Though Intentional Conversations are meant to be casual conversations between student staff and their residents, these chats still require some degree of training and preparation. While professional staff members work to create a lesson plan or Intentional Conversation guide that models the goals and desires of their residential curriculum, significant thought should also be put into the training of student staff to facilitate these conversations. The below “do’s” and “don’ts” for training student staff around Intentional Conversations should help prepare all for a smooth and effective season of chats.
DO: Have an Intentional Conversation Guide prepared before training with student staff.
Preparing student staff for Intentional Conversations before having a working Intentional Conversation guide is like designing programming without having set goals or objectives for that program – it can be done, but won’t be the most effective for students. To best train your student staff, you must first know what your desired goals and outcomes are for the Intentional Conversations and how they align with your residential curriculum.
DO: Have the student staff practice an Intentional Conversation before working with residents.
Oftentimes, Intentional Conversations cover a variety of topics ranging from homesickness to bystander training. Some of these sensitive topics can bring anxiety for our student staff. In order to mitigate some of that anxiety for our staff (and in turn our students), it is a good idea to have student staff do a mock Intentional Conversation with one another to get a feel for best practices. This training shouldn’t just stop at summer training, make it a part of your ongoing development of your staff.
DO: Review active listening practices with student staff.
While student staff will be initiating and facilitating dialogue with residents, the most important behavior they can exhibit as part of Intentional Conversations is active listening. This will allow student staff to truly hear how students are doing, thus providing them with the best data and an opportunity to refer students to campus resources as needed. Make sure to train your staff on active listening skills.
DO: Remind student staff that they are mandatory reporters.
As student staff spend time with residents during Intentional Conversations, some residents may use this time to bring up issues or concerns regarding content matter on or off the Intentional Conversation guide. Depending on the severity of the concern, it is important to remind student staff that they are oftentimes mandatory reporters on campus. It may be helpful to provide student staff with a list of confidential resources on campus to refer the student to.
DO: Encourage student staff to modify the Intentional Conversation guide as needed.
While the Intentional Conversation guide should serve as an outline for one’s conversation, it shouldn’t be a checklist. Revisit this idea with your student staff so they feel comfortable making judgement calls during their conversations. Remember, Intentional Conversations were created in an effort to support students. That support may look different depending on the current circumstances of each student.
DON’T: Ask student staff members to pry into the lives of their residents to gather data.
Intentional Conversations are meant to provide students with a safe space to check-in with student staff, share concerns, and seek resources. The Intentional Conversation guide should be created to seek information without prying. This isn’t intended to be an experience where staff members are digging for information. Student staff can encourage students to engage, but they cannot make them answer questions.
DON’T: Use the Intentional Conversation guide as a checklist.
The Intentional Conversation guide should be used as an outline for the conversation. If a resident brings up another issue that an RA feels is important to talk about, it is okay to focus on that in the conversation. Intentional Conversations are about making the resident feel supported and heard – this requires adaptability and flexibility. Make sure you emphasize this to your student staff members.
DON’T: Pair new RAs together during the mock Intentional Conversation.
If at all possible, it is best to pair a new RA with a returning RA during mock Intentional Conversations during training. Returning RAs will have completed Intentional Conversations previously and may offer insight or helpful tips to new-coming student staff. This encourages peer learning, likely one of the central aims of your residential curriculum.
DON’T: Collect assessment data you don’t need.
Intentional conversations, while not entirely confidential, are not to be the subject of gossip or idle chatter with other staff members or with residents. Furthermore, as a professional staff member in charge of collecting data on and assessing these conversations, you should not collect personal data that you do not need or does not further your educational aims. Collect only what you need and treat the information with discretion. Train your student staff on this distinction as well.
DON’T: Treat Intentional Conversations as one-off engagements.
Just as your Intentional Conversation guide is not a checklist, Intentional Conversations are not a single act. It is important that student staff continue to check-in with residents throughout the semester. (Especially if they note the student may be struggling.) Intentional conversations are an opportunity to build a relationship.
While professional staff work to organize and manage the backend logistics surrounding Intentional Conversations, student staff are the real conduits of connection within the residence hall. For this reason, organized and focused training on Intentional Conversations will yield the best results for student and student staff success in this endeavor. Remember this is a learning opportunity for everyone involved. You can hone and improve your approach over time.