How to Structure Intentional Conversations in a Residential Curriculum

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:

Intentional Conversations can be an excellent educational strategy to deploy within the contxt of the residence halls. In the previous post in this series, we described this educational strategy, the benefits of the approach, and provided resources to aid in their construction. In the following post, we will discuss common structures, expectations, and guidelines that can be used in their implementation with staff.

How frequently should Intentional Conversations occur?

First and foremost, the structure, content, and frequency of your Intentional Conversations should be directed by your learning goals and outcomes. If your learning goals and outcomes are best achieved through an Intentional Conversation Strategy, then the next step is deciding on how frequently these should occur.

A number of schools will require student staff to complete 1-2 conversations per resident per semester. This may vary if a school is on a trimester or quarterly system or if a school uses an academic calendar that deviates from the typical August/September-to-May calendar. Furthermore, when designing Intentional Interactions, the workload for individual staff members should be taken into account. If the student-to-staff ratio in a particular community is high, it may be unreasonable to expect that a staff member complete multiple conversations with each resident in a semester.

These expectations may also vary based on the student population and demographics in a community. For instance, upperclassmen may require fewer touch points than first-year students. Or, if a community has a high proportion of first generation college students, one may wish to increase the frequency of formalized contact between staff and students. Additionally, if a community is a part of a formalized living learning program, there may be opportunities to leverage other resources that may impact how Intentional Conversation expectations are structured.

For schools on a semester-based academic calendar, a suggested schedule of Intentional Conversations may look like the following:

Fall Semester

  • August/September – Entering into the community and setting goals
  • November/December – Reflecting on the first semester experience

Spring Semester

  • January/February – Returning to the community and revising goals
  • April/May – Reflection and closure on the academic year

The benefit of this type of schedule is that it allows for pre- and post- test-like reflections at the beginning an end of each semester. 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.

 

How long should Intentional Conversations be?

Intentional Conversations should be organic, not forced conversations. Therefore, although guidelines about the frequency and length of these conversations can help in setting minimum expectations for staff, it should be stressed that these conversations may take longer or be more frequent depending on the student.  If a staff member is expected to have a minimum of two Intentional Conversations per semester, it is probable (and preferable) that they may have additional conversations throughout the year.

A typically suggested length for an Intentional Conversation is 20-30 minutes. This allows a staff member enough time to have a deeper level conversation about topics of interest to a student, while balancing staff work expectations and student time.

How should Intentional Conversations be communicated and marketed?

Schools that successfully implement Intentional Conversations are typically very transparent about the process and communicate the opportunity, value, and intent for Intentional Conversations directly to residents. Schools report that residents come to welcome and expect that these types of scheduled check-ins will occur on a regular basis. In communicating about Intentional Conversations to residents, you may structure your message similar to the following:

Example.

Residents Assistants and community assistants are in the halls to help guide you through your time in residence and in navigating college life in general.  At periodic points in the year, your staff member will reach out to you to have a conversation about your goals and your progress towards achieving them. Although staff are always here to help at any time, these 20-30 minute conversations are scheduled opportunities for you to interact with another student leader on campus who can help guide and advise you. Although these are not required, most residents welcome and find these opportunities helpful.

Some schools  take these efforts a step further by giving Intentional Conversations a more formalized, campus-specific name. A school may market them as “Eagle Chats” after their mascot, or call them “Leadership Check-Ins.” How Intentional Conversations are marketed to residents can be guided by and folded into the overall marketing efforts a department makes in communicating their residential curriculum or educational model.

Conclusion

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.

After developing structure and expectations, the next step in the process is to develop a lesson plan or guide for implementation. In the next post in this series (posting on 6/20), we outline what an Intentional Conversation Curriculum Guide should contain and provide sample text to aid you in the development of your own. 

Key Questions:

  • How frequently should your staff have more formalized Intentional Conversations with residents?
  • How can you balance your student staff members’ workloads while achieving the outcomes you desire?
  • How will you market and share the opportunities provided by Intentional Conversations with residents?