It’s just Twitter

Without fail, the annual “how should we use Twitter as student affairs professionals” conversation started again yesterday. Call me a curmudgeon, but I am tired of this conversation and here is why:

It’s just Twitter: I have written about this before. Twitter is not the end all be all when it comes to conversations in our field. It is not representative of the field as a whole. I find that much of the conversation lately has been new pros and grads, which I think is fantastic. However, don’t fall into the trap that it is representative of the entire field or indicative of the pulse of the field.

Some of the BEST pros I have worked with are not on Twitter: I bet this is true for you two. This statement speaks for itself. Also, can we stop telling grad and other pros they need to be on Twitter? Show them the value, but let them make their own decisions.

Trolls will be trolls: I elicited a lot of responses when I tweeted this yesterday:

I used the word challenged: not bullied, judged, or trolled. The latter does indeed happen. However, it comes with the territory. I am by no means condoning the behavior. You can try to make Twitter something it isn’t, but it won’t change. It’s like sticking your finger in an electrical outlet: you know what will probably happen. You decide if it is worth the risk. Twitter has its own equivalent to the childproof outlet cover: it’s called the block button.

All of the things I just mentioned happen in other places too: Like in meetings, offices, and conferences. It is easier to see and to talk about on Twitter. Let’s have a conversation about how people feel invisible at conferences or are shamed in meetings. Let’s talk about how many professionals do not have a safe space at work. Let’s talk about this because it starts there. Let’s not mask the issue by trying to make a public social media that space.

Whatever happened to discourse?: The underlying and troublesome tone in parts of the conversation yesterday were about feeling and being supported. Want to support me? Challenge my thoughts and ideas. Cause me to reflect and change my perspective. Don’t ditto everything I say. I am better because people challenge my perspective. Why are so many seemingly afraid of this? The more we challenge perspectives and push each other to think differently, the better off we all will be.

Twitter is a fraction of a piece of your personal/professional reputation: Your work is most important. Tweets won’t get you a job or help you get promoted. Lack of a Twitter presence or voice does not make you a bad professional. Use it how and if you want. You do you.

I often reflect and ask those in my inner circle why I care about this so much. After all, is this very post not hypocritical? I am critiquing the way we talk about Twitter and our expectations of it by saying it is just Twitter, yet I am spending the time to write about it. I want people to feel heard. I want people to feel like they have a safe space. I want people to connect. I want people to share ideas. I want people to feel like they can be their true selves. However, I do not think it is reasonable to expect all of that to happen all the time on Twitter. Use it for what it is; one method of communication (albeit a really good one). Have realistic expectations, be prepared to challenge and be challenged, and know when to disengage because after all, it is just Twitter.

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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?

The Trouble with Twitter

Disclaimer: This will not be one of those posts that tells you how I think you should use Twitter or what to tweet. Rather, it is a reflection of my own experience and professional development via Twitter. Take it or leave it.

Last night, I was fortunate to have an amazing conversation with Matt Bloomingdale and Valerie Heruska (to pros whom I tremendously respect and admire) as a guest on their Professional Reputations Aside podcast. After we stopped recording, the conversation continued. I had been lamenting my struggle with the transition on how I use and view Twitter for professional development and it finally clicked for me. Let me explain….

Twitter is not the end all be all of professional development. At one time for me, it was. This past semester, I embarked on an #saroadtrip where I have met with a whole bunch of amazing colleagues from around the world (thanks to my friend Lisa in Canada!). We discussed everything from branding in our field, to disrupting education, to creativity, to graduate preparation and much more. Including several conferences, webinars, and #sachat topics, this was by far the most fruitful learning I had experienced as a professional yet. The best part: it was FREE! While this post may at times seem like an anti-Twitter post, it is not. Rather, it is pointing out the limitations of only focusing on 140 characters and not using the network built on Twitter for even deeper learning and connection.

Twitter is fantastic for helping us to expand our personal learning network. It connects us to people we otherwise perhaps would never meet. The discussions that happen here are great, but very limiting. It is easy for something to be perceived differently than you intended. Dissenting opinions often seem like attacks. Trying to keep up with any given conversation results in a lot of agreeing or retweeting – and not enough actual dialogue. We start a great conversation about something important like mental health in our field or the purpose of higher education, only for it to take a back seat to the next topic a week later. These #sachat discussions are starting points – not a one time topic to be discussed tweet after tweet for two hours on a Thursday.

What I have found to be most helpful is to use Twitter as a stepping stone. It has allowed me to meet some fantastic people and then to further the discussion, connection, and learning in a much deeper way beyond tweets. 140 characters can be so painfully limiting. Twitter is also public. I can’t be completely vulnerable, honest, or authentic knowing my students and colleagues will see it. I need another space to have these honest conversations with colleagues in a way that does not come across the wrong way or harm my relationship with folks on my campus.

In many ways, I think our profession has grown to overvalue Twitter as a communications tool. As many have said before, it is but one tool for learning and communicating – not the only one. I think it is important that we remember some amazing professionals who are doing incredible things in this field are not on Twitter and you will never see them on #sachat. The mark of a student affairs professional is much deeper than his or her digital identity. I do not want to be remembered or recognized by my handle or profile picture. Instead, I hope people will connect with what I write here on my blog or appreciate the work I am doing on my campus or professional association.

Twitter helps us to connect, to share articles, and to have some base level conversations. I fear, though, that it has become for many the only place to connect, share articles, converse and learn. I challenge each of you to deepen and broaden your connection to your network you have built on Twitter. It does not have to be the way I did it through Google Plus. Many other people are doing this – chatting and meeting, learning and discussing. Make it your own and know that there are many professionals out there with stories to tell, ideas to share, and encouragement to give. All you have to do is ask.

What are you doing to learn and connect beyond Twitter?

Preparing for #ACUI12

I am thrilled to be heading to Boston for the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) Annual Conference next week.  In preparation for the conference, I have the following goals:

  • RELATE: I am actively involved in Region 1 and am very excited to reconnect with old friends.  However, I want to branch out and meet new folks from outside of the Region.  I am also looking forward to meeting, in real life (IRL), many colleagues I have come to know and learn from via Twitter.
  • REFLECT: I was honored to be asked to blog from the conference!  I will be blogging right here and will be sharing what I am learning, who I am meeting as well as random thoughts and photos.  This will be a great way for me to immediately reflect on my experience.  I will also be active on Twitter @timstjohn using the #ACUI12 hashtag.
  • REACT: As I take full advantage of all the knowledge being shared at the Conference, I will create an action plan for my department upon returning to campus.  I will also share relevant knowledge with colleagues outside of my department.

What are you looking forward to most from your ACUI (or other) Conference experience?

Work-Life Balance: Lessons Learned

All too often we are told as young professionals to seek work-life balance.  It is ingrained in our graduate school experiences.  We talk about it at conferences and have discussions with our supervisors and mentors.  How many student affairs professionals can actually claim they have achieved balance?  What does balance mean?  I always thought it was like a UFO; something many look for, few claim they have seen, and most believe it does not actually exist.

I have a few thoughts…

  • Balance does not equal 9-5.  Let’s face it; we all knew coming in that this field requires late nights and weekends.
  • Balance is subjective and means something different to everyone.  This is important when comparing yourself to others and when having discussions with colleagues and especially with your supervisor.  Know what it is you need to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
  • No one will hand you work-life balance or offer a magical solution.  You need to advocate for yourself.
  • Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  (See below for some steps I have taken that might help)

I would like to share some things I have learned and some steps I have taken to improve my work-life balance that might be helpful for others.

  • Learn how to say no.  How many times are we asked to take on another advisor role for instance?  We are dedicated to our students, so we most often say yes.  I challenge you to think of balance the next time you volunteer for something.  Being an over-committed, hard to reach, always busy advisor is not helpful.  Maybe there is someone else who is able to give that organization the time and attention they need.
  • Decide whether or not you will check email from home.  This could be an entire post.  The subject is still open for debate.  The moment I purchased my first smartphone, balance went out the window.  I checked and responded to emails regularly.  I’ve learned over the last 3.5 years that you can be more effective and efficient with this.  I have stopped notifications from coming to my phone alerting me when a new message comes in.  I check it only when I have time and feel like checking it.  I use the functions afforded to me in gmail that allow me to filter out unimportant or less important emails, so the only ones I read on my phone are important.  Lastly, I ONLY respond to the vitally important emails.  See Ed Cabellon’s helpful blog post on Achieving Inbox Zero for more helpful tips.
  • Set boundaries with students.  I used to have students call, text, and email me at all hours of the day.  I have worked hard to educate my students about the difference of something that would require a phone call or text and something that can wait for an email.  With this, I also set the expectation that emails would not be answered at all hours of the day, so if something is indeed important, to just pick up the phone.  This has been surprisingly helpful and students have respected it and communications with them have improved.
  • Work smarter, not harder.  Find simple ways to make your daily tasks easier, so that you can spend your time and energy on your students and larger, more important projects.
  • Get a life outside of work!  Find hobbies and make time for friends and family.  If you are a calendar fan and schedule every daily event like I do, putting dinner with friends, a concert, date night, etc. into your calendar will help you stick to it.
  • Think about becoming a pet owner.  Pet ownership is not for everyone.  For me, it has done wonders on improving my work-life balance.  Having a dog helps me stay active (via our daily walks), improves my overall stress relief, and sometimes gives me the much needed excuse to escape the office for a little while.  Besides, my students love when she comes to visit as it provides some stress relief for them

Our pup Sadie at her favorite place, the beach!

No one knows better than you, what will work best for you and what work-life balance looks and feels like for you.  I hope what I shared will be helpful.

What do you do to improve your work-life balance?

Have You Thanked a Student Lately?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, many folks have been posting, on various platforms, all the things for which they are thankful.  Some of them post weekly, and some even daily.  I have decided to focus what I am thankful for most on this single post.

Of course, I am thankful for many things; my beautiful wife (of just over a month), my loving puppy that brings us much joy, a supportive and warm family, dedicated friends, motivated colleagues, good health, financial stability and much more.  However, this post is meant for those for whom I am thankful every day, but never really tell them; my students.

Most of us enter this field for its intrinsic benefits.  At our cores, we are helpers and are dedicated to student success and development and thrive off of their growth, celebrating their successes more emphatically than our own.  We make significant bonds with these students and often continue to keep in touch with them long after they graduate.

Many of us that supervise students spend hours, and several dollars, on student employee recognition programs.  We have awards, give out some fun items, and celebrate them in many formal ways.  How many of us, though, take the time to just say “thank you.”  I am talking beyond a “thank you for doing your job well,” or “thank you for helping out on this project.”  I am talking more about a simple thanks just for being who you are, for making me laugh, or making me proud.  Many of us would not be in this field, literally, if it were not for our students; our departments could not function fully without them.  Further, many of us would not be in this field if it were not for our direct, daily interaction with students.

My mentor sums it up best when we debrief with our Orientation Leaders after three long weeks of hard work and no sleep.  He genuinely thanks them for allowing him to come to work every day truly happy to be in his dream job.  I don’t think he means this in a literal sense with all of the administrative tasks he has to complete each day; but in a more holistic sense that his work is fulfilling, meaningful and focused on his students.

No matter how bad or busy my day may be, I can always count on at least one interaction with a student that rejuvenates me, challenges me, makes me smile, or reminds me why I do the work that I do.  My students fail to realize how impactful their smiles, hard work, jokes, and conversations with me are.

As I reflect on what I am thankful for and vow to express my gratitude to others more, I ask you this: Have you thanked a student lately?