#atozchallenge: scaredy squirrel


I was going to add Scaredy Squirrel to my recommended reading list but knew that the “S” post was coming up.

Scaredy Squirrel is a children’s book by Melanie Watt.  The message in the book is all about leaving your comfort zone in order to discover wonderful things – a fantastic message for post-secondary students.

I use Scaredy in staff training, as it’s a fun (and low risk) way to start an important conversation.  We’re often happy to stay in our safe environments, and continue to do only what we know.  Through Scaredy, we learn that there are wonderful opportunities beyond that safe environment that we would never find if we never left our comfort zone.  When a student enters college or university, they face a lot of unknowns.  There are a lot of new decisions to be made, people to get to know and experiences to be had.  Luckily, there are helpful people there to make that transition a little easier.   Upper year students play a huge role in helping to make the campus a welcome and inviting place.  Using Scaredy Squirrel with student leaders (during training) opens the door to that conversation.  I get them to think back to their first few days and what made it scary, but also what made them feel welcome.  That leads to the discussion on the impact they can have on new students.

It’s also a good reminder that all of our training techniques need not include a powerpoint presentation.

What fun training tools do you use with student leaders?


For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.



#atozchallenge: jazz hands & jingle bells

If we’re not willing to jump out of our comfort zones, how can we inspire others to? “Growing up” in residence life, there is very little that can embarrass me.  I’m the first to slap on my pink jingle bell bracelet (yes, this is an actual item that I own), do a pas de bourrée and end with an enthusiastic jazz hand routine – if it means creating excitement and showing others that it’s ok to put yourself on the line.

The thought of jazz hands and jingle bells may frighten a number of you, and that’s ok! We each have our own way of inspiring others to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new.  It might be sharing a courageous story one-on-one with a student, challenging a group to think differently about preconceived notions, or speaking out against  injustice.

These moments are so important.  Without them, we would not see the growth and development in students that so many of us list as our favourite part of being a student affairs professional.

How do you open the door for others to take risks in a safe environment? What are your “jazz hands” and “jingle bells”?  


jazz hands






For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.


#atozchallenge: impact

Impact is a popular word in student affairs.  We talk about the impact we have on students, the impact students have on their peers, and the impact being actively involved on campus has on a student’s GPA and retention to the institution.  What we often leave out of these conversations is the impact we have on each other – for better or for worse.

We frequently go out of our way to help and support students, but do not always do the same for our colleagues.  How we treat each other contributes to the culture on our campuses and in our departments.  It has a huge impact on workplace morale, job satisfaction and overall happiness.

I’m sure we can each name a number of colleagues, past or present, who are genuinely supportive, encouraging and have our best interests in mind.  I’m also certain that we can all list some who are not – some that seem to purposely make things more difficult.  It’s often said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors.  I imagine the same can be said for colleagues, especially if their behaviour is not addressed, or worse, condoned.

Conflict with colleagues is inevitable – and can be positive when it is healthy and constructive.  I enjoy a good debate with my colleagues.  I like it when my viewpoint is challenged (in a respectful way) and a productive conversation ensues.  What’s not ok? Personal attacks, vindictive behaviour and refusing to consider the greater good (yes folks, unfortunately this does exist in student affairs).

I encourage you to think about the role you play on your team and the impact you have on your colleagues.  Do you lift others up and contribute to their success?

For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.

#atozchallenge: homework is not just for high schoolers

In order to stay current in your field, you need to continuously do your homework.   Knowing what the hot topics and critical issues are will help to make you a more informed practitioner.  Whether you work in an environment that supports growth, development and learning or not, it is up to you to take the initiative and make a plan.  This might sound daunting, especially with an already full schedule and never ending to-do list, but it is possible to make this a priority.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Set aside 5-10 minutes a day to scroll through the latest news related to your field.

2. Block off time in your schedule and stick to it.  It’s similar to the “pay yourself first” idea – make your own development a priority.  What a great way to end your week on a Friday afternoon!

3. Use your “down” time.  If you commute by bus, train, ferry or subway, and have a mobile device, make the most of that time by doing your homework.

4.  Use social media for more than just social interactions.  Follow accounts that share relevant content, take part in facilitated conversations and pose questions to other professionals.

5. Share what you learn.  Write a book review blog post, share articles on Twitter or offer to host a lunch & learn session for your colleagues/department.


How do you stay on top of trends, hot topics and critical issues in your field?

For more information about the a to z challenge, click here.


turning the tables: how to be a good interviewer

Ann Marie’s recent post about hiring and the recruitment process in higher education got me thinking.  Many of us, regardless of position, conduct interviews – whether they are for student leadership positions, entry-level professional staff or senior administrators.

I didn’t realize that interview skills (of those on the interviewer side of the table) were not an innate quality, until I sat on a hiring panel with a former colleague.  His lack of interview skills made me wonder: “How do we learn to be good interviewers?”

I never received training on how to conduct interviews, so instead relied on all of my previous experiences with interview processes.  I thought about the things that various hiring panels did to make me feel comfortable (or uncomfortable) as a candidate, and let that help me to determine what was good, what was bad and what was downright ugly (I share a couple of those examples below).   As I moved into the profession, I also paid attention to how colleagues approached interviews, and picked up skills via osmosis (figuratively, of course).

Being a good interviewer requires a different skill set than an interviewee.  I’d like to share some tips for interviewers:

1. If you supervise staff who will be conducting interviews, tell them what you expect.   Provide examples or even do an interview run-through.  Ensure that all staff are aware of ethical hiring practices (what questions they can and cannot ask).

2. Greet the candidate with a smile and a firm handshake, then invite them to sit down.

3. Provide the candidate with water.

4. Have an “interview spiel” prepared and share it with each candidate.  I use this as a guideline:
– thank the candidate for joining you in the interview;
– introduce all members of the hiring panel (names and position titles);
– inform the candidate of how many questions they will be asked and the process for asking them (hiring panel will take turns asking, hiring manager will ask all of the questions, etc.);
– invite them to take a moment to think about their answers before responding if they need to;
– remind them to ask if they need a question clarified;
– let them know that you will be taking notes, so not to worry if you are not making a lot of eye contact;
– remind them of the length of the interview;
– let them know that they will have an opportunity to ask any questions they may have at the end of the interview;
– ask if they have any questions before you get started.

5. Be cognizant of your facial expressions and body language.  If a candidate says something that you disagree with, does your body language display your disparity?

6. Manage your time appropriately.  If you have back-to-back interviews, do your best to stay on track.  It is poor form to keep a candidate waiting for long period of time.  (I once waited over an hour for an interview because the previous candidate ran long).  It’s never a bad idea to build in some buffer time. 

7. Ensure that you have enough time reserved for the candidate to ask any questions they may have.

8. At the conclusion of the interview, inform the candidate of the next steps in the process and your intended time line.  Tell them how you will follow-up with them (email, telephone, etc.).

9. Thank the candidate for interviewing with you and ensure they know how to get back to their car/bus stop/etc.

10. Wait until the candidate has left the room and out of earshot before discussing their interview.  Also make sure that your next candidate is not right outside of the door so they can hear your discussion (I’ve been there – nothing more demoralizing than going into an interview having just heard how much the committee adored the previous candidate and intended on offering them the position).

What other tips do you have for interviewers? What do you do to ensure that each candidate feels valued and respected?

the art of expectations

Expectations.  We all have them.  We have expectations of ourselves, of others, of tangible and intangible things.  Expectations impact the work that we do on a daily basis.  Sometimes expectations encourage us to strive for excellence.  Other times, expectations leave us feeling inadequate and ashamed.

Before I unpack this, a definition of “expectations” is necessary.
According to Google, expectations (noun) can be defined as:
1. A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
2. A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

I recently attended the GLACUHO webinar; “Setting Expectations, Setting Up Success.”  The presenters focused on expectations for residence life student staff, but a lot of the content was applicable to many of the people (supervisors, colleagues, friends, spouses, etc.), and things, we have expectations of.   Not surprisingly, the take-away message was to generate dialogue when crafting expectations and to clearly communicate your expectations with those they apply to.

This webinar made me think.  How do we know when our expectations have been met? And how do we react to unmet expectations? I like to think that I am very clear in my professional expectations at work, but know that I can do more to communicate my expectations at home and in my personal life.

I often find myself asking: “Are my expectations too high?”  I have a tendency to work out the plans and details of events (vacations, birthdays, career moves, and so on) in my head and find that I’m often disappointed when reality does not match my expectations.  Being incredibly detail-oriented does not always serve me well in this regard.

I remember being in high school, and wanting to arrange a fantastic getaway for my group of friends over the Christmas break.  Everyone showed enthusiasm, and I took that as the “go-ahead” to start the planning process.  As an avid skier, Whistler, British Columbia seemed to be the perfect location for our fabulous getaway.  I ordered travel catalogues and researched accommodation options.  I looked into flights and other travel arrangements and presented my friends with a very detailed outline of our options.  Suddenly, plans fell apart.  No one would commit and in the end, we didn’t go anywhere.  I was obviously disappointed and felt that my hard work had gone unnoticed.

I can think back and conjure up a number of other examples similar to the one above.  Because I am so concerned with details and planning, I do not like surprises.  I assume that the surprise will not live up to my expectations, so why bother?  I often get caught in a catch-22 though.  I feel that I shouldn’t have to tell those that are nearest and dearest to me what I want, but then am disappointed if my expectations aren’t met.

When I think about this in a professional setting, it is absurd! I would never assume that  my staff could read my mind and intrinsically know what I expect of them.  Instead, I complete an expectations exercise with colourful post-it notes, where each person writes out their expectations of themselves, their colleagues and of me, their supervisor.  While I’m sure my husband would look at me strangely if I got out the post-it notes at home (then again, maybe not, he’s a student affairs professional too), I know that I need to be more clear about my expectations at home.  I strongly subscribe to the idea that I do not expect my staff to do anything that I myself am not willing to do.  I need to bring this into my personal life as well. This is something I am working on.

Expectations are a funny thing.  We all expect different things.  This is why it is crucial to discuss our expectations with others, both in a professional and personal setting.

How do you communicate your expectations of others? 

making the move off-campus – part two

Are you making the move off campus and are curious about additional expenses you may incur and tips for transitioning to life as a home owner? Read on…

Depending on the amount of furniture/belongings needed to be moved, you’ll want to contact a moving company.  Make sure you do this well in advance, especially if your closing/moving date is in peak season (May-September) or on a weekend or the 1st of a month.  The moving company will usually send someone out to the place you are moving out of to estimate how long the move will take and how much it will cost.  Prices range from $500-$5000, and go up from there if you are moving to a different province/country.  If you are moving for a job, ask your new supervisor if moving expenses are covered.

Additional expenses

1. Property taxes – depending on the city your home is located in, property taxes can be paid in instalments directly to the city, or incorporated into your mortgage.  Some cities require one way or the other, so make sure to ask your Financial Advisor about this.

2. Mortgage Insurance – your Financial Advisor will encourage you to take life and critical illness insurance on your mortgage.  This protects you (pays off the mortgage) in case of death or critical illness.  For a person under 30, the monthly fee for both life and critical illness insurance is roughly $50.  NOTE: you do not need to go with the insurance through your bank.  If you are with another company (State Farm, Sun Life, etc) ask your insurance agent what your options are.

3. Don’t forget about that CMHC insurance I mentioned in the previous post.  If your down payment is less than 20% of the purchase price, this insurance will be added to your mortgage total.

4. House Insurance – this is separate from your mortgage, life and critical illness insurance.  This is the insurance policy that will cover the cost of rebuilding your house in the case of major damage (i.e. a fire) or replacing the contents of your home in case of damage or theft.  This will run you about $100 a month. TIP:  If you have a home alarm, you get a discount on your house insurance!

5. Home alarm – your home may already have an alarm and you simply just have to take over the contract from the previous owner.  Otherwise, if you want to have one installed, this will be an added expense.  Most alarm companies charge an installation fee and a monthly monitoring fee.  These fees will vary from company to company and will depend on the level of service you require.  Some of the major home alarm companies in Ontario are: Alarm Force, ADT, Protectron and Chubb Security.

Tips on transitioning to life as a home-owner

– Before you move in you will want to contact the major service providers in your area to arrange for cable, phone, internet, water, gas, electricity, etc. to be hooked up.  If you’re unsure what companies you need to call, ask your Realtor for some help.  Keep in mind that a number of companies charge an installation fee and some require a deposit.  Plan to spend about $500 on these set-up incidentals.

– It’s not a bad idea to have Canada Post forward your mail to your new address while you get settled.  They offer this service for either 6 months (at a cost of $45) or 12 months (at a cost of $75).  Check out their website for more information.

– If this is your first time living off-campus, you will probably need to invest in a number of household items, including some big ticket items.  Ask yourself if you need the following and plan ahead in order to pay for them:

1. Appliances (fridge, stove, washer, dryer, etc)
2. A BBQ
3. Lawn & gardening equipment (lawnmower, weed whacker, gardening tools, etc)
4. A snow blower or shovel(s)
5. Paint & decorating supplies (here’s hoping you don’t have much 1970s wallpaper to remove!)
6. Furniture

– It’s a good idea to re-evaluate your budget after living in your home for at least a month.  At that point, you should have a rough idea of what your bill payments (cable, internet, utilities, etc) will be each month.  If your home is air conditioned and you use it in the summer, this will have an impact on your utility bill.  You’ll soon learn the rhythm of your house and what temperature is comfortable to you.  Even putting the AC up a couple of degrees can help to lower your bill.  This works for the winter too, but instead of putting your heat up a couple of degrees, you’d put it down.

– Also, now that you’re a home owner, it is a VERY good idea to set aside a set amount of savings each month for house repairs and maintenance.  If you’re not familiar with Murphy’s Law, as soon as you become a home owner, you will be! “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  If you plan for this, when your roof or basement leaks, or your washing machine conks out in the middle of a cycle, it won’t be such a big financial strain.  Your home inspection is a great starting point, but it won’t cover everything.  Basements are prone to leaking.  Foundations will have cracks in them.  Some experts say that a new home owner should anticipate spending 3% of the total cost of their house in the first year of home ownership.  For a $250,000 house, that’s $7500.  After the first year, a home owner will spend an average of 1% of the total cost of their house in a year (on the same $250,000 house that works out to $2500).  Remember, this is just an average.  Your actual cost may be more or less than this.

Overall, owning your own home is an incredible experience.  You’re building equity and get to tailor the home to your tastes.  You’ll never realize how much you loved shopping at Home Depot until you become a home owner! Congratulations, and enjoy this experience.

*Originally posted on the OACUHO blog.