Saturday, August 25, 2012

Writing Project Reactions - Entry #17

“Mr. Brown, you come over here so I can give you a big hug.”  This was the response by one of the children librarians to my note thanking her for all her years of service, primarily, during my children’s formative years.  My short, handwritten card had struck a very appreciative chord.  I was a little embarrassed, but gave her a well-deserved embrace.  It was at that moment I realized the power of the handwritten word.  A verbal thank you is gratefully acknowledged and an email or text is considered a nice gesture.  But a handwritten missive, especially one that recognizes service or accomplishments, can have such a powerful effect on an individual.  As John Kralik, the author of “365 Thank Yous” points out, “a handwritten note just feels like sincere gratitude.”  Maybe it’s the age we live in where everything is measured in 140 sterile characters, dulling the magnitude and potency of what we are trying to convey.  Or, simply, no one writes anymore so being on the receiving end of some type of correspondence is a cherished event.

Soon after writing a card to my son’s teacher I received a phone call from him.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t home but his voice quivered while he left a sincere and heartfelt voice mail.  As I listened to message I felt somewhat ashamed.  Through all my children’s schooling, from K-12, I never wrote a thank you note to any of their teachers (I’m sure my wife wrote a few).  Extrapolating on this realization I wondered how often parents write truly wholehearted or commendatory notes to their child’s secondary educators.  I’m not talking about the quick thank you attached to a year-end gift, but a card that requires time and thought and genuinely expresses one’s feelings and/or gratitude.

Librarians seem to greatly appreciate a kind word, especially in handwritten form.  In addition to the hug I received the Director of another local library emailed me a lovely response to the note I mailed to her.  I complemented her patient and helpful staff in regards to working with my son.  She read my notecard aloud at a staff meeting and “they all had such smiles on their faces!”  She went on to say the library hears from dissatisfied patrons concerning fines and complaints on other matters, but few notes like the one I sent.  As I reread her email I had a smile on my face.

Not all the responses I have received are of the thank you variety.  A colleague in Maine wrote a very nice card in response to my post about my golf fanaticism.  He talked about his love of flyfishing, a passion where skill and art merge.  Not only did I appreciate his notecard, but in just a few short paragraphs I learned a lot about the sport.  But the most interesting aspect of his correspondence was not within the card, but on the outside.  There was a reproduction of two men casting from a small boat (see picture).  It turns out, unbeknownst to him, an artist, Dave Tibbetts (also an avid flyfisherman), caught my colleague and his friend in action.  He was able to reproduce the painting for notecards.  I thought that was cool, neat, first-rate, keen, nifty, and swell all wrapped into one.

Today I mark my three month start date.  I continue to draw inspiration from Judge Kralik.  In a card he sent to me earlier this month he stated there will be down days in trying to complete this project, but not to be discouraged.    He wrote, “Life throws us fresh challenges all the time.  But in the end you will have experienced something special you would not have missed.”  Thus far, he is right on the money.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The UnConference - Entry #16

Earlier this month I attended the annual #satechBOS UnConference for student affairs administrators.  It was a very good conference for information and networking purposes.  More importantly, over the two days we met, a number of student affairs professionals, myself included, were able to come together and, by working totally in sync with each other, were able to create a resource that will benefit the student affairs profession.  My notecards went to a number of the individuals I worked with on this project.  More on this later.  First, let me explain more about the UnConference concept. According to it is “a participant-driven meeting…that tries to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as…sponsored presentations” or an organized agenda.  Held at Boston University, the broader purpose of the two-day meeting was to look at the impact of technology, primarily, within student affairs.  But, more specifically, the UnConference was designed so:

Participants will not only engage in peer-peer learning around topics they have chosen, but also will be asked to “create” something in those smaller groups through “creation stations.”  Participants will be asked to create, foster, or develop an idea that they can take back to their respective campuses and communities and use immediately.

After the opening keynote, the 100+ attendees split up into breakout areas with topics voted upon by the group.   I attended a session that was billed as “Professional Branding and Managing an Online Presence.”  I didn’t really know what to expect but, if my memory serves me correctly, the 20 or so people in our group started talking about how using social media can build an on-campus presence.  Allison Stinson from Merrimack College spoke about their Pic[ture] of the Day.  Students, Faculty and Staff can submit a photo with some relevance to the school.  One picture is chosen each day (and linked off the institution’s home page).  Allison stated this daily activity had driven traffic to their website and, more importantly, created a buzz on campus.  I thought it was a great idea and lamented there was no repository of social media ideas that individuals could tap into.  Heads began to nod and we all began to brainstorm such a site.  What about developing an administered blog?  A Website? 

After lunch we reconvened into our incubator setting, broke down into subgroups and continued to fine-tune the idea.  We came up with a name—satechSHARE—registered its domain and created a Twitter account.  The impressive aspect of our endeavor was how a gathering of total strangers were able to quickly come together, agree on a direction, and begin to implement it.  There was no grandstanding, no posturing, no glory-seeking.  It was all for one and one for all.  I had never encountered such a collective experience.  We were bees in a hive; ants in a colony with one sole purpose.

Fast forward—there is still work to be done for satechSHARE to become a viable tool for student affairs administrators.  We are hoping to have a finished product by the end of Fall 2012.  The notecards I sent to a number of the main contributors to this idea summarized our experience and expressed my joy of being part of such a collaborative group.  In my 30+ years in this field I have never been involved in such an intense, time constrained undertaking.  I think the saying is catching lightning in a bottle.  We surely did and I wanted to share my euphoria, my glee with these individuals. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hug Your IT - Entry #15

I have always had good relationships with IT staff.  Even though people on campus feel I can solve any technology problem I am always knocking at the IT office door pleading for assistance.  It can be something simple or more involved and complex, but no matter what situation I present to them I am always welcomed with a smile and a “let me take a look” attitude.  My most recent batch of notecards went to my campus’ IT threesome as well as a member of the somewhat imperceivable IT presence at the main Storrs Campus of the University.

Here is one of my patented terrible analogies—both times I have visited Paris the French have been very nice and accommodating.  They overlooked my pitiful language skills.  They were gracious.  They smiled.  My experiences were always positive.  The reasons—I wasn’t demanding, nor did I treat them as inferiors or with contempt or impatience.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  How many times have you been in a meeting or having a casual conversation with a colleague and as soon as the discussion turns to tech support an emptiness engulfs your space?  Nearby plants begin to wither.  Dogs begin to howl in the moonlight.  Think of the effect Dementors have on Harry Potter.  It’s almost an Olympic sport—the IT Dehumanization Clean and Jerk.  Why is this attitude so prevalent on our campuses (and probably in the corporate world as well)?  I’ve never figured that one out.  Maybe it’s a function of the frustrations we have with the ever-expanding technology in our work-day world.  “How do I mail merge this document?”  “I can’t open my flash drive!”  “I need this database up and running yesterday!!”  “The %#&!@ computer crashed…again!”  Technology, in all its faceless glory, has no identity except for the IT staff member with the big red target on their back.  All the irritation, annoyance and dissatisfaction now has somewhere to be redirected.  But we are talking about human beings with feelings and needs, people who want to be included as part of the team, not as an add-on contracted vendor.  I’ve always found IT personnel helpful and ready to assist.  My secret?  I don’t send off an arrogant or demanding email.  I use the telephone or my feet for an in-person visit.  I ask, nicely, for their assistance.   And, more times then not, voila, we are in sync and in business.

My notecards wanted to convey my thanks for all the assistance I have received during my time at the University.  Whether large, more involved projects or small, one-time fix-me-ups, my life as an administrator is that much easier because of the IT staff.  So, go out and hug an IT staff member today!  Tweet about it at @istudentaffairs.