How You Can Define Your Mission, Values, and More to Shape Your #SApro Identity

I am a student affairs professional. 

It’s a simple statement, but it evokes so many different sentiments for me.

I think about my reasons for joining the student affairs field, what aspirations I have as a scholar-practitioner, and what specific role I want to play in the education of the students I interact with.

Over the years, I have written and rewritten several statements that help me articulate my professional identity. These statements are my mission, vision, values, pedagogy, and JEDI praxis. 

They come in handy during the job search process for answering questions about myself and in deciding what type of institution I want to work at. My statements also come to mind during my day-to-day work decisions, such as selecting committees to volunteer for or outlining the structure of a student engagement program.

This blog post will lead you through some exercises to help you brainstorm and articulate your own professional identity.

Mission

Writing a personal mission statement can provide you with an overarching idea of what type of student affairs professional you want to be.

These questions can guide you in drafting it:

  • What aspects of my job motivate me most?
  • What unique skills do I bring to my functional area or institution?
  • How does my work impact student learning?

You can use these templates from HubSpot to further refine your mission.

  • To [what you want to do] by [how you’ll do it] so that [what impact you hope to make]. (“To help students figure out their professional goals by offering one-on-one advising and exploratory programs so that they go on to have fulfilling careers.”)
  • I value [one or multiple things you value] because [why it matters to you]. To do this, I will [how your professional path will align with these values]. (“I value justice and equity because every student should feel safe enough to express their authentic self on campus. To achieve a just and equitable campus climate, I will actively identify and dismantle unjust policies and systems.”)
  • To use my [skills or expertise] to inspire/lead [group of people] so that [ultimate goal]. (“To use my skills as a facilitator to prepare student leaders who are ethical and career-ready.”)

You can find more great examples of personal mission statements here.

Revisit your mission statement whenever you are making decisions about your career, such as deciding what types of jobs to apply for or evaluating which professional development opportunities will allow you to make the greatest impact on students.

You can revise your mission statement as many times as you need as you continue in your professional growth.

Vision

A vision statement can help you clarify your priorities by identifying your long-term goals.

Here are some questions to think about as you draft your vision statement:

  • What is my leadership style?
  • How do my passions and values drive my actions in the workplace?
  • What are my long-term professional goals?
  • What skills, behaviors, and accomplishments do I want to be known for within the field?

Here’s an example of a personal vision statement:

“My vision as a student affairs educator is to be a scholar-practitioner who engages students by encouraging them to explore their potential during their postsecondary education.”

More vision statement examples can be seen here.

Your vision statement can be as broad or specific as you’d like. You could start off broad and then revise it to be more specific as you identify more professional goals.

Values

Your values will ground your day-to-day decision-making process.

This three-step exercise can help you articulate your values:

  1. Find a list of values online (such as this one or this one) and pick the top ten values that resonate with you the most.
  2. Of those ten, pick three-to-five that are the most important to you.
  3. For the remaining values, write down definitions and examples of what those values would look like in your practice.

Here are some examples of values, along with how a student affairs professional might define them for themselves:

Pedagogy

Pedagogy is the method by which educators teach, based on that person’s beliefs regarding how learning should ideally occur. In the context of student affairs, your pedagogy can be used to describe how you structure programs, interact with students, and make decisions. 

As educators, SA pros play a unique role in educating the whole student — including their emotional, cognitive, moral, and identity development. If you are to call yourself an educator, then you must be able to describe how you educate, AKA your pedagogy.

To create your own pedagogical statement, ask yourselves these questions suggested by the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University.

  • What should students expect of you as a staff member who is also an educator?
  • What methods do you rely on frequently to educate students? For example, do you facilitate workshops, plan alternative break programs, or meet with students for advising appointments?
  • What do you want students to learn as a result of interacting with you or your programs?
  • How will you know that your goals for students are being met?
  • What student development theories do you use to inform your work?

Your mission, vision, and values will probably show up in your pedagogical statement. This statement is a great way to weave those other three together and bolster them by citing relevant scholarship that informs your work.

Pedagogical statements can range from a few paragraphs to two pages long. You can find some sample statements here and here.

I find these words from Jill Gurtner, the principal of the Clark Street Community School, to be inspirational when thinking about pedagogy:

“Good pedagogy starts by honoring that every learner brings their own truth to the experience and has everything that they need to learn within them. Relationships and connection unlock this inherent genius.”

JEDI Praxis

A praxis is the process by which a theory is applied to practice. A student affairs educator’s praxis can be used to describe how they apply student development theory to their work with students. The theories you use act as a lens for understanding how you should go about your work.

JEDI stands for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. A JEDI praxis can be used to describe how you integrate those four values into your work. Whereas your pedagogy describes your general philosophy towards fostering student development, having a JEDI praxis allows you to focus on the social impact of your pedagogy, regardless of how you define the latter.

In other words, a pedagogy describes the methods for educating students while the JEDI praxis describes how to make the methods justice-oriented.

Here are some questions to consider in designing your JEDI praxis:

  • How are diversity, equity, and inclusion implemented into your daily work?
  • How can you create an environment in which students feel safe to be their authentic selves?
  • How will you reflect on your role in upholding or dismantling systems of oppression?

This sample JEDI praxis is in the form of a statement.

“Every person has a personal truth, discerned from their lived experiences, that deserves to be honored. Using storytelling, rapport building, and perspective taking, I strive to be worthy of holding the truths of others so that they may fully express their authentic selves. Education is at its best when multiple ways of understanding (personal truths) are welcomed in a student-centered learning process. As a student affairs educator who holds multiple privileged identities, it is especially important for me to contribute to this decolonization of learning.”

I encourage you to write these professional identity statements in a way that feels authentic to you. Your colleagues and potential employers will see your values and pedagogy shine through in the way that you conduct your day-to-day work.

We’d love to learn about your own mission, values, vision, pedagogy, or JEDI praxis! Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence and @JustinTerlisner.

Justin Terlisner

About the author: Justin Terlisner is a student affairs professional who focuses on helping students thrive through dynamic leadership education and inclusive supervision practices. When not writing curriculum or working with students, you’ll find him enjoying a book, hiking, or baking. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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