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Role for all staff in helping students build resilience says VC

Thursday, 16 February 2017 10:03pm

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Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne delivers her 2017 Welcome Back Lecture to Staff at the St David Lecture Theatre yesterday evening. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne encouraged staff to put down their mobile phones and “be present” with students and one another, in her 2017 Welcome Back Lecture for Staff yesterday afternoon.

The annual lecture was this year held in the St David Lecture Theatre, and livestreamed for those unable to attend.

Professor Hayne titled her lecture “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” Building Resilience in a Residential University, after the Dr Seuss book, saying while the book was aimed at children it also contained a complex psychological message that was very applicable to the work general, academic and residential staff did each year with incoming students.

"I used to think they were happy because they were successful. Now I believe they are successful because they are happy."

These students arrive in Dunedin with brains in their head, feet in their shoes and great places ahead of them, but many would also experience failure for the first time at Otago too – a poor mark, a relationship break up, or the realisation they might not get into a professional course – and “un-slumping” themselves following this failure could be difficult.

However, Professor Hayne told the attendees, all staff could play their part in helping students build resilience to “un-slump” in the face of adversity.

She told staff there were four things they could do, no matter what their role or position at the University.

The first was to count their blessings. “The most successful people I meet are happy,” Professor Hayne said. “I used to think they were happy because they were successful. Now I believe they are successful because they are happy.”

It was important staff modelled the types of outlook they would like to see in students, Professor Hayne said.

The second was to “be present” in the moment. She said mobile phone addictions were common within the University community, and that she often saw lecturers checking their messages while standing at the front of theatres waiting for students to arrive rather than interacting with their students, or staff sitting side-by-side waiting for a meeting checking their phones rather than chatting with one another. Professor Hayne urged staff to put down their phones.

"While sharing stories of your own failures with others does require you to be a little vulnerable, it gives a student something to against which to evaluate their own failure."

The third was to find teachable moments. A student experiencing their first failure could benefit from learning that everyone fails sometimes, she said.

“I always share my experience of sending my first paper out for publication, and getting the reviewers’ comments back that basically recommended that the paper should be burned before it contaminated the whole of Western civilisation,” Professor Hayne laughed.

She said she contemplated quitting graduate school after this catastrophic set back, but that her supervisor allowed her to lick her wounds then made her face up to it.

“Now that paper is my most cited publication. While sharing stories of your own failures with others does require you to be a little vulnerable, it gives a student something to against which to evaluate their own failure.”

Professor Hayne’s final suggestion to help students build resilience was to take the time to learn about the range of support available to them at the University of Otago – and be able to point them toward it if needed.

Student Health Services, Disability Information and Support, the Maori and Pacific Island Centres, HEDC Student Learning Development and the Locals programme were all available to assist students.

The Lecture was followed by an informal BBQ, giving staff from across the University the opportunity to connect or re-connect before the academic year begins.

Check out some more images from the Welcome Back BBQ:

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Staff help themselves to a delicious BBQ meal following the 2017 Welcome Back Lecture for Staff. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

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Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne chats with (from left) Residential Assistants Brendan Wyatt of Aquinas, Penelope McRandle of Cumberland and Luke Barker of Cumberland.

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Residential Assistant Hamish Darling of Aquinas (left), Otago Business School and Division of Commerce Dean and Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Robin Gauld, Residential Assistant Jessica Bell of Aquinas and University Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis enjoy dinner together.

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Director of Locals and First Year Experience Dr Stephen Scott eats with colleagues.