Why Role Play Is the Game Changer That Higher Education Student Services Professionals Need

February 7, 2022

The word “play” conjures up images of children jumping, bouncing, and running. Laughing freely with little care or distress. Their ultimate goal is to amuse themselves.

But is this all there is to play? 

What would fun, yet informative play look like for adults? 

And how could play be pivotal for higher education student services professionals (e.g., student affairs, student development, student wellness professionals)?

The answer is role play! Role play allows higher education student services professionals to level up their skills in order to create solutions…plus it’s an enjoyable way to learn and grow.

The key to role play is pretending and acting. Role play occurs when student services professionals pretend to recreate realistic situations they encounter in their work. Professionals take on different roles and can act as students, parents, professors, therapists, or student services professionals. The goal of role play is to overcome challenges, enhance communication, and increase knowledge. It’s a tool frequently used by professionals in a variety of industries to improve specific behaviors and solve conflicts.

Here are three reasons why role play is the game changer that student services professionals in higher education need.

1. Role Play Unearths the Power of Practice.

While practice may not always make perfect, role play generates practice opportunities that allow individuals to play with multiple strategies and refine the ones that are most effective.

Practice through role play provides student services professionals with the ability to explore problems, experiment with different behaviors, and gain clarity regarding their external messaging, as well as their internal self-talk. 

Practicing scenarios that student services professionals face boosts the development of automatic and effective responses that are critical to have when the stakes (and pressure) are high. Performing role plays enables people to be creative with new ideas (and work out the bugs) in a safe and relaxed environment. It also minimizes clumsiness that can occur because individuals have weeded out unhelpful approaches through earlier role plays. 

2. Role Play Ensures Successful Implementation.

The opportunity to practice effective skills is a great first step towards proficiency, but practice, alone, does not guarantee that the skill will be put into effect appropriately. 

To ensure successful implementation, role plays should be practiced using actual situations that have occurred in the past or have a strong potential to take place in the future. Think outside the box. Student services professionals should also imagine worse case scenarios (even if highly unlikely) and role play how to navigate these situations in order to successfully apply the practiced skills and build confidence.

3. Role Play Intensifies the Learning Process.

Role play allows higher education student services professionals to strengthen their learning by delving deeper into skill building. Professionals can pause and analyze their actions. Rewind and play out selected behaviors again and again in order to reinforce and improve these responses — a luxury we don’t get in real life. Role play also provides individuals with the opportunity to observe how others conceptualize and navigate similar situations. It creates spaces for professionals to learn from their peers…who often provide the best feedback. All of these experiences create moments for learning that go well beyond what can be found in books. 

So, imagine if your organization had a system in place that allowed you and your staff to engage in effective role play.

  • How might role play be used in your professional development trainings to improve engagement and work satisfaction, reduce burnout among your team members and prevent you from losing your most skilled staff?
  • And, with you and your staff experiencing greater professional fulfillment, how might that transfer into improved support services for students? 

If you’re not using role play as part of your training activities, this may be the perfect time to begin! You may be missing out on a simple, yet powerful tool that allows you and your staff to show up as your best when supporting your students.

About June Parks, Ph.D.

June Parks, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, consultant, lecturer, speaker, and youth empowerment expert who shows young people, and the professionals who provide services to them, how to obtain youth mental wellness and resilience. Dr. Parks celebrates the creativity, passion, and unique talents that reside within young people and this appreciation can be found in every aspect of her work. With over 20 years of experience in the areas of child psychology and childhood trauma, Dr. Parks has the skills to heighten youths’ well-being, and she shows other professionals how to do the same while never losing sight of their own personal and professional wellness. Dr. Parks elevates the professional knowledge of higher education student services professionals through experiential activities that increase learning and discovery. Dr. Parks has been featured in webinars, podcasts, and panels for groups including The University of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, and The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

P.S… And when you’re ready, here’s how I can help. I work with higher education student services professionals to enhance the well-being of themselves, their staff, and students so that they can achieve greater professional satisfaction and productivity, and reduce burnout and staff turnover. If you would like to explore what an engagement might look like for your team… let’s schedule a call!

You can also contact me at june@juneparksphd.com

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