More Butter for Your Bread: The Brag Board Project
For many of us, February can be a challenge. The novelty and the feelings of starting fresh in a new semester is over, and the long and cold days can be difficult for both students and student services professionals alike. For many students, money starts dwindling in second term. Student mental health challenges are more prevalent, and graduating students are anxious about the transition to their next career steps. For us student services professionals, as we rise to meet students about their challenges, we must also ethically ensure that we are addressing our own challenges.
For me, in the winter, I often think about the Bilbo Baggins quote from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: “I feel thin, sort of stretched - like butter scraped over too much bread”. This time of the year, I am often drowsy, lacking energy and feel that the needs will always exceed available resources. I know, during these times, that I need to start practicing for myself the principles of self-care that we’re so quick to remind our students about. For me, “self-care” doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in temporary distractions from my busy life (although those can be fun, too). It means reaching inside and reminding myself why I choose to engage in our work on a daily basis.
Often, in student services, we don’t necessarily get to see the results of our work with students. Sometimes, our paths may cross with students only one time and for a very specific purpose. When we are fortunate enough to learn that students have achieved their goals that we have helped them with, we hold tightly to those moments. It could be a student telling you that they got a job interview, a student sending a quick email that they got into the graduate school of their choice, or sending a thank you card to share that they met a personal goal.
I began my brag board project after seeing these small breadcrumbs manifest in my work life. Students would occasionally send me cards, emails, or letters to let me know about significant and positive achievements in their life that I had, in some small way, helped them with. I began collecting and keeping these small stories as a reminder for those times when I feel ineffective, frustrated or feel that projects aren’t moving forward as fast as I hoped. I assembled these into a memory board that I crafted for the purpose of reminding me about the important work that I choose to engage in.
The board is an eclectic mix of handwritten expressions of gratitude, email printouts of success, notes, cards and mementos from students, colleagues and supervisors. It is also a living canvas: I incorporate or set aside elements as I need to make space for the type of positivity I hope to bring into my life at the moment. I hang it prominently in my office, a visual reminder that I have a positive impact on more people than I may believe.
This winter, I challenge you to make your own version of the Brag Board. What feedback, gratitude, and stories are nourishing for you? How have you helped students? Which items on your board can you share with colleagues and supervisors so that they can share in your victories? It is my hope that in the deliberate re-reading and re-telling of these faded, bent and wrinkled stories that we have enough butter for our bread for both today and for tomorrow.
Trish Murray-Zelmer, MEd
Employment & Financial Aid Coordinator
St. Thomas University