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Tis The Season.

Tis The Season.

Ready or not, the holiday season is here. However, if your anything like me, you ensure Thanksgiving is given its due respect and fight the urge to put up your Christmas tree until that Friday! While I am a sucker for a good Hallmark movie and holiday tune, those pumpkins are staying out on my doorstep until Thanksgiving has passed.

While we enjoy the parties, food and family, this season can also leave us needing a vacation from our vacation! Lots of travel, family obligations, and making sure that we are not over indulging as New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner. In addition to this chaos, there is often a financial burden that comes with holiday gift giving and making sure that we purchase the latest electronics or Hatchimals.  If you don’t know what that is…trust me, you are better for it.

With all of these moving parts, it can be hard to concentrate on the work before us. The end of the term is wrapping up, our grades are due and in order to feel like we can comfortably walk away for a few days, the last-minute details of projects that we have been working on, must get done. While we understand that this time of year can be stressful for ourselves and colleagues, it is important to remember, it can also be overwhelming for the students we serve.

For many of them, the holiday season means picking up a few shifts or working doubles to make sure they can provide for their families while continuing to try and keep up with their school work. Winter weather, health, and finances, just to name a few can suddenly become huge boulders preventing our students from moving forward. If you ask any success coach, academic advisor or faculty member, over half of their job is talking with students about matters outside of the classroom. Life hits hard and fast for all of us, yet for many of our students, taking refuge in our offices, even just for a few moments can be the peace they need to finish strong.

These moments make the difference in our retention rates, and heck they are nice for us too. Whether we are sharing stories about crazy shopping trips or burnt turkeys, these conversations with our students allow them to connect with us beyond the classroom. Student success often depends so much more on these transformational exchanges then making sure everyone is registered on time. Now registering on time is critical, yet if we don’t understand life outside the classroom, we are very likely to struggle helping our students inside of it. Simply sharing our anxieties of how to manage our time and get our kiddos to every holiday concert, can help our students feel less alone and a part of a family outside of their own. Coaching our students to finish strong, not freak out and take one step at a time can not only serve as good reminders for us, but also frankly guide them to graduation.

So, cheers to the holidays, our students and the few extra cookies that are waiting for us in the break room.

Change is Hard but Culture Hurts

Change is Hard but Culture Hurts

It’s July. This month, along with BBQ’s and family trips, can often be a great time for college and university administrators to reflect, regroup and implement changes within campus structures. When addressing the implementation of changes, countless books, webinars and strategies have been developed to help ensure success. While the suggestions leading to success can be different, one thing we do know is change is hard and without a unified effort, any implementation will be sure to fail. While change management is important, one piece that can often be ignored is the campus culture leading up to it.

When thinking about change management, it is critical that college and university administrators remain cognizant of the various intricacies and consider every possible stake holder in their action research. However, even when implementing the smallest of processes, if the campus culture leading up to the transition isn’t healthy, any measure of change management will be very difficult to maintain.

Changing campus culture can hurt. Maintaining a healthy student-centered college or university can bring about challenges. It requires sacrifice, a strong sense of humility and an active presence with faculty and staff.  Consider this… when trying a new work-out or exercise routine, maybe even coming back to one that you had mastered a few years prior, it can leave you a bit sore. What seemed great at first now feels like a self-inflicted wound that simply won’t heal.  Mid-workout thoughts of “Why am I doing this?” or “Am I really paying money to feel like this?” scream through our minds as we count down the minutes until the workout is complete. Change is hard. In an effort to change your current situation, you merely exercise and while it sounds simple, because we all appreciate when A + B = C, there are factors surrounding this simple equation that can muddy the waters.

Now take this into account. What is the culture of your current living situation? Do your family members actively exercise? Is it relatively normal for you to eat out a few times a week but still choose the healthiest options on the menu? Do you work so much that finding the time to go to the gym or even for a walk seems impossible? Have you established a culture that would make it really difficult to ensure a successful change? Change is hard, but culture hurts!

When looking at culture from a campus perspective, this is also vital. From the onset of hiring a new success coach or faculty member, are we ensuring that this person is receptive to the college or university culture we are constructing? This also needs to be paired with a little (really – a lot) of self-reflection. Does our student success team feel like they have a voice? Do success coaches and faculty members feel ownership of our campus and their position? Are they being heard? This is where the “hurt” can really gain momentum. Change is great, tough, imperative and exciting.  Yet if we have not developed a campus culture that is strong enough to withstand the “hard” part of any change, inevitably we hurt student success and retention.

The tone of any campus culture starts with the institution’s administration. While it’s great when a simple equation works, higher education can be one big gray area. With this in mind, we can avoid the “hurt” if we establish a culture that can move through the “hard” part of any change. That is when we are sure to have a pathway to success.