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Getting the Most Out of Training

By L. Scott Derby, Resident Manager, Shepherd University

A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from an individual that will be a first time Resident Assistant in August. He was calling to see if his room would be large enough to fit a love seat in. In talking with him about how his summer was going, I soon discovered that he was calling about more than the furniture he wanted to bring for his room. Like many first time Resident Assistants, he was anxious and nervous about August training. He didn’t know what to expect from us and what we expected from him.

During our conversation, I gave him what I believe to be three keys for getting his mindset ready for training and his first year as a Resident Assistant. This is not meant to be an all-encompassing list of keys for getting the most out of training. Someone else could probably come up with another list, but many of the items on it would relate to the topics covered in the following:

  • Approach training as more than just a “job.” Training is an opportunity for self-development as well as job skill development.
  • RA training is a chance to socialize with other RA’s and develop friendships that could even become life long.
  • Utilize returning RA’s as the valuable resources they are.

Approach Training as More Than Just a “Job”

Resident Assistant training is part of the job, but it should be so much more than just another week or two of earning money and a single room. If you approach training with an upbeat attitude and a desire to learn, you will gain greatly from it. Training is your opportunity to develop lifelong skills as well as skills needed to be a resource for your residents.

Looking at what could be a typical August’s training schedule, some of the topics/activities covered are; a day of service, sexual assault and sexual harassment, domestic violence, assertive vs. aggressive behavior, teambuilding, ethics, time management and handling roommate conflicts/conflict resolution. Taking this list, it is obvious that done correctly with active participation on the part of the Resident Assistant, these topics will help prepare them for their “jobs.” Take another look at this list though; all of these topics can potentially be applied to your life as well.

In addition to being able to help a resident that may have been sexually assaulted or harassed, you will be better prepared to help your friends and family that may encounter one of these situations. Learning about assertive vs. aggressive behavior as well as conflict resolution will not only help you deal with the roommate situation that seems unsolvable to both residents, but these skills may be invaluable when dealing with differences of opinion in a job after college or in your personal life. Develop these skills now while you are being given the chance.

Training is an Opportunity for Social Interactions

Have you ever noticed that wherever you see one Resident Assistant around campus, you will often see more? We don’t require RA’s to walk around campus in groups throughout the academic year, they just do. The reason you see this is because bonds are formed during training.

One of the first times you get to know your fellow RA’s is during teambuilding activities. Many times people roll their eyes at the thought of teambuilding because they see the activities as “corny.” Some or most of them may be, but if you allow yourself to, you can still have a good time and you will get to know each other and build skills. In addition, you will spend so much time with your fellow RA’s that you get the chance to know them on a very personal level, which will help you during the rewards and challenges that an RA faces.

This doesn’t mean you are going to abandon your old friends, but this is another opportunity to meet some great people that may share similar beliefs and interests as you. Two RA’s I met my first year not only became two of my closest friends, but they were also in my wedding party, so this is a chance to develop long-term friendships. At the very least, your new connections will be there to support you as you manage the RA job responsibilities.

Utilize Returning RA’s as the Valuable Resources They Are

Returning RA’s have been through training and at least a semester on the job. Those that demonstrate a good attitude about the position are priceless. They know what to expect throughout training and the academic year. If you are willing to take the time to get to know them during training, you will have a relationship that will carry into the school year and allow you to go to them for advice or help in confronting your first policy violation or whatever else you may need them for.

Returning RA’s know how to plan a successful program or how to create an interesting bulletin board, go to them and ask for help. Returning RA’s also know which campus offices are most willing to do program presentations and who you should contact in the office, or what channels to go through to get approval for a room reservation or other request.

Returning RA’s are a source of information. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Most of them would not be RA’s if it bothered them to lend a helping hand to others. Returners are a part of your team, USE THEM! They will be using you for fresh perspectives and new ideas.

As training approaches, even if you don’t remember the keys to getting the most out of training that I have mentioned above, keep the following in mind: Training will be what you make of it. If you walk in with the intention of tuning out all of the sessions, then you will get nothing from it just as you expected, but if you walk in with an open and eager mind, you will benefit from invaluable experiences.

About the Author

L. Scott Derby is a Resident Manager at Shepherd University in West Virginia. He holds a bachelors degree from the University of Pittsburgh in General Sciences and is currently working on his Master’s degree through West Virginia University. In addition to his experience as a Resident Assistant at the University of Pittsburgh and as a Resident Manager at Shepherd University, Scott has also presented on Resident Assistant training and making the transition from RA to professional at the 2003 MACUHO conference. Scott lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia with his wife.