Student Affairs professionals are drawn to work in community colleges because we care – deeply – about our students. I’ve learned that the simplest of human kindnesses can go a long way toward demonstrating that intention – that we care – and in the process, I can connect, DAILY, with my purpose. Here are three of my tried-and-true techniques:
Sheldon Cooper (of “Big Bang Theory” fame) really does KNOW ALL.
When in doubt, follow Sheldon’s lead and offer a hot beverage. Truly – the simplest offer of a cup of tea allows us to slow down the dialogue with students and engage in an ancient rite of connection. Not a tea drinker? Think about the need to keep candy or small snacks in your space. I am constantly struck by the number of students who are “food insecure” and the offer of a granola bar or a pack of crackers – while we’re having a conversation – feels right, familial and nurturing. What I never share is that I’m aware that some of them are eating the only food they might have that day and when they ask for one ‘for later – in class’ they are really planning ahead to meet a need later or to share with a child or family member.
Be a selective story-teller.
We are in the positions we hold because we have degrees – often many of them – and are experts in our roles. Students already know this about us and if we allow it, our privilege and rank can easily complicate relationship-building. Be who you are. Remember your roots as you were “coming up”. What courses did you struggle with? What life circumstances entered your world – initially as hurdles but evolved into triumphs? Don’t be afraid to tell your story of recovery and resilience. For me, it’s often my story about being a community college student myself and the challenges I faced.
Be late to meetings.
You have my permission. Many of us are juggling roles that are combo platters of direct service and program development/delivery and administration. As you look at your calendar and consider your daily duties, you might fall prey to the prioritization of meetings over student contact. My advice? Always apologize, of course, for being late…but don’t rush to a meeting across campus in such haste that you’re not stopping to chat along the way WITH STUDENTS.
The combination of these three things, for me, is a power punch about purpose. When I’m at my best, these practices serve me well because they remind me about the meaning of my work. Without question, the positive responses that I receive from students serve as the fuel behind the method. Just this week I had an encounter with a student that I thought I knew well but when she came into my office in tears this “I’ve got it all together” young woman said she’d been waiting for me because her world was unraveling. What tumbled out what a heart-breaking series of revelations about hunger, a failed exam, an angry father and worries that she was done – and “couldn’t do college”. We’re not miracle workers, but we do know how to build relationships with students and break down the obstacles into manageable chunks. I’d love to know more about what works well for you. We’re in this together!
This post is part of our #comm_college series, which aims to explore experiences developing community college policies and processes that impact the recruitment, retention, and completion of community college students. What human interest stories do you have of community college student resilience, persistence, and success? What about a stories of transition, challenge, or transformation? A variety of SA pros working in student affairs at a community college will share their insights. For more information, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dave Kerpen on Authenticity/ Branding on Social Media