Archive for the ‘Student Affairs’ category

Assessment Planning as Peer Review

July 7, 2014

When I first started my professional career, I never thought that assessment would end up playing such a major role.  I was never in the strong anti-assessment or pro-assessment communities.  I appreciated the importance of making sure the programs that I was leading (RA Training, Selection, RA Programming, etc.) all ensured that student learning was part of the process and that we were able to get feedback to improve these endeavors annually, but I wasn’t as concerned with how my non-Res. Life peers were conducting their assessment.

All of that changed in spring of 2011 when I was asked to sit on our newly created Student Affairs Assessment Committee.  Our VP charged the Associate Dean of Students with creating, revising, or updating all SA departmental mission statements and student learning outcomes.  This was a daunting task as each department was at a different stage with regards to their SLOs and mission statements.

Over the course of a year, we worked with each department and developed new mission statements and SLOs for each SA department.  Many departments retained aspects of their previous missions and SLOs, but these changes streamlined the division and aligned with revised SLOs for the Division of Student Affairs as a whole, as created by our VPSA.

With that done, the next two years were spent working with directors on finding ways to assess their ongoing programs and services both in terms of student learning as well as general satisfaction.  Again, this was a struggle, as some departments were resistant to assessment as a slightly nebulous term.  This phase of our project saw a divide in the departments that sought out the Student Affairs Assessment Committee and those that continued doing their own assessment projects and data collection.  With everyone gathering data that was deemed useful, we chose to not try and mandate any particular approach for assessment, and merely offered our assistance if any department needed help developing an appropriate measurement tool for a particular program or initiative. 

As we head into the fourth full year of the existence of the Student Affairs Assessment Committee, I’m excited for the changes that are coming.  With the support of our VPSA, it is our plan to have the Student Affairs Assessment Committee serve as a form of peer review for the assessment tools for each department, to ensure consistency and to act as a sounding board to offer ideas/input/suggestions to the department regarding their assessment plans.  With membership consisting of SA professionals from the Dean of Students Office, VPSA Office, Counseling Center, and Residential Life on the committee, almost all of whom hold terminal degrees in their field of expertise, I am hopeful that this will give each department the opportunity to gain feedback from a colleague not in their specialized field to help them refine and enhance their assessment measures so that they are able to be understood by students and are reliable tools that can be used to demonstrate both student learning and more general satisfaction.

With that said, I’m curious if anyone is using a peer review approach to assessment initiatives, and if so, what do yours look like!?  Feel free to comment below or tweet me @adamcasler 

Thanks for reading!


A Time to Fire?

February 26, 2013

I’ve been trying to find a way to write this post for almost a year. I’ve gone through several drafts and each time I keep coming back to the basic underlying question: “Is this necessary?” Each time, I’ve said yes, but have struggled with trying to put this diplomatically. I decided that their really isn’t a nice way to put this, so I’m just going to toss it out there: I believe that there is a time when terminating someone’s employment can be good for them, the department, and perhaps even the larger organization.

I don’t want to seem mean or callous in this post. Terminating someone is never a decision to be made lightly. However, I think there have been times in my career when I’ve seen employees, in particular RAs, become complacent (at best) in their work and in other cases become a hindrance to creating the type of community that we strive to create at my institution. So, what can and should be done about this?

Before you consider terminating someone, have you done or considered the following:
1.) Addressing poor performance directly with the employee in regular supervisory meetings and periodic evaluations. This step is critical as in many cases a struggling employee may simply need to be called out on his or her behavior and work with the supervisor to develop a plan of action for improvement. Sometimes a supervisor reaching out and asking “Is everything ok?” can make a world of difference.

2.) Examine the frequency and severity of poor performance issues. If this was a one-time mistake or even a second or third time issue on a minor part of the persons job responsibilities, it is possible that “mistakes happen” and can be learned from without further hurting the department.

3.) Keeping YOUR supervisor in the loop regarding the performance issues of the employee in question. It is important to thoroughly document all performance based feedback given to an employee and to share it with your supervisor in a timely matter so they are not caught off guard if termination needs to occur.

4.) Examine who else is being impacted by the employees poor performance. Is it you as supervisor? The employees colleagues? The employees direct reports? The residents (if student employee related)? If any or all of these groups have been hindered from completing their tasks as fellow employees, consideration of discipline or termination may be warranted.

If you’ve done all of these things and there are still problems with an employee that are unresolved, termination may become your only viable solution to a problem.

There are some in our field who will say that “We can promote growth in an employee by taking a more direct approach in our supervision” or other similar reasons. This COULD be true. However, I believe that there does come a point where a supervisor needs to ask “Am I spending more time dealing with this employees performance deficiencies than I should be?” A question that only you as a supervisor can answer

Termination can in and of itself be a learning experience. It might take years for someone to realize it but it can and does happen. Sometimes it’s as simple as the employee didn’t agree with or support the departmental mission or policies. Sometimes it’s an issue of being unable to perform the duties assigned to the position. There are more, I’m sure.

About a year ago, when I started to write this post I reviewed an email from a student employee that I had terminated from a position on campus almost five years previously. The email was short, but included a brief segment that set me on the path to writing this post. This person said “I was so angry at you after you fired me that I didn’t talk to you for the rest of my time at (inst. name removed). I couldn’t believe that you had taken away my job. But then, I realized that after I no longer worked in the department, I was really able to enjoy the rest of my time at (inst. name removed). It made me realize that the RA role wasn’t right for me. I thought it was and was mad when I lost it but I actually became happy again after I got my life as a regular student back.”

Not everyone has this reaction after being terminated, even five years later. However, I hold firm that in some cases, termination can be a learning experience for some people to help them clarify what they want out of their work environment and helps them to learn about their own areas for growth and development. This process has also taught me how to think critically about employment issues and how to best identity a solution to deficiencies that will best support the employee, myself, the department and the institution.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome! I would love to hear about your struggles and triumphs in this area.

Meeting Expectations

December 3, 2012

It’s that wonderful time of year in my job……evaluations!  I actually really enjoy sitting down to review what residents have written about my RAs and my own performance.  That probably makes me a little crazy, but I’ve always felt that almost any feedback is good feedback.

As much as I love evaluations, there is an aspect that I have grown to dread.  Each year, we have several student staff members who view their performance rating of “Meets Expectations” as indicative of negative performance in their job.

I’ve always found an evaluation to be a useful tool as it has helped me to examine the minutiae of my job responsibilities that I often times overlook or take as a given.  We require our RAs to complete a self-evaluation of their own performance as well and then submit it their RD to in turn complete their formal evaluation.  The evaluation has several categories that require RAs to rate their performance on a 4-tier scale: “Exceeds Expectations”, “Meets Expectations”, “Needs Improvement”, and “Unable to Judge.”  Naturally, the “Unable to Judge” option isn’t used by RAs about their own performance very often, which leaves a 3-tier scale.  Over the past couple of years, I have seen more and more self-evaluations with RAs rating their performance as “Exceeds Expectations” and then not providing any concrete examples in the written portion of the evaluation to justify such a rating (something we ask them to do).  As their supervisor, I fully admit I don’t always know everything my RAs are doing, however, the written portion is their opportunity to show me how they have gone above and beyond the job requirements.  When they don’t do this, and I have no other information about the issue, most likely they will get a “Meets Expectations” for that response in my evaluation.

My concern is that over the past five years I have had several RAs react VERY negatively to receiving a “Meets Expectations” as their overall performance rating.  We coach our RAs on the evaluation process before distributing the evaluation documents in an attempt to outline the process.  In this meeting, I have always made it clear (in my mind) that “Most RAs are going to receive a “Meets Expectations” in all areas of their job performance.  This is a GOOD thing, as it means you are doing the job that you were hired to do.”  My overview of the eval process continues for a while longer explaining that the written portions of the evaluation are the prime time to qualify why an RA gave themselves a “Needs Improvement” or an “Exceeds Expectations.”

My question is this: has anyone else observed something similar to “Meets Expectations” being viewed as a negative appraisal of performance?  In my mind, this is an affirmation that you are doing the job, and there have been no issues that have risen to the level of questioning one’s job performance.  While ratings of “Exceeds Expectations” are rare for me, I feel those should be reserved for the truly exceptional performance of an RA in a given category (programming, community building, helping skills/role modeling, behavior management, administrative tasks, etc).

Do others experience similar sentiments from your students?  If so, any creative ideas on how to better educate them about how to critically review their own performance?

The Value of Vacation & Time to Recharge

June 27, 2012

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s in part because there’s not a whole heck of a lot new.  That’s both a blessing and a curse in some respects.  However, recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a 12-day road trip with one of my closest friends.  This was to be my first vacation in the 4 years I’ve been at Siena, and my friend Jen’s first true vacation in at least that long.  In the past, the occasional long weekend was about as exciting as things got, which was usually enough to get away to Boston, New York, or other locations to relax and get away from Albany.

As the departure date grew close, I was nervous about leaving work for such a long period of time.  I’d be away from the office for eight days.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of falling behind, as in truth, this summer has given me considerable amounts of time to be ahead of my timeline for almost every project.  It wasn’t because I was worried about things going to hell in a handcart, as I’m fortunate to work in a great office with 5 (soon to be 6 again) RDs who truly are rockstars.  It wasn’t even the prospect of spending 12 days in a car with someone (all of our friends thought we were crazy and we’d come back hating each other).  Fortunately, that didn’t happen, although we did get a little crazy at points.

It was the simple question “What does one DO on vacation?” that had me perplexed.  I’ve always been someone who doesn’t view my job as “work.”  Simply put, I love doing what I do, and I just happen to be lucky enough to be compensated for it.  The craziness associated with the hours of a live-in staff member has never really bothered me.  In fact, I’m bizarre in that I actually ENJOY it.  Needless to say, the prospect of a vacation and not quite knowing what to do was making me nervous.

As our vacation unfolded and with stops in Charlotte, NC; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Gambier, OH; Madison, WI; and Milwaukee, WI, I began to learn the importance of this nebulous term “vacation.”  Being able to have no set agenda and make plan to do things completely based on my own preferences was liberating.  Whether going to the beach and reading a book (SC), touring the Newseum (DC), or taking a bike ride around Lake Mendota (WI), I had the ability to do things that I enjoy but without the attachment of “work” as a label.

So, why write about this?  I wonder what I would have done had I taken real vacations earlier in my career.  Granted, not every trip needs to be an adventure like the one I just returned from, but even taking a week and going to one place is enough to get away and recharge.  Would my approach to my work have been any different in those early years?  In some respects, I would say yes, especially where it relates to encouraging others to take time for themselves.  I’ve never pushed people to take time off, as there is never a shortage of work to be done on a college/university campus, however, coming back to work after a week off had me refocused, reenergized, and ready to dive into my remaining summer projects.

To everyone, regardless of position, take a vacation!  Take a “staycation.”  Do something to get you out of the office and time to recharge.
What have YOU done for time to recharge?  Share it with me in the comments or via twitter @adamcasler

#OneWord2012 Updates

March 26, 2012

Wow!  It’s been two months since I blogged last.  Really need to step it up and get back on the bandwagon.  The easy response is to say that “work was busy” however, I came up with my “OneWord” for 2012 to help me stop using that excuse.

Back in January when I chose focus as my word for 2012, I felt that this was needed to help bring me to a more balanced idea of self and values.  Fortunately, almost three full months into 2012, I think that the choice of focus really is helping me grow as a friend, student, and SA professional.

In terms of my personal life, I have made it a commitment to try to reconnect with friends and not let months go by without returning phone calls or e-mails.  This has led to some great conversations with my best friends, and stepping up and even visiting my friend John, who lives in Boston, twice already this year.  While it might not seem like a big deal, trust me, for me, this was huge, as John can attest to!  I know talk to friends on the phone much more regularly, and despite my continued hatred of talking on the phone, it is good to reengage with people who are so important to me.  I also have been trying to make new friendships as well.  Twitter has been a saving grace with this, as I’ve had the opportunity to gain a new mentor, Torry Bruce (University of the Pacific) and two new friends, Austin Arias and Will Kauff, all three of whom I have truly enjoyed getting to know and am excited to continue these new friendships.  I also had the opportunity to FINALLY connect “in real life” to two additional wonderful mentors, Cindy Kane & Beth Moriarty (both members of the Bridgewater State University community) at a conference at BU back in February.  On a side-bar, I’m finding that these smaller day-conferences or “drive-ins” are actually (to me) much more beneficial than large conferences, as smaller conferences have a specific focus and it’s usually pretty clear what you’re signing up for.  At the national conferences, it’s hard to focus in on issues with a group of people, as everyone is constantly rushing to another session, doing interviews for positions, or catching up with colleagues from across the country.  I’m hopeful that smaller conferences like he BU Confab continue to happen!

At work, I haven’t made quite the progress that I would have liked.  With the chaos of RA Selection, I haven’t devoted as much time as I would have liked to for reconnecting with my residents.  I have been doing some more walk-throughs of the building and impromptu drop-bys, but my goal of making it to more programs hasn’t panned out the way I’d hoped.  With my co-workers, I have been so happy with how they have all pitched in for our big spring operations including RA Selection, Housing Selection, and our committee work (First Year Experience, Second Year Experience, etc).  I feel like we have become an extremely close-knit team and as a result, our productivity is letting us get a jump start on some bigger picture things that we normally would have waited until the summer (if ever!) to begin.

All in all, 2012 is starting off as a great year!  I’m excited to see what else it brings!

How are you doing with your #oneword2012??  Feel free to share your progress with me!  I’d love to hear about it.

That Wonderful Time of the Year – Staff Selection!

January 23, 2012

I love the spring semester in Student Affairs.  Some of you are probably looking at me with eyes about ready to pop out of your head thinking “Is he crazy?” or “My God, he’s finally lost it” but let me explain why.  Despite how chaotic spring semester is in SA, it is also a time where our organizations get some new life.  New SGA officers are assuming their new responsibilities and are bringing new issues to the table for debate and discussion.  New programming board officers are (hopefully) saying “Why CAN’T we try this new program?”  And, in my office, we are gearing up for RA and (possibly) RD Selection.

There is something reinvigorating about starting to plan for the next academic year.  Seeing so many new candidates exploring ways to become involved on campus and further develop their leadership opportunities is extremely reaffirming to me, especially as an ever-growing part of my role is dealing with student conduct issues and a small group of students who continuously fail to recognize the impacts that their actions have on themselves and their fellow students.

This year is a year of significant student staff turnover for us, as we are losing more than 30 of our 61 RAs.  The Class of 2012 saw some phenomenal student leaders serving as RAs and the leadership void they will leave will be significant, but NOT insurmountable.  Having the conversations with rising juniors and seniors has helped to identify those staff members who are ready for the next step and can become next year’s RA leaders.  I’m curious to hear some responses to some general questions regarding students stepping up to new leadership opportunities.

How do you coach rising juniors and seniors to fill the leadership “gap” left by graduating and non-returning students?

What are creative ways to reach out to untapped populations of students who are still looking to make their mark at the college/university?

What programs/trainings do you offer to ensure that applicants are well-versed in the expectations of your leadership positions?

Despite my level of enthusiasm for the spring semester, there is one area that always makes me cringe: e-mail etiquette.  Despite all of our best efforts in my office to identify potential RA candidates (RA and RD nominations of candidates, soliciting faculty and staff for names of outstanding students, attending student club and organization meetings, and word of mouth), we still rely heavily on self-nominations from students who see a campus-wide e-mail from me or their RD and decide to apply.

Given that our entire process is done electronically through BlackBoard (application, submission of resume/cover letter, reference forms, etc), candidates need to be enrolled in our Selection course, which means an e-mail to me asking to be enrolled.  Now, I want to put a disclaimer that I do not expect to receive a multiple paragraph e-mail for a simple request to be enrolled in our online selection course.  However, I do believe that there are some simple rules that can and should be followed by students who are drafting professional correspondence that is their first formal introduction to a hiring manager.  Receiving more than 10 e-mails with some variation of “hey, i saw ur e-mail about being an RA and want to apply.  how do i do it?” is, in my opinion, an open invitation for a “teachable” moment with my students about e-mail etiquette.  Fortunately, my saving grace for all things etiquette, Emily Post online features some simple and straightforward tips for e-mail etiquette:

1.) Your subject line is your first impression.

Be sure to include an informative and poignant subject line. Never send an e-mail with “no subject” in the subject line.

2.) Salutations, closing, and signature blocks.

While there is no doubt that e-mail is more informal than a typed letter, salutations and closings are still important. When composing e-mail to senior management always use a more formal greeting. When in doubt, defer to the formal. For example, use Mr. or Ms., hello versus hi, or Elizabeth versus Liz. When communicating with senior management you should also end the e-mail with a formal sign-off as well.

3.) Grammar and word choice matter.

While spell-check is a great tool, always read your e-mails over once or twice for grammar, spelling and word choice. E-mail is not an excuse for misspellings, grammatical errors, or punctual mistakes.

4.) Be conscious of your voice.

Be aware of usage of all caps, emoticons, and text message abbreviation. Using all capital letters tends to convey to the reader that you are shouting at them and tends to be harder to read. Also be aware that in the absence of facial expressions or tone of voice, interpretation defaults to the negative.


How are we teaching our students to be effective communicators through their written correspondence with faculty, staff, and administrators?

Does anyone have any useful tools or tips that they have had success with in teaching students about appropriate e-communications?

Please send me your thoughts/ideas either through the comments section or through twitter @adamcasler.  Thanks for reading!

Assessing Skill Development in Student Affairs

December 2, 2011

This morning, I read a quick news bullet on Inside Higher Ed noting that President Obama has invited the presidents of several colleges and universities to the White House for a discussion on “affordability and productivity in higher education.”  While I wholeheartedly agree that the affordability of higher education is an issue that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible (but won’t be covered in my blog today), the addition of the word productivity caused me to pause.  There has been a push in recent years to make higher education “more accountable” to the public, and one of those means has been to increase assessment and demonstrate that the work we do in higher education has value and contributes to the holistic development of our students.

In student affairs, we have, in the past, been slow to jump on this bandwagon.  However, in an era of shrinking budgets, political maneuvering for scarce resources and the need to maintain and grow programs that we know are having impacts, assessment has become a core value of many student affairs divisions and departments.  The larger problem with assessment is that our current efforts to assess student learning, co-curricular programs and other initiatives are failing to assess what businesses and employers are looking for in their perspective employee base.

Forbes annually publishes a list of skills/traits that employers have rated as the most important skills for new employees.  The most recent list includes the following seven skills:

1.)    Communication Skills – the ability to listen, empathize, and respond to others.

2.)    Creativity – The ability to easily adapt and adjust to multiple roles and projects in the workplace

3.)    Curiosity and Engagement – Employees who will ask “Why?” and “How?” questions and will look at processes, operations, and systems critically and offer suggestions for improvement

4.)    Writing Ability – Regardless of whether sending e-mails, memos, proposals, reports, or even texts, you are still engaged in professional correspondence which should reflect clear thinking.

5.)    Teamwork – Being able to build a team, establish common goals and responsibilities, and most importantly, address conflicts fairly, quickly, and directly.

6.)    Re-engineering Skills – Being willing to learn new skills on the job and take on new tasks and projects not normally under your area of responsibility.

7.)    Computer Skills – The ability to utilize hardware and software to augment your productivity.

As a graduate of a small, private, liberal arts college, I am proud to say that most of these skills were taught not only by my faculty members and academic program where I was required to take a variety of courses outside of my major (history), but also by my mentors and advisors in the division of student life.  Student affairs professionals are vital players in ensuring that we are equipping our students with many of these “soft” and “hard” skills so they can be successful in ANY career field, as all of the above mentioned skills/traits are the type of transferable skills that every employer wants their employees to possess in one way, shape, or form.

I know that at my current institution, we have had trouble articulating and measuring ways in which we help students learn these skills, so I am curious how colleagues at other institutions have incorporated assessing these variables into their overall assessment plans.  Any help or advice is, as always, greatly appreciated!