Intentional Conversations are one-on-one meetings between student staff and their residents guided by a suggested set of questions and prompts that are developmentally appropriate and situated within the context of a resident’s experience. This post is one of a multi-part series examining and providing suggestions for residence life and education departments that utilize Intentional Conversations as an educational strategy. It coincides with the release of new enhanced features in the Roompact software for implementing and tracking these conversations. Posts included in this series are:

Intentional Conversations should be natural, genuine, authentic conversations that allow residents to explore themselves and better navigate the college or university environment. In the previous posts in this series, we examined Intentional Conversations as an educational strategy, discussed expectations and structures, and outlined conversation guides and questions. In the following post, we discuss how to train student staff members in conducting these conversations.

Student staff members in the residence halls can be powerful resources for students as peer mentors, leaders, and advisors. In order to assume this role, student staff members need to be appropriately trained to fulfill these roles. This becomes even more important when they are expected to implement Intentional Conversations as an educational strategy.

Although Intentional Conversations are guided by formalized prompts and questions, these conversations are intended to be free-flowing organic conversations. For more dualistically minded staff members, this may, at first, be difficult. The impulse for some staff members may be to treat the conversation guides as checklists, robotically asking the student each of the questions listed.

RoompactRoompact Tip:
Roompact employs Masters and and PhD-level professionals with extensive experience in student learning and student staff member training. Utilizing this knowledge base, we provide you with easy to use and modify training and supplemental materials. This blog is also a service to our members along with member-exclusive professional development materials.

To combat this issue, one Residential Curriculum Institute faculty member, Kathleen Gardner, gives this simple and straightforward advice to student staff members: “Don’t Be Creepy.” In fact, a training program on conducting  Intentional Conversations could include as entire session devoted to “Not Being Creepy.” “Not being creepy” means not treating Intentional Conversations as robotic information gathering exercises. The purpose of these conversations is not primarily to gather information, although a student staff member will take notes afterward, instead it is meant to be a point of contact and engagement with another student.

Student staff members should be trained to utilize the conversation guides as a starting point for conversation and to steer their conversation towards the listed topics as appropriate for each student. The student staff member should also feel empowered to modify or change the conversation according to each student’s unique context and identities. No conversational guide can ever hope to anticipate every student need and situation. Fostering staff member judgement and skill is a key outcome of any training program for Intentional Conversations.

Intentional ConversationsA well-designed training program for Intentional Conversations should include three primary components: (1) a module providing the basic expectations and requirements for Intentional Conversations, (2) a module teaching staff members listening and interpersonal communication skills, and (3) a module allowing staff members to apply these skills and information to Intentional Conversations. Outlined below are some sample learning outcomes that can guide the development of these training modules:

The What, Why’s, and How’s of Intentional Conversations

Student staff members will be able to:

  • Recall the learning outcomes associated with Intentional Conversations.
  • Recall the expectations and requirements for conducting Intentional Conversations.
  • Prepare a plan for completing Intentional Conversations in their communities.
  • Discuss how they will share the purpose behind Intentional Conversations with their residents.
  • Write useful and appropriate follow up notes after an Intentional Conversation.

Listening and Interpersonal Skills for Intentional Conversations

Student staff members will be able to:

  • Describe active listening skills, interpersonal skills, and their components.
  • Model active listening and interpersonal skills.
  • Engage in Intentional Conversations that are genuine, contextualized to a student, and address learning outcomes and topics suggested for the conversation.
  • Evaluate when a conversation or situation requires a referral to a supervisor or trained professional.

Don’t Be Creepy: Conducting Genuine Intentional Conversations

Student staff members will be able to:

  • Identify strategies for conducting effective and genuine Intentional Conversations.
  • List behaviors to avoid when conducting Intentional Conversations.
  • Apply listening and interpersonal skills to conversations with residents.
  • Demonstrate having effective and genuine Intentional Conversations that achieve learning outcomes.

Implementing Intentional Conversations as an educational strategy requires that one rethink hiring and training practices for student staff members. Whether one makes the change as a result of a switch to a residential curriculum model, or as an evolutionary change to an existing program model, the skills and abilities required of student staff members changes and so must their skills and abilities. Implementing new training programs that are mindful of the outcomes listed above can set a department up for success.

In the next post in this series (releasing on 7/11), strategies for tracking and assessing completed Intentional Conversations are discussed.

Key Questions

  • What skills and abilities are required of student staff to effectively conduct Intentional Conversations?
  • Are your hiring practices (including position descriptions, preferred qualifications and skills, applications, and interview processes) aligned with what you are requiring student staff members to do?
  • How can you incorporate the required knowledge, skills, and abilities for conducting Intentional Conversations into your formal training programs?