Anyone who trains law enforcement personnel knows that you need to be at the top of your game to stand in front of a group of officers as an instructor.
Presenting necessary information or assisting officers in developing new or improved skills can be more than challenging. However, officers may also be extremely appreciative if they see the benefits of what the instructor is presenting.
There are no shortcuts to being a good instructor. There are a number of things an instructor can do to see that learning takes place. This list of “ten ways” is not the be-all and end-all. Undoubtedly, there are instructors who may believe that some items do not belong or that others have been omitted. Still, these ten ways will work for most instructors by making them better instructors.
- Safety first. Instructors must realize that they are responsible for everyone who participates in their training programs. Some injuries are preventable and some are not. It should be the goal of every instructor to see that preventable injuries are, in fact, prevented. If an injury occurs, an injury response plan should be in place. This can be in the form of an adequately supplie first aid kit and knowledge where the nearest phone is located, so that EMS personnel can be summoned. It is also a plus for instructors to be certified in first aid or emergency treatment. It is a big plus for every firearms instructor to receive training in gunshot wound aftercare and treatment. Be prepared. The motto of the Boy Scouts of America is “Be Prepared.” What works for the Boy Scouts also works for any law enforcement instructor. Preparation encompasses everything from handout material to audiovisual material and equipment. Preparation also means that downtime is avoided or reduced. Instructors cannot prepare for every possible “what if,” but they can do their best to see that learning takes place through proper planning.
- Update your material. For example, the principles of conducting a good interview and interrogation are still the same today as they were when shown in that old 16 millimeter film on “Interviews and Interrogations.” That old film features men with three pounds of grease on their hair, neckties which are as wide as bibs and cars with foot high tail fins. Even though the interview and interrogation principles haven’t changed, showing that old film will do nothing but cause your officers to laugh. Update lesson plans, handout materials, tests, or anything else which needs updating.
- Be a role model. This begins with looking like an instructor. If teaching academic or lecture topics, wear your agency uniform or appropriate business attire. If teaching hands-on topics, from DT and PT to firearms training, wear a collared shirt and either professional looking coach’s pants or BDUs. Instructors should not use vulgar language or use condescending language toward any person or group. Many officers do look up to their instructors, so it is imperative that instructors realize how important being a role model is.
- Get to know the students. This can include knowing each officer’s name and rank to personal hobbies and interests. This also shows officers that you care enough about each of them to know who they are. Show them respect and you will earn their respect.
- Use technology when presenting. Get to know how to use PowerPoint® and all that it is capable of doing. If you use a Mac instead of a PC, you can go beyond what PowerPoint can do with Keynote®. Local photos inserted into the PowerPoint program can give a local flavor and enhance the presentation. Learn about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other networking Internet sites. You may even want to create your own blog. Consider podcasting and video podcasting – it’s not that difficult to learn.
- Take the time to read. See what’s posted on various blogs which interest you. Read the newspaper and other magazines. Learn how to use free Internet news clipping sources which E-mail you each day with only topics you want. Read professional law enforcement periodicals – you’re reading this issue of Police and Security News, so you know how to do that! See what literature is available from various companies. Spend some time Googling and you may find a treasure of information.
- Smile and be a positive influence. It’s easy to get in a negative mind-set as a law enforcement officer. After all, officers only get called when there are problems. Dealing with officers is different than dealing with a bad guy, so it’s okay to smile and laugh. Being in a groove has a positive connotation, while being in a rut has a negative one. You can influence officer perspectives by helping them out of a rut and into a groove. It sounds simple, but it does work!
- Get the officers actively involved. Challenge, but don’t confront. Ask open-ended questions which require more than a simple “Yes” or “No” response. This is easier with hands-on topics, but this can also work in lecture-based programs. It helps if officers understand the material, since it will make it easier for them to memorize important information. To quote a Chinese proverb, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
- Join professional associations and go to conferences. Attending a professional conference can help recharge your batteries! Since birds of a feather flock together, it’s a great way to discuss many challenges. Your peers may have answers to your questions and you may have answers to theirs. Most people who attend training conferences, including conference presenters, will go out of their way to help their fellow attendees. Additionally, professional memberships can serve as a lifeline throughout the year. The ability to network is a big plus.
Now is the time to assess your strengths and weaknesses in order to be the best law enforcement trainer possible. The secret is: There is no secret! It’s hard work, but it’s more than worth it.
Ed Nowicki, a nationally recognized and judicially declared police practices and use of force expert, is a retired police officer. He is also the executive director emeritus of ILEETA. He can be reached at NCJTC@aol.com.