The Writing Center (WC) where I work is still relatively quiet only mere days into the summer semester, so it’s a little easier to dive into research articles and get the staff involved in as many projects as possible before the fall is upon us. Probably my favorite part about this time of year, though, is that I have more time for reflection, and something I’d like to reflect on today is a particular instance from last semester that was extremely frustrating in the moment but taught me an important lesson in leadership. More important than my frustration is that this particular instance emphasized that while playing the blame game is easier in the moment, looking inwards for the root of an issue can be far more productive.
So this is what happened. One evening last spring I received an email from a concerned student who had booked an online appointment with a tutor. The appointment was scheduled for thirty minutes beginning at 7:00 p.m.but it was 7:45 p.m. when I received the student’s email. The student was unsure whether the tutor had finishing reviewing their submission as indicated by the lack of an email with feedback from the tutor. Normally students expect these emails within 5-10 minutes of the appointment concluding, so naturally the student was worried.
I called the office moments later and found that the tutor had already left for the evening. Another tutor was still in the office but was unable to find the document on our computers. Finally, I called the tutor who had left. She sounded confused and concerned but what made this particularly frustrating at the time was that this wasn’t the first time something similar had happened with this tutor.
Worse than this not being the first offense was the fact that the student’s writing submission was a graduate school application letter due at midnight. So of course now I felt even worse about the whole thing.
Frankly, thinking that the WC couldn’t provide a student with the services they desired kills me. However, I took a look at the student’s letter myself in an attempt to give the most comprehensive feedback possible given the time constraints. By 9:00 p.m. I was finished, still frustrated, but now confused as to how a relatively simple procedure went wrong.
Specifically, this problem highlighted three performance-related issues:
1) First, the tutor failed to send the feedback she recorded for the student as soon as she was finished reviewing the submission.
2) Similarly, the feedback wasn’t saved properly and therefore was unretrievable.
3) Finally, the tutor left the office on a whim without informing the WC Manager or myself. A text message would’ve been fine. Had I been asked, I wouldn’t have thought twice about letting someone off early if their schedule was clear, but leaving without permission is another story.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to react the next day. Rather than reacting in haste I waited, reflected, recorded my thoughts, and I spoke to people I confide in outside the office, like the WC Manager.
Then BAM! All of a sudden it hit me. That evening it was easier to be frustrated with this tutor, but down the road would reprimanding this one tutor solve potential problems in the future?
Perhaps if I ensured my staff was better prepared then they would be capable of troubleshooting any problems that occur in the office, especially with the online portion of our tutoring.
So what did I learn? I realized that the WC was in need of an administrative overhaul. The long term efforts of the WC would not be enhanced by singling out one employee, but rather by focusing on all of the employees. For instance, we’re without a properly updated student employee handbook or a method of documenting positive and negative occurrences. Additionally, I realized I probably need to reiterate my expectations periodically throughout the semester rather than waiting for an issue to arise for me to address them.
In the end, my initial frustrations from the incident amounted to a brief conversation with the tutor, nothing more. Day by day as a supervisor I’m learning more about leadership and my ability to positively impact a student worker with opportunities to learn and reinvent our procedures rather than simply casting aspersions following every issue.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following 4 awesome people: Alexandria, Doug, Emily, and Alexander, as they blog monthly about 1 year of their journey as either a new SA Pro or SA grad student. We are proud to help them share their stories as they break into our field.