Your students are going to be home soon for the winter break. It comes right after finals. They will be exhausted. They will want to sleep (a lot). And eat (a lot). Many will arrive home with a mountain of laundry (for you). It will be a time where many of them will want to disengage and just recharge their batteries.
It can also be a golden opportunity for you to have some interesting conversations and mentoring moments with your Deac. To encourage them to stretch a different set of mental muscles during the break, and to help them get ready to have a better spring semester, one that has some intentionality to it. Through reflexion and self-examination.
This is an exercise in looking back and evaluating. And looking ahead and dreaming. Our excellent Mentoring Resource Center developed a set of bookmarks a few years ago and sent them to administrators on campus (might have been sent to all academic advisers). They are five simple – yet profound questions.
If you were not afraid of failing, what would you do?
What were the differences between the best and worst decisions that you have made?
In the past six months, what is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome, and what did you learn?
If you were starting Wake Forest all over, what would you do differently and why?
How do you want to be different six months from now than you are right now?
These could be great questions you could pose to your student. Could be on a long walk on a cold day (or hot, depending where you live). Over breakfast, or hot chocolate, a drive, or doing the dishes after a big meal.
I would recommend that if you do this, keep a few ground rules in mind:
– There are no right or wrong answers. If you are asking your student an open-ended question, be prepared to accept whatever answer he gives. And he might not want to answer all of them with you (especially ‘worst decisions’) but encourage him to think about that and talk through with someone else.
– You don’t want to make your student feel like you are pressuring him, or cornering him, or forcing him to answer. You could perhaps say – I was reading something about reflections at the end of the semester – is this something you want to discuss with me? It could be a cool way for me to hear some of what you’ve been doing while you were away. I am always curious to know the experiences that have been meaningful and important to you. (Accept it if he says he doesn’t want to do this.)
– Some of us need to think before we answer, or have time to reflect. If your Deac likes to think alone as he figures things out, these may be rhetorical questions for you to pose and for him to consider on his own time, privately. But even if you plant the seed of reflection, it might reap rewards later.
– Listen more than talk. Sometimes you might hear a long, awkward silence. Instead of filling it, let it sit there a bit. Your student may decide to open up.
– Show appreciation and interest for what your student is saying. Being a trustworthy recipient of his ideas will make it more likely your Deac will open up to you.
– Consider answering some of those same questions yourself. Or disclosing your own feelings.
– End the conversation by TELLING YOUR DEAC YOU LOVE HIM! It can be scary for any of us to reveal our feelings and thoughts and ideas, particularly if we fear the other person’s reaction. Help your student understand that you won’t always agree, and you won’t always see eye to eye, and you are different people with different ideas – BUT you will ALWAYS love and respect him, and are glad to have the kind of relationship where you can talk about these things.
Just food for thought. This generation (in my opinion) seems to be a little less reflective and a little less introspective – so urging our students to think about what they have done, what worked, what didn’t, etc. might help them gain that skill. And it might bring you and your Deac a little closer.