Conducting in-service training is the single most difficult task for any instructor. Not only will they be judged on the class material and presentation like any other instructor, but they must face the preconceived ideas and opinions of co-workers. These are the same people we work with on a day-to-day basis. Whether justified or not, each of us will be viewed through the lens of past experiences.
Co-workers go into in-service training predisposed to either embrace what an instructor is bringing to the class or completely disregard any attempt by them to impart their knowledge or wisdom. Oftentimes, this is determined by who is presenting the material rather than the material itself. Therefore, it’s important to take a team approach to training. Training by committee can reduce predetermined opinions and open minds to the training material.
The preconceptions our co-workers bring into in-service training creates a challenge for instructors that academy instructors and instructors for private training companies don’t face. Academy instructors get fresh-faced new recruits who are open to training, seek knowledge and want to improve their skills so they can get a job or prove to their sponsoring agency that they were a good hire. As an instructor for a private training company, the students in our classes generally want to be there to improve their firearm instructor skills, get some quality trigger time and they want to spend time on the range doing something other than being responsible for conducting the training.
Contrast this with the students many in-service instructors face on a regular basis. A lot of officers show up for in-service training because they are required to be there. If they fail to show up for mandatory training, they face certain discipline. Multiple officers will ask, “What time are we getting out of here?” This simple question tells you a lot regarding how much they value the training they are about to receive. These preconceptions are challenging for all in-service instructors, but working as a training team can go a long way toward helping overcome these roadblocks.
These preconceptions aren’t a one-way street, though. In-service training instructors go in with predetermined ideas and opinions about the students in their class, too. Instructors will make judgments regarding certain individuals in class based on past experiences. Even when it comes to training certain groups of officers, instructors will have different ideas about the competencies of officers assigned to different work groups. For example, in defensive tactics training, instructors may have opinions about how a group of criminal detectives will perform compared to a group of patrol officers. Instructors need to be prepared for the differences between these groups, but they can’t allow a difference in performance standards because of the differences.
It is said that you can’t be a prophet in your own land. This seems to be true, which is sad because there might be some industry experts in your own department ranks. The problem is that on a nationwide scale, many subject-matter experts are shunned by their own departments. Other than jealousy and a lack of leadership from command staff, I’m not sure why this is such a widespread problem. If a department utilizes a team approach to in-service training, they can leverage that expertise for the benefit of the agency.
Unfortunately, the trend seems to be that our own department experts get shunned by their supervisors. “Never outshine the master” is an old adage that seems to ring true for a lot of departments. When law enforcement managers are insecure about their own abilities, they have a tendency to stifle and discourage others rather than encourage individual growth.
On the other side of this coin are leaders and mentors who actively seek opportunities to help their people succeed. These leaders spend a lot of their own time and energy seeking to help the people they serve. They actively look to recognize the hard work, talent and passion required to obtain expertise. Working with this type of leader provides internal motivation, which translates to helping fill a department with quality people with specialized skills. This benefits the whole department and the communities they serve.
A team approach
When it comes to training by committee, what I really mean is to use a team approach to designing, writing and presenting training. In-service training should utilize the knowledge, skills and abilities of as many people on the training team as possible. Each member must be willing to embrace the team’s ideas and concepts so they can be presented effectively. When each member of the training team takes ownership of the process, the material presented in class takes on a sense of importance regardless of who teaches any given class.
A lot of law enforcement in-service training is designed and delivered by training teams. We may call them a “firearms training team,” a “defensive tactics team,” a “CIT team” or we may come up with a clever acronym. But are they true teams or just individuals randomly thrown together and given the same assignment? To get a group of individuals to function as a team requires a lot of time and effort. Each member must be focused on the mission of the team. When that happens, the team working together is much more effective than any of them individually.
Most law enforcement instructors love the idea of working on a team, but the reality of meetings and group work assignments can drag them down. For many instructors, the word “meeting” can be defined as a group of people where none of them is as dumb as all of them. This can be especially true if there are only a select few who have input into the training process and material. But have no fear, there is hope! Remember, the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution were formed during meetings, and they turned out great. It is possible to produce some impressive material as a result of a productive training meeting.
However, if the material is designed by one person who directs other instructors on how the material is to be presented — when there is no buy-in or ownership — the quality of training suffers. Unfortunately, this occurs far too often. Frequently, committees are just like teamwork, except without the work. When one person takes on most of the load, they are the only person with ownership.
If you’re a member of a training group, it’s incumbent upon you to help make the group a cohesive team. Help distribute the workload and get every member of the team involved. Encourage the veteran members of the team to be open to new ideas and demand the younger members to contribute new ideas to help keep our programs fresh and relevant.
Training by committee can benefit individual trainers and students, and it can benefit the department. As long as the training committee functions as a team, it can promote a sense of ownership for instructors and overcome preconceived ideas brought to the room by students. The department can produce its own subject-matter experts benefiting the instructor, the department and the community. Overall, the material presented for the benefit of those we serve will be more relevant, better presented and our officers will be more receptive.