ISSUE 108 FEBRUARY 2008 CONTENTS HOME PAGE
Practicing what we preach: The importance of consistency in staff and youth training initiatives
Judith L. Schubert
As we provide important skills to youth through programmatic training and teaching, we are continuously challenged to identify our own skill needs and assess for personal growth. Professionals often find themselves in situations where their own verbal or non-verbal responses are inconsistent with the message they are trying to convey. Sometimes the solution we offer to a youth is based on our own emotions, rather than the youth’s needs. Sometimes we even demonstrate aggression while attempting to aid a youth in replacing it.
Staying open to learning opportunities about the youth with whom we are working is a key to establishing strength-based intervention strategies that have meaning. Staying open to learning opportunities for our own development can better prepare us to use those strategies in the most effective manner. Staff development and training efforts that reflect the values and underpinnings of the programs and training provided to youth are at the foundation of respectful and safe environments.
The Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) has had the opportunity to work with thousands of individuals and organizations striving to provide caring and safe environments, even when children become angry, disruptive, and aggressive. Our experience in training staff to employ strategies and methods to create these environments has shown us that even the most well-intentioned staff can “teach” in a manner where the lessons get lost and can “inform,” but cannot always “do”.
The chaos created in disruptive situations can lead any one of us to react in a manner that fuels the fire, rather than respond in a way that cools it. Training for staff that organizes their thinking about these disruptive episodes and improves confidence in problem solving in difficult situations successfully increases effective responses in those moments of chaos.
As Arnold Goldstein pointed out, aggression is a learned behavior that children can study through observation. Assuring that our responses to conflict and chaos involve the skills we want children to learn must become part of our efforts in staff training and development.
Are staff at your organization cued in to the importance of listening with empathy to the youth in their care? Do they understand what is necessary to control their own anger? Are staff genuinely concerned about the needs and rights of the youth with whom they work? Young people may not always listen, but they are watching. Staff members lose credibility if they are saying one thing but doing another.
The work of Arnold Goldstein relating to Aggression Replacement Training (ART) (Goldstein, Glick & Gibbs, 1998) is one of the resources we have seen that mirrors CPI’s philosophy and is demonstrated most apparently in CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training for staff. Use of ART has been successful in promoting the acquisition and performance of skills, thus decreasing frequency of acting-out behaviors in youth. Use of strategies from the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training has been successful in promoting skill development in staff and decreasing the frequency of acting-out behavior in youth. In combination, we have found that providing Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training to staff, who then provide Aggression Replacement Training to youth, is a comprehensive approach in which skills taught to staff members reinforce and model the skills taught to youth.
Brian McKillop, a school psychologist and a Master Level Certified Instructor of the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training program, shared his experiences of helping staff “practice what they preach” in Aggression Replacement Training (ART). His goal is to create consistency in training staff and youth.
The Nonviolent Crisis Intervention program is also grounded in a moral philosophy of treating all people, even those who act out in inappropriate ways, with respect and dignity. Staff members who follow the program’s tenets demonstrate this attitude in their own dealings with youth. After a crisis, a debriefing intervention allows those involved an opportunity to describe the incident from their own perspectives. As youth consider the impact of their behavior on others, these discussions become another vehicle to educate in moral reasoning.
Aggression Replacement Training can have a positive impact on the
lives of young people, resulting in improved anger control and
more prosocial behaviors. In a similar vein, Nonviolent Crisis
Intervention training helps staff to manage anger and respond
positively, thus reducing acting-out behavior among those in their
care. Partnering ART for aggressive youth with Nonviolent Crisis
Intervention training for staff is a sound way to ensure that the
values and skills taught in ART will be mirrored in the actions of
Goldstein, A. P, Glick, B., & Gibbs, J. C. (1998).
Replacement Training: A comprehensive intervention for aggressive
youth (Rev. ed.). Champaign, IL: Research Press.