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Mentoring for the Transition

Written by George Cartwright

Whenever demand exceeds supply, a “survival of the fittest” mentality often takes root. Police departments are no exception. It is no secret that the shrinking pool of qualified candidates has placed law enforcement organizations in the unenviable position of recruiting viable candidates from each other’s ranks. Agencies are commonly understaffed, so many are offering incentives to entice men and women to change patches.

Let us now jump ahead. Your agency was successful in recruiting the experienced officer, and that person has come on board. The table is set, so what happens next? You now have a new cop who will be trained in a fraction of the time and is able to hit the streets in the near future. Help with the low staffing levels in patrol is on the way. Is the mission accomplished?

Is any thought given to how that officer is adapting to the new and unfamiliar organizational culture? The work is the same, but every organization has its own peculiarities. Is there a system in place to help the outsider assimilate or is the new employee left to his own devices? With the frequency in which officers are switching agencies, it is only logical that there are many new folks within departments throughout the country who are feeling like strangers in a foreign land.

Recently, in an effort to help both rookie and lateral officers assimilate to the Clovis Police Department, a mentoring program was created for the organization using the field training officer (FTO) group as the mentors. The plan is composed of four steps: Step One—Build the Lesson Plan; Step Two—Facilitate the Training; Step Three—Implement the Plan; and Step Four—Maintain the Program. The first two steps will be covered in this article.

Step One— Build the Lesson Plan

It is always a good idea to begin with the end in mind, so it is vital to determine the goal as early in the process as possible. If worded correctly, the goal for a course of instruction will drive the design and development procedure. Every step taken in the creation of the training should be assessed by asking if it meets the goal. If the answer is yes, then the final product will fit together.

The goal is a general statement that defines the purpose of the training and its desired outcome. The goal for the training was “To develop the field training officer’s abilities in identification and implementation of a formal mentoring program.” The specifics were accomplished through clearly written tasks.

Tasks are the walk-away skills. They answer the questions: What must the learner know or be able to do to accomplish the goal? What level of performance is required? What attitude should the learner develop when accomplishing the goal?

The two levels of tasks are critical and non-critical. The critical tasks are evaluated and represent requisite knowledge and skills a student should learn. Because critical tasks are measurable, learning objectives are created to help with the evaluation process. Non-critical tasks can be taught, but they are just not evaluated and do not rise to the level of a critical task.

Task #1 (non-critical): Organize the steps for how to begin the mentoring relationship. Task #2 (non-critical): Identify the qualities and attitudes of a mentor.

Task #3 (non-critical): Identify the key aspects of the culture of the organization that need to be taught to the new officers. Task #4 (non-critical): Select a methodology for how to end a mentoring relationship. Task #5 (critical): Create an outline for a mentoring program for the Clovis Police Department.

Once the tasks have been identified, it is important to create learning objectives for the critical tasks. Learning objectives provide the trainer with what the learner should be able to do as a result of training, in measurable terms. It is a definitive indicator to knowing if learning took place.

A learning objective begins by answering several questions such as: Who is being trained? What is expected of them as a result of the training? What equipment or resources will be provided to them? How will the performance be measured? If formulated properly, the final result will define what good looks like. It is possible to have several learning objectives for each critical task. For the mentoring lesson plan, only one was formulated.

In a facilitated discussion, provided with the critical components in a mentoring plan (how to begin a mentoring relationship, qualities of a mentor, key cultural aspects of the organization and how to end a mentoring relationship). The FTO group will create an outline for a mentoring program.

With the lesson plan completed, it is time to conduct the training. However, it is highly recommended that when facilitating training, the facilitator should do some front-end work. Plant the seed in the minds of the learners before training by requesting they begin thinking about the topic and come prepared to share their opinions.

Step Two— Facilitate the Training

The students arrived for training and were seated in small groups. The course goal and task list were communicated to the class and displayed prominently on the wall for easy referral. The tone was set for the day by emphasizing the importance of their personal involvement in the creation of the program. Given that collectively they had more than 200 years of experience with the organization, they were used to implement the program.

With regard to facilitated learning, it is very important to remember two key points when conducting training. First, teach to the tasks not to the topics because the tasks are the walk-away skills. Second, do not be a slave to the linear structure of the lesson plan. In other words, be flexible with the order in which you present the tasks. This requires that the facilitator be perceptive to the mood of the class.

We started the day by undertaking Task #3: Identifying the key aspects of the culture of the organization that need to be taught to the new officers. In a facilitated discussion, the class defined culture as the accepted way of doing business, shared principles, tradition and history, unwritten guidelines and philosophy, to name a few. There were not too many surprises with the collective definition. The point of the exercise was that they were not provided the definition; they created it.

Once the word was defined, small groups were tasked with applying it to the organization. From there, they divided the culture into two facets: Internal considerations, such as interpersonal communications, and external matters, namely identifying the community’s expectations for its police officers. Throughout this process, it is essential that the facilitator create a classroom atmosphere that is safe so the students will be courageously honest.
After completing the lists in small groups, the class came together to form a master list. Each item was brought before the group for consensus. The only criterion for choosing the item for the master list was to determine if it was relevant for the assimilation of the new employees. If there was consensus on the specific aspect, a colored sticker was placed next to it. The final product became the learning points for the mentors to teach to their mentees.

After the culture of the organization was defined and the students had a vision of what they would teach the new officers, we progressed to Task #1: Organize the steps for how to begin the mentoring relationship. The students were paired up and instructed to write down as many ideas as they could about the best ways to begin a mentoring relationship.

They were advised to consider the following questions: How should the mentor be selected? (Does the mentee choose, or is the mentor assigned?) What are some effective ways for the mentor to approach the mentee? What should the mentor say to the mentee about the relationship or role of a mentor? How long should the mentoring relationship last? When it was apparent that the pairs had finished their discussions, they came together as a class. All the ideas were written on a master list, and the most essential, by way of consensus, were adopted.

As an approach to completing Task #2: Identify the qualities and attitudes of a mentor, the class was divided into small groups again. They were tasked with generating 10 qualities and attitudes of a mentor. Once the groups reorganized as a class, we created a master list, eliminated the duplicate responses, and collectively determined the best qualities a mentor should possess.

As an aside, when creating the lesson plan, the facilitator should compile a list of qualities that must be identified. However, instead of giving them to the students, a good facilitator should draw it out of them so they discover it for themselves. For example, it is imperative that some fundamental issues are addressed in the training such as: a mentor is not just another boss; the mentor must listen without judgment, be an advocate and an encourager, be available, and allow the mentee to “process” new experiences without interruption.

To accomplish Task #4: Select a methodology for how to end a mentoring relationship, the mentors formed pairs and repeated the process for Task #1. They discussed why it is important to mark the end of a mentoring relationship and what should be emphasized to the mentee. Having completed most of the work, it was time to bring all the information together in an organized manner, which is Task #5: Create an outline for a mentoring program for the Clovis Police Department. The only issue left to be decided was when to implement the plan.

George Cartwright is a graduate of the California POST Master Instructor Development Program. He has a bachelor’s degree in organizational development and a master’s degree in administrative leadership. He can be reached at georgec@cityofclovis.com.

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2009

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