Students learn how to disagree in ‘Conversations 101’

September 21, 2016
Argus Leader

Sioux Falls New Tech High School

A workshop at New Technology High School wants to give students the conversation skills they need to succeed in group projects.

“Conversations 101” teaches students how to manage difficult conversations or conflicts with group members. They learn how to be active listeners and how to separate the facts from the “stories we tell ourselves,” said Heidi Jorgenson, assistant principal and Conversations 101 instructor.

Sophomores at New Tech began the workshop this week.

“Kids experience these same kinds of conflicts in project-based learning that adults do in the working world,” Jorgenson said. “(They) need tools in their toolkit about how to have those tough conversations with their peers.”

The strategies students learn in the conversations workshop have become part of the day-to-day lingo at New Tech since the school began teaching the workshop five years ago.

Student Brendon Chase, a junior at New Tech, says he uses these strategies all the time.

Chase said the workshop has helped him avoid conflict in group projects.

“If we’re experiencing some difficulties, like somebody’s not doing their work, (I can say) ‘OK, what’s going on? How can I help you help me?'” Chase said.

The workshop starts by showing students how to evaluate what they’re like in conversation and take a “self-inventory.” Do they tend to withdraw or become aggressive? What message are they sending with how they present themselves?

Students also role play scenarios of working in group projects.

Jorgenson shared the example of “Perfect Peter,” a hypothetical classmate who doesn’t trust his group members and makes “backup” versions of the group’s project. Students then act out how they’d handle that scenario and talk about how it could have gone better.