Session Adherence Moral Reasoning Training

In my role as a WAIT/WSART Consultant, I get to watch a lot of recorded trainings and give trainers feedback. I thought I would use this section to help define the adherence form we use to give trainers feedback.

 Quality Assurance has been paramount for our WSART program. To that end we have met with our State QAS, Consultants and Lead Trainers quarterly for over ten years. We have also held monthly consult calls, annual tape reviews, site visits and Consultant meetings. This process has led, in part, to the development of our Session Adherence forms. These have been adapted over the years to communicate what we believe are the elements and essential elements of a Washington State Aggression Relacement Training class. Successful delivery of  each element relies on training and experience.

1. Was the problem Chart made before the session? It has been our experience that the chart needs to be made before class starts. It saves time and allows for step #2.

2. Did the instructor study the Problem Situation Chart for patterns of thinking and decide in what order to discuss the questions? The best classes occur when the chart was made and studied by the trainer prior to class. Trainers study the responses and decide what order the trainees are ranked based on levels of perceived maturity. Higher levels of maturity go near the top of the chart. Trainers want to hear from mature thinker first. Note: The trainer makes the chart.

 3. Was a positive climate established through welcoming the students? 

We have something for these trainees. A positive, welcoming environment is conducive to better learning. It helps me to find something about each trainee that we can connect on. My most challenging trainees are often very capable thinkers and will challenge most things we talk about. I have to appreciate all the thinking they are doing. 

4. Were issues since the last moral reasoning session dealt with? Checking in with the trainees regarding any issues or thoughts since the last MRT session will help transition the youth into this week’s sessions. It is a good time to ask if there is anything that will keep them from giving their full attention. Some trainees come from fairly chaotic environments to enter our classroom. We can ask them to try to set it aside for a few minutes so they have the best chance to gain some powerful knowledge. 

5. Were group norms for the discussion session reviewed? These are the group norms from the manual for MRT.We want to emphasize the group norms each session. "If we follow the group norms, we will have a respectfully run group." I like to emphasize that self-centered thinking can get participants to choose to not follow the group norms. Side talking is an example of doing what you want to do rather than what the group needs you to do, pay attention and participate. 

6. Were the four thinking errors reviewed?  Emphasis should be put on Self-centered thinking. We do what we do because in the moment we want to do it. The rest of the thinking errors support our self-centered perspective. There can be a tendency to rush through the thinking errors/cognitive distortions. We want to assure that the participants know the thinking errors. Trainers should take the time each week to check in with trainees to see if they do indeed understand what thinking errors are. We cannot minimize the importance of thinking error language when asking youth to talk to each other. Many youth get confused between thinking errors and thinking correctly. The labels we use to describe thinking errors can also be used to describe correct thinking. To assume the worst may be a correct line of thinking. "If I drink and drive, I might lose control of my car." "If I go ahead and hit him I might get arrested." These are assuming the worst, but they are not thinking errors. These examples can lead to positive decisions. Thinking errors lead to negative decisions where people and property get hurt.

7.  Was the problem situation read to the class? It often helps to have a trainee read the problem situation. I have seen tapes of trainers reading and the class not paying attention. When a trainee reads, the other youth are more likely to listen especially if that trainee is a popular youth in the class. Of course we read the story so youth know what the story is.

8. Was the real problem correctly defined and related to the lives of the youth? Each story has a built in dilemma which invites higher and lower moral decision making. Defining the problem correctly keeps the class moving towards a solution and group consensus. Trainers should refer to the manual prior to class. As the youth respond to the question, "What is the real problem," trainers can reframe their responses until the group agrees on the correct real problem. I have seen classes wander aimlessly simply because the real problem was defined poorly.Relate the problem to their lives. Trainers can ask, "Have you had or dealt with similar issues in your life?" "Do you know anyone that has dealt with a similar situation?" This helps us see if the youth understand the problem and the trainer can gain insight as to why a youth might have answered the way they did.

9. Was moral maturity established through:  

             a) Eliciting mature responses first: Trainers want to establish what the positive and mature cognitions are in this group of trainees. These mature responses can later be used to challenge less mature responses. Often with Kohlberg's level 3 reasoning youth, lower level reasoning youth can get these kids that responded higher, to change to lower reasoning because this level 3 youth wants to be liked by the other kids. If level 3 kids argue well for the higher reasoning, lower reasoning youth will hear what we want them to hear. Trainers want to get higher reasoning youth to fully explain their response. Two word responses are little help.Sometimes the most mature response isn't very mature. When this happens, the trainer needs to be ready to find the positive intent in the trainee's statement and reframe the response with a positive spin. 

            b) Reconstructing less mature responses: Even though a response may sound terrible compared to a mature response, trainers need to remember the response came from a trainee's perspective based on what that trainee has survived believing. Even less mature trainees have reasons they answer the way they did. Their values may sound similar to higher reasoning trainees. Both youth may use loyalty as the reason they answered the way they did. One thinks loyalty is telling to get help, while the other thinks loyalty is covering up their brother’s crime. These two trainees need to talk to each other at some point.Trainers can listen for what is important to the trainee and reframe the statement based on that. "So family is important to you." "So  friendship is important to you." 

            c) Listing responses on an easel pad, chalk board or white board: Trainers use a tee-chart to capture the trainees' mature and less mature responses. Mature responses go on one side of the tee-chart and less mature responses go on the other side. All responses are listed at the top of the side they are on. Once completed, the tee-chart can be used as a tool to match similar but contrasting beliefs or values. This is the discussion we are looking for. Mature responders challenge less mature responders. 


 10) Was there an attempt made to make a positive decision and mature reasons unanimous or a group decision?Using the tee-chart the trainers can identify youth on both sides that have similar values. Get these kids to talk to each other and invite others into the discussion. Trainers need to remember that their role is to facilitate these trainees talking to each other. Trainers need to remain objective. Trainers can invite the youth to consider the thinking errors as they listen to each other. Trainers can ask, "Do you hear a thinking error in this discussion?" Trainers never want to point out a youth's thinking error. Doing this can alienate the lower responders and make them feel the trainer is taking a stand against them and have long lasting consequences for the group.

11) Were comments by each group acknowledged? Trainers want to invite all members of the group to participate and feel part of the discussion. Using the chart of youth responses, trainers can put a mark by each youth as they hear the explanation. Trainers need to show appreciation for each youth's contribution.

12) Were individuals within the group who evidenced more mature reasoning encouraged to explain their reasoning? Trainers want the mature youth to talk the most. These are the responses that will make MRT work. Less mature kids will often get very emotional about their reasoning and want to talk a lot. Trainers need to be respectful and friendly, but they do not need to let these youth run on. Respectfully reframe the lower responses and move on, appreciating their perspective. Typically these lower responses are very similar, often clichés. Trainers can appropriately cut off these responses and say, "Okay, it looks like you agree with ...." and gently move to the next youth.

13) Was the whole group praised for positive decisions and mature responses?  This can take some creative thinking as trainers wrap up a group. I find myself saying things like, “Your group did a very good job at finding positive ways to deal with this situation.” “It looks like this is a very mature way of dealing with a tough situation.” “If people could resolve their problems the way your group has concluded, the world would be a better place for everyone.” 

14) Were all group member involved in the discussion? It goes without saying that those not involved get less out of the group. Some kids will try to disappear or avoid responding. Trainers need to get creative and help kids feel comfortable. I have found myself very protective of the shy kids, but working to get them involved. We can preemptively deal with this as we develop group norms.  As we start each group we should be reminding the group that respecting each other is important. There are other kids that may think or act like they are too tough or too cool to participate. Being patient with these kids is important. Let them know that you and the group value their opinion will help. Being creative and having fun will bring most kids around.

15) Did the instructor encourage clear explanation of each person's answer? Here we want to make sure trainers listen to the youth’s response and ask any clarifying questions and reframe as needed to assure we understand the youth's perspective.

16) Was behavior appropriately managed during the session? Behavior provides many teaching opportunities. Trainers can use the very same skills we are teaching to deal with many of the behaviors that show up in class. I have found myself putting my hand to my head and saying something like, “There is a kid in my class that disrupting the group. I want to yell at him, but I also want to have a good relationship with him. So I will take a few deep relaxing breathes, calm myself down and make a complaint.” Usually the behavior has calmed down by now and the youth is smiling as I make my complaint. Many behaviors can be dealt with by referring to the group norms that have been agreed upon on day one. Of course we have to make the group norms important to each youth.

17) Did the session pace keep the students interested and active? There are several ways to maintain a good pace. Pacing is often a conversation on consult calls. Trainers report that it is important to have a routine that the students are normed to and can expect. I call this, "just doing the training." Tell the students what we are going to do, and then be sure to do it. Behavior problems can get in the way, so tell the youth that pacing is important and why. Then tell them your plan to deal with behavior. Trainers can even give a quick demonstration of the Anger Control Chain; include putting their hand to their head, saying this is what I might do when you have disruptive behavior. Be sure to discuss Self-Centered Thinking and how self-centered behavior is often something that hurts the class.


18) Did the instructor remain objective during the class? We believe the class is better for the students if the trainer is encouraging discussion amongst the students. This discussion is what causes change. Though the instructor is guiding the discussion, staying curious but unbiased, about the student's responses can help trainers remain objective. Remembering that this is their group not our group can help trainers avoid saying things like, most of us agree that..." Once we include ourselves in the group we lose objectivity. Lower reasoning youth may then see the trainer as against them and withdraw or become disruptive.

19) Does the primary instructor interact with youth in a positive manner? I encourage trainers to record themselves and watch for their interactions with the students. We can have subtle tendencies that may cause a youth to withdraw from participating. I have seen wonderful trainers ask a question and then not listen to the answer. The youth eventually quit answering. Of course aggression behavior by an instructor defeats our purpose.

20) Does the co-instructor interact with youth in a positive manner? Co-instructors have many opportunities to demonstrate positive behaviors. For example; youth will often ask questions of the co-instructor while the lead instructor is training. If the co-instructor responds, they are accidentally norming the youth that listening to the lead is not important. Letting the youth know during group norm development what the co-instructor's role is can help with these behaviors.

21) Does the co-instructor aid the trainer in delivering the intervention? Defining roles and maintaining the structure of the training by supporting each other can only lead to a positive intervention. Maintaining a professional relationship and having fun doing it has shown to be good for these kids.