Category Archives: Fall 2023 Issue 1

Belonging in Absence

by Sarah Norek

This past summer, life happened for me. As in, this past summer, an unexpected life event came along and completely derailed what I’d imagined my summer – at work and outside of it – would be. It involved family, and medical stuff, and a lot of not knowing, and time. July was a particularly long-feeling month with a lot of being in the hospital with a family member.

Before the event, I had such grand plans for summer work time! There was going to be meaningful collaboration on a project, momentum and gains on another project, some thinking-ahead to a couple different projects, etc. I had a main list, and a couple secondary lists, and things were going to be crossed. Off. Stuff was going to HAPPEN. When life happened for me, it was a Sunday. By Monday, my old summer structure and plans were obsolete.

As I write this in fall, with two-ish months between then and now, things aren’t completely back to where they were, but they’re in a better place. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the part belonging and community played in my navigation of everything outside of work that unfolded and my absence at work because of it. Being in a less activated head-space, I’ve been able to name some of the choices I made that allowed for my presence elsewhere in July, and to appreciate more fully what was offered by my community:

Choices I made:

  • I said no to things/dropped things off my summer work list – summer is never long enough to do all the things anyway, but I also leaned into summer no longer being what I had imagined, and that being okay. Commitments were adjusted. Projects were dropped or moved back. I created priorities based on bandwidth and needs.
  • I asked for help & accepted it when offered – asking for help is a skill we talk with students a lot about developing, and I fully admit that I’m still in my help-asking journey. It’s hard. I don’t want to add to anyone’s plate. But it’s also their choice to say yes or no, and it was my choice to accept it (another hard thing, not wanting to add to folks’ plates).
  • I let go of what I thought I needed to do to be a good employee – I have a lot of self-judgement around what I’m doing and what I’m not doing and what that means for me and how my colleagues perceive me. Am I unique in this? Nope. But the shape and feel of my insecurities are uniquely mine, and it was hard work to let them go, and imperfect too. Removing that level of expectation allowed me to be where I needed to be completely, and only I could do it.
  • I let myself be where I needed to be – during the work day, that was often at the hospital, but also it was sometimes at work for a break from the hospital, or working while there to give my brain something else to focus on. I didn’t give myself blocks to fill necessarily, I just gave myself places to be and ways to be there and then stepped in as needed – for me and for work and for the people I was supporting outside of work.
  • I accepted summer having kind of blown up – I got to practice what I try to always acknowledge in workshops with folks, which is that life happens sometimes, and what we thought we’d do can’t happen. And that can be really hard, and it’s okay. Stay kind with yourself. Give yourself some grace. And recognize that you’re still doing a lot of hard work, even if it’s not exactly the work you expected it to be.

Things folks offered:

  • Hugs – I’m not always the huggiest person, and hugs aren’t everyone’s thing, and relationships are different. But hugs were grounding and reminded me I wasn’t swirling around in everything all on my own. Thanks folks.
  • Permission to drop things/not be at things – sometimes permission is actually needed, and sometimes it just means a lot to hear from someone else that it’s okay to not be at a place or show up for a thing. Thanks for saying it aloud.
  • Coverage – we already had summer event coverage plans in place, but when I couldn’t show up or needed to be at an appointment, and I reached out, folk stepped in, the community supported me, and I will be endlessly grateful for this. Thank you again.
  • Texts and memes and chats – ways to signal a person isn’t alone. A quick hello, a ping from the world beyond my own, which felt very small and stressful, meant so much. Thanks for those, too.

Life happening can happen in a lot of different ways, in a lot of different forms. Our teams may be very different, our approaches may be very different. My brilliant colleague, William, named what I hadn’t seen before: that I’m speaking both to community and absence, and what community can mean in absence/when absence has to happen. As apart from my team and my previous plans as I was, my choices and options were informed by my community, and my community helped shorten the distance I experienced and supported the choices I could control. That’s a takeaway for me too: that there were still things I could control, even within all that I couldn’t, and the community I’m a part of played a huge role in me getting from point A to whatever point I’m at now, and wherever I’ll get to next.

Five-Minute Feedback: Creating a Tool and Ritual for Meeting Evaluations

by Anna Bentley

Have you ever facilitated a meeting or taught a class that left you wondering, “Were they actually interested in this topic, or were they secretly bored out of their minds? Did I make any sense at all? Did they get anything out of that? Did I make everyone feel included?” Sometimes it feels impossible to read the room, and in those moments, I doubt my facilitation skills. And when you’re not sure what topics and facilitation moves are exciting for folks and which are dreadful, it’s hard to know how to adapt your next meeting to better suit their needs.

Last year was my first year supervising a small group of student employees and facilitating their weekly professional development meetings. Sometimes I’d ask student employees individually what they thought of the meeting afterwards, but I feared they were just being polite and giving me praise, being put on the spot like that. I mean, it’s hard to tell your supervisor, “Yeah, that meeting totally sucked. Your prompts made no sense, and you were way off your game. What were you thinking?!”

Tired of guessing how things landed for them, I knew I needed a system for feedback, but I wanted something that would capture everyone’s thoughts and would also be a tool for them to continue to engage with what they just learned. What I created was an anonymous paper evaluation form that both captured their thoughts and gave them a brief moment to connect what they just learned to their role. I chose a paper form intentionally, as folks integrate connections and meaning differently through writing compared to typing. I designed the form to be simple yet have lots of opportunity for optional open-ended feedback. I set aside the last five minutes of every meeting for everyone to complete this form at once, and it became a sort of ritual, something that they expected to fill out every week. As the weeks went on, I noticed they were giving more detailed responses to the open-ended questions, perhaps because they knew there was time set aside, and their peers were all doing this at the same time too.

By gathering feedback in this way, I’ve learned so much about myself as a facilitator and have made many small but reportedly impactful changes to the way I design and deliver content. For instance, I received feedback very quickly that our training agenda handouts were long and overwhelming. My colleague and I abbreviated the agenda the following week and heard that it was much more digestible. Some folks also commented that they wanted more time for group discussion after small group activities, as the time I was setting aside always seemed to get cut short. I made thoughtful adjustments and set more rigid time boundaries to honor the group discussions, and that led to much richer, meaningful closing conversations.

I’d love to share this evaluation form with you in case you’re curious about implementing something similar with your students or colleagues. Now I distribute this after every meeting I facilitate, including training sessions for new student employees and team meetings I facilitate with my pro staff colleagues. Two of my favorite items in the evaluation form that participants rate and comment on are (1) “The facilitator(s) cared about what I had to say” and (2) “I felt like I could be myself in today’s meeting.” These align with the values I prioritize as a supervisor of students. As my values and objectives evolve over time, this form will too. I hope this inspires you to adapt or develop a feedback tool that works for your values and needs!

Staff Picks: Valuable Training Activities & Topics

by Chris Ervin

Chris asks the Office of Academic Support team: What one indispensable training activity or topic do your teams find most valuable, applicable to their work supporting their peers, surprisingly helpful, or otherwise remarkable? Why?


One thing I’ve heard from Outreach Specialists that they find helpful for their workshop facilitation training is to intentionally practice different facilitation elements out loud: talking through the entire presentation out loud, talking through transitions between slides/topics out loud, talking through possible responses to prompts out loud and how they might validate and also connect what’s been shared back to the topic. Some folks also find it helpful to record their practice and to play the recording back. It can feel really different to think through slides/transitions versus speaking the words, and practicing what it might feel/sound like can help folks feel more prepared when they step into the live workshop environment.  


Sharing the Stories of Our Names! At the first meeting, I give the homework of preparing a Name Story, which means people can research, ponder, etc. and choose what they might want to offer about their names. At the second meeting, I am prepared for this “warm up” activity to take the whole meeting (but prepare an agenda so there isn’t pressure). Sharing name stories makes space for culture and context that might not otherwise be shared and encourages care with one another’s names. (Check out this page for a classroom lesson plan and name alternatives.)


ASC Strategists share that they really love visiting campus partners to learn about their services and resources. Hearing about services directly from the folks who provide them has a much greater impact than anything I could have shared with them. By physically being in a space, Strategists can better describe to students what they can expect from a service and help students prepare for their visit. Even Strategists who have previously visited a particular center or resource share that they learn something new every time we visit, and it never gets old!


I often fall back on a listening exercise that I experienced in Paul Axtell training and adapted. It’s designed to disrupt our typical approach to listening and to encourage leaving silence in a conversation to let the other person steer the conversation. One person is given an open-ended prompt and 5 minutes to speak, and the other person is instructed to use silence, non-verbals, and the occasional one-word responses to practice deep listening. Then they switch, and we debrief. There is dissonance for both in the unnaturalness of the set-up, but it also helps participants experience what it’s like to have an open invitation to speak uninterrupted and see where their thinking leads them.


Laura Rendón’s Validation Theory describes validation as “an enabling, confirming and supportive process initiated by in- and out-of-class agents that fosters academic and interpersonal development.” Rendón emphasizes recognizing the strengths and abilities students bring to their college experiences and the value they contribute to the community. When we validate, we show our support and belief in students’ abilities to be successful. In trainings, we talk through what validation is, what it can look like in context (e.g., in a writing consultation, in office hours, in a classroom), and the importance and potential impact of validation within our work.


An activity I’ve enjoyed facilitating is Francesca Helm’s Language Portrait. The activity asks group participants to draw a figure silhouette and then use different colors to indicate where and how language shows up in their bodies. This activity can be adapted to a variety of scenarios and contexts depending on desired outcome. For example, I’ve used it to focus on written language specifically, and I think it could be adapted to any held identity, concept, or form of expression. It creates a container for participants to discuss aspects of their identity, lived experiences, and positionality in relation to the given prompt. It works well as a community building activity with a new group, but it could also be used to deepen thinking around a topic with participants who already know each other.


The activity I’ve found most illustrative and engaging for a team has been a game, usually Dungeons & Dragons. Roleplaying has been my go-to for figuring out how people solve problems, where there are fault lines in a team, and where there is room for growth. Posing a radically fantastical problem, like trying to get off an airplane mid-flight before it passes a drop zone, can be enormously useful. In that example, one just jumped, risking life and limb on the guess that it’d probably work out. Another made a “glider” out of sheets. The other four took the time to find the parachutes. Getting a team to the stage where they are comfortable with a game is a separate discussion, but once there, knowing who will jump out of the plane, who will make a glider, and who will find the parachute is very helpful.


Student employees are seldom given the opportunity to assess their own understanding about inclusive facilitation and support practices, let alone in contexts where disclosing potential confusion or questions feels safe to do (e.g. scholarship or job applications). Yale’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning has several excellent resources regarding inclusive teaching and support practices, including a list of common implicit biases held by students and teachers in learning contexts. This list is a great starting point for conversation with peer educators about which of these they have experienced and how that made them feel as a way to encourage greater care in their own work facilitating others’ learning.


I love Russ Harris’ ACT Mindfully values checklist, which is intended to help a person “identify . . . how you want to treat yourself, others and the world around you.” This activity asks us to identify core values as well as values we don’t hold so deeply and can be applied personally or within a work context.  Completing this activity with student staff can shape our working relationships with them, as we can ask them to share their values with us and keep those values in mind as we offer feedback and engage in mentoring. For example, from the checklist an employee might select humor, creativity, and fun as “very important” and conformity (“to be respectful and obedient of rules and obligations”) as “not important.” Their values inventory can frame our feedback conversations: Knowing which values they hold, I might help the employee identify places where humor, creativity, and fun might contribute to community-building, for example, but also where humor or fun might need to be set aside during training meetings where we’re trying to get some serious work accomplished.

Five Ways to Prompt Midterm Reflection

We’re almost halfway through the term, which means students are taking midterms and in a prime space to make positive decisions for the second half of the term. Post-midterm reflection is a great opportunity for metacognitive practices where students can evaluate their approach to learning prior to the midterm and consider how they might plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning moving forward. The strategies below create space for students to reflect and engage in intentional decision-making around goals for the second half of the term.

  1. Grade Calculator & Course Analysis: Share this interactive handout with students in class and give them time to reflect not just on their current grade and goals, but on the specific study strategies that have worked well for them so far and potential ways to improve or refine those strategies.  
  2. Test Autopsy: Make time in class for a deeper dive post-midterm. Provide time for students to fill out this handout guiding them through identifying where points were lost and reasons for the lost points. Noting similarities in content, question types, or testing situations where points were lost can help students identify future study or testing needs.
  3. Midterm Question Deconstruction: Choose a few representative questions from the midterm to talk through. Share the rationale behind asking the specific question type, break the question down into its important elements, and name the type of thinking required to correctly answer the question. Give students a few minutes to reflect individually and in pairs on study strategies they could use to prepare for similar questions on the final.
  4. Midterm Debrief Office Hours: Invite students to office hours to talk about midterms. Having a focus for the week’s office hours can help students know what to expect and encourage them to visit. Offering a review of missed questions and space to talk through study strategies specific to your course could create a positive and supportive space for reflecting on the midterm experience.
  5. What-If Grades in Canvas: Use Canvas’s Student View to introduce students to this tool in the Grades area. Students can enter hypothetical grades and see what would happen to their overall grade if they earned those scores. This can give students a more concrete sense of what it would take to accomplish their goals for the course and potentially provide motivation as they navigate upcoming assignments and exams.