In 1985, a Scottish rock band, Simple Minds, had the No. 1 song in the US after their song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was made popular in the film The Breakfast Club. After the COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of the world around us, that could be the new theme song for Student Affairs professionals. With all of the energy and focus required to help students navigate drastic changes in learning and living over several years, our team members faced the same challenges and burnout many others were experiencing at alarming rates. It will take years to recover from the loss of expertise in our field after the Great Resignation.
For Tallahassee Community College, 2020 was the year of the perfect storm. We had just developed a new comprehensive student services model called CARE (which stands for Connections, Academics, Resources, and Engagement) in the Fall of 2019 and were promoting it through messaging, programming, and supports. TCC CAREs became a common slogan and represented the work we were doing to build cohesiveness in the student experience and to close equity gaps. Then March of 2020 hit us all by surprise. Not only did we have to pivot to virtual and re-imagine every service and support, we were also in the midst of a conversion to a new student records system with a go-live date of May. By July, fall enrollment was at an all-time low.
Student Affairs staff were called back to campus to assist with enrollment efforts even though faculty and some others remained remote. The resulting morale issues highlighted several pain points:
- Gaps in staff development and technological skills were heightened;
- Personal stressors associated with the pandemic impacted the productivity of staff supporting student needs;
- Lack of consistency in onboarding staff caused new employees to really not understand our mission, vision, and direction; and
- An increased sense of employee dissatisfaction as to whether we “cared” about them like we said we cared about our students.
So, what did we do? In collaboration with our national Achieving the Dream Coaches, the Student Affairs division embarked upon a six-month journey consisting of focus groups with staff and leadership meetings to develop a Student Affairs Professional Development Framework and action plan. Initial deliverables included a comprehensive framework, a staff assessment tool, and a crosswalk to match the assessment responses to the appropriate training modules. The resulting strategies provided us the focus we needed to begin moving forward.
Those strategies included the following:
- An annual SA Professional Learning Day where all offices close and participate in a full day of learning and engagement;
- “Sizzling Summer Fun” activities with the most popular being our Fishbowl Fridays, where names are drawn each Friday morning allowing random staff the opportunity leave early at no expense to their time;
- Virtual training modules for new staff onboarding;
- Targeted professional development topic sessions throughout the year;
- Our first-ever professional learning academy, a four-week program that kicked off in spring 2022 and focused on topics such as cultural scripts, career exploration and advising focused on economic mobility, onboarding high impact practices, and collaboration between faculty and student affairs for student success; and
- A new Student Affairs Celebration Group to plan monthly activities to bring staff from all departments together for a themed activity.
However, one of the most meaningful things our team did was invest time developing value statements aligned to our vision that showcased what we can expect from each other. Why was this important? Because if we learned anything from 2020 it was that Peter Drucker was right, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” every single time!
Advancing Staff Experiences: What We Can Expect from Each Other
All members of Student Affairs will receive the necessary training to fulfill their job responsibilities and be afforded opportunities to engage in professional development throughout the year.
All members of Student Affairs deserve to be listened to and their voices acknowledged by others.
All members of Student Affairs should be afforded opportunities to provide feedback where at all feasible.
All members of Student Affairs will actively demonstrate gratitude and appreciation for what each person brings to the team.
All members of Student Affairs should expect to work in a professional environment characterized by the college values of respect, integrity, success, and engagement.
All members of Student Affairs commit to being a part of the solution to ensure we provide students the experiences that help them be successful.
As leaders, let us never forget that the people we work with each and every day are our most valuable resource for students. Take care of them so they can help us fulfill our mission!
Wishing us all a year of health, recovery, and finding joy in our purpose!
Sheri Rowland serves as the vice president for student affairs at Tallahassee Community College and is a member of the NASPA James E. Scott Academy Board.