Behind Closed Doors Resources: A Model For Open, Inclusive, And Engaging Experiential Training For RAs

Rose Waples

A special guest post from Rose Waples, Ed.D. Based on her dissertation, “A Program Evaluation of Crisis and Conflict Management Training for Resident Advisors at the University of Rochester.” Available upon request. 

Previously on the blog, Natasha Monteith posted an article entitled Should We Even Be Doing Behind Closed Doors? This engaging post brought up common challenges that professionals have been seeing for years with this form of training. If allowed, Behind Closed Doors (BCDs) can be potentially harmful to our new adult student staff. Natasha brought up some opportunities for transforming your BCDs into a positive, impactful, and non-harming training. 

After writing a dissertation on crisis and conflict management training for RAs in 2019, there are a few things that are abundantly clear. 

  1. RAs are first responders, even if departments or leadership do not want to think that they are. 
  2. Crisis and conflict management training that RAs receive does not meet minimum standards for first responder, crisis call center, or paraprofessional counselor training. Many of which exceed 40 hours. 
  3. Adult learning theories highlight experiential training as imperative for adult learners. 
  4. Increasing role play or experiential training is known to increase interpersonal skills, communication skills, and knowledge application as well as confidence. 

After completion of my dissertation, I was given the ability to re-work Behind Closed Doors with everything I learned. The below worksheets, timelines, and descriptions are available to your training committees and departments to begin to think about adding intentionality and reducing harm to your BCD training session to ensure maximum learning and growth. 

Please feel free to re-use and re-mix these worksheets. The only thing I ask for in return is that you cite me and give me credit when you do.

Basic Outline of Crisis and Conflict Management Training 

  1. Preparation and Professional Staff Training 
  2. Online RA Pre-Training 
  3. In Person RA Training 
    • Protocol and Policy Training 
    • Returning RA/Actor Training 
    • Group Leader Training 
    • Additional Crisis and Conflict Management Sessions (Title IX, Suicidal Ideation, Conduct Office, Fire Safety, etc.) 
    • Simulations Training  
    • Behind Closed Doors 
    • Area/Staff Debrief 
  4. Post-BCD Process – Incident Report Writing, Feedback 1 on 1s, Assessment  

1. Preparation and Professional Staff Training  

BCDs can be a large logistical challenge for many campuses. Common concerns include large amounts of new RAs, early arrival impact, planning rooms and rotations, having enough professional staff, and more. 

Preparation that can be done in advance is extraordinarily helpful. Furthermore, gathering feedback and making changes immediately after BCD implementation can allow for a more agile and responsive training as it can be challenging to recall issues a year later. Don’t wait until the summer to prepare for BCDs training. 

Going into professional staff training, an important consideration is that you may have new professional staff members who are going to be running BCD scenarios that may not be familiar with your institution’s policies and procedures yet. Ensuring these staff members are prepared with proper institutional procedure, common questions or concerns that come up during these scenarios, and challenging questions about their scenario is crucial.  

If your staff is large enough that you have two of the same scenarios running concurrently, it is helpful to pair an experienced returner or leadership member with a new staff member so that actor training and other preparation can be done together. 

Scaffold this introduction to BCDs just as you will for the new RAs knowing that misinformation or misunderstanding can cause confusion and issues during the session. 

This training should include a review of each scenario, how the rotations will work, discussion of the various roles (such as group leader and in-room manager), what to look out for, when to intervene, and how to complete the rubrics or evaluations that you may be asking them to complete.  

It can be helpful at this time when your entire professional staff is together to look at actor assignments and ask your professional staff if they notice any concerns so substitution can be made before assignments go out. This may be if a professional staff member is aware that an RA has a particular trigger or may be likely to overact in a particular scene. 

If you have specific professional staff member or leadership team trigger monitors, this training can also be completed at this time. The goal of such a monitor is to be outside in the hallway. In the event of a student staff member leaving a room due to a challenging or difficult experience, that monitor can assess the needs of the individual and assist them while the group leaders and in-room managers continue on. 

2. Online RA Pre-Training 

Training can be long days full of dense information. Online training is a great way to scaffold information and allow staff time to process. If done correctly, you can also lessen in-person lecture time and anxiety in staff that may be concerned about BCDs or the crisis and conflict management part of the RA position. Online training can also help with differentiated instruction and learning, as well as processing and retention of information. 

If you complete a pre-post assessment of staff, it is recommended that the pre-assessment take place prior to any online training occurring. You should focus on knowledge, skills, and the confidence that RAs have in their ability. 

Some of the crisis and conflict trainings that are great candidates for online pre-training include: 

  • Introduction to duty, video of an example of rounds, 
  • Fire safety basics (video of a live burn, video of how to use a fire extinguisher, etc.), 
  • Health and safety forms and procedures for violations 
  • Prohibited items training, and 
  • Code of Conduct basics. 

While these all contribute to crisis and conflict training, there is one training session in particular that I would recommend: “Behind Closed Doors: Introduction for new RAs.” This can be a video module of RAs and a professional staff member handling a scenario and debriefing it just as it would occur in BCDs at your institution.  This gives your staff the opportunity to witness 1-2 additional incident types and can greatly lessen the anxiety for an RA wondering what BCDs may look and feel like.  

3. In Person RA Training 

Intentionally scaffolding your in-person training is key to student retention and confidence leading up to BCDs. While this can be logistically challenging when you are scheduling with campus partners, ensuring you have done some preparation prior to RAs meeting with the Student Conduct or Title IX office can go a long way. 

Protocol and Policy Training 

Your new RA’s introduction to conflict and crisis training should be a general overview session of protocol and dos and don’ts of incident handling. Even if your department has an in-depth step by step manual, keep in mind that much detail can be overwhelming. This may be a longer session; however, the goal is to learn some policy and procedure and become more comfortable with the topic prior to practicing in BCDs. 

If your department has a “cheat sheet” then that is what you should be using for this session.

RA Incident Protocol Cheat Sheet Example

Here is an example Protocol and Procedure sheet. While your policies and procedures may vary, having a sheet like this that RAs may use while on duty and may reference regularly is a great introduction to the topic and a great guide for this session.

Dos and donts

Here is an example Dos and Don’ts handout.

This training should include going over each level and response, going over the basic dos and don’ts of incident response, and answering questions. 

Returning RA/Actor Training 

While the new RAs are learning the basics, returning staff and all your professional staff involved in BCDs should be in Actor Training.  

For the introduction to this training, it is helpful to have a higher-level leadership team member set some expectations and discuss the potential harm of overacting in situations. After the introduction, each group can break up by their pre-assigned scenarios for review, practice, prop collection (if needed), expectations can be reinforced, and role trading can be discussed for challenging scenes. If your actors will be acting in multiple scenarios, ensure equal time is given to each. 

Group Leader Training 

Group Leader Training may also occur at this time if some of your group leaders are senior/experienced RAs. In the event you have enough professional staff or campus partners to serve as group leaders, this training can occur during professional staff training. 

BCD Group Leader Facilitator Guide

Group Leader Training Guide and Group Leader Script and Expectations

BCD Training Agenda

BCD Training Agenda

Additional Crisis and Conflict Management Sessions 

After this session, the typical campus partner trainings can occur (Title IX, conduct office, counseling center, CARE team, fire safety, etc.). 

Simulations Training 

Another training session that can be done prior to BCDs in Simulations. This is another chance to add more scenarios and incidents to those your staff is experiencing prior to needing to handle one in BCDs and can serve to lower anxiety. While similar to BCDs, little to no preparation for RAs and professional staff is needed if planned correctly. These scenarios can be very uncommon (emotional support animal concern), policy based (master key policy/lockout), facilities based (person stuck in an elevator), or a topic area that would not necessarily take up an entire BCD block but are worth discussing (forced entry, co-staff accountability, etc.). 

Professional Staff or designated group leaders from BCDs can run these rotations. Returning RAs can act with little preparation due to the nature and length of the scenario.  

New RAs will listen to policy basics, watch returners act out a quick scenario, participate in a brief debrief, and ask questions they may have. Again, these will be short, approximately 10 minutes including moving time and can be done in a large room like a ballroom or gym with folding chairs in a circle. 

For example, Simulations scenarios and rotations see here:

Simulations Training Situations

Simulations Training Situations

Simulations and Incident response group rotations

Simulations and Incident Response Group Rotations

Behind Closed Doors 

As a frame of reference, this example Behind Closed Doors session was run with just over 100 RAs (approximately 60% new), 3 Assistant/Associate Director staff, 6 professional staff Area Coordinators, 7 graduate Resident Directors, and 7 other graduate level staff. They were completed in two half days divided by Level 1 (lower level) and Level 2 (higher level) scenarios. The assistance of campus partners from Title IX, Counseling, Conduct, and CARE Team were utilized in some Level 2 scenario rooms. The Director of Residence Life also assisted with a Level 2 scenario as an in-room manager. 

New RA groups, separated by the staff they would work with or similar building types (first-year, suites, etc.), of 3-5 were led around by a group leader who was either a graduate staff member or a specifically chosen returning RA. 

Returning RAs acted in 2 total situations: a Simulations situation from earlier in training, a Level 1 situation, or a Level 2 situation. When they were not acting, they were in their hall completing main lobby welcome boards, organizing the service desk, preparing a staff bonding activity, or otherwise engaged in work that was supporting the staff or building as a whole.  

There were 8 Level 1 scenarios and 7 Level 2 scenarios. Each was planned for 15 minutes with 5 minutes for moving to the next room. A break was built in to the middle of each half day. 

For a staff of this size there were 2 rooms for each scenario running concurrently. For example, the Party scenario was occurring in room 206 and 404 concurrently but the same group did not complete this scenario twice. It is helpful to keep different groups on different floors. For example, keeping New RA Group A on the 2nd and 3rd floors which has a set of all scenarios on that floor and New RA Group H on the 4th and 5th floors which has a set of all scenarios on that floor. 

Assessments are being completed by each group leader to show an RAs progress over the entire course of the training session and by the in-room manager for each scenario. These will be returned to the supervisor after. 

One scenario was chosen and announced prior as the one all of the new RAs will write a practice Incident Report in the software for homework the evening after that session. 

One professional staff member was  assigned to each hallway as a trigger support monitor in the event someone needs to leave a room. 

For example assignments, rotations, scenarios, debrief questions, and rubrics see below:

Behind Closed Doors Scenarios

BCD Scenarios

BCD Actor Assignments

BCD Actor Assignments

Rotation Timing BCD

BCD Rotation Timing

New RA Group Assignments

BCD New RA Assignments

BCD In Room Rubric

BCD In Room Rubric

Group Leader BCD Feedback Form

BCD Group Leader Feedback

Area/Staff Debrief 

If preferred, a debrief session with only the new RAs can be held immediately after BCDs for a broad debrief and question and answer session to clarify any conflicting information or lingering confusion. 

Staff time should be scheduled after the final Level 2 scenarios for further debrief and discussion on triggers. This can be a time (if staff are comfortable) to share any situations in which a staff member feels they may not be able to handle due to personal experience and have a discussion on how an RA can back out of a situation while still ensuring the student in need is passed off to a staff member who is able to assist in the situation without causing undo harm to either the RA or the resident in crisis. How to ask for help, calling for backup, lingering questions or confusions can also be addressed during this time. 

4. Post BCDs Process 

After training the post-test assessment should be completed by staff if your department is completing one. 

Supervisors should schedule time either during the end of training or early in the semester to go over the practice incident report, assessment feedback from BCDs (in room manager rubric and group leader rubric), and any lingering concerns the RA may have about handling incidents.  

Final Considerations 

Behind Closed Doors can be a logistical headache of a training session to plan but it is important to not get bogged down in the room and people management component. Time needs to be spent on the intentionality of the training, scaffolding this vast but important knowledge, developing skills and expectations, and creating a culture of support and trust on your staff. Experiential training is a proven method for adult learners and BCDs if implemented intentionally should be a session that your staff ask for more time with.  

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