Tom Shefchunas
March 1st, 2020

After 20 years of working with students, I know that getting students to REALLY have a great conversation can be tough.  That being said…hosting an online conversation can be even tougher.  On top of that, even though you may have become great at student conversations over the years, it is a completely other thing to train volunteers to do it as well. 

It simply takes time and practice to get good.  But, I think there are some simple ideas you can pass on to your leaders to help.  And, in this time of virtual conversations, they can use all the help they can get.

Speak less, Listen More

Most leaders are afraid of silence.  Don’t be!  Silence is your friend.  If you simply count to 5 (silently of course) one of your student will get uncomfortable and jump in!

Control Less, Lead More

Your students will say some crazy things!  In fact, they will say some stuff that is completely wrong!  Don’t flinch!  Again, stay silent!  I bet someone will step in and a good debate will ensue.

Don’t Ask Yes Or No Questions

  • Why do you feel that way? 
  • Can you explain what you mean by that word? 
  • Why do you agree? 
  • Why do you disagree?  


Often you don’t have to ask a question at all.  Repeat the last 3 or 4 words of a statement someone says and trail off…Most of the time they will feel the need to explain further…and then we get to the good stuff!

Be Realistic

If you’re leading a group of 6th grade boys and you get 12 minutes out of them…I’m sending you a virtual high 5.  And…you may want to give 11th grade girls a time limit as you’re getting started.  Whatever your situation…be realistic.  The simple fact that you are giving a kid a chance to speak about their ideas is unique and incredible.  They sit in rows all their life being talked “at”.  They love it when someone actually tries to talk ‘to” them…though it may take them a minute to adjust! 

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Tom Shefchunas

Tom Shefchunas (Shef) is the Executive Director at Youth Specialties. Shef also works with Orange in the development and strategy for XP3 Middle School and High School curriculum. Before that Shef was North Point Ministries’ Multi-Campus Director of Transit, their middle school ministry, for 12 years. And before that, he spent 10 years as a high school teacher, coach, and principal. His passion is working with, recruiting, and developing volunteers and leaders who will shape the next generation. Through nearly two decades of leadership in ministry Shef has had numerous opportunities to coach and be coached by some amazing individuals.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.