NACA BLOG - A Recipe for Advising in a Pandemic - 5/5/2020
NACA Board and executive director

May 5, 2020
Natty Burfield and Jenn Labbance
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 

During this pandemic, student activities advisors are faced with new challenges and ways to impact and support students. With our new reality of teleworking and virtual learning, student activities professionals need to cook up a new way to advise our students remotely. Finding the right recipe to help our students succeed in this current reality is the first step in guiding our students back into programming.

Your Ingredients

We advisors need to assess what ingredients we are working with that our students are now bringing to the table. Most importantly, this physical divide has caused us to be more dependent on technology to perform our everyday tasks. Helping students understand they can work through conference call difficulties, being patient when five group members are speaking at once, and finding the rhythm of embracing the silence are important steps when working with these ingredients. Just as the room temperature needs to be ideal for dough to rise, we need to remember our students' lives outside of our meetings and events are impacting how they interact with us. Moving beyond technical issues can only further improve your relationship with your students.

Substituting the Eggs

Changing up the ingredients of your advising style is necessary now. Getting two thirds into a recipe and realizing you’re out of eggs is not the end of the world. As the advisor, you open the fridge, find a jar of applesauce, and move on. Making it to Spring Break and finding out you can no longer share your advisor/president meetings in person must not be the end of your cooking session. We must stay malleable when advising our students and figure out how best to work together. Talk to them. How do they need to be supported by you at this moment? How do they stay motivated? In what ways are you holding them accountable? You may find that what worked in person no longer has the same effect. Part of your role as “head baker” is to help your “sous chef” develop new routines at home, routines that will help them be successful and to improvise ingredients as needed, too.

It Might Not Be Pretty, But It Tastes Good!

As we are helping our students move through programming challenges, we also need to help them realize that even if the final product does not look pretty, it can still taste good! Redefining what qualifies as a successful event, clarifying what the group wants (or needs) to accomplish, and creating steps on how to accomplish it can help students create a final product. As they are working through those aspects, advisors are responsible for helping them celebrate their small and large victories. They ran the event. Was it the grand event they had originally planned? Maybe not. Was it successful in other ways? Then, it was a success. Helping your students to look for the small victories is impactful and important.

Clean Plate Club

In the end, we will create our new normal. Students will return to campus and your clubs will shift to new, delicious creations. In the meantime, enjoy eating your cake and clean the plate. Be proud of your students and be proud of yourself as their advisor. Transforming an entire club and programming structure online in a matter of weeks is big work. Your efforts will not be for nothing. Be what your students need now and, in a few months, you will be what they need again. Trying your best to support and provide for your students is all that can be asked of you in times like these.

Natty Burfield is assistant director and Jenn Labbance is director of Student Activities at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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