Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Student Management: Setting Expectations

I have been the student staff manager at a college library for almost three years now. Since I have an undergrad degree in English Education and teaching experience, my management style has developed from a teacher's perspective.

It is important clearly communicate what you want from your student workers and not expect them to know what they don't know or haven't be taught. It would be like if the teacher gives the test before teaching the unit. I will go into more detail about teaching, training, and coaching students in another I don't want to put "the cart before the horse."

The first and most important step in being an effective manager is setting expectations for your employees. So, how do you set expectations and how do you know what your expectations should be? Well, a new manager should never come in and try to completely restructure a department or change employees' behavior or procedures in 7 days. This will never go well even if you see things that need to be improved! So, your first task should be easy, right? Just do nothing or appear to do nothing. Observe how things work. What is working and what isn't? Take notes without expressing your concerns. I did this for the first six months or so in my new position. I also took the time to get to know my student workers, staff, administrators, faculty, and regular patrons.

A student staff meeting is a great place to set expectations and guidelines for student behavior. This will mean that you will need to have a staff manual. It should include some guidelines or rules, a job description, a disciplinary procedure, a call off procedure, and anything else student workers need to know. Though it seems "elementary," I go over the entire manual each fall semester and review it briefly in the spring. I hit the highlights which is really my own pet peeves such as "I don't want to hear, see, or smell any cell phones." So, you ask, all I have to do is just go over the student manual with my students, and I'm all set?"

Oh, no...It doesn't work that way. Setting expectations is an ongoing process! This is one of the reasons I go over the student manual in detail ever fall semester. The message sent to the student is: "I care about these guidelines. I expect you to know them because they are important." How else can you "tell" students you have expectations for them? You have to practice what you preach and follow the rules that you set forth for your students. Sometimes modeling good customer service and appropriate behavior at Access Services can be a challenge, but you have to do it if you want to be an effective manager. You can't expect students not to be stuffing Hos Hos in their mouths in front of patrons when you are trying to swallow a Twinkie as the patron comes to the desk. Or, from my previous example, you have a tendency to text or call your significant other at the Information Services desk.

So, in review...two ways to set expectations for employees:

Have a student staff meeting and go over a student manual.

Model good behavior.

More about setting expectations in my next post! ~Steph