Transcript: Training Volunteers to Protect Minors
Host: Hello and welcome to Prevention and Protection, the United Educators Risk Management Podcast. Today’s guest is Quincy McLaughlin, Associate Head of School and Head of Upper School at Greenhills School in Michigan, who’s here to discuss how K-12 schools can train volunteers to prevent and report student sexual misconduct. Hosting the discussion is Melanie Bennett, Risk Management Counsel in the United Educators Risk Management department. Before we begin, a quick reminder that you can find this and other episodes of the Prevention and Protection Podcast, as well as additional risk management resources, on our website, www.ue.org. This and all episodes of prevention and protection are also available on iTunes. This episode was recorded in March of 2020 before the height of the pandemic. We are releasing it because we still think the lessons are applicable. Now here’s Melanie.
Melanie Bennett: Thank you. I’m Melanie Bennett, Risk Management Counsel at United Educators. Joining me today is Quincy McLaughlin, an independent school administrator with over 20 years of experience working in schools, colleges, and academic medical centers. Since July of 2018, Quincy has served as the Head of Upper School at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Welcome, Quincy.
Quincy McLaughlin: Hi, Melanie. Thanks for having me.
Bennett: So happy to have you here. So my first question for you today. Should all volunteers at our schools receive protecting minors training even if they don’t work with students?
McLaughlin: I think that’s a great question. I was speaking with the school the other day, and they’ve at the moment, decided that all the volunteers that they run through protective minor training are only volunteers that have unsupervised contact with students. But I think the missed opportunity there is creating a culture of safety and reporting. And to do that, really, everybody in the entire community, all your constituents, your volunteers, your parents, your students, your employees, everybody needs to have the same set of shared agreements about how we’re going to behave to keep students safe. So that’s my long answer to, yes, I think all volunteers should receive protecting minors training.
Bennett: And does that include parents?
McLaughlin: Our parents are in our communities in several different ways. One, I think it’s, again, part of minimizing the chance that any sort of abuse could occur across our school settings is the reason why we let parents know we train our faculty, we train staff, we train volunteers, we train coaches, and what our behavioral standards and expectations are for all adults in relationship to students in the setting. So I think it’s important to make those expectations and standards and pathways to express concern visible for all parents. For parents who volunteer in our schools, and I know that looks really different in lots of our settings, from boarding schools to small K-8 schools in rural settings, sometimes they’re in our classrooms, sometimes they’re chaperoning trips or debate contests. I think all those volunteers similarly should go through a training. There’s no reason not to do it. It just acts as a deterrent and increases the likelihood that you have more eyes on all of our students all the time.
Bennett: Should the protecting minors training that parents and volunteers are taking look like the protecting minors training that teachers are taking?
McLaughlin: Yes. I just returned from a New York State Association of Independent Schools workshop, and we distribute in that workshop sort of a script for schools to use in their adult communities to get started. And it’s really applicable to all constituents. There’s nothing in there that we share with faculty and staff and coaches that we’d be uncomfortable advising parents on as well. It’s a lot of the important data that NIS has shared with us, that United Educators has shared with us about the risks and vulnerabilities around educator misconduct and sexual misconduct specifically. And again, anytime we have an opportunity to talk to all of our members of their communities about these issues, that alone acts as a deterrent.
Bennett: So is there a single training that everybody’s taking, or are there different versions of training that have similar content?
McLaughlin: I think there’s different versions with similar content. So for example, we use [United Educators’] training resources. So this year we had our coaches, our faculty, our staff all certainly use the harassment training in schools and preventing sexual misconduct in schools. We also have a state-based protecting minors mandated reporter training that we use. But in addition to that, those online trainings and those video-based trainings and those different portals have different ways of recording completion and participation by the people who are going through the trainings.
What those things can’t replace is also the in-person emphasis of letting people know, our parent volunteers or community volunteers, just like we would faculty and staff, and our students, these are the people you go to if you see something that worries you, if you need help clarifying an event or clarifying a communication. And so I think the multiple touchpoints is really the best way to go. The online trainings are great, and hopefully all they do is serve to amplify and make more visible the trainings that we also do in person. Because when you’re in person, you can answer people’s questions and sometimes you can role play a little bit and maybe get explicit about in your setting. And all school settings are different, and all schools have different cultural habits around engagement with students. So in your setting, what would be acceptable or not acceptable, and that can only be done in person by people in your school.
Bennett: Great. So it sounds like schools should look at using other types of training in addition to online training. Make sure that they’re using in-person training, workshops, lectures, whatever works best for your constituents. Are there any content areas that schools should make sure that they always include in their volunteer training?
McLaughlin: I think the content area that I think they should always include is probably one of the areas that schools, even with their own faculty staff, are sometimes slow to include. And that involves descriptions of what unhealthy boundaries might look like. And that also includes a description of what grooming might look like. And I think that a lot of schools, sometimes I think they’re uncomfortable about describing those because they sometimes appear to map so well onto what we highlight about our schools, which is the importance of relationships. So I think that we can talk about mandated reporting training. We can describe our behavioral standards. We can talk about how to sensitize each other to what constitutes an unhealthy relationship. But I do think we have to talk about what some grooming behaviors might look like to keep people alert. And I think that that’s the part that makes people the most uncomfortable.
Bennett: That’s a really good point that we want to highlight, the grooming behaviors. And when I’m talking to schools, I know that I’ve heard that scenarios can be particularly helpful. Do you use scenario-based training?
McLaughlin: Every time. So just again, in New York where I recently was with probably about 40 schools, we always do scenario-based training anytime we go to a school or we go to a state organization for independent schools. And certainly in my training in the schools I’ve been part of, the opportunity there is always to describe what some of our colleagues have experienced. And again, you want to just create conditions for people to explain when boundary issues have come up. And that’s one of the ways I think we create conditions for our communities, our adults and our students and our employees is when we can say, “Some people have talked about this experience about the discomfort of being asked to do X or asked to do Y.” And so I think the scenarios for your specific community are important as well.
I think it’s also one of the things that we know from United Educators and NIS is that our colleagues particularly, and maybe I think our parents are vulnerable in this category as well, I think it’s really difficult to imagine that some of our talented, capable community members could ever transgress against a student or commit any sort of misconduct. And that type of confirmation bias is true for all of us across our school settings. So I think the scenario-based training is important because it helps our volunteers and our employees and our students to understand what it might look like, because I think it’s very powerful, our ability to talk ourselves out of things and to make determinations based on our own confirmation bias is very powerful.
Bennett: When your school was first establishing volunteer training [as] normal protocol, what processes did you go through to make it normal? And did you get any pushback as you were doing that?
McLaughlin: Well, I think that most schools regrettably enter boundary training in general because there’s been an event of some kind, an employee has been separated, and the very regrettable but uninvited opportunity in those moments is to really reset the entire community around boundary training and increasing safety for students. So at my past school over many years, the volunteer training wasn’t the first round of training that was institutionalized and implemented. First and foremost, I think the school was looking at employees. I think first and foremost, all schools look at employees. The volunteer training at my last school and at my current school has been phased in as part of the whole school’s sort of reorientation and commitment to boundary training across the school setting.
So for example, in my first year with my school, and I’ve just been at my current school for two years, at my first year, the work really with the faculty was to develop the language in all of our shared agreements about what our behavioral standards would be. And at some schools, that’s called a code of conduct or a code of ethical conduct. And so we had to do work as a faculty and staff, and that’s part of creating conditions for everybody to get oriented to these new guidelines. So we had to create conditions and develop language around what the commitments would be around those behavioral standards.
Then we had to build them in to our annual appointment letters. Everybody had to become familiar with them, that these were things that they were agreeing to every year. And there was a series of steps that we took. And so towards the end of this second year, we made adjustments regarding tutors on campus and external coaches. And we’ve changed a number of our habits related to adults in the building, which largely include a parent volunteer population. Everything from how they sign in to how we signify that they’re in the building and the volunteer process, which will include trustees, will go into effect next year.
And I think at that stage, some schools are coming to probably behind the faculty and staff training expectation as we move now into understanding that the more the entire community is oriented in the same way, using the same language and the same standards, the safer it is for all of our students. Because I think it’s taken us a while to figure out that all volunteers, even if they don’t, we don’t expect that [they will have] unsupervised contact. Some schools, I think, have really leaned on, “We’ll do this training with volunteers who have unsupervised contact with our students.” And I just think the best way forward is for everybody to have the same training because you never know when someone’s going to say something to somebody in their backyard, in their kitchen, over a coffee, in the parking lot, on a car ride that catches your attention. And if all volunteers have been trained, even those that will not have unsupervised contact with students, it just makes us a safer community.
Bennett: And I agree that even volunteers who will have supervised regular contact with students should also receive some type of training. Along those lines, United Educators recently released a video, “Shine a Light K-12,” that’s intended for that population specifically. So you walk through some of the challenges that you overcame at Greenhills as you were implementing the new training. Have you noticed any common challenges that other schools face when they’re implementing their volunteer trainings?
McLaughlin: I have not heard any schools experience challenges from volunteer training. I think there’s an anxiety that exists, whether you’re an employee or an adult volunteer in a school, for some people when they participate in this training, when they learn of the training. And the anxiety is, in the course of my providing care, support, advising, supervision of somebody else’s child, somebody’s going to accuse me of something. That’s really the only barrier. And I wouldn’t even call it a barrier. I think it’s just attention to work through with your communities. That’s really the only challenge, I guess, that I’ve ever encountered.
And at my own school, nothing, no challenges of any kind, no resistance. It’s been a terrific community, very responsive. Again, when I’ve worked with some other schools, sometimes they get nervous about, “What happens if somebody accuses me of something?” or “What happens if somebody finds my behavior to be inconsistent. What will happen then?” And I think it’s important, just like we do with faculty and staff, to reassure them that not every intervention becomes an employment action. And in fact, if we do this well and we do this right, and we’re talking about boundaries all the time, we’re helping faculty and staff reset boundaries before they ever start on what David Wolowitz calls “The slippery slope of behaviors.” But that’s the only thing I would categorize as a challenge.
Bennett: Those are some great recommendations. Thank you. And my last question for you today, do you make a record of your volunteer training completions?
McLaughlin: Yes. We have a record of all training completions, and it informs whether or not somebody might be renewed, whether or not we’d like to continue with somebody. It’s a condition of participation, just like it’s a condition of participation in employment heading into the 2021 year. It’s a condition of volunteering. So it’s not something that somebody can decline to participate in. And we do make a record of all of it.
Bennett: That’s helpful. Thank you, Quincy.
McLaughlin: You’re welcome, Melanie.
Host: From United Educators Insurance, this is the Prevention and Protection Podcast. For additional episodes and other UE risk management resources, please visit our website, www.ue.org.