Tag Archives: #middlemanagement

What Do You Do All Day?

I recently transitioned from the role of Resident Director to Assistant Director and moved across the country. While I was home for the holidays, my mother naturally asked, “What do you do all day at work?” It was a fair question. She could wrap her head around my role as a Resident Director because she lived in a residence hall in college. She often likes to say that if she knew student affairs was a career, she probably would have gone into the field.

Truth be told, I struggled to answer her question. My sarcastic, pithy, one-sentence answer was, “Emails and meetings, all day long.” I know I do more than that, but how can I quantify it? Sure, I often have hilarious stories about the requests or reactions of students or parents, and I can wax poetic about the future of higher education with the best of them, but what is it that I do? Why am I getting paid? What output is expected of such compensation? I’ve been pondering this for awhile after listening to a ProReps Aside podcast from Valerie Heruska and Matt Bloomingdale that asked this question and then I stumbled upon this tweet from the incomparable Mallory Bower:

Ma’am, I dip my hat to you. I think it is a really good question to think about. What is it that you do? Not what you hope to do, or want to do, or write on your professional development plan, or what you tweet about, but what do you actually accomplish on a day-to-day level? 

In the past two weeks, this is what I have accomplished: 

  • Had one-on-one meetings with four incredible new professionals who I supervise as Resident Directors. Those conversations ranged from job searches, to training new student leaders, to facilities updates, to roommate conflicts, to their own professional development plans, and about a hundred other topics in between.
  • Wrapped up a job description for a summer ACUHO-I intern; scheduled interviews by juggling 11 different schedules and started to look at candidate profiles
  • Packed my entire office and said goodbye to my surrogate professional home for the past six months. This is in preparation of our department’s office reunification after nearly two years of having a main office and a branch office
  • Assisted my supervisor and co-workers in their office packing, which often meant telling them to stop telling stories about the items, cards, photos, or mementos in their hands and to instead start making decisions about what to keep or toss
  • Attended the first National Residence Hall Honorary chapter meeting of the year and offered advice as their co-advisor around induction ceremonies and upcoming programming
  • Read, sorted, replied to, and crafted hundreds of emails. Hundreds.
  • Booked my hotel and travel for NASPA and started working on my speech for a SA Speaks session
  • Organized a meet-and-greet for several faculty members, administrative partners, and Residence Life staff for our Learning Community program in an attempt to pair in-class learning with out-of-class experiences
  • Presented three times in one day to 100+ Resident Advisors and Learning Community Advisors during winter training about OrgSync, a new programming model, and ways technology can work for them
  • Laughed a lot. Like, more than you probably expect. Our work is fun.
  • Attended my first CASCHA meeting; met several other Chicagoland professionals, sat on a panel about interviewing in student affairs, and conducted a mock interview with a new professional
  • Rolled out OrgSync implementation to our entire department and held my breath when all of our student staff members logged on for the first time; spent several hours troubleshooting said issues with student staff members
  • Completed really boring, but really necessary parts of my job like approving timecards, submitting receipts for purchases, and updating budget logs
  • Met with partners and faculty to discuss the future of our Service and Faith Learning Community, which spawned ideas on how to improve the entire LC program in the future
  • Reviewed resumes and cover letters from graduate students at my current institution, from my alma mater, in addition to grads who have reached out over Twitter
  • Attended the annual Res Life Prom. Yep, it’s a thing.
  • Brainstormed online training modules for Learning Community Assistants to increase academic support and integrated learning for members of all Learning Communities
  • Attended a divisional retreat for half of one day and a departmental retreat for an entire day
  • Rolled out an entirely new programmatic offering for our rising sophomore students in an attempt to increase participation and engagement while in our halls. So. Freaking. Excited!!!
  • Followed the incredible Higher Ed Live podcast on #blacklivesmatter and participated in the backchannel
  • Met with colleagues in our Admissions Office to streamline the housing application process for incoming first-year students who are interested in joining a Learning Community
  • Attended a total of 21 meetings in ten days, most of which required prior preparation and follow-up

This was just the past two weeks and I would argue it was a light few days since only one week had students on campus. I would also add conduct, parental phone calls, mental health concerns of students, being on call for our department, and regular committee work to a typical work week. So why is it that I was so dismissive when asked, “What do you do all day?” Did I not want to sound like I was whining or bragging? Did I underestimate my mother’s ability to understand the ‘intricacies’ of the work I do? Or is it because I’m not used to hearing what people actually do in their work?

As a new professional, I often remember thinking, “Hmm, what exactly does my boss do all day? They don’t supervise RAs, they aren’t first responders, they aren’t doing the ‘work’ of committees, so how do they spend their time?” As a student and Resident Advisor, I remember thinking the same thing about my RD. I think we all need to talk about what we actually do more often. Not in some cute sound-bite, or conference introduction, or carefully crafted Twitter profile, but in depth and in detail. How else are our graduate students and new professionals going to know if they actually want to continue in the field? We owe it to them to be transparent and we owe it to ourselves to quantify our day-to-day work so when someone asks, “What do you do all day?” we are ready, whether that person is your mother, an accrediting agency, your supervisor, the university president, or students who should be the focus of this work every day.

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Middle of Somewhere: 5 Ways to Stay Connected as a Middle Manager

We’ve all heard the adage, “The higher up you climb, the less student interaction you get.” I remember hearing this for the first time in grad school during a seminar my program hosted. Our VPSA walked us through a typical day, which consisted of approximately eleventy billion meetings, strategic planning, lots of emails, caucusing with other professionals at his level, and “If I’m lucky, I’ll have a quick conversation with our student office assistant.”

My naive grad school brain was floored. How could someone in such a position of power and decision-making have so little contact with the very people who would be impacted by such decisions? Why did the people with the least amount of [perceived] power (i.e. grad students such as myself) serve as advisors, supervisors, hearing officers, mentors, and more? I remember promising to myself that as I moved up, I would maintain regular contact with students at my institution.

Well, that is much easier said than done. I have recently transitioned from entry to mid-level management. This means I no longer supervise student leaders, I don’t have a front desk with a ton of student traffic feet from my office door, I don’t advise a hall council, I’m not expected to attend late night programming, I haven’t yet had a judicial case, and I work in a central office. Therefore, between administrative work, answering emails, having one-on-ones with with RDs, and running committees, it is entirely possible to go throughout the day and never see a student.

I was reminded of my grad school experience as I was transitioning into my new role and I was determined to not be an out-of-touch administrator, especially during my first year while I am still figuring out student culture. Even though the desire was there, the means were not as clear. I couldn’t just show up in classes or sit down to lunch with random students without being viewed as a creeper. I didn’t have the same responsibilities and expectations, and now I was living off-camus. This meant I usually left around 5pm and enjoyed cooking dinner, blogging, and catching up with Netflix. So how was I going to stay connected? For me, it was all about being intentional.

Duty Walks with RAs

Since I started my position the same day our grads did, I missed two weeks of RD training. I hadn’t had the chance to really walk our facilities or be on floors due to the blur of RA training and opening. I knew that if a major facility issue happened while I was on-call, I was going to struggle to envision the problem or quirks of our communities. Therefore, I’ve been doing the first set of rounds within one community per week since the start of school. This has not only helped me understand the unique needs of our community, but also connect with our incredible staff of Resident Advisors, as well as students we encounter while on our walks. There have also been a few challenging staffing situations in our department, so members of our Leadership Team are sometimes given the narrative of the bad guy, so I like to think of duty walks as a miniature goodwill tour as well.

Grad Assistant 1-on-1s

One of the very first things I did at the start of the year was send an invitation to all 13 of our Assistant Resident Directors and offer to set-up a lunch or chat over coffee. Nearly all of them took me up on my offer and I’ve been meeting with one or two ARDs per week. This has been absolutely amazing. Our department is fairly large (nearly 40 when everyone is present) so it is easy to lose connection with our graduate students in the haze of meetings and agendas. I’ve learned about their coursework, path into student affairs, side hobbies, how their staffs are doing, how they are transitioning to the field, or what their job searches may look like in a few months. These conversations have been mutually beneficial. I’ve received feedback that many grads appreciate someone in my role reaching out to them, getting to know them better, and also sharing pieces of my own journey.

Advising Opportunities 

When our chapter of NRHH needed a co-advisor, I jumped at the opportunity. Yes, this meant several more meetings and nighttime programs on my docket, but getting the chance to have direct contact with amazing student leaders was something I could not pass up. These student leaders represent the top 1% of all residence hall students on our campus so they are driven, organized, motivated, and genuinely invested in living out the organization’s values. I meet with the executive board every other week, do my best to attend general board meetings twice a month, and I plan to support my team as they put on monthly programs on campus. More time? Sure. Worth it? Absolutely.

Staff Meetings and Trainings 

I’ve offered up my love of presenting and facilitating staff development workshops to a few of the RA teams and I’ve been booked to present Strengths to an RA staff next week. This smaller, more focused opportunity not only helps me get more face time with our student leaders, but also takes some pressure off of the RD and ARD as they don’t have to facilitate the activity. I hope the RAs will enjoy learning more about their Strengths and how its impacts their leadership styles, and if it goes well, I hope to be invited to more staff meetings throughout campus.

Social Media Outlets

While the other options I’ve listed do require physical presence, engaging with students via social media can be done from the comfort of my home, usually while wearing sweatpants. I’m a firm believer in the phrase “lurking is learning,” so even if I’m not having conversations with students online, just scrolling through Instagram or searching for key phrases on Twitter gives me a jumpstart on understanding student culture. Also, for all of its shortcomings, Yik Yak has also served as a useful tool for me to see what is going through the heads of our student body, or even community members who are within a certain radius of campus. Yes, there are horrible things going on through the app (which is another post for another day), but I’ve also learned a great deal about classes, study habits, party culture, and transitional issues of students through the posts, upvotes, and comments.

In order to do my job well, I need to make decisions based on student needs and not just my perceptions of those needs. This can’t happen if I’m holed up in my office, huddled over my email, or constantly in meetings. Even if it means using some of my nighttime or weekend hours, its worth it in the end. I didn’t get into this field to work a typical 9-5 schedule, so sometimes those non-traditional hours make the 9-5 a heck of a lot easier.

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Middle of Somewhere: Transitioning to Middle Management

I just wrapped up my first week on the new job. It was a unique first week, because the first two days were spent at a staff retreat and Friday was at an all-day, off-campus day of service. It was also unique for me because I have made the transition from entry-level professional to mid-level professional. For the past seven years, I’ve been used to the typical start of the year for Res Life professionals, which means training with the professional team during July, student staff training during August, and opening halls in September.

While my previous two positions were amazing, rewarding, and challenging in many ways, I was ready for the transition to supervising professional staff members. During my first week, I realized just how different this experience has been compared to starting positions as an entry-level professional. I’ve decided to write about my transition, for better or worse, to supervising professional staff members and serving on my department’s leadership team.

I am no longer one of many. In my first job, I was one of 12 Resident Directors and in my last job, I was one of nine. Now, I am one of three Assistant Directors. I obviously knew this going into the job, but I was struck at how different the room felt. My current department has nearly 25 full-time and graduate RDs, so the rooms are very full, but not with people who do what I do. This means I no longer have a giant pool of folks who are sharing my experience and it has been a little jarring.

Oh yeah, I’m the one who gets the questions now. One of my new supervisees pulled me aside at the day of service to chat over her supervision plan with her grad. It took me until half-way through the conversation to realize that she was asking for my permission versus just my thoughts on her idea. It was weird. I’m so used to processing with my peers that it took me a bit to get my feet under me.

I’m part of departmental decision-making from the get-go. Day three involved interviewing a candidate for a Resident Director position and on day five I was asked who I wanted to hire, since I would be supervising this person. Um…what? I’ve spent seven years giving opinions and knowing they were valued, but also knowing that I wouldn’t be motivating or keeping that recommended person accountable. This changes things. I required me to shift my thinking from “Which one do I want to work with this year?” to “Which one is going to fit on the team, serve our students best, and will best benefit from the position?”

Stepping back with opinions, to allow others to step up. During my previous professional staff training experiences, I was always up for sharing what had worked in my community, with my staff, or with my students. I found myself purposefully stepping back this and allowing the current staff speak to their experiences instead. I found myself being very aware that while I had done the RD job before, I hadn’t done it here and before I started spouting off experiences, I should first be a student of this institution’s culture.

I still got nervous on the first day! For some reason, I expected a surge of confidence, but I was just as nervous as I had been started my other positions. I’m still a new person who needs acronyms to be explained, struggled with way-finding on a new campus, and needed to be reminded of people’s names.

The excitement is different, but still there. I can distinctly remember my first day as a new professional and it mirrored, in many ways, my experience last Monday. In the back of my mind, there was still a little bit of the Imposter Syndrome rattling around, but I took a deep breath, reminded myself that they chose me, and that I did belong here. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I know this is where I’m meant to be.

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