Yes, sometimes I wish I could ground my Resident Assistant staff and tell them that they lose their TV privileges for a week. But today, what I want to explore is how we as Student Affairs professionals are grounding our RAs, providing them with a stable foundation so that they remain in touch with reality and connected to the principles of the organization. It’s easy enough for student leaders to taste a bit of their “power” and get carried away. And it’s extremely easy for them– and us, too– to lose touch with the basics and forget all about our foundation.
I have an amazing group of RAs this year. They’re diverse, personable, dedicated students, skilled multitaskers, creative, etc. But there’s one thing that I noticed last year that really needed to be addressed. While most of them really like each other and view our staff as a team or family, they weren’t “nice” to each other. They seemed to think they were above the community building efforts they were asked to employ with their residents. They didn’t understand that they needed to get along and be respectful of each other. Not only is this important to accomplish our goals as a Residence Life department and important to their interpersonal skill set, but it was also making our staff meetings extraordinarily inefficient. They were too busy interrupting each other, talking over each other, or making snide comments to each other about another’s opinion.
By the middle of the semester, I decided that I needed to assess how everyone was feeling about the group, hoping that there were others who recognized what I did. My plan was to use this assessment as a way to communicate a need for change. The assessment provided just that. But once I explained that we had to improve our relationships and our efficiency at meetings, we were left with the question of “What do we do now?”
In brainstorming the answer to that question, I discovered that I needed to ground them. I needed to take them back to the basics and teach them the skills that they’re meant to be teaching their residents, most importantly– respect. At the start of the Spring semester, I pulled out a giant pad of paper and a big marker and asked the staff to brainstorm some ground rules for staff meetings. I let them take the wheel, identifying areas where improvement and guidelines were needed. The list they ended up with was pretty impressive. Not all of the ground rules were serious in nature, but they reflected the uniqueness of the staff and served as a good basis for a respectful meeting and appropriate communication with each other.
As we’ve moved forward with the semester with these ground rules in place, I have heard people remark about changes in other staff members. I’ve seen them take advantage of free time to bond with each other. And I’ve seen them keep each other on task and more respectful during meetings. Having ground rules to fall back on and guidelines to lead them has proven successful so far.
Do any of you have ground rules? What sort of rules make your list of top ten?
Devon Purington is a Residence Life Coordinator at Penn State University-Hazleton.