Do you want to build a Tower?

Parenting a toddler is like being on a roller coaster. There’s the anxiety that comes with the climb (when a tantrum is looming or an almost slow-motion fall is about to happen). This is followed by the thrill of the ride itself (including some laughing, crying, and the occasional vomit). The ride is both fun and scary as hell. This particular ride just happens to come with many lessons along the way.

One such recent lesson came while playing with building blocks. My daughter can play with these little plastic accidents-waiting-to-happen for hours. Our simple process for playtime with blocks is this:

  • In an homage to her favorite Disney Princess, Anna, I emphatically sing my adaptation of “Do you want to build a snowman?” called “Do you want to build a tower?”
  • She proceeds to dump the blocks out in one, big, messy pile.
  • Daddy is responsible for building the base, as evidenced by the screaming of “DADDA” until the base is constructed.
  • Daughter stacks as many blocks as her little self can physically manage.
  • Like a baby version of Godzilla, she knocks them down when it is no longer possible to go higher.
  • She proceeds to laugh maniacally like a cartoon villain.
  • Repeat (about 20 times).

blocks

As an educator without an off-switch, I can’t help but want to help her. I try to build a base around her stack of blocks. I take blocks from the pile and suggest an order. She, of course as a budding independent toddler also lacking an off-switch, wants nothing to do with any of daddy’s suggestions. Sometimes, I have to tilt the stack, so she can stretch and reach one more. When she’s done, we usually celebrate. When she knocks them over, I want to be frustrated. I wonder how such excitement can come from destroying something you have worked hard at forever (or in toddler terms – 3 minutes). However, my daughter meets the knocking or falling down of her colored blocks with an enthusiastic scream and cackle. I can’t help but, eventually, join her in that laughter.

This whole process and subsequent reflection has taught me something about my work with students. How often do I try to dictate how they build their tower? How often do I get frustrated for them, when they are OK with the result? Maybe my role is simply to build and hold that base, let them build, cheer emphatically, and support them when they want to tear it all down and start over. Many people in helping professions, education specifically, often get too fixated on the end result (passing the test, getting the job, walking across the stage with diploma proudly in hand) and less on the process and the learning that comes from it. Either way, a tower is getting built. Let’s allow students the freedom to choose their blocks and their structure, instead of us carefully handing them the blocks one by one and prescribing to them what comes next. This way, they get the tower that they want – and all the laughter and learning that comes with it.

Advertisements

Dear #sachat, we can do better

My fellow student affairs colleagues,
We (myself included) can need to do better. The time has come, my friends, for us to lead the hard and important conversations about our work, our field, and higher education as a whole.

We spend too much of our time in conversation on Twitter arguing about things like the value of handwritten notes when significant injustice is happening in our country and on our campuses and to our students every single day.
We complain about being busy and our right to not have to answer email past 5pm when so many are without jobs and a decent wage or our students are struggling to work three jobs just to afford their education.
We pay way too much attention to the behavior of professionals at a conference on Yik Yak and not enough about issues happening around the world that are impacting our students.
We spend time lamenting that faculty don’t get what we do, when they are the least of our worries. We are in for a fight to defend our worth and the value of a college degree altogether.
Our students and our academic colleagues do not care about your favorite icebreaker. They don’t care about what you think “professionalism” means. They care that you show up to work, do your job, and do your damn best for your students and your campus community.
When articles comment on the inflation of administration – they are talking about us! Yet, we are too busy talking about other things to notice. It’s not my job tell you what to tweet or how to think. I am also not saying that conversations about the nuances in our field are not important. I also get wrapped up in these conversations. I have even started them on occasion and for that, I’m sorry.  To have these difficult, bigger picture conversations, we need to be willing to talk about things that are hard, challenging, and likely to polarize us a bit, but are topics that matter and need to be addressed. The echo chamber is deafening. It’s time for that to change. There is a whole lot of support happening in this community, which is wonderful, but where’s the challenge? Of course, these discussions are already happening, but they are not as loud or as frequent as our usual topics of Twitter conversations. Imagine if we used our collective voices for a greater good instead of how professionals use or misuse social media at a conference? Imagine the power of collective advocacy we could have.
I’m not calling for rogue chats. I am not blaming any one person, blog, or hashtag. This is on all of us. If we can’t talk about these things with each other (on Twitter or on campus), then how can we talk about them with our students, with our academic colleagues, and/or in our communities? Let’s use our precious time and energy together for this and not seemingly small topics that are more about internal bickering and less about advancing our field. Let’s take ownership and leadership in promoting the importance of our work, fighting injustice on our campuses and in our communities, and continuing to advance the educational experience for our students in ways only we know how.
Who’s with me?

How running has made me a better professional

Image

My wife, Amanda, and I running my second ever 5K!

I am sure, by title alone, you are already wondering how I can make the claim that by becoming a runner, I have become a better student affairs professional.  Over the last 10 months, in large part thanks to running, I have lost over 40 pounds (and counting).  I am in the best shape of my life.  I also feel that, professionally, I have found my groove.  Part of this has to do with experience, but I think is in large part due to my new found health and fitness.  I came to this realization the other day, where else, but on a 4 mile run.  Let me attempt to explain….

Running makes me happier

It is no secret that working out is good for one’s mental health.  Since being active, I find myself to be a happier person.  This is not to suggest I was not happy before, but rather I am happy (and proud) of the holistic “me” for the first time in a long while. This certainly translates to my work with students.  I am more positive, patient, and overall cheerful.

Running gives me energy

No amount of coffee in the world can compare to the energy I have gained from being active.  I would take a morning run over a morning coffee any day.

Running gets me up and away from my desk

With more energy, I am less apt to sit in my office all day.  I walk all over campus and to meetings.  I meet students in various locations for our one on ones.  This has helped me to interact more with folks I did not see as often within my Campus Center bubble.

Running gives me confidence

I was NEVER a runner.  When I set my goal in December of running my first 5k in June, I thought knew I was bound to fail.  The more I ran, the further I pushed myself, the more I believed in myself.  Self-confidence is something that has helped me tremendously at work as I am given more and more responsibility.  That voice in my head that often says “you can’t” is now drowned out by “remember that time you said you’d never be able to run more than a mile…”

Running has pushed me to take more risks

I ran my first 3.16 miles on a whim.  I had set out to run my usual 1.5-2 never thinking I was close to that elusive 5k.  While out on my run, something sparked that drove me to give it a shot.  What resulted was a 34 minute 5k and one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment I have ever felt in my life. This spark has not gone away, as long as I am consistently running.  It has followed me into my professional life and with more self-confidence and trust in myself, I take more risks and, as a result, have been more creative and innovative at work.

Running has helped me to own and accept my mistakes better

Let’s face it; we all hate to fail.  What running has taught me, however is that sometimes, it just isn’t my day and there is not anything I can do about it.  Other times, it is because my will and resolve were not strong enough.  Other times, it is because I have made a poor choice, such as bad nutrition prior to a run.  All of this, professionally, has better helped me to own my mistakes and realize that mistakes are bound to happen, especially as I get more comfortable with taking risks.

Running has helped me be a better role model

I’d always felt like I was a good role model for my students, except when it came to wellness.  I was significantly overweight and not at all active.  What’s worse, is I work in a building which houses the fitness center, and the department, which oversees student health and wellnes..  I was not leading by the example I should have been setting.  Now, the opposite is true.  I chat often with my students about my journey and what running has done for me.  A group of orientation leaders approached me about wanting to run with me.  It has now become a regular, weekly run.  Two of them, having never run more than two miles, ran a 5k our first week!  This is an experience I would have never been able to have shared with students prior.

Running gives me balance

Running, for me, is the greatest form of stress relief.  Instead of getting lost behind a screen or in food as I did in the past, I lace up the shoes and hit the pavement.  I feel rejuvenated and energized afterwards.  Running is my “me” time.  I am fierce when it comes to protecting it, in a way I had a hard time doing before.

I am not suggesting that all student affairs professionals should, or could benefit from, running.  I am simply hoping my story will help others who are in a situation like I found myself 10 months ago find hope.  Whether it is running, lifting weights, yoga, biking, etc. physical activity will pay off for you both personally and professionally, I promise.  If you did not know already, there is an amazing, supportive #safit community on Twitter and Facebook.  It is these people who inspired me and continue to support me throughout my journey.  It is safe to say, without the #safit community, I would not be where I am today.

So, what are you waiting for?  Lace em‘ up!