Developing an Intentional Conversation Curriculum Guide for Student Staff

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, if guided and structured properly, can have a significant impact on the residential student experience. In the previous posts in this series, we examined Intentional Conversations as an educational strategy and discussed expectations and structures. In the following post, suggestions for developing a curriculum guide for student staff are explored and suggestions and sample text are provided.

Why is having an Intentional Conversation curriculum guide important?

One of the reasons residential education programs utilize Intentional Conversations as an educational strategy is due to the intentionality that these conversations can provide. Rather than being every-day informal conversations between student staff and residents, Intentional Conversations are guided by what theory and research tell us are key developmental issues and transition issues for students.

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. The goals of a student’s living learning program may also suggest a different set of questions. As departments become more sophisticated in their approaches, different guides may be developed.

 

What should be included in an Intentional Conversation curriculum guide?

Guides, or lesson plans, for Intentional Conversations should include all of the information that student staff need to execute the strategy. Rather than be overly prescriptive, these guides should give student staff members the basic information they need to execute the strategy in a way that fits within their own style and abilities. The guide, however, should include everything necessary to ensure that learning goals and outcomes are achieved. In other words, a balance should be struck to avoid between being overly prescriptive while still ensuring a standard is met.

Intentional Conversation curriculum guides and lesson plans should include some of the following sections:

1. The Outcomes of Intentional Conversations as a Strategy.

This section of a guide should include the overall purpose of why staff members are conducting Intentional Conversations. This provides the reasons why these conversations are occurring and help staff members understand why they are conducting them. Later in the guide, individual questions and topics will guide the learning goals and outcomes associated with each conversation.

Example.

  • To engage with residents through interpersonal conversations on relevant topics of interest to the residents.
  • To develop a mentoring relationship and safe space for conversation with a peer leader.
  • To aid residents in navigating conflicts, life decisions, and other issues.
  • To aid residents in setting goals and creating action plans to achieve these goals.

2. The Expectations for Student Staff Regarding the Frequency, Length, and Other Details of Intentional Conversations.

As discussed in the previous article in this series, you should decide on basic expectations regarding how you will implement Intentional Conversations as a component of your overall educational plan or curriculum. This should include the “nuts and bolts” of what a student staff member will be held accountable to.

Example.

Student staff members should be having conversations with their residents regularly throughout the year. Intentional Conversations are intended to be a minimum baseline expectation and involve some specifically suggested questions and prompts that might be particularly relevant to a resident. Student staff members are expected to conduct 2 Intentional Conversations per semester according to the following schedule:

Fall Semester

  • August/September
  • November/December

Spring Semester

  • January/February
  • April/May 

Intentional conversations should be organic and last as long as necessary, but typically a conversation will last 20-30 minutes and flow according to the level of engagement from the resident. At the conclusion of each conversation, The student staff member should submit a summary of topics discussed including any follow up actions or check-ins that may need to be taken.

3. Advice on How to Best Conduct the Intentional Conversations.

Through your training programs for student staff, you should provide them with the skill development to successfully conduct Intentional Conversations. This should include training on low-level counseling and active listening skill, mentorship skills, and how to record conversations with appropriate notes. This training should be hands-on, allowing student staff members to practice their skills. Your guide can help remind them of how to put these skills into action.

Example.

When conducting an Intentional Conversation, consider the following guidelines to ensure success: 

Make a plan. Think about and develop a plan for how you will ensure you have these conversations with residents. You may want to have them sign up to meet with you during a community meeting, place a schedule on your door, or set your own goals for which residents you want to connect with each week.

Be comfortable. These Conversations should occur wherever a resident feels most comfortable. They could be over a meal, in the resident or Staff member’s room, or during a walk together on campus.

Actively listen. Remember to use the basic listening skills you were taught during training. This includes asking open-ended questions, helping a resident think through their choices, and being ready and able to suggest resources.

Be transparent. New residents may be unfamiliar with why we do Intentional Conversations and what their roles are. Let residents know that these conversations are opportunities for them to utilize a peer leaders as a resource and sounding board. Although Intentional Conversations are not required, they are encouraged and are an opportunity for the student to explore getting the most out of their college experience. If residents are concerned about confidentiality, remind them that although you will treat the information you discuss with discretion, you will share information with your supervisor, especially if you are concerned about the student’s health and safety. The counseling center can provide confidential services, if needed.

Don’t be creepy. This guide contains suggested topics to explore and questions to use in your conversations. This is not a check list. This is not an interview. You should not read suggested questions verbatim to a student. Instead, incorporate the questions and topics organically into your conversation and if a particular theme or question resonates more with a resident, feel free to help them explore it more deeply.

4. Suggested Outcomes, Topics, and Questions for each Intentional Conversation iteration.

The remainder of your guide should be dedicated to suggested topics and questions a student staff member might employ in their Intentional Conversation with a resident. 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.

In the next post in this series (releasing on 6/27), we provide sample topics and questions you can use in your guide and lesson plan development.

Key Questions:

  • Who should be involved in developing the content of your Intentional Conversation curriculum guide?
  • How can campus stakeholders and specialists in certain student issues contribute to your guide?
  • How can you translate your formal educational plans and goals into a student staff-friendly guide that avoids jargon and presents plain-language practical tips and suggestions?