What are Intentional Conversations and Why Should You Use Them in Residential Education?

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 mutli-part series examining and providing suggestions for residence life and education departments that utilize Intentional Conversations as an educational strategy. Posts included in this series are:

After deciding one’s educational priority, goals, and outcomes, the next step in developing a residential education program involves selecting the appropriate educational strategies to achieve these ends. Intentional Conversations are a feature of many residential education programs and are particularly prominent with schools that deploy a residential curriculum model. Some campuses will use the more generic terms “Intentional Conversations” or “Intentional Interactions” to describe these learning opportunities, while others may incorporate their school names, mascots, or mottos into a uniquely branded experience (ex. Eagle Chats).

What are Intentional Conversations?

Intentional Conversations are one-on-one meetings between student staff and residents that are guided by a suggested set of questions and prompts that are developmentally appropriate and situated within the context of a resident’s experience. For example, under this model, the conversation guides for a first-year student in the first month of their college career may focus on issues of homesickness, adjustment to the rigors of college academics, and navigating campus cultures around alcohol and other drug use. In contrast, the conversation guide for a rising sophomore may focus on choosing an academic major, an adjustment towards more independent living, and being more intentional about campus involvements.

What are the benefits of Intentional Conversations?

There are a number of benefits to using Intentional Conversations. As a strategy, Intentional Conversations allow for the ability to:

For residents, these conversations:

  • Allow residents to practice the development of interpersonal relationships, advocacy for needs, goal setting, and other psychosocial skills.
  • Provide more purposeful, meaningful, and targeted resources and supports, helping residents navigate college life more efficiently and adeptly.

For staff, Intentional Conversations are:

  • A better use of a student staff member’s ability to be a peer mentor and advisor.
  • A better use of a professional staff member’s abilities in crafting developmental learning environments supported by theory and research.

Because of these benefits, some departments have moved away from focusing on student-staff-led programming as their primary educational strategy in the residence halls. While programming still has a place in the overall educational environment of the residence halls, the goals and educational priority of each campus should guide the strategies used and how they are deployed. Rather than assuming programming is what staff should do, and then figuring out the educational goals and outcomes to focus on, the educational goals should be decided upon first and then decisions should be made about whether these goals are best delivered through Intentional Conversations, a program, or by other means.

Intentional ConversationsWhat research and literature can support the development of Intentional Conversations?

While general documents about student learning in college can provide a baseline for constructing Intentional Conversations, literature specific to student development and transitions can be of particular use. Because the content of Intentional Conversations with students changes according to the student’s journey, literature on the first-year student experience, on the sophomore year experience, and on upper class transitions can help guide what questions and prompts are developed for student staff in these conversations.

The National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina provides a number of resources and professional development opportunities that can help in the construction of journey-appropriate conversation guides. In particular, the Resources section of their website provides you with access to databases containing examples of programs, courses, and other experiential activities that individual schools offer for various student populations, including: first year, sophomore, senior, and transfer students. There are also a number of books that address these topics:

First Year Experience

Sophomore Year Experience

Upper class Students and Other Books of Interest

Conclusion

Intentional Conversations represent an important educational strategy in the residence halls. When researched and implemented well, they 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. In the next post in this series (releasing on 6/13), we outline how to implement Intentional Conversations and provide guidance on common practices.

Key Questions

  • What educational goals and outcomes do you have for students that might best be implemented through Intentional Conversations?
  • Will Intentional Conversations be complementary to or replace current educational strategies you utilize?
  • How will you research and structure the guides and prompts student staff members will utilize through Intentional Conversations?