Staying Grounded: What is Mindfulness Anyways?

 

Tyler Hall

 

Tyler Hall, Student Success Advisor, Dalhousie University

 

Throughout our day, a myriad of students come through our offices and share with us their stories. Sometimes they are stories of triumph, but others feel defeated and need support. Our schedules keep up busy and very rarely do we have time to collect our thoughts before the next student. It is vital as an advisor that we take a peaceful pause and stay grounded, even if only for a few minutes. Chaos can be tempting. It threatens to pull at us and rush us along on its path of uncertainty, but there are ways to resist the pull. It can be challenging at times, but I know I can always come back to one thing. Mindfulness.

The term Mindfulness is thrown around a lot as a magic cure-all band-aid for anxiety and stress. “Do some mindfulness and you will be fine.” Mindfulness takes practice. Mindfulness takes work. It takes commitment to notice when your mind wanders away from what is important and begins to drift to less productive thoughts. You begin to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness and many definitions but for me, the first definition I heard stuck. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. In that sentence, they summarize the 5 things one needs to do to stay mindful.

Pay Attention

This is often the hardest part, but the most important. To stay mindful, you need to notice when you are not being mindful. We all have had those interactions with students that leave us with our heads on our desks. Sometimes it is from feeling lost as to what advice to give, or sometimes a student has shared a particularly emotional story. Sometimes those feelings can stay with us all day. It is important to pay attention to our thoughts and notice when this happens. Without that attention, this feeling can continue to weigh on us and take us down even further.

In a Particular Way

Once you are able to notice these moments, it is adding intention that begins to create a mindful state. What you do once you notice these moments is the next step. How can you move through the experience in a useful way? How can you sit with these feelings and be comfortable with them? This is where the mindfulness techniques come into play.

On Purpose

Similar to the above statement, intention is so important. Mindfulness must be done on purpose, not by accident. If thoughts are noticed by accident and you deal with them and move on without a purposeful mindset, that is not mindfulness. Before I begin any mindfulness session, whether it is 3 minutes before my next student or 20 minutes at the end of my day. I say out loud, I am going to begin a mindfulness practice. Saying it out loud and defining it helps shift your thinking to the task at hand.

In the Present Moment

Sometimes you will hear mindfulness described as being present. The present is the only thing we have control over. The past has happened, and the future has yet to happen. How we deal with what is happening now can help us steer where we want to go. This can be one of the hardest things to do. Our minds like to wander away from the present. It could be thinking of past appointments with students or what you are going to make for dinner.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space is our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom” – Viktor Frankl

That space is the present moment and we need to embrace it. By slowing down and becoming aware of that space, we gain control of that power to choose our response. Sometimes autopilot takes over and doesn’t make the best choice.

Non-judgementally

Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of mindfulness is treating thoughts without judgement. Even when you have set an intention and are being mindful in the present moment, thoughts will cross your mind. It is important to give them no emotional weight whether positive or negative. Every thought is neutral as it floats through. The trick is to notice them and let them go and focus back on the present.

So what now?

Hopefully, you can begin to understand what mindfulness is and what it isn’t. There are many ways to practice it be it meditation, mindful eating, mindful driving, body scans, etc; but the heart of it lies in the five tenants that Jon Kabat Zinn sets out. Mindfulness is and will always be a practice. There is nothing to overcome, no blackbelt or Michelin star proclaiming you are the best. It is just about paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

As advisors, we are constantly exposed to struggles and hardships faced by students. It is vital that we stay present not only to serve the students better, but so we can serve ourselves. For me, mindfulness is a way of life and a great comfort when things get challenging. I encourage you all to think about mindfulness and how the tenants above sit with your understanding.

Techniques to Stay Mindful

3 minute mindfulness

This was one of the first techniques that I was introduced to when starting my mindfulness journey. The best part is, you just listen to the video and follow the directions. I encourage you to carve 3 minutes out, find a comfortable position, sit intentionally ready to engage in mindfulness, and listen. The video below is just one of many on Youtube. Explore different ones and find which ones work for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evJHBLldMsE

Seated Mindfulness

Once you feel comfortable with guided mindfulness like above, you may want to branch out and create your own way of being mindful. One way to do that is to sit intentionally and focus on the present. Easier said then done. I often pick an anchor, something to focus on that is happening right now to keep me focused.

While seated, close your eyes if comfortable and set a timer. Start with 3 minutes if you can and work your way up once you feel more comfortable. Start by setting your intention and acknowledge that this is a mindful practice.

Sound – This is the first anchor that you can try. While being mindful, focus your thoughts on the sounds around you. What can you hear? What sounds are new now that you are being mindful? The challenging thing is to not judge these sounds. You may notice the tick of a clock come into your focus. This might be annoying. This is a judgement. Try to let that judgement go and focus only on the sound.

Breath – Another way to focus your thoughts on the present is to focus on breathing. Notice as it fills your chest and then leaves your body. Judgement can come in to play if you begin to worry about the rate at which you are breathing or the sound it makes. Let the judgements go and focus only on the breath.

Body – A third way to focus is on the body. One of the easiest ways is to do a body scan. Starting at the top or bottom, mentally scan your body and notice each part individually. Sometimes you will become mindful of pain or irritation. Try to notice these neutrally and then move on. An example of a guided body scan can be found here:

https://www.mindful.org/the-body-scan-practice/

Inevitably your mind will wander, thinking about other things. When this happens, notice it and refocus on your anchor. That notice and refocus is what being mindful is all about. You may need to pull yourself back every few seconds when you begin but as you practice, you will be able to stay mindful with fewer distractions. You will never be perfect so treat each session as a practice without comparing to other times. Only the present matters.

These are only a few methods that can be incorporated right at your desk between students. There are a myriad of techniques to practice mindfulness, so I encourage you to try out ones that work for you. Some resources I have found helpful are below. Just remember, the act of practising is doing. There is no right or wrong, only practice.

Resources:

Online

www.happify.com

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/mindfulness-exercises-techniques-activities/

http://www.freemindfulness.org/download

Books

Hanh, T. N. (1999). The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the practice of meditation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harris, D. (2014). 10% happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works–A true story. New York: Harper Collins .

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hatchette Book Group.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam Books.

Advertisements

CACUSS and NACADA Competency Frameworks Compared: Which works best for the Canadian Advising Professional?

Paul SileikaThe CACUSS Student Affairs and Services Competency Model and the NACADA Advising Core Competencies Model were both released relatively recently. For those of us who are involved in NACADA and CACUSS, we are in the advantageous position of having two frameworks to work with when looking to implement training and development for our institutions.

On a personal note, the emergence of these competency models also mirrored my professional life.

I work full-time at Ryerson coordinating university-wide projects for supporting academic advising.  As we begin to move forward with training programs I have been using the NACADA model to design advising workshops with the first series being centred around the “Relational” component, with the “Informational” and “Conceptual” to follow in the future.

I also teach a class for the Student Advising and Support Certificate at George Brown part-time in the evenings. As part of the curriculum, we spend the first class discussing the CACUSS Competency Model since we have students in this course who may work across several different student affairs roles. We typically begin the first class by reflecting on our strongest competencies as well as our weakest so that we can direct our learning based on what we want to improve.

Below are my thoughts on the two competency models. If you agree or disagree we would love to hear from you! Feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

NACADA Competency Model Advantages

1) Specifically designed for the role of academic advising

The NACADA core competencies are based on three components: Conceptual, Informational and Relational with more details listed under each component. The conceptual refers to theories and approaches of advising, the informational to institutional knowledge, and the relational refers to your advising skills. These competencies can help most advisors find where they have room for improvement in regards to their professional practice.

The CACUSS competency model, on the other hand, is meant to cover a whole array of student affairs roles with its 11 different competencies (more details below). It does have seemingly equivalent competencies: higher education acumen could stand in for informational, emotional and interpersonal intelligence could stand in for relational and student learning and development could stand in for conceptual. On some level, CACUSS could be considered equally apt however it is much broader and not meant solely for advising staff and faculty. For simplicity, the NACADA model works well for departments that are focused solely on advising as opposed to a broader Student Affairs department.

2) Competencies can be applied in ways to fit your institution

One of the benefits of the NACADA competencies is that it can work within any institution’s mission and processes. For example under the Informational Component there are some competencies that lend themselves to institution-specific knowledge:

1- Institution specific history, mission, vision, values, and culture

2- Curriculum, degree programs, and other academic requirements and options.

3- Institution specific policies, procedures, rules, and regulations

7- Information technology applicable to relevant advising roles.

These points are generic but also applicable to every college or university. These points acknowledge the value of an institution’s unique mission and values.

CACUSS Competency Model Advantages

1) You can explore more nuances with the CACUSS Competency Model

The CACUSS Competencies include:

Communication; Emotional and interpersonal Intelligence; Intercultural; Indigenous cultural awareness; Post-secondary acumen; Equity, diversity and inclusion; Leadership; management and administration; Strategic planning; research and assessment; Student advising; support and advocacy; Student learning and development; Technology and digital engagement.

When I presented these two models to my students one of them pointed out that she found the NACADA competencies limiting whereas the CACUSS competencies allowed you more room to explore.

The higher number of the CACUSS competencies (11 with CACUSS versus 3 with NACADA) allows you take a strengths-based approach to your own career in student services. You can find the competencies that work best with your skills set and reflect on how that allows you to contribute to the field of student affairs. Professionals who use the CACUSS Competency Model can identify where they are already strong by using the levels of core, intermediate and advanced as outlined in the detailed CACUSS Competency Model document.

2) CACUSS has the Canadian context in mind

The CACUSS Competency Model describes itself as “uniquely Canadian.” The document states that “many noted provincial diversity, language differences, Aboriginal student success, and the differences between colleges and universities.”

Indeed many student affairs professionals across Canada are interested in supporting Indigenous students attending college and university. When my students rank their strongest and weakest CACUSS competencies, typically Indigenous cultural awareness is the one area where professionals are eager to learn more. This is just one of the ways that the CACUSS Competency Model may demonstrate itself to be a better fit for Canadian academic advising professionals.

So with these ideas in mind, which do you think is the best model for the Canadian academic advising professional? Leave your comments below if you are interested in engaging in a discussion on this exciting topic for advising in Canada!

2017 CACUSS Preview

As the 2017 CACUSS conference draws near, the task of planning one’s time to make the most of the event is top of mind.  Each year, we’re overwhelmed by the number of fabulous sessions to choose from and the variety of topics that are presented.  There is so much going on at the conference that it’s almost a test of stamina to be able to take advantage of the sessions and networking opportunities.  As a way of helping attendees focus on a particular interest area, the conference program this year will identify both the Communities of Practice (CoP) and the CACUSS competencies that are relevant to a particular session.  These will be added to the digital program to help you easily choose the sessions might be the most relevant to your interests. It is worth noting not every presenter added a Community of Practice to their proposal so it’s in your best interest to read through the program and find the gems of sessions that will enhance your conference experience.

As the co-chairs of The Advising CoP (as we will officially be known – phew – because our old name was just so much of a mouthful to say and type and don’t even get us started on printing buttons!), we have provided a list of topics for several of the advising specific sessions for your consideration.  From advising special populations, to advising models, to advising portfolios, the CACUSS conference promises to deliver a variety of sessions to address your advising challenges. The breadth of topics relevant to advisors and those with a keen interest in advising includes:

  • Advising special populations
    • Grad students
    • Online students
    • At-risk students
  • Advising models
    • Integration of career and academic advising
    • Collaboration between student affairs and academic affairs
  • Advising Approaches and frameworks
    • Advising and retention
    • Appreciative advising
    • Advisors as cultural navigators
  • Professional development
    • Advising communities
    • Student Affairs collective
    • Team building
    • Academic learning and storytelling

As an association that embraces student services of all types, we would be remiss if we did not encourage all attendees to find sessions that will help them expand their own professional practice.  And we all know that conferences are more than just attending fabulous sessions, they are also about opportunities to network with old friends and a chance to meet new colleagues from across the country.  Since the introduction of the CoP model a couple of years ago, CACUSS has built in opportunities for professionals to network with like-minded folk both during the conference and at social events.  This year, the Advising CoP will be hosting both a CoP social (Monday, June 12 at 6:00 pm at the Highlander Pub) and a CoP meeting on Tuesday, June 13 at 9:00 am (which is so much better than 7:30 am), we hope you will mark these in your calendar!

At our CoP meeting on Tuesday morning, our goal will be to meet with folks who want to either find out more about our CoP or folks who would like to become more involved with our activities.  We are open to your ideas about the types of activities that the CoP should be working on throughout the year, so reaching out to the co-chairs of the CoP is a great way to become more engaged and active.  We will also be launching our steering committee later this summer that will have a number of small projects over the course of the year.

Finally, we would like to thank Tim Fricker, outgoing co-chair for the Advising CoP, for his tireless work and effort to establish the Integrated Academic and Professional Advising CoP.  We hope that he will continue to be involved in the great advising conversations that we have been fortunate to have begun over the last couple of years.  Joining us as in the role of in-coming co-chair for the Advising CoP will be Paige Doherty from St. Jerome’s University, federated with the University of Waterloo.  Paige is currently working on her M. Ed and has been involved with CACUSS as a conference reviewer, presenter and CoP member for the past two years.  We are looking forward to Paige’s contributions in the Advising CoP.

Shea Ellingham, Mount Royal University
Darran Fernandez, University of British Columbia
Tim Fricker, Mohawk College
Paige Doherty, St. Jerome’s University

Finding a professional home for advisors in Canada

Any good storyteller will tell you that the key to a good plot is tension. For many years, the tension for academic advisors in Canada has been centered on our own professional identity.  As academic advisors, do we fit within the sphere of student affairs professionals?  As Canadians, do we see enough common ground to fit within NACADA? For faculty advisors across Canada, professional development is often housed within their academic discipline which can exclude primary-role or professional advisors. Without a common professional home that is inclusive for all, the result is a lack of common identity for Academic Advisors in Canada. The tension builds . . .

I have been a member of NACADA for eight years and in that time, I have served as a Regional Conference Chair, Region Steering Committee member and most recently, I have taken on the role of co-chair for the Canada Interest Group.  I know that the number of Canadian members of NACADA is a small percentage of those who advise across Canada. Many of us join NACADA in those years that we plan to attend either a Regional or the Annual conference and few of us take part in or recognize the other value-added benefits of our NACADA memberships outside of conference attendance.

The story for conference attendance at CACUSS is somewhat similar for academic advisors, we only become a member of the association when we plan to attend an annual conference.  I also think that it’s challenging for academic advisors to actually see where they fit within CACUSS because, for many years, it’s been challenging to find advising related sessions at the annual conferences. The development of the Communities of Practice model over the last three years has provided an opportunity for academic advisors to find space within CACUSS and see themselves as members of the association.

My goal in becoming involved as the co-chair of the Canada Interest Group for NACADA and a co-chair of the Integrated Academic and Professional Advising Community of Practice with CACUSS was to reach out to advisors across the country and help promote awareness of advising in and across Canada.

In the December issue of Academic Advising Today, a NACADA publication, Erin Justyna wrote about advising as a profession and several of the initiatives currently underway that will contribute to the conversation, namely Advising Core Values and Academic Advising Core Competencies. Both happen to be under revision, as Justyna (December, 2016) adds, “the revised core values and the core competencies model will continue to define the advising profession and provide a solid conceptual framework within which advisors can work and will allow for more consistency in advising practice.” And closer to home, CACUSS recently launched a set of core competencies for Student Affairs professionals, including academic advisors (Fernandez et al, 2016). The establishment of the core competency framework through CACUSS is reflective of the association identifying the need for student affairs professionals, and among them academic advisors, to acquire the skills needed to advance professionally at an introductory, intermediate and senior level. These frameworks from both CACUSS and NACADA, in effect, establish a professional space for academic advisors in Canada.  Academic advising has been recognized at many Canadian institutions as an activity that is critical to student success and the work on competencies and core values at both NACADA and CACUSS provide an opportunity to inform and advance the field of advising.

The story is by no means over, but perhaps we are ready to begin a new chapter with the work that NACADA and CACUSS are doing on behalf of academic advisors and student affairs professionals. NACADA’s executive director, Charlie Nutt wrote in that same December, 2016 issue of Academic Advising Today, that academic advisors are fortunate in that we often have “ . . . had a foot in both academic and student affairs . . .” and our work should be on building bridges between the two spheres rather than competing against one another. He adds, “just as higher education is complex, the work we do across campuses to increase student success is complex and cannot be done in isolation or in established silos” (Nutt, 2016, December). It is possible to work together between and within professional associations to achieve practical goals that will support our students and ourselves as professionals.  This is a good news story for advisors in Canada. We have the opportunity to become engaged members wherever we see that our professional development interests are being met and where we feel that we have a voice that allows us to make a meaningful contribution to our profession.

by Shea Ellingham

References

Fernandez, D., Fitzgerald, D., Hambler, P., & Mason-Innes, T. (2016) CACUSS student affairs and services competency model. Overview retrieved from: http://www.cacuss.ca/Student_Affairs_and_Services_Competency_Model.html

Justyna, E. (2016, December). On being an advising professional. Academic Advising Today, 39(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/On-Being-an-Advising-Professional.aspx

Nutt, C. (2016, December). From the executive director: Building collaborative partnerships to support student success. Academic Advising Today, 39(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-Executive-Director-Building-Collaborative-Partnerships-to-Support-Student-Success.aspx

Welcome to your community

As an advising professional, no matter in what capacity you advise students, this community is for you.  There are great things happening in Canada with respect to post-secondary advising, but we don’t as yet have a means to promote this greatness widely. So welcome to your community.

Just like the elusive perfect model for academic advising, there is no such perfect approach to academic advising.  We wanted to create a digital space that can be both a resource and a forum, an opportunity for sharing and learning from one another.  We also wanted to be able to highlight activities, and relevant news from professional associations – primarily CACUSS and NACADA.  But we are not limited here either – NASPA, ACPA, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – the avenues for resource sharing, research and professional development abound.  It’s difficult to keep track of them all and we don’t propose that we will be able to do that here, but we wanted to be able to have a space where membership is not a pre-requisite for access to information or discussion.  All that is required is an interest and willingness to get involved.

Who are we?  We are the co-chairs of the Community of Practice for Integrated Academic and Professional Advising through CACUSS and the co-chairs for the Canada Interest Group for NACADA and we have been working for the past couple of years to find out more about advising across this country.

Just over two years ago, the CACUSS Community of Practice for Integrated Professional and Integrated Academic Advising was launched just prior to the annual conference in Vancouver.  At the inaugural meeting of conference attendees who expressed interest in the community of practice, we asked the question “what do you want from this CoP and how can we, the co-chairs, best serve the interests of the community members”? As a result of that first conversation, we distributed a survey to find out more about what advising looks like across the country, we hosted a webinar to discuss the results of this survey and also published our survey results in an issue of Communique (CACUSS publication).

In April at the Region 5 NACADA conference in Toronto, Tim Fricker led a pre-conference workshop with advisors to delve into the ‘state of advising in Canada’ and determine what role CACUSS, NACADA and OAAP can play with respect to promoting the profession of advising across the country.  Advisors identified networking, communications, professional development, association partnerships and research as areas of growth that are needed in order to better brand advising  in Canada. You can read more about this session on the OAAP blog.

In May 2016 at the Annual CACUSS conference a group of conference attendees gathered very early on the last morning of the conference and talked about plans for the next year to help anchor a Canadian advising network and communication became a topic of conversation.  We asked “how can we best reach the advising community across the country?” And how can we be sure that this network of advising is inclusive and enables advisors to participate outside of a membership requirement?” And so, the idea of an independent blog/website was born.

We hope that you will share your best practices for advising on your campus.  How have you overcome the challenges of resources, advisor to student ratios, working with at-risk and special populations? This forum is an opportunity to share your successes and your challenges with your colleagues as a way of promoting advising in Canada.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Looking Ahead- Conferences

If you are planning on conference attendance this year related to Academic Advising or Student Affairs, here are some possibilities from CACUSS and NACADA:  (if you have other conference opportunities to share, please add them to the blog)

CACUSS Annual Conference, June 11-14, 2017
Ottawa, Ontario
http://www.cacuss.ca/professional_development_conferences.htm
Call for programs closes January 13, 2017

Regional Opportunities:

NACADA Region 1 (includes Newfoundland  and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec)
March 8-10, 2017
Verona, NY
Call for proposals closed October 24, 2016

NACADA Region 5 (includes Ontario and Nunavut)
March 15-17, 2017
Rosemont, IL
Call for proposals closes November 28, 2016

NACADA Region 6 (includes Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories)
May 17-19, 2017
Winnipeg, MB
Call for proposals for pre-conference session closes November 21, 2016 and concurrent sessions proposals are due by January 27, 2017

NACADA Region 8 (includes Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon)
April 10-12, 2017
Missoula, MT
Call for proposals pre-conference sessions proposal close December 20, 2016, final date for concurrent sessions close January 12, 2017

AACUSS 2017 (Atlantic Association of College and University Student Services
May 24-26, 2017
Dalhousie University, Truro, NS

Manitoba Advising Professionals Conference
November 3-4, 2016
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB

Ontario Academic Advising Professionals Conference
Dates TBA
York University, Toronto, ON

NACADA Region 2
March 29-31, 2017
Pittsburgh, PA
Call for proposals closes November 18, 2016

NACADA Region 3
April 19 – 21, 2017
Raleigh, NC
Call for proposals closes November 28, 2016

NACADA Region 4
March 29-31, 2017
Jackson, MS
Call for proposals closes December 2, 2016

NACADA Region 7
February 26-28, 2017
Tulsa, OK
Call for proposals closes November 18, 2016

NACADA Region 9
March 22-24, 2017
Reno, NV
Call for proposals closed October 31, 2016

NACADA Region 10
March 20-22, 2017
Phoenix, AZ
Call for proposals closes November 15, 2016