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Eight Qualities of Highly Effective Trainers
Let’s look at a number of specific habits some of the nation’s best police instructors have. These qualities aren’t the magic snake oil or a foolproof recipe on how to be a great trainer. They can’t turn a dolt instructor into a mesmerizing presenter, but it seems that the top trainers seem to possess most, if not all, of these eight habits.
The qualities were developed after interacting with eight very experienced law enforcement trainers from the U.S. and Canada. They gave serious thought on what separated a good trainer from a great trainer and what made one trainer deliver a mediocre presentation while another trainer did a fantastic presentation on the same topic.
Guy Rossi, law enforcement program coordinator at Monroe Community College Public Safety Training Facility in Rochester, NY, believes that the best law enforcement trainers train with passion. Rossi said, “Your students will read your lack of passion over all other habits. Passion drives credibility and overshadows your weaknesses as an instructor. If an instructor isn’t passionate about the subject he is teaching, as well as his ability to meet the needs of the learners, he might as well wear a placard around his neck that reads, ‘Ignore me, I am a mediocre instructor.’”
Brian Willis, a former Calgary, Canada police sergeant and now an independent trainer offers, “Someone once very wisely said that being a trainer is simply being an advanced student. As trainers, we must all remember where we came from and where we were at when we started. Too often, trainers assess students based on the trainer’s current level of skill and knowledge. Trainers need to remember they were not always this smart and this skilled.”
“The foundation of credibility in teaching, in courtroom testimony and in life is to be honest. It is perhaps the easiest thing a trainer might overlook when trying to impress his or her class. Be honest with yourself, first and foremost, and everything else falls into place without confusion, conflict or corruption,” said Terry Smith, training program manager for the Monadnock Police Training Council in Fitzwilliam, NH.
Training Officer Tom Cline of the Chicago Police Department states, “A trainer must prepare for the part of being a trainer. Preparation means checking and rechecking everything from venue to audiovisual equipment as well as rehearsal of scripts, dress and personal appearance. There is no excuse for not being prepared.”
“The trainer must inspire (breathe life into) the officer because the officer will ‘move toward and become like’ the most dominant picture that is placed in front of the learner. The brain will actually be changed at the neuron level by what the learner sees, practices and remembers,” said Program Coordinator Randy Revling of the police academy at Northeast Technical College in Green Bay, WI. Revling, who also teaches instructor development, added, “Learners only respond to information that is relevant and practical to them. The trainer must effectively determine learner needs by many processes, then create the belief in the learner that this info/technique/goal is desirable.”
Dr. Brian Kinnaird, a former police officer who is chairman of the Criminal Justice Department at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, stated, “Law enforcement trainers are in the business of teaching skills and concepts to adults and not children, and in order to facilitate learning, the instruction should be learner-centered rather than teacher-centered.
“We, as trainers, must be able to conceptualize learning and what it means to be a facilitator of learning instead of a transmitter and evaluator. Knowledge should be transmitted by inductive discussion, inductive games, or role playing, debriefing experiences, relevant discussion, and active elaboration. In other words, some frank discussion and case studies of the realities of field decisions.”
“A trainer must be willing to arrive early to set up, stay at the breaks and after class to answer students questions, be available and willing to listen at all times. Lesson plan preparation often takes many hours of research and preparation to finalize one hour of class presentation time. This requires dedication in its pure form. You must be able to give all of yourself and pour out yourself to your students, not walk in, read and go,” offered Chief Bill Harvey of the Lebanon City, PA Police Department.
Sergeant Brian Stover of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office believes, “Style is a blend of professionalism, humor, skilled, understandable language, and body language that effectively helps a trainee acquire knowledge or develop skill in a manner that piques the trainee’s interest and keeps him wanting more. An instructor with style may even leave the student feeling a bit sad that the training session ended. Trainees should walk away realizing that they learned more than they had anticipated. Then they eagerly look forward to the next opportunity to attend training with that instructor.”
What other qualities might you want to add to the list? How about adding credibility (imagine being taught handcuffing by someone who never handcuffed anyone!), or ethics and integrity, a close relative of honesty. You can add punctuality, commanding presence, belief in the training, empathy, interpersonal communications skills, and attention to detail. Add some of your own habits.
You want to consider some things as those to avoid. These include an inflated ego (you need a bit of an ego to even be a trainer), being closed-minded, stereotyping, using vulgarities and others related to personal appearance or hygiene. Why not turn a bad habit into a good habit and make a former weakness now one of your strengths?
Ed Nowicki is currently a part-time police officer for the Twin Lakes, WI Police Department and the executive director of ILEETA (www.ileeta.org). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Published in Law and Order, Jul 2006
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