Encounter, Engage, Express: Navigating Sensitive Topics through Reflective Structured Dialoguee
Purpose: Generation Z is beginning to enroll in entry-level physical therapy programs. Members of this generation are part of a racially and ethnically diverse cohort, known as being accepting of others. However, characteristics of their communication style, including less reliance on compromise when facing conflict, may create obstacles to meaningful discourse about sensitive topics including culture, racism, death, loss, and grief in the classroom. 'Reflective Structured Dialogue' is a tool that can improve communication by encouraging curiosity about another's viewpoints, based on mutual respect and understanding. The purpose of this platform session is to present information about ‘Reflective Structured Dialogue’ as a learning activity to promote authentic conversation and examination of difficult topics covered in entry-level curricula. The session will discuss the implications of the Generation Z communication style in the classroom and how to implement ‘Reflective Structured Dialogue’ as a teaching strategy. Description: Shenandoah University, a small private university in Virginia, undertook a quality enhancement initiative to promote civil discourse among students and faculty about emotionally charged topics. The project, "Encounter, Engage, Express: Shenandoah Conversations" refers to a process that includes student encounters with curricular material that evoke multiple perspectives, engaging students in a ‘Reflective Structured Dialogue’ to promote discussion, and expression of their thoughts about the experience through reflection. Eighteen faculty members were trained during a two-day seminar about the process and piloted the program in fall of 2018. Two PT professors were part of the initial group and employed the technique in their professional issues courses in response to student feedback about content addressing culture, diversity, grief, and loss in their curriculum. The ‘Reflective Structured Dialogue’ sessions took place in during first year curriculum in the DPT program. The encounters included videos about microaggressions, racism, and death and dying. Open ended questions, crafted to connect students' personal life experiences to the encounter experience, were discussed in small groups in using the 'Reflective Structured Dialogue' process. Students submitted guided reflections after the discussion. Summary of Use: Student feedback about ‘Reflective Structured Dialogue’ indicated the technique promoted a safe environment to share and listen to divergent opinions about sensitive topics. The students also noted they gained an appreciation of the lived experiences of fellow students. A small percentage of students stated the process was not productive for them individually. Importance to Members: This new generational cohort may prompt instructors to consider novel ways to engage students in constructive conversations about emotionally charged topics. The use of ‘Reflective Structured Dialogue’ in the classroom also has implications for improving communication during future patient encounters, and promoting profession growth through developing reflective practices.