Monday, July 2, 2012

Let's talk about Supervision: Lessons for the New HD/CD

Supervision of my Resident Assistant staff takes up about 50% of time throughout the work week. As a Community/Hall/Residence Director you are going to find that supervision of student staff members is going to be a major aspect of your job responsibilities. This works for me because I am a very student-centered professional and I enjoy the time I spend helping my staff members to develop and ensure that we are giving all that we can to our residents.

As a new CD/HD/RD it can be challenging to come into a new environment and connect with all of your staff members. I remember my first year as a CD at SIUE. I had the daunting task of supervising a staff of 14 RAs. At least 50% of my staff were returning staff members. I must admit that I was nervous. I was unsure of whether or not they were going to accept me, if they would be reluctant to change, and if I would be able to connect with and meet the needs of all 14 of them. Throughout the course of the first year we connected, bonded, and grew together. Yes, we had some rocky moments but we were able to work through effectively.

Determining your supervision style as a new professional and learning how to effectively supervise a variety of students can be challenging. We all want to ensure that we are meeting our students needs while also challenging and supporting them to provide quality service and enriching learning opportunities for their residents/peers.

As I end my third year as a CD, I have learned many valuable lessons about supervision specifically how to effectively supervise undergraduate students. I am going to share a couple of those lessons with you, but I encourage you to take the time to ask questions of peers and mentors in order to help you to determine your own supervision style.

1. Eliminate the Nerves!
For many of you this may be the first time that you are supervising a staff solely on your own and you are probably nervous or fearful that you will fail. Your students will since your nervousness and this may cause them to doubt your ability to lead them. You are where you are because you are skilled and talented. Be confident in your ability to supervise and lead. No one is perfect, and no one is expecting you to be perfect. The best way that I found to ease my tension the first few times I was with my staff was to begin our sessions with fun mindless activities and games. For instance you can play some rounds of heads up/seven up or catch phrase. This will help you and your staff to become comfortable. Remember that if you are nervous, they may be just as nervous if not more.

2. Stop talking about the past
Everyone knows that you have a great background, but your new staff does not want to hear about all the amazing things you did at your old institution. Keep your focus on your current staff and the future. Talking about your past staff and past institution may led your new staff to believe that you do not want to be with them. Instead of constantly talking about how awesome you are or the great things that you have done, just show them! Remember actions speak louder than words.

3. Listen!
Listening is going to be a very important skill to have as you begin building relationships with your new staff members. Take some time to learn how they did things before you arrived. Remember if you come into your new position trying to change every single thing they may be resistant. Allow them to share with you what they liked and did not like about the previous year. It is important that your staff know where you stand and your philosophy and expectations; however it is equally important for you to give them time to express their vision and expectations as well. When you provide your staff with the opportunity to talk and you listen to them, you make them feel valued.

4. Have Professional Trust
Remember that even though you may not have selected/hired your staff members, they were hired for a reason. Have faith that they are capable of doing their jobs successfully. Many people dislike being micromanaged. Try your best to control the urge to micromanage your staff. By trusting in their ability, you provide them with the opportunity to prove to you that they are good staff members. Give them that opportunity to show you how awesome they are.

5. Be clear about expectations
Develop clear, concise, and realistic expectations of your staff members and present them early on, preferably during training. Be sure that your staff members understand how you plan to hold them accountable if they do not meet the expectations set before them; however make sure that your expectations and your accountability matches up with the expectations set by the department.

6. Be clear about boundaries
Boundaries can become a major concern for live-in staff. It is important that you have this conversation with your staff early on. Be sure that they understand the importance of work-life balance for you and for themselves. Talk with them about your office balance (are you ok with them dropping in or do you prefer they set up meetings), talk with them about your apartment (are you ok if they stop by unannounced or is your home completely off limits to staff), talk with them about the usage of your cell phone number and your social media accounts (will you allow your staff members to text you, if so at what times and do you plan to add staff members as facebook friends or not). These are very important conversations to have with your staff because it will set the tone for the year. As a live in professional work-life balance is key to being healthy.

7. Learn their personalities
I am a firm believer that supervision is individualistic. We will not treat all of our supervisees the exact same, but they will all receive what they need to be a success. By learning the individual personalities of your staff members, you will learn how to best interact with them and how to supervise them. Take some time during your one on one meetings to learn about their likes/dislikes, their personal backgrounds, their goals, etc...During staff meetings and training sessions complete assessments like True Colors, Strengthsquest and The Five Love Languages. Not only will this help your staff to feel valued because you are personally trying to connect with them, but it will also give you a better glimpse into their needs and wants when it comes to interaction from their supervisor.

8. Apologize when necessary.
This can be challenging for some professionals, but it is a great trait to develop. Being humble with your student staff members will allow them to trust you more.

9. Have Fun
We work hard and our supervisees work hard too! Have fun with them whether through staff bonding time, staff outings, send them a funny joke in an email, or just laugh and share silly stories during a one on one. They will appreciate seeing you as a regular person and not just their supervisor and this will help strengthen your relationship with them individually but also strengthen the dynamics of your staff as a whole.

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