(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Army Resilience Directorate and Army stakeholders recently collaborated to adapt unit resilience training to better meet the units’ challenges and training calendar restrictions. This included removing the training from a traditional classroom setting and integrating it into everyday life. One strategy shifts the role of the instructor to that of a coach. If the Army shifted resilience training to resilience coaching, it might increase the likelihood of leaders observing and providing feedback while encouraging Soldiers to integAddressing the Resilience Training Gap.pdf [PDF - 278.7 KB]rate these skills into everyday life. Before integrating these changes, ARD requested that the Research Transition Office of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research conduct an evaluation of resilience training in units and provide recommendations for improving the training and its delivery in the field.

From 2018-2020, RTO surveyed leaders who attended the Master Resilience Trainer course, or MRT course, as part of the Master Resilience Training Quality Improvement Evaluation. The two-week MRT course is 80 hours and is intended for mid-level leaders, typically non-commissioned officers who are expected to learn the skills, complete a practical exercise for each skill, and conduct teach-backs of the material in small groups. After returning to their units MRTs are expected to conduct annual unit training, which consists of twelve skills taught using standardized PowerPoints for each skill with an accompanying practical exercise worksheet. These classes are expected to range from one to two and a half hours.

Across the three components, 343 students were surveyed and 61 were interviewed. Respective to the new focus on education, the surveys included questions aimed at coach education and effectiveness, in addition to topics regarding the course in general (e.g., MRT course relevance and satisfaction, satisfactory preparation to conduct resilience training) and implementation of their unit mandatory resilience training (e.g., last time they received resilience training in their unit, relevance of mandatory training). This data informed the recommendations for changes to MRT materials and the implementation methods (e.g., classroom training, coaching).

Results indicated that the MRT students thought the course material was relevant and that they were prepared to train the material when back at their unit. More than half of those surveyed responded that they participated in unit resilience training more than a year ago or they did not remember when it last occurred. It is unknown if they would have more success in conducting resilience training than the current MRTs in their units. This disconnect between identifying as ready to teach and deficiencies in training could explain the failure to implement resilience training.

The interviewees shared six areas for improvement for the revisions of MRT that could eliminate or at least decrease this resilience training gap:

1.     Leadership Buy-In: Interviewees said resilience training is not treated as a priority and is subject to being scheduled or remaining scheduled provided other priority items do not interfere. Interviewees recommended allowing the data to show the effectiveness of resilience training, as commanders want to make data-driven decisions about their priorities. They also recommended that commanders attend the course to model these skills to subordinates. The commanders would also better understand that resilience training is acknowledging feelings while building coping skills and mental toughness.

2.     Marketing & Strategic Messaging: Interviewees recommended that ARD develop professional messaging and marketing for resilience training to combat “checking-the-box” and the “feelings stigma.” They cited SHARP and ACE as examples.

3.     MRT Instructor Selection: Interviewees highlighted the difference in motivation among attendees who volunteered versus those who were “voluntold.” Motivation is key not only for course completion, but also for unit implementation. They recommended a more rigorous selection process to include either a screening or interview prior to selection and teaching experience as a prerequisite. If volunteers do not have teaching experience, they could consider attending an instructor course prior to the MRT course. Interviewees also suggested a nomination by another MRT or specific guidance and selection criteria for the commander.

4.     Content & Materials: Recommendations included decreasing the complexity and number of skills, allowing MRTs to tailor skills to their unit’s needs and training calendar, and structuring the training to appeal to a variety of ranks and educational backgrounds among junior and senior Soldiers and leaders. The interviewees also requested maintaining revised PowerPoint materials while adding hip-pocket materials in the form of mobile applications and graphic training aids.

5.     Course Assessment: For the two-week MRT course, interviewees requested firmer assessments beyond the current test. They thought that the course should be extended to three weeks to have more time to engage with the material and to practice. Additionally, they would like the teaching materials to be clearer and distributed earlier. They deem teach-backs as valuable but would like clearer written feedback on a rubric. Finally, it was also recommended that students be able to “peer each other out” or vote to remove fellow classmates if they are not prepared and performing poorly.

6.     Implementation: Interviewees wanted to stay current in their knowledge and learn best practices from others through refreshers either in person or on a platform such as YouTube, and to have a community of MRTs on a platform like Facebook. They also requested that ARD hold units accountable for conducting training. They think that MRTs should lose their additional skill identifier if they do not stay current (e.g., continuing education credits, teaching a certain number of classes a year), and that a simple implementation check should be added to the command climate survey.

In the next version of MRT, coach education is an area that will fill a gap, especially for junior leaders. Coach education can essentially follow ARD’s Engage bystander intervention training model (i.e., I am aware, I am responsible, I have a plan). For leaders to coach well, they need to be aware, take responsibility, have a plan, and then tailor the message (i.e., intervention) to the audience. The current MRT course does not help these leaders connect their observations, responsibility as leaders, and logic to develop a targeted plan for implementation. Decreasing the complexity and number of skills while shifting from solely relying on a PowerPoint-driven delivery would allow leaders to have more flexibility to determine how to implement these skills in their unit or for Soldiers with their military occupational specialty. Empowering leaders to make the skills real in their worlds may lead to improved behavioral change and implementation. The Army is ready for a new model of resilience training to help develop and enhance leaders’ and Soldiers’ coping skills and mental toughness.

For more detailed information, please contact Dr. Susannah Knust (Susannah.k.knust.civ@mail.mil). RTO is also preparing a technical report of the full evaluation.

(Note from the editor: The opinions or assertions contained herein are the views of the author, and are not to be construed as official, or as reflecting the views of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense. The investigators have adhered to the policies for protection of human subjects as prescribed in AR 70–25.)