Are you tired of the same old training exercises, giving your RAs time to learn about the difficulties of being on duty while “encountering” situations that have been set up behind closed doors?
Interested in an alternative to this predictable, unrealistic training exercises. “Mock duty” is a great training tool not only for RAs, but also for other staff members such as Area Coordinators and Campus Safety and Security personnel.
Encountering questions and concerns from new staff members like, “Until I actually have to confront something, I’m not going to be comfortable doing it,” the residence life staff decided that it was time to take some action. We developed a process in which RAs would actually go “on rounds” through the buildings and encounter situations happening in the residence halls. This provided a more hands-on, realistic approach to training, and it allowed for more variety in confrontations. It also allowed us to involve more of our student leaders and open dialogues between them and the RAs about policies and how a confrontation style might be interpreted.
Mock Duty takes place over a period of two to three nights, depending on the number of RAs on staff. Everyone is involved, including early arrival students, Security Officers and Area Coordinators. Student leaders (Orientation Advisors, athletes, SGA officers) are given scenarios to set up in the residence halls. These scenarios include things as relatively minor as roommate conflicts or quiet hours violations, as well as more serious situations involving drugs, alcohol and medical emergencies. While the RAs are on rounds, the student leaders act out their scenarios and the RAs encounter them as they would on a regular duty night. They don’t know what rooms are being used, so they have to decide on appropriate confrontation techniques, knock on doors, confront the situation and call for back up if necessary. This allows the RAs to go through all of the procedures of being on duty, and it’s more realistic for them to encounter situations rather than just go to a room that is already set up and waiting for them.
During the confrontations, other RAs are in the rooms as invisible observers. They take notes about the confrontation and after the scenario is completed, a discussion takes place about what worked, what didn’t work, and students are allowed to give opinions on the RAs’ effectiveness. After the confrontations, all necessary paperwork is completed and evaluated to help learn the proper way to file an incident report. After about an hour of rounds, all of the RAs and ACs get back together for a large group discussion. At this time, proper policies and procedures are discussed, and the RAs get prepared for the next night. Each RA gets the opportunity to be a confronter and an observer, and this allows for more comfort in confrontation when RAs actually start rounds.
The RAs on rounds don’t know where the situations they will encounter are occurring, or what the situation will be, and it’s a more realistic exercise than traditional Behind Closed Doors scenarios. It is an organized system as long as clear instructions are given and followed, and it allows for the AC to gain insight into the confrontation styles and overall “readiness” of staff members. It is also a good training tool for ACs and Security personnel who have to respond to these situations.
We have received positive responses from new and returning RA staff about this exercise. They feel it gives them more practical experience and leads to great discussions about personal experiences. This, in turn, makes this exercise a great team builder. It allows for better performances by RAs by recognizing strengths and weaknesses early, giving supervisors a chance to work on these earlier in the semester. All in all, we have found this exercise to be both practical and informative. Our experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and we recommend trying this exercise in your next training session.
Submitted by AnnMarie Caprio and Ruth Ann Milam, Area Coordinators, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine