Resiliency, Disappointment, and Expectations: Helping Your Students Move Past it All

This week the topic of the Academic Advising Chat on Twitter was Resiliency, with a capital ‘R.’

Is resiliency fluid, or something you can only strengthen over time? Can you get it back if you feel like you’ve lost it? Merriam Webster defines resilience as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.”

So, resiliency is something that you cannot simply possess. It’s not divine right. You have to learn to be resilient. Fair enough.

At this point in my life, I would call myself resilient. I would also call myself determined, creative, persistent, and innovative. And how did I get to be this way? Failing spectacularly, over and over again.

Amount of work is the same

Every time something doesn’t work out, there are two choices.

  1. Self Pity
  2. Deal with it

Walking through door number one can be extremely appealing. You know. Putting on comfy sweat pants, turning on Netflix, pouting, and putting that emergency Ben & Jerry’s to good use. Maybe there are tears, maybe there’s a feeling of emptiness. It’s like becoming a lump of immovable sadness.

Choosing door number two is a completely different experience. This guy embodies it perfectly.

What’s he doing? He’s making the best out of a situation that most of us would find infuriating. But it’s not so cut and dry. Not quite.

Disappointment is deeply intertwined with failure and/or rejection, and resilience. To borrow from this article from Psychology Today, “Disappointment comes with finality–the recognition that you don’t have, didn’t get, or will never achieve whatever it is that you wanted… Perhaps the way in which to foster resilience is to construct realistic appraisals of what you need, avoid idealizing what could be, and come to terms with what you have.”

You’re wonderful, and that’s not disputable.

We’ve come to expectations. Oh, expectations. You’re funny little things. Expectations can make or break an experience. It’s a fine line to tread, staying hopeful and trying to envision what could go right, but not dreaming too big in case things don’t work out. You have to keep expectations for things at an arm’s length. You’re wonderful, and that’s not disputable. Things don’t always work out and you need to be mentally prepared for that experience should it come about.

This is something that’s incredibly relevant in the field of academic advising, since there are tons of students dealing with their own resilience, disappointment, and expectations every day. Maybe they didn’t get into their major of choice; maybe they’re bombing their first major courses; maybe they’re struggling to balance their job and school; maybe their family doesn’t approve of their choices… There are innumerable things that will challenge our students’ sense of resiliency each and every day, and the more familiar we are with our own resiliency and how it feels to fail, the better we can serve them. Advising is teaching, after all!

What experiences have helped shape your sense of resilience? How can you, or do you, use those experiences to  in order to help your advisees get past a setback? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or mention me on @Twitter!

Resiliency, Disappointment, and Expectations- Helping Your Students Move Past it All - JSeeksJoy.com

 

My Explanatory Style, Well, Explained

I don’t know where to begin this post exactly, as I don’t know when exactly I became a pessimist. But I can’t remember a time when my glass wasn’t ‘half-empty.’ I used to find the metaphor immensely offensive, as I didn’t understand how anyone’s glass could be ‘half-full’. And what, pray tell, was so exactly wrong with my point of view? *Snark snark snark* So, I spent a vast majority of my 22 first years of life as a pessimist. When things weren’t going my way, it was really easy to talk myself into giving up, thinking things were my fault somehow, and thinking that things wouldn’t get better for me. Being a pessimist is really emotionally exhausting. And really discouraging. Imagine being hard on yourself for every awkward encounter, mistake, bad grade, and missed opportunity.

Optimists used to annoy me. What were they so happy about, anyway? How could they be so chipper; so resilient? How did they just bounce back from failure; rejection?

Things started to click into the summer of 2012. I started the academic advising master’s program with Kansas State and started to realize that if I was going to be a successful advisor I was going to need a major attitude adjustment. How on earth could I help someone else persist, set goals, and stay positive when I didn’t really believe in myself? Once I initially had the hunch that turning my attitude around would help me professionally, I left the thought to marinate in my brain.

In May 2013, I checked out a library book entitled Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman. The book’s description boasts the following:

Known as the father of the new science of positive psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it. Offering many simple techniques, Dr. Seligman explains how to break an “I—give-up” habit, develop a more constructive explanatory style for interpreting your behavior, and experience the benefits of a more positive interior dialogue. These skills can help break up depression, boost your immune system, better develop your potential, and make you happier.. With generous additional advice on how to encourage optimistic behavior at school, at work and in children, Learned Optimism is both profound and practical–and valuable for every phase of life.

I was sold after reading the book jacket. Something everyone may not know about me: I spent the first year of college with crippling anxiety and depression. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what it was. It was avoiding social interactions, avoiding raising my hand in class, avoiding drawing any attention to myself, sleeping a lot, going home almost every weekend, and not really enjoying myself, or anything for that matter. I finally started seeing a therapist on campus the next year and learned to manage my anxiety, which helped with the depression. Mastering my anxiety taught me how to be introspective, and to be open minded about myself and my problems. So reading Learned Optimism was like therapy 2.0 minus the therapist. The book contained helpful inventories that helped me better understand my explanatory style, which is fancy psych language for pessimistic or optimistic. Seligman breaks down explanatory style into multiple parts, rather than just “one or the other” and it was fascinating, because it was all so spot on for me.

After I finished reading the book in May 2013 I was determined to work on thinking less pessimistic-ly. It’s challenging to change 20+ years of thinking one way, but it is possible. I’ve learned to counter my pessimistic thoughts with more realistic thoughts, and I’ve learned to stop being so hard on myself for things I felt weren’t going well. As cliche as it sounds, becoming optimistic has changed my life.

My Ideal Advising Office

  • LGBT ally signage. This is an important one for me. I’ll definitely work to officially become an LGBT ally and I want all of my students to know that my office is a safe place to talk.
  • ADA compliance. There should be enough room for a student in a wheelchair to enter into my office, turn around etc. and feel welcome and comfortable.
  • A door. Okay, this is seeming really basic, but privacy is pretty integral for effective advising.
  • A window. While we’re on the basic thing… I know a lot of offices in higher ed don’t have windows and natural light definitely helps me feel less boxed in and more productive!
  • Plants. They always make a place feel more lived in and personal!
  • No fluorescent lights. I hate them. Hate is actually an understatement. They often make the best of us look tired and washed out. I would gladly bring my own lamps (with energy efficient bulbs, of course) to give it a warmer feel.
  • A comfortable chair for my advisees. This would be something else I’d bring in myself. I always see these really cute chairs in TJMaxx and would LOVE to look at one of them every day.
  • A coat rack/hooks. Not only for myself, but for my advisees.
  • Quotes! I call myself a crazy quote lady. I love quotes. Inspirational quotes are my jam. Seriously. Check out my You Got This Pinterest board. Over 450 things to ponder there. I’d ideally have a bulletin board dedicated to just quotes in pretty scripts accompanied by nice artwork.
  • Books. I have a ton of academic advising books from grad school that I’d love to have on display and out for reference.
  • A bowl of candy. Not for me, but for my students. I learned at a conference at Penn State that having a piece of candy helps decision making. Science!
  • Music. I have a very high musical intelligence, meaning I always have music on, a song stuck in my head, and an aptitude for pitch and rhythm. I have a John Williams Pandora station (think Star Wars, Harry Potter) and it’s pretty great background music for getting some planning, thinking, and/or working done.

My Academic Advising Philosophy

Building a relationship with advisees based on trust and confidentiality (not including the knowledge of information that could result in the harm of the student or someone else) is most important to the success of the advisor advisee relationship. Meeting with a student and developmentally focusing on getting to know them, what they’re like, where they come from and what makes them tick; that mostly one way conversation is important to gaining the advisee’s trust. I, as their advisor will theoretically have an easier time working with them, understanding them, and helping them in the most effective way possible. This also gives the student the confidence to come to me, their advisor, with anything at all whether it’s personal, or academic.

Student-centered advising coupled with developmental advising, with just a hint of prescriptive advising (when necessary) is the perfect combination for advising. Although this will differ from student to student, in general, this combination stands out. Developmental advising focuses on building a student’s “rational processes, environmental and interpersonal interactions, behavioral awareness, and problem-solving, decision-making, and evaluation skills” (Crookston, 1994). Developmental advising helps the student learn things about themselves, in order for them to grow and flourish at college, in order to choose a fitting major and career. Similarly, in student centered advising the advisor acts as a mentor, with a relationship built on trust. The advisor demonstrates “knowledge of learner development models and formal and informal curricula, together used in establishing syllabi to guide development of individual learners” (Melander, 2002). In the past, prescriptive advising was thought to be too reliant on the authority of the advisor, who bears the responsibility by simply answering questions and sending the student on their way (Crookston, 1994). Using purely prescriptive practices as an advisor could potentially be disastrous. Combining prescriptive advising with a developmental, student-centered approach provides advisees with the perfect mix of general information and self-exploration. Students are given the opportunity to learn about themselves in a safe environment with the guidance of a trusted confidant.

Prescriptive advising necessitates the mention of responsibility, and it’s very important for both the student and advisor to know what they’re responsible for. While an advisor is there to know the curriculum, programs, requirements, prerequisites and other general information about an institution of higher education, the student isn’t just a passive part of the advising process. This is where an advising syllabus is a key tool for advisors to use to clarify who’s responsible for what. This gives the advisor the opportunity to lay it out from the beginning by using the advising syllabus to “reach an agreement on who takes the initiative, who takes responsibility, who supplies knowledge and skill and how they are obtained and applied” (Crookston, 2004). This will vary depending on the institution and the type of student being advised, but no matter what the situation, the syllabus will greatly help determine who’s responsible for what, so the advisor doesn’t feel wholly responsible for the student’s success at the institution.

There are several different ways to look at a student. There’s age, enrollment status (full or part time, online or on campus, transfer students, swirling students), residence (on campus, off campus, commuter students), gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnic group, international students and students with disabilities (Kennedy & Ishler, 2008), to name the most broad demographics. While each demographic group presents what seem to be clear-cut characteristics and ways they prefer to be treated, one demographic does not define a person. Two students may look the same on paper, but it’s highly likely that these students are very different in actuality. If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout my travels in life and through obtaining my master’s degree, it’s that you cannot pigeonhole people. It isn’t fair to them, and it doesn’t give you a chance to get to know them for who they are. I treat everyone as an individual first, and take into account their demographic information as it becomes relevant in my time spent getting to know them.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about advising is that you must treat everyone equitably, not equally. The chapter on ethics in the Academic Advising Handbook dictates that one of the basic ideals of ethics in general is to “treat all individuals fairly or equitably, granting no one any special rights or privileges that are not open to all. ‘Equitably’ does not have to mean ‘the same’; it just means that differences must not create inequalities, and should have a defensible basis” (Lowenstein, 2008). All students are entitled to advising, and although different students have different needs, advisors must treat every student with the same level of respect and effort. For so much of my life it’s been drilled into my head that everything must be fair and equal, and it’s refreshing to think that every situation isn’t cut and dry, and you don’t have to do the same thing for every student with the same problem, so long as you treat them all equitably.

The one thing I want my advisees to take away from their advising experience with me is the feeling that they are never in this alone; that they have someone trustworthy enough to turn to when things get tough or confusing in any respect. Maintaining relationships with people you don’t see regularly can be difficult, but by personalizing the advising experience for the advisee, listening to them, letting them know I care and that I’m invested in their future will help the advisee feel that they’re not alone in the often overwhelming realm of higher education. I’ve been there myself, so I know what I would have wanted as student in the masses of an institution.

In the end, it’s important to constantly evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. What works today might not work next month, and what works with one student may fail miserably with the next. By taking the time to build solid relationships with advisees, using developmental, student-centered and prescriptive advising together in a well-blended technique, assigning responsibility at the beginning of the relationship through an advising syllabus, remembering not to pigeonhole students, treating students equitably but not necessarily equally, and striving to make a difference in the lives of my advisees, my philosophy of academic advising is well grounded in theory, perspective and experience.

References

Crookson, B.B. (1994). A Developmental View of Academic Advising as TeachingNACADA Journal, 14(2), 5- 9.

Fielstein, L. L. (1994). Developmental versus prescriptive advising: Must it be one or the other? NACADA Journal, 14 (2), 76-79.

Kennedy, K., & Ishler, J. C. (2008). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. (2nd ed., pp. 123-141). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lowenstein, M. (2008). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. (2nd ed., pp. 36-49). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Melander, E. R. (2002). The meaning of “student centered” advising: Challenges to the advising learning community.The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. http://www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/021127em.htm

My Academic Advising Philosophy - JSeeksJoy.com