The ultimate mission of student affairs work is to advance student learning. Although this occurs across campus, the professionals that work in residence life are uniquely situated in this process given the relatively high level of contact they have with students. Unlike most faculty members, however, the educational environment created by student affairs and residence life educators is not confined to the classroom. This has both benefits and challenges as it increases the methods and means of educating students, but lacks the directed consistency of a formal course.
Although many residence life and education departments have relied heavily on programming as a means of education in the past, there are a number of different strategies one can employ to further student learning.
Sometimes referred to as intentional conversations, the one-on-one interactions that students have with student staff has become an increasingly popular strategy for learning. 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.
What are Intentional Conversations and Why Should You Use Them in Residential Education?
When researched and implemented well, Intentional Conversations are better suited to some educational outcomes, allow for individualization, and provide more customized support for students. Intentional Conversations can also capitalize on staff strengths in better and more efficient ways than other educational strategies.
After deciding to deploy Intentional Conversations as a strategy to achieve learning goals and outcomes, the next step in the process is to provide structure and support to student staff in their implementation.
How to Structure Intentional Conversations in Residential Education
At the beginning of the semester, a student staff member can help a student set goals and prepare for the challenges and transitions ahead. This also sets the stage for the staff member to be able to check in on a student and their progress throughout the semester. An end-of-the-semester meeting allows for a student to reflect on their achievements and begin the process of setting new goals or revising prior goals. These expectations are also typically reasonable for a staff member with 25-30 residents in their community.
Developing a well thought out structure for Intentional Conversations can provide benefits to student staff members and residents alike. Schools typically set expectations that student staff members meet with students 1-2 times per semester for 20-30 minutes. Communicating the value of these conversations to residents can help in the promotion of an overall curriculum and educational plan that places student learning at the center of the residential education experience.
We integrated a number of means for entering and tracking intentional conversations into the Roompact software. For example, tags help you categorize learning moments and student contact. Or, when developing guide for student staff, a quick drop down of verbs from Bloom’s taxonomy is there to help.
After developing structure and expectations, the next step in the process is to develop a lesson plan or guide for implementation.
Read the full post How to Structure Intentional Conversations in a Residential Curriculum
Developing an Intentional Conversation Guide for Student Staff
An Intentional Conversation curriculum guide or lesson plan provides prompts and suggested topics that student staff should explore with a resident based on where residents are in their journey through college. For this reason, different guides are appropriate for students of different class years. Additionally, special populations including non-traditional students, international students, and first generation students may benefit from different or supplemental questions.
There should be a different set of topics and questions for each time the staff member is required to meet with a resident. These should be sequenced so that they successively build off one another and should be timely based on a student’s class year and when they are occurring within an academic year. Next, you will want to provide sample topics and questions your staff can use in guide and lesson plan development.
The Roompact software is designed so that student staff members can gather information easily, but also allows for guides to be developed and assigned to a staff member. This flexibility allows for schools with all types of programming, community development, and curricular models to use the software.
Read the full post Developing an Intentional Conversation Curriculum Guide for Student Staff
Questions You Can Use for Intentional Conversations in the Residence Halls
Institutions should use these questions as starting points, but tailor individual questions and topics to fit their own unique student populations, contexts, and learning goals. Appropriately trained student staff members should be able to modify their conversations with residents according to the context of each individual student. Some topics may be more or less germane to an individual student based on their experiences and circumstances. Personal identities may also play into these conversations and student staff should be mindful of this while not being leading.
Furthermore, a campus may wish to supplement these questions if a student participates in a specific living learning program, major, or holds certain identities.
Training Student Staff For Genuine Intentional 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.
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.
How to Track and Assess Intentional Conversations
When evaluating Intentional Conversations, it is important to make a distinction between tracking their occurrence, and a resident’s satisfaction with the conversations, and assessing the student learning that is occurring during and between them. The former is a significantly easier endeavor than the latter, but both are important pieces to the overall assessment and evaluation puzzle.
Tracking and assessing these conversations is an important part of this shift. This includes both the tracking of conversations, soliciting feedback on their execution, and looking for evidence of student learning. Going in with a plan will ensure that your Intentional Conversations will remain as their name implies, intentional.