A few of my coworkers and I have an ongoing reference circulating in our conversations: “Real Life [insert name of the individual]” (always said while clapping, one clap per word a la Kevin Hart).
We use it to talk about what we’re doing over the weekend, about our families, as well as how we may respond to situations if we weren’t at the office. Bottom line: we’ve created a distinction between the us that we bring to the office, and who we are when we get home and immerse ourselves in a different environment. We recognize that there are elements of who we are that don’t always fit at the office, and may not be the result of our work experiences. My big question for today: do we do that with the students we work with?
This weekend called into question how much space I create for these lines with students. I spent time at two events on Saturday that underscored my wish to consider this further. In the morning, I worked with our Student Government Association in a session about communication, and how they could improve theirs by considering Pat Lencioni’s Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. At the fourth stage (the “top” of the model, if you’re looking at Lencioni’s diagram), we discussed how to create human systems that reinforce what they find important. I prompted them to think about how to reward and recognize students that aren’t on the board, or even on an SGA-recognized organization’s board.
We got around to talking about students who continue pursuits from before college- we’ve had literal world champions in baton twirling and Irish dance- and how SGA should recognize those successes just as much as ones that happen in the confines of a student organization meeting, event, or competition. After all, one of Emmanuel’s most famous alumna- Nancy Kerrigan- excelled strongly at a craft that the school did not teach her. Should that achievement mean any less to those on campus because it had nothing to do with us?
Later on that night, I played judge at COF’s Got Talent, a competition that pulled talent from all six Colleges of the Fenway. It’s always really cool for me to see what students do when we’re not around. Not the relationships they’re building, or even the things they’re getting in trouble for, but the really cool things they’re building and skills they’re developing that we don’t always get to see. On this particular night, we had musicians, stand-up comedians, dancers, beatboxers, students in bands, and even a student who solves Rubik’s cubes…really fast (not even the talent he came to the show for, just another thing he could do that came to light when we needed to stretch for time). And what did the majority of these talents have in common? They had very little to do with what we’re teaching, offering, or providing opportunities to learn.
Yet, I feel like if you asked some of the professionals on their campuses about some of these students, you’d hear: “they’re not really involved in anything.”
There are students like this on every campus. Students who aren’t signing up for organizations, aren’t staying on campus to go to meetings, aren’t taking on leadership positions. And it’s easy to assume it’s because they haven’t looked hard enough to find their niche among their offerings. I’m speaking up for a different viewpoint: perhaps these students have niches elsewhere, niches where they feel at home and are flourishing, niches that we’re not providing.
We should appreciate those students and the gifts they’re developing elsewhere. In fact, I can’t help but admire them for traveling a path that may require more work on their part. They may have to balance coursework with travel and long practice hours that takes them away from campus. They may have a harder time explaining to professors and administrators what they’re doing and how it all works. And they may see students around them doing things that we’re quick to recognize or reward because we can see the effects more easily, all while wondering why the institution doesn’t seem to value what they’re doing. Admittedly, we can’t congratulate what we don’t know about- that’s as true off-campus as it is on-campus. However, where we do know that these skills and talents exist, we should honor them.
It can be as easy as sending a message from your institutional social media accounts wishing someone luck in an upcoming competition, as public as creating a category in student leadership award ceremonies for off-campus achievements, or as personalized as sending that person a card signed by the whole SGA (a suggestion that surfaced in this weekend’s session).
“Real Life [insert name here]” isn’t just for staff who maintain active lives off campus. It can also apply to some of our most creative, skilled, and talented students. Are you prepared to look beyond the confines of campus to reward accomplishments?