There are very few more fulfilling times in student affairs than working directly with students and watching them have that milestone ah ha moment when they no longer need your guidance. My first professional job in student affairs was as an Assistant Director of Student Activities and serving as the advisor to a campus programming board. I had an incredible group of students who all embraced learning from each other, planning unique and creative events for the campus community, and who taught me more than I ever taught them…how to know when to let go.
During transition time between officers and through the first few events, they needed the most guidance. They were unsure, they were still learning how to have conversations with agents, how to develop marketing plans and day of show timelines, how to involve their committee members in the entire process and how to teach them what to do. As the year progressed, the same amazing thing happened that happened every year, they needed less and less guidance because they were becoming comfortable with their roles, their responsibilities and how to put it all together. They were becoming the teachers themselves to each other, always supporting each others programs, collaborating to make the events richer for the community, and even planning for who would be their own successors, training those students.
Still, I would pop in with a few tidbits of advice, helping to fill in small details that were forgotten or overlooked, giving guidance through issues as they arose. It feels good to be needed and respected as someone who helps in their personal development. This is the core of what student development theory is all about, helping students to grow.
Throughout my four years in this position, I was always looking to build upon each previous year by helping the students to be able to run the program themselves with the returning students becoming pseudo advisors themselves with the newer students. I distinctly remember the day it happened, the day when I knew I had accomplished everything I could as their advisor and it was time to move on. We were at our midnight breakfast and I was talking with the Assistant Director of the program board, checking to see if everything was in order for the program to being. As he was rattling off each item, he stopped and said, “Justin, we’ve got it all covered, go home and don’t worry about it.” This was the sign that I was no longer needed, and it felt great (it was also the sign I was probably driving them nuts and a way to get me out of their hair, but I’ll focus on the former part for my own conscience). To this day, I am still good friends with that former student, and he is extremely successful and is kind enough to remind me regularly how he owes so much of it to the lessons we learned together. Not all of our students share this with us as they move on, but when they do, there is nothing more rewarding.
Advising is not easy, but the first ingredient is a simply and devotional care for our students. That desire to help see them succeed on their own is our gift to them in their education. We may not teach in the classroom, but we are absolutely educators.
ACUI’s Student Learning core competency includes the skill set of Advising. The knowledge, skills, and abilities required for this competency include:
Understanding of individual and group counseling theories, techniques, and processes
Ability to develop effective advising relationships with students and staff
Ability to adapt advising techniques and styles to meet the needs of an individual or group
Ability to identify resources and materials to remain current in literature related to the profession
Ability to identify individual or group needs beyond the scope of one’s ability and identify additional or outside resources
The one common bond that we all share working in student affairs is our desire to work with students in one form or another. Many of us had been fortunate enough to learn just as much, if not more, from our students than we have taught them.
What have your students taught you that you will forever cherish?