Students graduated. I blinked. New students just arrived.
Academically, I know there was a summer somewhere in that timeline, but, heck, it sure doesn't feel like it. And now, with RA trainings, Orientation leader pow-wows and student leader retreats all in full-swing, my student affairs colleagues all across the country are wholly immersed in our craft armed with a healthy dose of incredulity that it is time to begin the cycle anew.
Raising your energy level to work in this wacky and wonderful field of student development is directly proportionate to the number of years you have served at your current institution. Your first year is full of unbridled passion where everything is new and different. Your second year feels a bit more grounded as you have a good sense of the place and are ready to try all sorts of new initiatives that feel culturally resonant. Your third year, energy starts to wane even as it is slightly bolstered by the fact that you are now a fount of insight given that only a few students knew life at the college without you there.
And then you enter a fourth year. And possibly a fifth. And that process of renewing and recharging for a new academic year feels more and more elusive. As students really do feed off the energy we put out there, here are some tips for how to raise your game if you feel yourself waning:
Develop a New Community Partnership. There's a whole big world out there off-campus. But we student affairs professionals can easily fall into the trap of myopically only seeing the residence halls and campus centers before us. The benefits of students being immersed in community engagement work is well-documented and extremely convincing. But the benefits also extend to staff coordinating and participating in these efforts. There is amazing social justice work being done in your community that might not be on your radar. Reach out to local non-profits and faith-based organizations to see where these partnerships may be rooted, round up a group of students and schedule a first visit.
Seek Out a Faculty Member and Propose an Activity. The divide between student and academic life at some institutions is so Grand Canyon-esque that even the thought of crossing that line seems like a heroic act. But here's the thing -- the myth of the chasm almost always eclipses the reality. Over there on that faculty roster is a list of passionate individuals invested in student success. A student life/faculty partnership can be an unbelievably rewarding experience for everyone involved, but someone has to break the ice. Whip out your ice-pick and propose a moderated movie, a gallery jaunt or a local fauna tour.
Use Your Freakin' Vacation Time! Someone please do a study of the correlation between working in student affairs and unused vacation time. Not taking the days given to you doesn't mean you're more dedicated. It doesn't mean you're more committed. It simply means that you're doing some pretty excellent role-modeling for both your colleagues and students on what it means to be a martyr. This is not to say that you might not have to do some pre-planning to make sure your duties are covered when you leave, but please remember, you're not indispensable. Also, vacations are good. Unused vacations aren't.
Yes, the school year has started. And it may feel like the time for recharging has passed. But, truly, you can switch things up to give you a jolt! It'll be both energizing for you and for the community.
Follow Ken Schneck, PhD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ThisShowIsSoGay