Posted by Kathy Petras | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 20-03-2013
A few years ago, I went on an Alternative Break trip with a group of students. It was my third break trip, and I was extremely excited about the team of students as well as our site location. I’m always amazed at what we are able to accomplish on these trips.
When I went on my first trip, I’ll admit, I didn’t know what to expect from the overall experience. My approach to advising student groups was to be “Hands off, but invested.” Basically, in student-run organizations, I’d be as active as they wanted me to be in the process. (Unless of course something really bad was going to happen, in which case I wouldn’t wait to be invited into the process.)
However, an alternative break trip was something I had never experienced before, so I did not necessarily have anything to frame it in with regards to my role as an advisor. I took cues from the student site leader, but through my own common sense and know-how, I knew there were going to be certain characteristics of a good advisor.
I listened and participated in every pre-trip activity. The only way we were going to be a successful team was if we were all invested in the trip.
I let my student site leader LEAD, and provided support as needed. I was a sounding board. A helper.
I kept a positive attitude at all times. Break trips are exhausting but worth every moment. I never wanted to be the negative person on the trip, no matter how frustrating a situation got during the trip.
Basically, I tried to be an example. After all, you are doing SERVICE.
On my third trip however, for the first time, I was struck with examining myself as an staff advisor for a moment, when I witnessed the actions of another school’s advisor. Each day, we went to our site not quite sure what we would do, but ready to do whatever was asked of us. This particular day, we were asked to paint rocking chairs. All day. Fine by us. Not so fine by the other advisor, which I soon found reflected in the work of the student team. The other advisor said she wasn’t in the mood to paint and would pick her team up later. I was appalled. (Although in the moment, I held it together.) After she left, and a few hours into working side by side with the other school’s team, I found that about 90% of their team complained the entire time. The concept of “attitude reflects leadership” resounded in my mind the entire day.
During our nightly reflection, I brought up the situation. I was honest with my team, and asked them to let me know if I ever approached our team in a way that made it seem like I didn’t need to be “in the trenches” with them. They shared their impressions of the situation, but that they appreciated my approach to being their advisor. It was a good reflection and discussion on people’s attitudes towards service on all levels.
The biggest takeaways from those experiences in my own professional development, is that first of all, you have to give it your all. Ultimately, you are setting the example for the rest of the group, even if the student leader is giving most of the directions. And when you serve, it doesn’t mean you can revert back to being a student participant either. You’re a staff member, act accordingly. But enjoy yourself. Have fun. Build relationships with your students. Break trips can be experiences of a lifetime if you just put your own ego aside and embrace the opportunity to serve.
But here’s the blunt advice: If you can’t do that…don’t advise a trip.