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The Staff-Student Connection: 4 Keys To Maximizing Staff Connectivity

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

It’s no surprise to anyone that in the field of youth development that the level of engagement and motivation of your staff directly correlates to the level of engagement and success of the students in your program. The better the staff, the more effective the programming.

But, knowing it and actually doing something about it are two different things.

Too often I think that organizations spend the bulk of their planning and professional development time on the program content and structure, focusing on student activities. And while this is obviously important, it also means that the time spent on developing staff goes lacking.

At Leadership we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make sure our staff stay connected and energized, and the most common and frequent opportunity to impact that is during regularly-scheduled staff meetings. Our VP of Programming, Amanda Meeson, came up with four key areas that she has utilized during her staff meetings to maximize staff connectivity:  Creating Team, Addressing Challenges, Celebrating Successes, and Sharing Information. If you are like many of us, without thoughtful planning and forethought chances are your staff meetings—whether they occur daily, weekly, or monthly—can easily get eaten up with only addressing challenges and sharing information. But with just a bit of planning you can easily do all four, and create a space where staff feel energized and motivated.

Creating Team: This is your opportunity to team-build and work on your group’s dynamics. Use this time to learn more about each other, to share common inspiration and purpose for the work. It doesn’t have to take long—even a two-minute whip-around where everyone in the room shares something (a favorite song, a fun fact, a dream vacation) will do! Is everyone feeling tired at the end of a long day? Why not incorporate a 30-second dance party at the start of every meeting? Do you think only students enjoy board games? Try setting out a few Connect Fours and card packs on the table for your staff to engage in while waiting for the meeting to start.      

Addressing Challenges: It’s important to create a venue for sharing challenges in your meetings. Creating this consistent environment establishes a safe space for your team to share and trust each other. Addressing challenges in a group gives your team an opportunity to learn from each other and move forward. The most important part about this is that it is not meant to be a time for you to tell them the challenges that you are having with them, nor is it a time for finger-pointing and blaming. Rather, it is a time for the team to circle up together and support each other through challenges, coming up with ideas and action steps for moving forward. Set up a system so everyone knows what to expect—maybe anyone who is experiencing a challenge writes in on a post-it note and posts it on a “Challenge Board” prior to the start of the meeting. Or the meeting leader could have a “Challenge Chair” where people who need to work through challenges they are having can sign up for a slot in the chair. Why? If your staff not only expect to hear about challenges during your meetings but actually understand that there will always be a time and space for challenges to be worked on, they are much more likely to bring challenges to the table early, rather than trying to solve them on their own. 

Celebrating Successes: Focusing on what’s working keeps team morale up and momentum moving forward. Create opportunities to recognize excellence in your staff as a way to applaud and represent the expectations of your programs. Share moments to identify best practices so your team members can learn from each other and encourage each other to reach their highest potential. This recognition can (and should) come from you, but it can (and should) also come from peers. We give out “Hard Core” awards at our monthly team meetings where we nominate each other for exemplifying one of our company’s Core Values. Celebrating the success of a staff member doesn’t have to always come with a monetary incentive, either—a post card, a sticker, a silly trophy or icon that gets passed from desk to desk… there are a thousand ways to say “Thank You.” Don’t forget how much your team needs to hear it.

Sharing Information: Depending on how often you are able to meet with your staff, we all know there is always relevant information to share with your team. Whether it’s events, administrative responsibilities, or policy updates, it’s important to relay this content in an engaging, inclusive, interactive way to ensure participation and retention for success. In other words, don’t just stand at the front of the room reciting all the stuff they “need” to know. Can you turn it into a game? Can you make each bit of information parts of a puzzle they need to solve? Can you turn it into a song? Are you making sure you’re not just saying it but you’ve visually represented it somewhere? Can you keep it brief? Think about how you’re going to share the necessary information, not just what you’re going to share.  

And a bonus category that we often forget: Setting the Environment: Do you have music playing before the meeting starts? How are the chairs set up? Do you have pens and post-its out for creative brainstorming? Are there refreshments? Can you offer a spontaneous prize raffle or fun giveaway?  The environment sets the tone and the mood, so don’t forget to pay attention to that as well.  

Taking a few moments to think about how you can address each of these areas each time your team meets will have a lasting impact on how engaged and connected your staff feel—to you and to each other. And the more connected your staff feel, the more inspired they are to give their absolute best to the youth that you serve. And an added bonus? If you are consistent in providing this structure for them, chances are they will mimic a similar structure with their students—creating an environment where their students feel safe to share challenges, know their successes will be recognized, and continually learn from and support one another. And what could be better than that? 

Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.