In preparing for the academic year, virtually all Residential Life professionals engage in some sort of training for their para professional staff. This is a rite of summer. These programs, while differing in style and length cover very similar material. However, after the fall training component is over, ten months lie ahead. Although residential life professionals can provide a comprehensive summer training program, it is impossible to cover everything a RA needs to know for the rest of the year. Additionally you will become aware of issues related to your specific student population that will need to be addressed.
If you accept the premise that inservice training programs are important, then I have few suggestions that can make it a positive experience for resident staff.
1. Have a solid philosophy behind inservice training and make sure all staff members understand it.
As with all training programs, there must be “rhyme and reason”. At Boston College it is clearly stated during the first fall training session that there will be inservice training programs and that their purpose is to build upon the skills that RA’s will learn during the fall training component. Why it is important and why staff need to be present is clearly explained.
2.Have RA input in the program development.
People will support that which they help to create. As well, resident staff input will assist in understanding what areas RA’s really need help in. If staff are involved in determining topics to be presented and they see that it is intended to assist them in better serving their students, their responses to the training will be more enthusiastic and appreciative. If staff see that training is ill prepared or not applicable to their experience as RA’s, the training will be resisted and considered a waste of time.
3.Allow staff input into the choice of programs they attend.
At Boston College, we use a conference style format for our inservices that occurs twice a year. There is a keynote speech, which all staff attends. As well, the staff must attend three programs out of an offering of fifteen. This allows staff members to choose programs that they see as beneficial instead of being told what they must attend.
4.Make it Practical
In service training should occur throughout the year. Generally speaking, it is most effective when focused around an issue or a problem and, when it is designed to provide practical solutions to issues or problems that staff experience. These problems/issues can and should be identified through the supervision process.
5.Evaluation and Review
As professionals, we often fall in to the trap where we feel that if something has worked, it will always work. The evolution of the inservice training program at Boston College is living proof that this is not the case. For three years our inservice program consisted of one program a month that every RA attended. This had worked and we saw no reason to change it. After evaluation and review we found that it was no longer meeting the needs of the staff in terms of format and content. Needless to say, the evaluation of any type of training program must to be thorough and on going.
These guidelines, while not foolproof, will provide a solid foundation for the development of an inservice program. I believe that inservice training is very important for resident assistants. It provides them with the additional skills needed to handle the many human issues they will face. Given this, we must constantly insure that we are purposefully educating our staffs and providing that training in a manner from which they can best receive the information we need them to have.
Submitted by Robert O. Jose, Associate Director for Residential Life, Boston College