If you are a fan of Brene Brown, you recognize the title. I’ve learned so much about trust, connection, shame, and courage from many of her books and podcasts. It has made me a better parent, friend, and advisor. Interested? Start with The Gifts of Imperfection.

In her books, she talks about embracing the awkward moments and being vulnerable instead of hustling towards perfection. I agree, life is awkward and I’m happier when I am authentically me and not focused on what other’s might be thinking or saying. I’m me, you are you, and that’s great.

As an advisor, there have been many awkward moments over the last few months in virtual meetings. I’m not bothered by many of them, but we each have our comfort zone and our own set of expectations. Some advisors have been caught off-guard by a male student without a shirt in their room or perhaps as a parent, a tiny person ran past in little or no clothing. In our office, we took time to talk about how to embrace the awkward, be brave in asking for what we need and setting appropriate boundaries in a kind way. These teachable moments are important to our students and we need to be prepared for them to happen. Being kind and authentic with a simple, acknowledgment that this is life in our home during a pandemic and thanking them for their patience and understanding has gone a long ways. Statements that allow students to save face always create stronger rapport, “I am glad you didn’t want to miss my call. I’m happy to wait while you find a shirt for our meeting.” These opportunities to show grace to our students while still setting boundaries and expectations can be tricky to navigate, but kindness and tone go a long way in creating a safe and trusting virtual space.

Virtual spaces don’t have the same intimacy as a cozy, limited-distraction office. Unlike my office, virtual meetings provide shared glimpses into both our spaces. I start my appointments acknowledging the space I’m in, who else is home with me and acknowledge the interruptions that might happen. I tell them I appreciate their patience. I then ask if there’s anyone else in the space with them too. During our freshmen orientation advising session, it was common for parents or siblings to be just off screen, sometimes even in the car on a road trip. It helped to know and acknowledge them. It allowed me to understand the situation. I also kindly encourage them to turn the camera on. I gently tell them that I am not judging them or their backgrounds, simply wanting to see their facial reactions and get to know them better. It is these simple things that help strengthen our virtual connection and allows students to connect with us and the institution.

This spring, WACADA has a great opportunity to dive deeper into these concepts with the Spring Professional Development on Friday, May 14th from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Save the date for “Strengthening Virtual Connections”. The planning committee is looking for presenters to share their wisdom of using online advising resources, strategies, and more. Call for proposals are due Friday, April 16, complete this form. Virtual advising is a great tool that I hope will remain for many of life’s situations beyond the pandemic. I envision times when students are sick, snowy Wisconsin weather, or work-life balance needs of the advisor allow for service to students in this accessible way. I hope you can attend and be part of the conversation about how to strengthen and create sustainable virtual connections for advisees and colleagues.

Wishing you an awkward, brave and kind spring!

Mehgan Clark
WACADA President Elect