ISSUE 108 FEBRUARY 2008 BACK

training

Practicing what we preach: The importance of consistency in staff and youth training initiatives

Judith L. Schubert

Learning is a life-long process. Professionals involved in programs that incorporate training for youth recognize the multifaceted components that lead to building skill. In this article, Judith Schubert, president of the Crisis Prevention Institute, explores the relationship between staff training and training for youth. Ms. Schubert draws from her experiences in training and consultation at youth-serving agencies and includes perspectives from a school psychologist, both advocates of realistic training for youth-care staff as well as those youth in need of skill development in unique areas such as that provided in Aggression Replacement Training.

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.

Youth in ART learn skills such as “responding to the feelings of others” and “responding to anger.” These are taught in a structured process, which includes modeling, role-playing, performance feedback, and transfer training. The Nonviolent Crisis Intervention program uses a similar approach for teaching staff new skills. The training process includes lectures, demonstrations, practicing skills, and follow-up discussion. By observing, participating, and reflecting on the experience, staff also prepare to transfer learning to work-life situations in a way that makes sense to them. The Nonviolent Crisis Intervention program trains staff to recognize that it is important to model appropriate behavior in all of their interactions with youth.

Another key component in the ART program is Anger Control Training (ACT). Young people learn to identify personal triggers that often lead to the inappropriate expression of anger. They are then taught techniques for reducing their level of anger and ways of evaluating their success in doing so.

Young people find the emotion of anger difficult, but it is no less difficult for many adults. If youth see staff members lose their tempers, the message being taught about anger is “do as I say, not as I do.” On the other hand, some staff members think that it is “wrong” or “unprofessional” to express anger at all. This is not true. A staff member who can demonstrate appropriate expression of anger to youth is modeling a valuable skill; namely, that it is possible to feel anger and express your feelings directly and honestly without verbal or physical aggression. Staff should explore how their own “precipitating factors” (internal or external stressors that are a real part of our lives) can be brought into their work and contaminate relationships with youth.

Finally, ART seeks to improve the moral reasoning of its young trainees. Youth who have gained social skills and anger control now face a moral choice. Will they use these new strengths?

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 staff members.

References

Goldstein, A. P, Glick, B., & Gibbs, J. C. (1998). Aggression Replacement Training: A comprehensive intervention for aggressive youth (Rev. ed.). Champaign, IL: Research Press.

 This feature: Schubert, J.L. (2003). Practicing what we preach: The importance of consistency in staff and youth training initiatives. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 12, 3. Fall 2003.  pp. 186-187. 

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