In this article:
The story of Susan and Angela illustrates why a training strategy without sufficient evidence collection and review will not consistently produce learning and training transfer.

A Tale of Susan and Angela


I want to share a story with you about an experience I had recently. I was working with a coach, let’s call her Susan, and three of her staff to help them make the upgrade from Wraparound to MiiWrap.  One of the staff members, let’s call her Angela, was newer. She had taken a standard wraparound workshop about 6 months before we started the process. The other two were much more experienced. Before we started, Susan told me that she wasn’t worried at all about pushing Angela to keep up with the other staff members, because Angela was such an excellent student during the wraparound workshop.

We got started, Susan and her experienced staff members had to take some time and practice with the earlier chapters that addressed the MI spirit and relational and change skills that were somewhat new to them.  They were all progressing at about the same rate and all making good progress.  Then they got to the chapters that described the integrated process.  The experienced staff are cruising through these chapters. They are clearly very experienced with wraparound, and are only having to slow down to learn the shifts and additions that MiiWrap brings to the process. Their discussions are rich and nuanced. 

Angela, meanwhile, is struggling to pass the basic quizzes. She doesn’t seem to “get it,” and she is having trouble with all of the exercises. When Susan and I started reviewing her essay questions, we discovered that Angela doesn’t understand why and how wraparound works. Not MiiWrap, which she was trying to learn, but wraparound.

Angela had been working with families for several months at that point. Susan made a systematic review of her notes and documentation so far, and realized she hadn’t been doing wraparound with any of them. Angela had enough of a wraparound vocabulary and personal charm to fake her way through debriefing meetings and such, but what she was actually doing was best described as intensive case management.

Susan was appalled that this had escaped her notice. I asked her what made her tell me initially that Angela was such a good student. She said that Angela always showed up to training on time. She always asked a few good questions every training session, and actively took notes.  She spoke enthusiastically about how powerful wraparound was, and how much she could see it helping her families. She talked the talk whenever anyone was listening. But she wasn’t walking the walk.

Susan should have been paying more attention to the actual work. But she has a demanding job, a lot of cases to oversee, and it fell through the cracks. Moreover, she did everything she was supposed to for her wraparound trainings. She scheduled them whenever she had a few new staff that needed training. She spent four days lecturing in front of PowerPoints and having group discussions to teach Angela’s class how to do wraparound.  She scheduled follow up meetings with every learner to discuss their experience one on one and answer their questions. This is a pretty standard model, that probably sounds familiar to many of you.

So why didn’t this work? And why didn’t Susan know Angela wasn’t learning?

Susan’s trainings, like so many, are a massive organizational production. They involve decks, worksheets, scheduling, finding the money to cover training hours, and more. They create the illusion of progress and growth because so much is happening. They don’t, however, have individual comprehension checks built in. They don’t create opportunities for the coach to see what the learner has learned or not at every step of the process. They don’t require the learner to ever commit something real to paper. They create the opportunity to learn, but never dig deep to find out if the learning really happened. All you have to do to complete the course is show up, be enthusiastic, and learn a few vocab words.

Traditional wraparound training methods assume that the learner has learned whatever you shared with them.  There is very little way to check that assumption besides asking the learner if they understand. Unfortunately, many people think they understand something when they don’t. Others say they understand because they don’t want to talk about it anymore.  A third group might say they understand because they don’t want to expose ignorance or weakness. Behavioral rehearsals can shed more light on the learner’s current skill level, but that requires a sharp eye and dedicated follow up by the coach. And this still doesn’t usually uncover basic knowledge and understanding gaps, because there are always so many excuses for a poor behavioral rehearsal performance.

You might be wondering why I am sharing this story. It’s not terrible flattering for anyone – but the lesson is a powerful one. MiiWrap (like Wraparound), is a complex process with lots of variable and moving pieces. You cannot memorize a list of steps and terms and then do MiiWrap. You have to master skills. You have to understand why things work so you can customize your approach and goals in the moment. You have to fundamentally change the way you think about your work and the people you work with. 

How do you do that? There are many ways, but they all boil down to collecting real evidence of learning at every step so you can intervene before small misunderstandings become major failings. Next week, we’ll talk about how we do that with our programs to give you a better idea of what we mean.

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