Transformative Conversations

When the topic for this week’s combined #AdvanceHE_chat and #LTHEchat was announced my first reaction was that I cannot think of any examples of a transformative chat either undertaken with my students, or having experienced for myself. Only to realised that this is not entirely true. While I might not remember a significant Heureka moment conversation, that doesn’t mean I never experienced transformative conversations. Transformation in increments, however, is all around me. Often only noticed and remembered in brief notes in a reflective diary. Transformative conversations can go by unnoticed. They gently nudge their way into our habits, smalls changes that were so easy to implement. They just seem to naturally slot into place. A thought that kept echoing quietly in the back of the mind, only to emerge as an insight, days, weeks, months later, after another seemingly disconnected stimulus. The unremarkable, quietly transformative conversation probably forgotten by then, but for that one thought.

Transformative conversations with students: what are we listening for? | Advance HE (

“The term Kaizen is the combination of two Japanese ideograms (Kanjis), Kai (改) which means change, and Zen (善), which means to improve or to be reborn (Newitt, 1996). The Japanese culture, oriented toward a philosophy of disciplined and constant self-improvement, which probably had its origin in the Bushido code of the “samurai” during medieval Japan (Sakaiya, 1995)”

— Suárez Barraza et al (2018)

Transformative conversations or encounters, engagements, with learners can also be volatile. Challenging learners’ perceptions and in my case at times professional or academic identities, simply by nature of the content of my two PGT courses can cause strong emotional reactions, from frustration, anger, disengagement, to the more positive notions. However, it seems that the sometimes initially negative responses themselves can be transformed, if they are met with understanding, listening, transparency, and the willingness to engage in the discourse. The willingness to take whichever form the communication offered has and move from there. Like in improv theatre, you always accept the communication you are given and then work with it. More recently Kay Guccione has formulated this with a small but very powerful change: respond with ‘AND’ instead with but, however etc. So, if your toenails are curling just by the mere idea to have to engage with improv theatre, try to replace your ‘but’ ‘however’ ‘no’ with the small word ‘and’.

What strategies do you have for transformative conversations? I will ponder this a bit more and also pay more attention in my practice to this aspect.


Suárez Barraza, M.F., Rodríguez González, F.G. and Miguel Dávila, J.-A. (2018), “Introduction to the special issue on Kaizen: an ancient operation innovation strategy for organizations of the XXI century”, The TQM Journal, Vol. 30 No. 4, pp. 250-254.

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