The Few, The Proud, The Trainers
Five characteristics of highly successful trainers
by JOHN WILLS
All of us in law enforcement and the military have been through some type of training. Our first exposure was either at the police academy or boot camp. This can be a pivotal moment in one's career, depending on how the cadre of trainers imparts information to those in their charge. No matter how short or long it has been since you were either in recruit school or in-service training, all of us have vivid images of two types of trainers. The first group is categorized as poor trainers. This group includes trainers that are crude, crass, politically incorrect, lacking in credibility, and basically ineffective. The second category is those that I characterize as "priceless." These folks are an asset to their department and cause their students to become invigorated about the training, to the extent that their organization will either save money, time, or lives as a result. Let's explore five traits that define highly successful trainers.
The High Energy Trainer
This trainer is always on top of their game, giving their all in each class without regard to personal matters, administrative matters, weather, space, equipment, etc. These are high energy type folks. Whenever they face adversity that would normally interfere with teaching, they drive on through, giving their students the information they will need to successfully complete and master the course. Given a choice of training classes to attend, this trainer's class always fills up first. There is never an empty chair in his/her classroom.
The Recognized Expert
Constant research, self-improvement, testing, publishing articles, and networking, make this trainer an expert in their field. Unlike the officer that goes to an instructor class and never updates their information or attends re-certification classes, the recognized expert keeps abreast of the latest technical information through classes and manuals. By either observing while in the field, or talking with those who are, this instructor is constantly re-evaluating tactics, techniques, and methods that will either work successfully, or cause officers to be put at risk. The recognized expert is also used in court to prove or disprove a point for the prosecuting attorney. These trainers are highly respected in the LE community.
The Trainer That Teaches Doesn't Regurgitate
I think that we have all seen this type of instructor. This person simply parrots or reads a script or PowerPoint presentation that has been provided to them by someone else. After the first five minutes of this instructor's class, most students are either on their way to dreamland or finishing a report that was due yesterday. This person lacks drive and initiative. They are not spontaneous, shy away from questions, and generally can't wait until the class is over. Conversely, the instructor that actually teaches is animated, energetic, spontaneous, and invites student participation. They will sometimes fail to cover all of the material in the allotted time due to attendees' participation and input regarding the subject matter. Students hang on this instructor's every word and often stay after class has ended to further discuss points that were raised during the session.
The Inspirational Instructor
I take the liberty of borrowing a motto from the Marine Corps: "Earned Never Given," referring to the fact that the title of Marine must be earned; it will never be given to just anyone. The same holds true for the instructor who insists that their students learn the subject matter before they are given a certificate of completion or title of instructor. Many courses only require that the person have attended the session, certificates earned through these courses are meaningless. More often than not, products of these types of courses return to their department and never teach one class on the topic. Instructors that are "worth their weight" ensure that before anyone graduates or completes their course, the student must demonstrate that they have mastered the material or techniques. When a student completes or graduates from a class given by the highly successful trainer, they prize that certificate or instructor label for they recognize that it was not simply handed to them--they earned it.
The High Return Rate Instructor
There are instructors out there that sometimes have the same students returning to attend their classes. It may either be a different class that they are teaching, a re-certification, or even one that they have previously attended. Why would someone do that? Simply because the highly effective instructor engenders a feeling of excitement and energy that is infectious to all that know them. Once you have been through one of these individual's classes, you can't wait to return for another. These instructors build their students up, infusing them with the desire to constantly improve on their classroom technique, delivery, testing, and evaluation. They are role models that have created instructor paradigms for those that love to teach. When my energy level has diminished, my enthusiasm is lacking, or I need an attitude adjustment, I look to one of these trainers to get me back on track.
Do you possess any or all of the aforementioned characteristics? Are you presently a trainer, or are you contemplating becoming one? If the answer is "yes," be aware that to become a highly effective trainer involves hard work. In many cases it involves taking on extra assignments in addition to your regularly assigned duties. It means preparing lesson plans on your own time, buying supplies or equipment with your own money because your agency refuses to purchase them, sometimes even working a double shift or on your scheduled day off. A good trainer willingly makes these sacrifices, accepting them as part of the job. Would life be simpler for the trainer without these obstacles? The answer is "yes," but then the job would be easy and anyone could do it. The trick is to do the job well in spite of them, without becoming disillusioned or jaded.
Can you do it? If you can then join the ranks of highly effective trainers--if you think you are strong enough. The rewards are, for the most part, intangible, but that means they are not man-made--they are matters of the heart. Stay safe, brothers and sisters!
John Wills spent 2 years in the U.S. Army before serving 12 years with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). He left the CPD to become an FBI Special Agent, working organized crime, violent crime, and drugs. John served as the Principal Firearms Instructor, Training Coordinator, and sniper team leader in the Detroit Division for 10 years. Before retiring from the FBI, he spent 7 years teaching at the FBI Academy at Quantico, VA. He has taught Street Survival domestically and internationally. John is presently a field manager with Advanced Interactive Systems.