As a mother and someone who has studied child development for quite sometime, you often began psychoanalyzing children’s behavior at a young age. I remember when I first took my daughter to a birthday party when she was 2-years old and there was a sandbox. I was that paranoid mother that put my daughter in pretty dress and did not want her to get dirty. Very strange now, as we are farmers and she loves to play in the dirt and I no longer freak out about her getting dirty. More importantly, I let her take the plunge into the sandbox that day and let her experience childhood while this paranoid mother bit her tongue. Before I knew it, my daughter was having a blast and I was over the whole getting dirty part. As I chatted with the other parents and finally began to remain calm about her dress getting ruined…in my astonishment, another child grabbed my daughter’s arm and bit her! You would have thought my child was a juicy steak as her arm was badly chewed up. As I comforted my daughter as she cried, the parent of the child was apologizing profusely and was embarrassed. The other child had zero remorse for the biting behavior and was upset because she did not want to share the sand shovel. As the episode of this atrocious sandbox behavior set in, I was afraid my poor child would forever be scarred from this experience. The joys of motherhood…if it wasn’t the dress getting dirty, now I had to worry about other children physically hurting my child.
What did I learn from this experience? Rule #1: Stay Out of My Sandbox…meant that I had to teach my young child the importance of canvasing the play area and communication with other children prior to engaging in any play as to prevent territorialism. This motherhood experience has taught me a lot about how to navigate higher education politics and continue to use this analogy to teach future Student Affairs leaders about playing nicely with others.
As a Student Affairs professional, you get the opportunity to be on the ground every year with new students and generations of learners. This is the impetus for innovation within Student Affairs. Being student-centric is key to our success. Entire academic journals are dedicated to the advancement of Student Affairs as a profession and most universities and colleges have degree programs in this field. Our innovation is critical in celebrating our student stories. In higher education, our sandbox is focused heavily on supporting students inside and outside the classroom. In order to effectively achieve this, partnerships between Academic and Student Affairs is essential. Academic Affairs, specifically faculty may not understand fully the role of Student Affairs in the academy. Research recommends that Student Affairs take a bigger role in educating Academic Affairs about Student Affairs as a foundation for collaboration. Similar to my daughter’s sandbox story, it is important to canvas the play area of Academic Affairs prior to engaging in collaborative conversations. Depending on the institutional context, Student Affairs and its position within the academy may be well known among faculty and other Academic Affairs officers, and in others it may not. Thus, building trust through communication is required for establishing and sustaining such collaborations. If these two strategies are not followed, you may encounter the effects of territorialism…biting!
So what does all this mean at the end of the day for Student Affairs professionals? Be positive and follow the rules of sandbox play. Remember to canvas the play area of higher education and communicate about your goals and outcomes. Sometimes it is a matter of taking a deep breath and remembering that we are here to help our students and teach them about collaboration by modeling such behavior. As much as I wanted to have my daughter bite the other child back and lash out, this would not address the issue. Both kids wanted to play in the same sandbox and they need leaders to teach them how to play nicely with others. There have been many times where I feel like biting others back in higher education because they promote territorialism. And I take a step back away from the sandbox to reassess my modus operandi of collaboration, then I can continue to move forward.
Remember, everybody wants to get along with everyone else in the sandbox, they just need to be taught how to play nicely with others.
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