This article will provide the basics of a train the trainer program that capitalizes on utilizing the skills of returning staff members to decide, create and implement the nuts and bolts of Resident Advisor pre-service training. Additionally, I will share with you the history and development of Train the Trainer: A Performance Leadership Program and its success.
The task of training RAs in all skills and protocols needed and to maintain the logistical tasks of training was a lot for one person to handle. As a student development practitioner I believe in empowering students with responsibility and authority as a means to challenge developmental levels and to support students in exploring new and creative ways to find and define their identity. Students desire to not only be recognized but to be given the trust and support to provide for themselves. With these two thoughts the basics of the Train the Trainer began to formulate in my mind.
As interim orientation director at Roanoke College, I devised and implemented the beginnings of what would ultimately become Train the Trainer. I created a team of orientation leaders based on seniority and competency to create team leaders. In previous years, the leaders were simply “herders” taking the new students from one activity to another. Students and administrators felt that the orientation leaders should play a more significant role in the operations of orientation. Orientation had been revamped to provide sessions that the leaders would be organizing and implementing. Training was geared to provide the legal, ethical and practical skills needed to prepare these leaders for the new role.
The success of the experiment at Roanoke was overwhelming in the investment, enthusiasm, creativity, and responsibility displayed by the team leaders. These characteristics were so perfectly role modeled by the empowered students that the attendance of freshmen at orientation events increased and the overall enthusiasm and support were visible in the new class as well. This success spurred my brain to carry these ideas forward with the most responsible leaders on any campus: the returning RAs.
After years of seeing returning RAs literally waste their time and energy sleeping during sessions, being disruptive, complaining about “having to sit through this again” and being equally as tired of my own energy expended in chastising returners for not finding investment, I knew the decision was in my hands. As the specialist in training at Rider, I finally took the chance and the initiative to create and provide a program to empower returning staff to take on the role of trainers.
By empowering returning staff to decide, create and implement the nuts and bolts of Resident Advisor training, I hoped to have a higher level of performance from the entire staff unit throughout training and the residential year. Participation in the Train the Trainer program would require that returning staff challenge their normal ways of thinking, processing, creating and implementing. Additionally, as a trainer they would be required to motivate and support fellow training leaders, fellow staff members and the ideas and protocols of the Residence Life Office, the Student Affairs Division and Rider University.
Being a student of business administration, theatre arts, and management and organizational change, I am well read on leadership development theories. In my readings I had never come across an idea where leadership was directly and proportionally tied together with a person’s performance. In creating a basis for Train the Trainer, I melded many ideas together. One such idea was the definition of “Performance Leadership”. Performance leadership is the intentional reviewing of your leadership role through the performance of your peers, your recipients, your superiors, and most importantly, yourself. The purpose was to observe the behavior and role modeling of those around you to define your own leadership style by the everyday performance you give. Like life itself the definition and theory are cyclical and circular. For example, if as a trainer I role model frustration and aggravation during a particular session then I am unintentionally providing a learning model of frustration and aggravation for staff to emulate. Later, if one of these same staff members responds to residents in this manner, then I must attribute some of this behavior to the performance that I had provided. In reverse, if as a trainer I am role modeling enthusiasm and creativity in a particular session, then by observing this behavior, staff can emulate this with their residents within the residential community. It is much like the adage that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
In using a “Performance Leadership” methodology, the returning staff members were taught to evaluate their leadership role by examining the behavior of their peers, residents, Residence Life professional staff, and themselves. The two key traits to the performance leadership methodology and the Train the Trainer paradigm are patience and enthusiasm. The two key concentrations for a train the trainer program is parameter setting and presentation skill development. A train the trainer program will analyze group dynamics by examining the developmental levels of groups and group members, leadership within groups, and the interactive relationship they share. Parameter setting will include specifics such as exploring the definition of “experiential learning”, understanding “large/small group” dynamics and the “20/80” theory of group productivity.
To be an effective trainer (or teacher, which a trainer is) you must have patience to understand each persons learning styles and to adapt to individual and group needs. You must also be enthusiastic so people will want to learn from you because you can make learning fun. Student development and group dynamic theories demonstrate for us the importance of understanding the developmental levels of individuals and groups and providing the appropriate challenge and support to achieve optimum dissonance. In trusting and empowering our returning staff members, we have the opportunity to encourage their development and provide a powerful learning tool and environment during our annual training workshops. Experiential learning teaches us that the optimum environment for learning is one in which the student or trainee can be actively engaged and risk taking is both encouraged and safe. A train the trainer program provides these objectives and outcomes.
The learning objectives of this program can be summed up in three statements:
•to provide the basics of group dynamic development in training workshops
•to provide an understanding of the importance of paraprofessional development
•to provide an understanding of the importance of paraprofessional empowerment.
The second stage of developing the Train the Trainer program involved teaching skills to the training leaders (returning staff members and residence directors) on creating and delivering a presentation. Presentation skill development is a combination of two components: content and delivery. Content is the preparing of a quality, concise, yet thorough delivery of information or skill for the knowledge or development of an audience. The delivery is the actual public speaking aspect, which allows you to convey quality information. In the public speaking arena, two sub-areas must be considered: the voice quality and utilizing the natural movement or “beat” of the body. My Bachelors of Arts is in Theatre Arts (and Business Administration) so I had the background in voice and body movement and the aesthetic knowledge on public speaking.
The first day of the Train the Trainer program concentrated on the development of the trainers as public speakers and program presenters and set the parameters for the training. The day started with team building exercises for the training staff. The team builders were intensive and sought to bond the trainers into a supportive team. The members were asked to drop their barriers and create an open comfort level to assist one another in their endeavors. During this time the basics of group dynamics systems, the definition of Performance Leadership and risk taking were discussed and modeled. In analyzing group dynamics we utilize Blanchard’s Developmental Level of Followers. In this model he outlines the various levels of followers and provides a leadership style in directing each of the levels. This was role-modeled through an exercise titled “Alphabet Anthony”, designed and presented by Anthony Belfiore, the Train the Trainer facilitator.
After lunch the trainers were given exercises on the basics of public speaking and utilizing the voice and body to reach the audience. The trainers were taught through fun and what seemed to be frivolous exercises to control and use the voice to its optimum ability. Then the trainers were directed in how to stand before a group by controlling nervousness and fidgeting (unnecessary movement) or gripping a podium for dear life. This training program provides the means to be natural and relaxed with who they are as a presenter. The trainers were briefed in how to build a presentation and the parameters were outlined for each session. Utilizing an experiential model each session built by the trainers would begin in a large group format, then go to small group for related exercises or discussion and then come back to large group for debriefing and understanding of how policy and/or procedure fits into the information.
The second and third days of the program were when the new trainers began to build their presentations. Each RD and RA training team was given a topic for a training session. For example, one team was responsible for doing a presentation on confrontation skills. On the parameter sheet designed by me this team had one or two bullets that must be incorporated into the program as well as a goal statement. Then the team could utilize information provided by me or their own information to build the program. Throughout the second and third days the group continued to work on its enthusiasm and empowerment to assist one another and be supportive of the entire staff.
The success of the program was overwhelming. Throughout the training days members of the student affairs staff could see the marked difference in enthusiasm of the staff and questioned what was going on in training. The trainers were invested in their duties and all staff members found training to be more interesting, informative and less draining. The enthusiasm level of the entire staff was noticeable.
Train the Trainer: A Performance Leadership Program has continued to grow and develop into a valuable resource to provide a much needed leadership role for returning RAs. It provides a new level of commitment and enthusiasm for training and is a sought after role on the Rider campus. In my opinion as a trainer, its most valuable contribution is that it can be modeled for any student leadership group where training is needed. Students are at our institutions to gain education; Train the Trainer provides a first opportunity to put their education to use while benefiting our residential programs. Additionally, the program can be adjusted or refocused for the needs of any institution.
It is hard to put the details of this program into an article format. The details of the program are from my background in theatre arts, business administration, counseling and student development all coming together in one package. I hope I have provided some semblance of the program and its effect at empowering staff to have an active role in the training process. Overall, for me as a training specialist (and student development practitioner) the program provides an opportunity for student leadership and ownership in a program inherently built for students. Logistically, the program provides the opportunity for me to have more one-on-one time with individual staff members and time to actually keep up-to-date during the hectic training and opening time period. I encourage anyone reading this to take the risk of turning their training program over to the staff members. The investment is well worth the initial headaches and worries you will experience.
This article provides twenty percent of the Train the Trainer program. A foundation of the program and my personal philosophy of trainers is based on Pareto’s Rule: twenty percent of the people are doing eighty percent of the work, or, twenty percent of the effort will give you an eighty percent result. As trainers we can only provide our new staff members with twenty percent of what they need to know before interacting on the residential floor and actively pursuing the other eighty percent that will make each of them a top-notch resident advisor. As so, this article provides the twenty- percent to give you an idea of the power of trusting and investing in your own staff.
Submitted by John D. Stafford, Director of Residence Life, The College of New Jersey