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How do you talk to students? [The Sandbox]

How do you talk to students is an important question to reflect on as we start thinking about next term. Earlier this Fall, the McGill Office of Sustainability posted a very interesting piece on their blog, The Sandbox, addressing this very issue. Many thanks to them for letting us repost it here.

MOOS Students

A question that staff often bring to MOOS is, “How do you talk to students?” In a campus as siloed as McGill’s, it’s understandably difficult to break down the geographic and cultural boundaries between students and staff. Our secret? We regularly emphasize why students are fundamental to the work that we are doing, and we actively seek out ways to partner with students.

Why are students important?

  • Students are energetic. The combination of youth and newfound freedom means students do hundreds of hours of unpaid work, simply because they feel passionate about it.
  • The transition of students each year means an enormous amount of creativity – constant cycles of living and dying initiatives, each bursting with new ideas and experiments.
  • That timeline comes with a sense of urgency; compared to the languid pace of McGill’s creaking machinery, students strive to make everything happen before graduation.
  • Students take risks. Driven by idealism and curiosity, students are unafraid to ask hard questions, voice dissent and build power – without the fear that staff face of career repercussions.
  • Holding a student card provides access to an incredible amount of resources, including libraries, mentors, grants, spaces, student unions and select representation on administrative bodies.
  • Students have frontline knowledge of what is happening, and what is most needed, at the university.
  • What students may lack in experience, they gain in being the vanguard of the movement. Constantly questioning means students are consistently brewing innovative ideas.
  • For all these reasons, students have historically been key advocates for major changes in the university – including the creation of our office in 2009!

How do you partner with students?

Meaningfully working with students means collaboratively creating a vision and sharing responsibility. This isn’t a checkmark on the “student engagement” to-do list, but a commitment to building respectful partnerships with smart and dedicated people. Active commitment and strong listening are key factors in forming genuine relationships between staff and students.

  • Internships are a direct way of bringing students into the workspace. In this role, students both add capacity and introduce new perspectives and networks to the office.
  • Building projects with like-minded student groups offer opportunities for coordination and collaboration. Scheduling regular check-ins with student leaders for informal conversations and updates builds a sense of trust and value (hint: the leaders you are looking for are not always student executives!).
  • This is also a great opportunity to visit each other’s spaces and break down the siloes resulting from students and staff being placed in isolated buildings on the downtown McGill campus.
  • An excellent opportunity is to do an Applied Student Research project. By partnering with a course, McGill staff can ask student(s) to tackle a project under the supervision of a professor for course credit. This is a win-win that provides real-world experiences for students while adding creative capacity to your project.

Here at MOOS, engagement with students is not only a fundamental element of our vision for a sustainable university; it is also an incredibly fun and energizing part of our daily work.  We are always happy to chat about our experience, so if you are curious about ways to work with students, please get in touch!

How do you talk to students? : The Sandbox.

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Associate Director, Learning Environments, Teaching and Learning Services, McGill University. Focused on our physical and digital learning environments and the appropriate and effective use of technology in teaching and learning.

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