the semester. Cut out letters now – and make a lot. By creating ready to hang bulletin boards you can quickly move onto other activities with your floor. Remember that your first bulletin board will set the tone on your floor.
Stall Journal. Have you thought about a “floor newsletter”? Many RAs do newsletters that they post in bathroom stalls. Find a creative name i.e. Stall Journal, Toilet Tidbits, Dear John, and create a welcome newsletter. Include upcoming programs, study hints, resources and ways residents can submit comments for future newsletters. This will again help you meet your goals, making residents feel welcome from the start.
Worried that you are not creative enough to do all this? Well, you have an entire summer to work on it. Get a girlfriend, boyfriend, mom, dad, brother, sister or friend to help. You’ll be surprised how many of theses people may have some creative abilities! Put them to work. Younger siblings, nieces and nephews are great for cutting out letters and it makes them feel good to help you. It will also help your family and friends understand your new position.
By completing these tasks you will be well on the road for developing a good foundation for your community. Once you arrive on campus your training program will take you to the next step. As the summer comes to an end I would encourage you to refer to the following essay which is borrowed from Robert Fulghum’s ALL I EVER NEEDED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN. With a few changes it reflects what you’ll learn in training. While the advice may sound elementary it is so true that the basic good values of humanity are our best guides.
Good luck as you prepare for your new role. And have fun. This job is no good if you are not having fun with it!!
Adapted from Robert Fulghum’s ALL I EVER NEEDED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN
All I really need to know about how to make a good floor and what to say to residents and how I should act I learned in RA training. Wisdom was not at the top of a mountain but there in an icebreaker with my staff. These are the things I learned. *Share with your residents. Be consistent. Don’t yell at people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you are wrong. Shower early before problems arise. Teach everyone to flush. Warm cookies and milk is a good program. Provide a balanced experience – learn some and think some and draw and paint and dance and play and work some every day. *Take a nap every day you are on duty. *When you go on rounds be alert, take your time and don’t go alone if you are afraid. *Be aware of wonder. Remember the freshmen in your halls: they will test you, cry and maybe be your friend and nobody knows why, but we were all like that. *Rabbits, hamsters, white mice and candles must all leave – just like guests of the opposite sex. *And remember the first word you learned – LISTEN. *Everything you need to know is in training somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Counseling and programming and diversity and sane living. *Take any of these concepts and apply them to your academic life or your work or your floor or your college and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better college we would be if we all – the entire campus- had cookies and milk about three every afternoon and then lay down for a nap. Or if the entire school had basic policies to always listen to what each other had to say and to always clean up our own mess. And it is still true, no matter who you are – when you go into the halls it is best to work together and be a team.
Submitted by Glenda Griffith, Director of Residence Life, Saint Francis University