Field Notes: Tips for self- and team-care and purposeful crisis response

September 5, 2020
  • Change Management
  • Competencies
  • Leadership and Management
  • Professional Well-Being
  • covid-19
  • field notes

"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

by Aimee Vitangcol Regoso, Registrar, Andrews University

The most unexpected things in life can be both the most painful and the most rewarding. COVID-19 has brought some of the most challenging days I have experienced as a Registrar thus far. 

Before COVID, my team had done a thorough analysis of workload and responsibilities, which resulted in redistribution of tasks due to retirements and changes in personnel. These were planned transitions, the type of work a team of Registrars can excel at. Focus was placed on succession planning, creating documentation and training guides.

Then COVID hit and we experienced a series of events impacting our day-to-day work on all fronts: physical, emotional and mental. 

What were the series of institutional and individual responses to COVID?

The responses may vary slightly from one institution to another; however, the following responses I’ve noted were common across most institutions. 

Physical

  • Within the matter of 1-2 weeks, teams shifted from in-person services to remote.

  • Employees were furloughed. 

Mental

  • The change in our physical environment prompted the need for new policies and processes to be implemented in a short period of time. Examples of changes in policy and process include the following: virtual graduation; pass/no credit; reframe modality (class schedule, students, faculty)

  • The change in environment also caused a shift in workflow for general inquiries and form submissions. In-person traffic ceased to exist and was shifted electronically. Phone traffic was also shifted to email.

Emotional 

  • While the following emotions may not have been experienced all at once, offices along with employees, students and parents experienced one or more of the following: anxiety, excitement, loss of control, loneliness, depression. 

  • The shift to remote services brought about social isolation.

Cumulative effect

  • The most devastating blow was experiencing all of the above changes at once taking both an emotional toll and requiring a high level of mental engagement.

What was required as a response, based on new ways of working?

The very things that make registrars good at our work are the same things that can make the unexpected easier to handle. While the following list is not exhaustive, it is meant to prompt thought and reflection.

Transform emotional energy to mental energy: self-care and team care

What do you do when your team feels frustrated and overwhelmed (can't be done, too much, don't understand or agree) and you along with them? Do you fall under the weight of an I can’t mentality? I am not a person who likes to say "it can't be done." There is always a way and yet that is where I found myself during COVID. 

  • Self-care: In order to lead a team and help others, you have to be filled with the same energy that you would like to experience. Self-care can look different for each individual. Here are techniques that have been effective for me: time in nature, with my support network (even via Zoom), reflection and meditation. These things help transform any stress and negative energy to positive, transformative energy allowing for cognitive pathways to be open. 

  • Team-care: While we cannot control the response of others, we need to look for techniques to support each other to transform feelings that may paralyze into action. What does team care look like? It may look different dependent on your team. Early on in COVID, my team decided to maintain our practice of meeting daily as an opportunity to connect and reflect. Our institution also focused on initiatives to provide care for the community.

Purposeful response

When chaos and the unknown loom around us, there is no better response than a purposeful one. While seemingly obvious, it can be easily overlooked when faced with pressures and a sense of urgency. How would one ensure purposeful response?

The following considerations can help offer clarity, shifting the complex and nebulous into focus:

  • Ask clarifying and reflection questions to define purpose and identify the gap.

  • Frame the conversation by providing an overview, exploring different perspectives, and focusing on possibilities while taking account of the barriers.

  • Once gaps are identified for accomplishing the goal, break down the steps to bridge the gap.

  • Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize: What can be put off? What can’t be put off?

  • Technification: The importance of technology highlight the need for framing, a system view, analysis, customer service and advanced problem-solving skills.

  • Reaching out and communication: Communication is vitally important in both defining the purpose and finding resolution. Training with the constituent’s perspective in mind is important and is also an opportunity to gather feedback.

Fast break (adaptability and flexibility)

For those not familiar with the term, a “fast break” is an offensive strategy used in basketball. In the world of registrars and admission officers, COVID has upped the pressure for the need for a fast break and moving into a scoring position as quickly as possible to reduce the number of obstacles in our way.

In basketball, “recognition, speed, ball-handling skills and decision making are critical to the success of a fast break.” In the world of higher education, fine-tuning the skill of a purposeful response as outlined above allows for the speed in decision making critical to responding to a changing environment.

Adaptability and flexibility may appear to go against the grain of a Registrar whose role is maintaining integrity and equity for the institution. However, with more introspection, Registrars are asked to be adaptable and flexible based on the sheer volume of problems and exceptions that are brought to us.

The context of purpose provides a frame that when well-defined can allow for a quick response that is necessary when dealing with the unknown.

What have we learned?

Life’s transitions are important for growth. In fact, it is the unexpected events in our lives can bring about the most growth. When pressure is felt all around, our higher purpose highlights what is important both in the framework in which we work and in identifying what is needed to equip others both for the task at hand but also for personal and professional development. 

We can either be crushed under the weight or choose to rise to the occasion. As one of my colleagues shared with me, “The Registrar as a constant steady leader is critical in times of uncertainty and change.  Having a calm demeanor, responding to the stresses and changes with confidence (despite whatever you are feeling on the inside) is essential for the team to feel secure that we will make it to the end.” Let’s use COVID unpreparedness as an opportunity to learn and reflect so we can thrive together individually and as a community to build resilience.