Defining Your Student Affairs Professional Philosophy

Omar from The Wire, Leslie Knope & Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation, and The Hound from Game of Thrones. What do they all have in common?

They live by a code of rules that allow them to live with honor and integrity.

And they are committed to their respective codes, even when it frustrates everyone around them. But by doing this, they help ensure everyone is both held to a higher standard and is true to themselves and others. Geeky metaphors aside (and trust me, I have plenty), it is important for us to develop a “code,” otherwise known as a professional philosophy. It allows us to have a guiding point to determine where we want to be, how we want to work, and the way we make decisions.

Think of it as a personal mission statement. The important part of having a code is that you have to uphold it no matter what — or else it is worthless. The return on maintaining your values speaks for itself.

Professional philosophies are important for organizations especially. We must know what our mission and purpose is so that when we form our budgets, we’re able to back up our values with budget lines. These helpful guidelines detail how articulating a mission and vision helps to realize goals and empowers you to take action. Otherwise, these statements are just lip service. Also, having strong, detailed, and embodied values will allow those joining your team to know just what you care about and how you put those words into action

As individuals, creating professional philosophies can help define our aspirations and core values. When we immerse ourselves in the world, see how decisions get made, and the impact of those decisions, we learn about what gets us riled up. The emotional response we have is what needs to be our focus, but we need to use that energy in a respectful, empathetic, and productive way. On the personal side, this could take the shape of stewarding environmental sustainability, advocating for universal healthcare access and social justice, or saving money and resources.

It’s valuable to have guiding points to steer us during difficult times. It also helps to share these values with others so that they can be considerate of your goals as well. Think of it as your “elevator pitch” of who you are and what you’re about professionally.

“Third, I believe my role as a student affairs professional is not only to administrate, but also ensure students are developed holistically during and beyond college. As a whole, my goal is to be able to provide ample resources and support to facilitate personal and professional growth for a student. In practice, it is our job to assist students to meet their needs and see the learning and development that transpires throughout their time at the institution. It would also be important to use myself as an example by sharing my personal story.”

Check out this example from Ali Raza, quoted above. Raza’s mission statement is very thorough, but yours doesn’t have to be. A succinct, focused statement can be just as powerful as a more verbose one.

Need help getting started? Consider these action steps:

Crafting your personal mission statement - Jeff Calloway

It may also be helpful for you to take a personality test and see what your results are. While we shouldn’t put all of our faith in things like personality tests, they can be helpful for putting concepts or characteristics that we may have a more difficult time describing into words.

Developing and implementing a professional philosophy takes time, thought, learning, and practice.

As you venture forth in your career, consider deeply what you hold dear and how you want to be viewed as a professional. Then, find a team that supports that, and work hard to live out your values to the best of your ability.

What is your professional philosophy? How do you define your goals and aspirations? Let me know on Twitter, @highered_geek.

Dustin Ramsdell

About the author: Dustin is a graduate of the Rutgers University College Student Affairs Ed.M Program. He is a proud nerd and self-affirmed "Higher Ed Geek" who is excited to connect with folks who share his love of deep conversations! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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