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Archive for April, 2011

The ‘Spark of Learning’: Some Advice for the Training Instructor

April 6th, 2011

Recently I had the pleasure of substituting for an instructor in a basic jail officer recruit class in a Virginia criminal justice academy.  I thought-what advice can I give them?  What can they take away from the training?  Although the curriculum is  prepared with the recruits filling in information, I enjoyed explaining the information and giving them the benefit of my experience.

 We all have been through the “rookie training” and were glad when we finally graduated from the academy.  But the “spark” that a conscientious jail officer develops in training should not be extinguished.  I have met many jail officers that want to continue learning throughout their careers.  The fire that is lit in the recruit academy never goes out.  The trick is to employ training methods and techniques that keep that flame lit.

The jail officer who attends an in service “just to get the [required] hours” in is not doing himself or herself as well as the agency any service.  I am not saying that jail officers attending in service training should “jump up and down” in class in enthusiasm or answer every question.  What I am saying are that many instructors, both civilian and sworn carefully research material to be presented and take teaching a class seriously.  In service classes can enhance our job performances.  Attendees should at the minimum have open minds about the class.

 I have seen corrections change significantly since I entered the field in 1978.   Now, as a retired deputy sheriff, now an instructor, I am still learning.  Many instructors are retired and the experience and insight that they have garnered can make training both interesting and helpful.  More information is now available about correctional security, staff training, avoiding liability, and offenders-to name just a few-than at any other point in the history of the profession.  Also, I learn something in every class-both in service and recruit-that I teach.  Many attendees come from professions related to corrections or work in facilities that have effective operations in place.

 In service training can now be presented on line, by webinar, video conferencing or by the traditional method of personal, stand up instruction.  No matter what the method, staff in attendance hopefully will be interested in learning.

 There are some challenges for the in service instructor.  They are:

 Including all staff:  Sworn staff members should realize that many types of workers make up the correctional team and not one group knows it all.  Civilians such as counselors, mental health personnel and medical staff can present some good, useful information.  Also, in service classes may contain court security personnel.  Collateral personnel must be included in the goals of the presentation.  No one should feel left out.

Class activities:  I like quizzes.  When presenting some classes I arrive bearing doughnuts…..yum.  I tell the class that if they can pass my quiz, they can have the doughnuts.  However, no one passes-the questions are factually based, fun and thought provoking.  They get the doughnuts anyway. We all know that when it comes to in class participation, some attendees are willing to learn and some are quiet.  Unfortunately, you have some that you know by their demeanor and facial expressions that they are there for the hours only.  I use role play when possible in an effort to “spark” their interest.    However, there will always be some that when dismissal time comes-they bolt for the door.

 Fighting the after lunch “I want to nap” attitudes:  After a heavy lunch, many in the class would take a nap if cots were provided.  Videos, humor and some “attention getters” are best saved for the afternoon.   Hourly breaks of 10 minutes duration are highly recommended, not only in the morning, but throughout the day.

 Keeping the interest focused:  Besides quizzes and similar activities, role plays, videos, Power Point photos can all help keep the class focused.  I do not pass out copies of Power Point slides.  I pass out a note taking guide consisting of a class outline with spaces for note taking.  I want the class to focus its attention on me instead of looking at a copy of what is on the screen.  I encourage discussion, often calling on class members for their opinions and thoughts.  I also use handouts.  Two great tools are Joe Bouchard’s books Icebreaker 101 (2007) and Icebreakers and More (2009), which contain many useful activities for the instructor.  (For these and more, please see Joe Bouchard’s Foundations page.)

Being a training instructor is a challenging task.  But-when you receive good evaluations (and take them seriously in order to improve the class) and realize that you have made a difference, enhanced their jobs and have learned something in return, it is a great feeling.

 Anyone have any instructional methods that they use?   Let’s share!

Gary Cornelius Uncategorized