Programming Ideas

While messing around with my blog settings last week, I came across the search terms that most frequently bring people to this site. It shouldn’t have surprised me that a lot of people come here by searching “Door Dec Ideas”. I did the exact same thing when I found out I was going to be an RA.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of door dec ideas. I liked the ones I did (interstate signs with the person’s name and direction their dorm room faced) but I never took any pictures and it was the only idea I ever had to come up with. I think some schools change up their decs every month/semester…but we didn’t.

If I can brag though, I did come up with some pretty great programs this year, so I can talk about that. But first, I can share some things I learned about running a successful program.

1) Marketing. Start early, and cover all your bases. Social media has made it so easy to reach your entire residence population, but you have to try to be a little more creative. Students get inundated with so much information, and the more that business and schools cotton onto the ease and relative affordability of social media advertising, the more this becomes true. It also means that your program can get lost in the constant updates. and that’s why you can’t forget to use posters. We would do stuff like a massive chalk drawing to promote programs, or we’d stick our posters in random spots, or put them upside down–anything to get people to pay attention.

2) Rounds are a great way to let people know about a program. It’s easy to ignore a poster you pass every day; it’s a lot harder to ignore a person standing in front of you, telling you about the AMAZING trip that’s happening next weekend. This is also how you can convey your enthusiasm in a way that goes beyond putting six exclamation marks behind an announcement for your movie night!!!!!!

3) Choose programming your community wants, but also choose programming YOU want. Remember that you’re a student too, and if you like something, you’ll likely find other people who like it too. The more you love an idea, the more you’re going to put into it, which ultimately makes a better program. And when it’s 2:00 AM and you’re making posters for your Doctor Who marathon, you’re less likely to curse your job if you’re genuinely excited for the program.

Onto the ideas! These are the seven programs I ran (or helped run) last year.

1) Self-defence: This was moderately successful. We had to change the location at the last-minute due to weather, so fewer people showed up. We got a female police officer in to teach self-defence for two hours. We made it clear that the program was open to everyone, not just women. Everyone who showed up had a great time and we all learned tons. I got to flip people over my shoulder, something I never thought I could do!

2) Girls Night: This was something I did when I realized that my floor wasn’t bonding as much as they could have. It was super simple to plan. We made mocktails, played Just Dance 2, did face masks, and then watched Bridesmaids. I asked one of the girls who had shown some enthusiasm to come up with an ice-breaker and it was honestly the most successful part of the night (this also worked out well because I hate running ice-breakers). It was super successful, and all of my girls told me later it was one of the best things we did on the floor.

3) Proofreading: This one was definitely a failure. I hosted it about 2 weeks before exams when everyone had papers due for this communications class that was almost universally mandatory for every first year program. I’m not sure if it was the timing, or we just didn’t advertise enough, but even though people said they would show up, no one did.

(The secret no one ever tells you about programming is sometimes it works out when it fails. My friend Natasha and I spent the whole two hours working on our papers instead, and we both got A’s. But don’t tell my boss.)

4) Positive quotes: This was honestly a program borne out of total laziness. I wanted to do a positive body image program, and by the end of November, I just ran out of time. Instead, I wrote out a bunch of my favourite quotes in colourful markers and posted them all around our building. I figured that at least staff members would get a kick out of reading them on rounds, but to my surprise the residents LOVED it. I have tons of people tell me that they were having a really bad day, or were super stressed, and coming across the quotes made them feel way better.

My favourite quote?

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh

5) Santa Claus: Some of my best programs were ones I stole adapted from other people. This one started when my friend Brianna said she wanted to take her residents to see Santa. Someone else said we should get Santa to come to Res instead. I joked that we should get our boss to play Santa, and someone said that I would never in a million years convince him.

Challenge accepted.

He agreed, on the condition that our other boss dressed up like an elf. He reluctantly agreed, on the condition that I also be dressed like an elf. It was an awesome program. Brianna took pictures, and we charged $2 per person, or $1 with some canned goods for the food bank. We got so much food, so it was great charity event as well.

This was that staff picture we took:

Semester 2:

Therapy Dogs: I talked about this in an earlier post, and I can say it was the most successful program we did. My friend Whitney came up with the idea and I helped her execute. We knew that tons of resident missed their pets, and that dogs have been proven to make people feel better. It was so successful that we hosted it again closer to the end of the year.

The Hunger Games: Remember how I was talking about being enthusiastic about your program? This was a program I did because I was SO excited to see the Hunger Games I wanted to share it with other people who were just as enthusiastic. It was a great time, even though we had a small turnout. And I got to totally geek out with other Hunger Games fanatics.

Hallway Hunters: This was originally called “Marker Murder” but it was decided that “murder” was not something that should be promoted in residence, for some weird reason. The concept was adapted from a floor wars competition on my friend Ambre’s floor, where she gave every resident a Sharpie, with the goal that they needed to “mark” each other on the forearm in order to “kill each other”. She started it early in first semester and I think it was still going on into 2nd semester. We adapted ours so we were using clothespins, and we did it for our whole building. A great, low-cost programming idea that helps residents get to know each other.

Other programs: Some of the successful programs run by other RAs included going spelunking at some nearby caves, a trip to Medieval Times, a trip to Canada’s Wonderland for Halloween Haunt, a Disney Movie Marathon, and a great game my friend Ambre planned called “Zombie Island”.

If any new RAs have any questions about these programs, leave me a comment and I’ll give you as much information as I have. I still have posters for a lot of these programs saved, and I’d be happy to pass them along.

Almost there!

I’ve been really terrible at updating this week. I’ve been trying to focus on my exams/final projects. I have one more day (two exams!) of school left, and then I will be free! Well, almost. I have my last rounds shift on Friday, and move out on Saturday (which is sure to be insane) and then I have about 4 hours to pack up my own car for the drive home.

I have mixed feelings about the end of the year. For the last three weeks, I’ve honestly been feeling so burnt out and just ready to leave. Now that everything is winding down, I’m starting to get rather melancholy. I’ve made many good friends here, and tons of acquaintances I’m sad I won’t get to know better.

One of the best experiences in the last couple of weeks has been getting to know the new RAs a little better. Most of them are so nervous, and it’s funny to look back and remember how similar my own feelings were about becoming an RA. We’ve been trying to give them all the advice we can, but the truth is, you really learn as you go.

I’m looking forward to having a break when I get home, but I’m also full of motivation for some projects I want to work on. I don’t have a job lined up, which, while discouraging, also means that I can pursue some things I haven’t had a chance to in my six (6!) solid years of post-secondary education. I want to brush up on my French, volunteer with the Red Cross, and spend a little time helping, my little brother make his resume. Not to mention working on this blog! I really want to keep it going, and hopefully create some meaningful content. I have found so many good EM resources and articles in the last few weeks, and have had so little time to sit down and read them all! I’d like to share those, as well as some of my own lessons from this past year, in the next few weeks.

I have a feeling the ResLife portion of this blog will become smaller, since I will no longer be living at school, but I still have stories and experiences I want to share, so for the time being, I’m going to keep the name Disasters and Door Decs. I have been spending some time trying to think of a new name, however (mostly when I can’t sleep the night before an exercise/final–like now!).

I’m so, so excited for what this summer will bring!

The light at the end of the tunnel…

This is what the office desk looks like when I'm on duty

I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of the school year is only two weeks away, but it still feels so far. The next week is completely insane. There is a significant portion of my brain that this telling me to just bury my head under the covers and only come out when it’s all over. Another part is telling me to drop out.

Fortunately, the rational part is telling me to put a smile on and get through it, because I will be so proud of myself when it’s all over.

I’m currently studying for my DRI certification exam, which is tomorrow. This exam will certify me as an Associate Business Continuity Professional. Even though I’m not sure business continuity is the direction I want to go it, I know having this certification will be valuable if I do. Unfortunately, it feels as though there is too much to study and not enough time. I love my index cards, so I’ve been spending the last couple of days furiously writing out definitions and notes on the 10 professional Practices. Needless to say, I’ll be glad when it’s all over!

Tomorrow night I’m running another Therapy Dogs program. Everyone is stressed, and it seems even worse now that we only have two weeks left. It’s also getting to the point where some people realize that after this year, they probably won’t see each on a daily basis. This makes people either really sad, or really disrespectful, depending who you’re talking about. Hopefully the puppies will make everyone feel a bit better.

On Tuesday, we’re finalizing the business continuity plan we’ve been working on all year, and next week we will present it to our client. It’s been such a long time in coming, it’s hard to believe it’s almost done!

Wednesday is the most hectic day. Along with my group, I’ll be facilitating a tabletop exercise at an Ontario Ministry in order to test one of their emergency response plans. Our exercise is fine, but we need to practice the presentation aspect of it–definitely not my favourite thing to do. As soon as we are done at the Ministry, we’re heading back to school to deliver a public education program to our class. I’m doing mine on how businesses can help prevent terrorism. Again, my presentation is done, but I’ve been waiting until after DRI to practice it.

For those of us that are in the EM program as well as working in Res, we will then hurry back in order to get ready for the Student Leadership Banquet. I’m actually really excited about this, as we get to dress up and watch our colleagues receive awards for leadership. It should be a nice way to end a crazy day!

On Thursday I’m handing in the After-Action Report for the exercise I designed and controlled last week (more on that in another post), as well as starting work on the AAR for the Ministry exercise. Friday will be used for finishing everything up, and then Saturday is the school open house. Some of my classmates will be on the main campus, telling prospective students about the EM program, but I’ll be giving tours around the residence.

Let me tell you, I can’t wait to go home and have a break! I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have a job lined up, but I plan on spending the whole summer applying and volunteering, so I’m sure I won’t get too bored. It will definitely be nice to read books for fun again!

Links, pranks, and beautiful weather

It’s amazing how a change in the weather can cause such a shift in mood. I don’t think anyone demonstrates this better than college students.

It’s been absolutely beautiful here for the last week, and everyone has been outside, having barbeques, playing beach volleyball, and…getting up to no good. Relatively speaking. There has been an upswing in pranking lately, which certainly wasn’t helped by St. Patrick’s day. Which, all things considered, was actually pretty tame. Especially in comparison to this Ontario college. (My brother actually goes to Fanshawe, but he was nowhere near the riot, thank goodness).

We (staff) aren’t immune to the good weather either. Last week my fellow RA and I pranked our bosses office, by turning everything moveable upside-down. It’s the best prank because its easy to do and is minimally inconvenient. I went in there yesterday, and his coffee cup, binders, and some posters were still upside down.

This post on the importance of emergency evacuation drill on the fictional campaign site of Parks and Recreation character Leslie Knope, made me laugh out loud:  “The official Pawnee City Mandate for disaster evacuations reads, simply, “Run, dummies.””

I’m currently writing a public education program on terrorism, and I came across this article about terrorism not being the number 1 issue. It brings up the question: should emergency management efforts focus on the most prevalent hazards (in Canada: flooding and forest fires) or what the public thinks are the most prevalent hazards?

Decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases.” I have at least 5 different groups for various projects this year, and while I think group work can be beneficial (if incredibly aggravating) at times, I also love this article from one of my favourite columns, Bullish: Team Work is Overrated (How To Be A Lone Unicorn).

I took a course on Politics in Northern Ireland while I was studying in the UK, and Belfast was one of my favourite places to visit while travelling. While researching the 1998 Omagh bombing for a disaster recovery project, I found this article on how a trauma centre established after the bomb have been able help other victims of tragic events around the globe.

On modelling myself after Tami Taylor

Fact: I was a late hire for the ResLife team, so my interview was in May of last year, rather than February. It was right around the time that I started watching the last two seasons of Friday Night Lights.

I decided early on in the hiring process that if I were to be hired, I wanted to be the kind of mentor that Tami Taylor was to everyone in Dillon. Tami is everything I want to be when I grow up: strong, devoted to her family, full of life, always gracious and willing to help, and never, ever a pushover. It didn’t matter what situation she was dealing with, whether it was counselling a pregnant teenager or telling Tim Riggins what’s what, she always seemed to do or say the right thing. She perfected the art of slipping what she really wanted to say casually into the conversation — under a thick layer of sweet smiles and a few well-placed “y’all’s”. Above all, she was unfailingly polite and rarely lost her temper.

Some of my favourite scenes are the ones in which Tami is dealing with someone who is trying to walk all over her. This happens a lot when I’m on rounds. Residents will get caught with beer bottles or playing drinking games, and then try to intimidate RLS into leaving. (This happens almost exclusively when alcohol is involved). I’m in this situation, I try to channel my inner Tami.  When I’m in a tough spot, I remind myself to keep smiling and focus on my end goal, whether it’s getting a name, a bottle, or a ping-pong ball. It can be difficult not to take things personally when residents are swearing or being rude, but keeping up that smile works wonders at getting them to give up, or, even better, apologize.

I definitely don’t always succeed in emulating Ms. Taylor. She has a capability for empathy and diplomacy that I’m still trying to develop. But there are some things I know we have in common. I’m able to admit when I’m wrong, and I’m fiercely protective of my residents.

And I can’t wait for spring to start wearing my cowboy boots with everything!

OVERT Orientation

Last Tuesday, I drove myself and two of my colleagues/classmates to Bowmanville for an  OVERT (Ontario Volunteer Emergency Response Team) orientation session. Volunteering for OVERT has been something I’ve been interested in for a while, but it wasn’t realistic until this year.

The orientation certainly convinced me it was something I wanted to do. OVERT acts as a 2nd tier of emergency response, mostly assisting in Search and Rescue operations in Ontario. Its members are able to attend tons of free training and even go abroad with the organization, as well as participate in various community events. You can join different teams, from Marine and Search and Rescue, and even Canine (although it’s apparently really hard to get on).

One of the reasons that I want to join OVERT so badly is that it would allow me to participate in the exciting, first-response aspect of emergency management, while having a higher-level type EM position as a day job. I didn’t realize until becoming an RA how much I love first-response, and now that I have, I want it to be part of my life. I don’t however, want it to be part of my everyday life, as a police officer or firefighter. Being able to respond to emergencies on a part-time, or volunteer basis, would be perfect for me.

Unfortunately, in order to join OVERT you need to be available for all training dates, and the first weekend falls on the same day as move-out, which I’m under contract to attend. I still may talk to my boss and see what he says, because this is something I really want to do.

In the meantime, I’m using my renewed enthusiasm to get pumped up for the exercises we have coming up in the next few weeks. Even though I wasn’t on the design team for these ones, I still feel just as invested, and can’t wait to see how they turn out!

Focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses

Right before reading week, my boss handed all of us copies of the book Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath, and gave us an assignment. We all had to log on to the Strengths Finder website and do an assessment, and then come back to residence with our top five strengths written out. We all groaned and complained, because the last thing we wanted to do on our break was MORE homework. Our boss told us very politely to shut up, and that personal development activities were part of our contract. So one day while sitting by the pool in Florida, I took out the book, logged onto the site, and did the assessment.

I’m so glad I did. The strengths finder theory is that people spend the majority of their time trying to improve upon their weaknesses, or following goals that don’t play to their natural strengths. The goal of the assessment is to find the strengths that come to you naturally, and give you the tools to develop them. The assessment told me that my top 5 strengths were:

1) Input (collecting knowledge or information)
2)  Restorative (solving problems)
3) WOO (Winning others over)
4) Communication (self-explanatory)
5) Includer (helping others feel included)

At first, I looked at the results skeptically. The test seemed a little too simple to be able to know what my strengths were. Not only that, but some of the questions required knowledge of myself I’m not sure I possessed. But the more I read about the different strengths, the more I agreed.

Input, in particular, really seems to fuel a lot of what I do. I love collecting bits of information, whether its random facts, new ideas, or even jokes. I don’t always know what I’m going to do with the information, but simply collecting it makes me happy. When I’m able to make connections between the knowledge, or able to turn it into something useful, like a story or an essay, that’s when I really feel engaged. This desire fuels the restorative strength, because I like to help other people solve problems using my knowledge or ideas. It fuels the WOO and Includer strengths, because that knowledge helps me make connections with other people. The communication strength is both assisted by and assists all of the other strengths–I love talking, and writing, and when I can talk or right about the information I’m interested in, I am happy as a clam.

Tonight we did a seminar based on the findings from the book. We found out who had similar strengths, and who had complimentary strengths. For example, my SRA had Disciple as her #1 strength, which works well with my Input because I can get sidetracked when I’m chasing information and lose focus. We also talked about how to explain and give examples of these strengths in a job interview.

We realized that we all had very similar strengths, and it was pointed out that RAs all would–after all, you need particular skills and interests in order to even want the job, let alone to do the job well. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the skills that came up were the ones that really involved interacting with people.

I loved learning more about myself and figuring out how to use those strengths to my advantage. So often I focus on my weakness and areas to improve, rather than on developing the skills I already have. I’m definitely going to be referring to this book again, both for career purposes and for my own personal development purposes.

On another note: I also won employee of the month tonight. It was a great way to start a night that was all about focusing on strengths 🙂

Organization, procrastination, and the perpetual importance of preparedness

It’s a little bit funny just how much I’ve missed my day planner this week. I never think of myself as an organized person–I’m constantly forgetting my keys, my phone, my assignments, to the point that it’s become a running joke with my residents that I can’t leave the suite without running back at least once. But that’s probably why I rely on my day planner so much. I tend to do organization in spurts. I will wait until my room gets really messy and then clean it all in one big sweep. I find that once I get going, it’s hard for me to stop. It’s the same with scheduling. I write down everything at the beginning of the semester, or the week, and then don’t touch it again. I wish I could be one of those people who were ALWAYS meticulously organized–but alas. My talent lies in my extremes, I guess.

There are several things I use to organize myself. This year especially, with all of our exercises and clients, I’ve really relied, like I said, on my dayplanner. I have this pretty patent Coach agenda that I bought at an outlet in Pennsylvania for the low, low price of I couldn’t remember if you paid me. I use it not just for scheduling, but it also has all my numbers and addresses, birthdays, and other information I can’t forget. I also use it for collecting business cards, which I did a lot this week.

I love the gold lined pages - they make me feel fancy and grown up - but I hate that it's impossible to get refills for the notepad at the back.

Because I’m extra paranoid (see above: forgetful) I also put everything into my iCal, which automatically syncs with my iPhone and iPad. My agenda is pretty heavy, so I don’t usually carry it around with me. But having everything phone means I usually have a pretty good idea of my schedule. My phone also reminds me of most appointments the day of, which is both helpful and annoying.

I use to-do lists sporadically. I tend to update the one on my phone in bed–that way I can tell my brain to shut up and stop worrying before I got to sleep. I also make them on paper, so that when I cross stuff off I can have that visual confirmation that I am, in fact, being productive. I like lists a lot, but I also find they can sometimes get in the way of productivity. Lists are very linear and my brain and life are not. So, for example, if I put “clean car”, “finish MSEL”, and “do bulletin board” next to each other, I will tend to prioritize based on which is most important (MSEL). But sometimes, my best tool can be my power of procrastination. If I always focused on the most important item, I would literally never get anything done. Sometimes I need to clean my car first, which will make me feel so good I’ll be able to sit down and concentrate on my MSEL. Or maybe while I do my bulletin board, I’ll come up with a good idea for an input. So, in conclusion, while lists are great, sometimes it’s better for me to keep my unofficial to do list in my head.

Today I managed to get LOADS of stuff done–unfortunately, none of it was the one thing I should be doing, which is finishing my essay on how liability can impact the recovery process. I’ve been so much better at being organized and proactive this year, however, which is great. Then again, sometimes I look like this:

This is not too different from how I've been this weekend

One method I really miss is Microsoft OneNote. I switched over to Mac about 4 years ago and haven’t looked back, but boy oh boy do I miss OneNote. For all you PC users out there who have seen OneNote on your computers but have never used it, USE IT. It’s truly the best note taking software out there, and I miss it all the time. I’ve been using Evernote, and it’s okay, but it’s not the same. The day they come out with OneNote for Mac, I will be first in line to buy it. My favourite feature was how when you copied and pasted something, it automatically pasted the link right under it. I also liked writing anywhere on the page (see above: non-linear brain).

Of course, all of this is really just to say that like anything in EM or ResLife, it’s all about preparedness. Since I’m so very aware of my tendency to forget things, I try extra hard to compensate for that.

Link Roundup

I’m visiting my grandparents in Florida for the week, and in an attempt to relax, I’ve been reading more than writing. Here are some of the interesting things I’ve found:

Article about a 17 year old in Massachusets who started a Facebook page after a tornado hit her town and completely changed how the town responded to the recovery

A bit late, but this writer suggested tracking Twitter hashtags during the Superbowl to see how quickly information would move during a crisis event.

I read this post on Spirituality in Preparedness on this EM blog and have found myself thinking about it quite a lot over the past couple of days. While attending mass with them yesterday, I found myself wondering if the church had a disaster plan–or how many of the congregation had emergency kits. The author also tells the background of the Maltese Cross, a crest seen on most firefighters.

I’m currently obsessed with Adulting, a blog about becoming a grown-up in 387 easy(ish) steps, so obviously I was thrilled when I came across this post about having an emergency kit for your house

This would be a great bulletin board idea.

One of my coworkers has been printing these out, because almost every one of them is true: You Know You’re An RA When…

I love this PDF guide to turning your RA skills into resume-friendly skills. “Stayed up until 4am breaking up a fight between two drunk girls and a parrot” gets turned into: “Maintained flexible hours while using conflict resolution and crisis management skills to mediate tense situations.”

Is it a snow day if it means more schoolwork?

On the list of things I have learned many times but still do anyway, not doing homework on my bed is in the top ten. They say that you should really only use your bed for sleeping and sex, but when I really, really don’t want to do homework and know I have to, sometimes it can make me feel better to do it in/on my bed.

At this very moment, I’m on my bed, surrounded by homework, my iPad, the contents of my purse, and about half the clothes I’m planning on taking with me on my trip to Florida.

To be fair, while my Dad is painting his room, my room at home is filled with his bookcases and my desk is covered with debris that has migrated in here the two months since I was home last. My bed is pretty much the only space available to do homework.

Last night my brother took the bus from London and met me at school. Our plan was to spend the night out with my friends and then drive home. I leave for Florida Saturday afternoon and he leaves Sunday. Unfortunately, because of this crazy snow, we decided to drive home last night. I think my Dad was especially relieved, and so am I, when I look out my window and see this:

The snow may be a bit of a blessing in disguise, because I have so much homework to do that I’m afraid I wont have much of a vacation at all! I have to write a 15 page paper on an issue that’s faced during the recovery process, put together a manual for an Emergency Operations Centre, and figure out a narrative for an IMS-based exercise. On top of that are various smaller tasks for the groups I’m a part of! So all this snow is a really good excuse to stay in and get work done before Florida!

I have to admit, it’s also nice to be out of residence for a change! When I try to do homework in my room at school, it can be so hard to concentrate with people coming in to ask for guest passes, access to the housekeeping closet, and other concerns. It can also be very tempting to pay more attention to my RA duties (like bulletin boards, suite visits, log sheets, etc) when they seem so much easier than homework. I hope that reading week will be a much deserved break, and I can return to Res with my batteries re-charged.