Encouraging Professional Growth through Purposeful Discomfort in Coursework

T. Drescher’s Perspective

I am incredibly averse to conflict; it is something that has affected my personal and professional life as early as middle childhood. I’ve spent some time ruminating about how life might be different had I the ability to address interpersonal difficulties head-on, and I’ve concluded that I would have benefited tremendously from direct instruction on conflict mediation. Fast forward several years and a budding career at CSUCI, I was introduced to SimPact, a mixed reality simulation tool that has the potential to help us put students in controlled, challenging situations with instructor and classmate support. With the tool, we can practice exactly the skills I felt my education lacked, which negatively impacted my ability to communicate effectively in challenging situations.

After using SimPact in coursework and supporting colleagues to do the same, Dr. La Monte, a colleague in the School of Education, agreed to pilot the use of the simulator in her class. The aim of her simulation: Teaching students (future teachers) how to navigate a contentious meeting with a parent regarding a child with suspected disabilities. I remember holding those meetings as a teacher; they weren’t my cup of tea. I always requested support, yet the expectation was that I do it on my own. Dr. La Monte wanted her students to have the knowledge, skill, and practice with feedback to do exactly what I was never able to do with comfort. 

M. La Monte’s Perspective

Conflict often arises from a lack of understanding. Conflict is often a matter of course when working with families in a public school setting, and educators need to develop the skills necessary to

  • communicate effectively and
  • manage conflict when it does arise.

Using a mixed reality simulation tool (SimPact), students enrolled in my Curriculum, and Instruction II course were invited to practice their interpersonal communication skills to handle difficult situations in a safe environment.  Over the course of the year, students are presented with various pedagogical tools designed to develop their professional practice.  When queried, students reported that they found this mixed reality simulation much more helpful than the more commonly employed practices of traditional role play and case study analysis. 

Using SimPact, we were able to simulate a meeting in which many of our students will find themselves in the near future; a parent unhappy with the perceived level of support her child receives in the school setting. Playing the role of the Case Manager, the student presently sitting in the action seat is designated to run the meeting, while the other students serve as quiet collaborators in the event.  As this is a simulation, the good news for the student is that they need not stay in the action seat for long.  The student for this role is chosen randomly and must only lead the meeting for approximately 10 minutes. They have the opportunity to pause the meeting and ask their peers for advice when needed. At the conclusion of their tenure in the action seat, another student takes their place for a total of 4 cycles, allowing the meeting simulation to follow its natural course. As the instructor, I was able to modify the scenario to include an adequate level of conflict, just enough so that the future teachers were in their zone of proximal development. It was not too hard, nor too easy, but just enough to make them squirm. This simulation reinforced the development of their budding interpersonal skills and underlined the importance of collaborating with one’s peers on complex topics.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, we agreed that it would be irresponsible not to teach conflict mediation in higher education, especially to a group of students we are putting in the world as teachers in a few short months. Teaching is a wonderful career but one filled with twists and turns, comfortable and uncomfortable spaces. We have the ability to practice navigating the unexpected and truly preparing our candidates for workplace realities. The moment was seized, and Dr. La Monte’s students are now better prepared, having had the practice and support they received during their time together. Now that the students are teachers in the community, the first time a parent comes to a meeting angry or becomes frustrated during the course of an interaction with the teacher, it won’t be the first time. The first time was in class with a thoughtful and purposeful activity that prepared them for this moment. While it may not be comfortable, it won’t be new, and they will have a toolbox ready to utilize to find a peaceful and meaningful solution.

This experience was AMAZING and so beneficial for new teachers. The stakes were low but the intensity of the mixed reality was so similar to what I have experienced, with the added benefit of being able to reach out to my peers for support in the learning experience. I would love to participate in that kind of activity again if I had the opportunity.” 

~ Credential Candidate, 2022

One thought on “Encouraging Professional Growth through Purposeful Discomfort in Coursework

  1. Thanks so much for introducing me to this new tool, Michelle and Talya. What a great place to make us of it. I am curious to hear how others are using it.

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