Training day! Is it something you look forward to, are ambivalent about or dread? Sometimes the answer to this question is based on training topics, but more often than not, it goes deeper than that. The answer is based on department culture, instructor attitudes, whether it feels important to officers and our own attitude toward training.
If class consists of “check-the-box” topics, then you probably dread attending because it’s going to be B-O-R-I-N-G! This is the kind of class no one wants to attend; the instructor apologizes for having to teach and command staff discovers all sorts of important things to do instead of attending. If this is the kind of material you’re exposed to on a regular basis, it might mean the department doesn’t value training. This type of department culture emphasizes “minimum standards,” which demonstrates how little the officers are actually valued by the department.
Conversely, if training occurs in a positive environment and challenges you to improve your knowledge, skills and abilities, you will generally look forward to attending class. These courses are led by instructors who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the material. They challenge us to push our limits and improve our performance. When we fail, the instructor doesn’t belittle or embarrass. Instead, they point out how failure may indicate where our limits are and how we can improve beyond that limit. In other words, these instructors see failure as a “teachable” moment.
Everyone has witnessed how a negative training culture can create an environment where officers go through the motions in order to check the box. Instructors who demand performance without teaching the necessary skills are commonplace in these cultures. These are the firearms instructors who yell at officers on the line as if they’re an army drill sergeant. Instead of coaching and helping officers improve their skills, they walk around as if they are the most important person on the range. In reality, they’re nothing more than a red shirt and a Sharpie.
All classes should be conducted in a positive environment. The “why” should be explained and every opportunity taken to improve officer performance. The most important person in class should be the individual student officer. Good instructors understand they’re not just there for the officers in attendance. Good instructors know they are working to improve performance so that individual officers return home to their family after each shift. Good instructors do what they do for the parents, spouses, siblings and children of each officer in the class.
Unfortunately, there are many courses being taught that fit the description of check-the-box classes. Oftentimes, these classes lack measureable outcomes used to demonstrate the value and effectiveness of training. For example, where are the studies showing positive, measurable outcomes from implicit bias training? I’m not saying these studies don’t exist, but I’ve never seen anything showing how implicit bias training programs change habits or behavior.
Critical topics such as firearms, defensive tactics/control tactics, and emergency vehicle operations are easily measured to determine if training is effective. There are short-term measurables as well as long-term data we can use to determine the effectiveness of these programs. For example, a department can determine the short-term effectiveness of its emergency vehicle operations training by comparing officer performance on a driving course before and after training. Long-term measurables include officer-involved traffic crash reports, pursuit reports, insurance claims and duty-related injury data. There are many others we could look at, but I’m sure you get the idea.
Training should be enjoyable, but the purpose of training is not entertainment. The primary goal is performance improvement through coaching and instruction. A positive training environment provides structure, intent and purpose. Training objectives are planned in advance with the intent to enhance skills and get students to perform to higher standards. For example, during firearms training, a performance objective may be an increased standard where a student draws their handgun from a duty holster and gets a center mass hit in 1.2 seconds or less. This training objective emphasizes how each draw from the holster should be done with the expectation that their life and the lives of their loved ones depend on it.
What about training on your own time? When you go to the range to practice on your own, do you practice the things you’re good at, or do you train to improve your weakest skills? Everyone likes to practice doing the things we’re good at. It makes us feel good about ourselves. But let’s be honest, we should really be working to strengthen our weaknesses. This is the difference between training and going through the motions.
If you’re training instead of going through the motions, you will know when it’s time to seek additional professional instruction, on your own time and dime if necessary, to improve your individual performance limits. Another set of eyes can help identify weaknesses and help you target those areas in order to improve. A good instructor can give you new ideas on how to improve your skills when practicing on your own. They can help you self-diagnose and self-correct your mistakes so you can work on improving your skills outside of class. In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know. Instructors can help you bring previously unknown weaknesses to light so that you can work on turning them into strengths.
The next time you look at the calendar and see a training day coming up, do what you can to take advantage of the opportunity to improve. If you’re an instructor, work to develop a positive training culture and remember all the people who rely on you to improve the performance of your students. When you train on your own time, work on improving your weaknesses. Training should be something we look forward to instead of something to dread.