At the start of every train-the-trainer course I teach, I ask attendees to picture for a moment their favorite trainer. I then ask them to identify the trait that made these individuals great trainers. The following traits repeatedly top the list:
When you think about it, these are the traits every trainer should hope to develop in their trainees, whether they are young recruits in an academy, veterans attending an in-service, or attendees of a specialized class. Let’s discuss each of these traits in reverse order of appearance.
There is no reason that training can’t be fun. The best of trainers maintain a balance between laughter and intensity. There is a time and place for both.
Humor used in training should pass the defensibility test. It should afford students the opportunity to laugh during training. Bu when your training is dissected in a federal lawsuit — after something you’ve taught has been used by a trainee in a dire street situation — the jury should laugh too. Any response other than laughter is unacceptable. In other words, ensure that the humor you use is as defensible as the force we use.
Officers demand credibility from their instructors. It is important that a trainer’s credibility be developed before the training, maintained throughout the training, and reinforced after the training.
Before the training a trainer can develop their credibility by establishing a solid performance record on the street. Even a police trainer assigned to training full-time can maintain this cred by convincing their supervisors to allow them regular street assignments, permitting them to practice what they teach.
A trainer’s credibility has three phases. First, it can be established by an accurately constructed bio that is a part of the handout given to students who might not know the instructor prior to the class.
Second, credibility can be enhanced during the presentation by sharing usable knowledge and skills.
Finally, credibility can be reinforced after training when your students are able to take the skills and knowledge you’ve taught and effectively apply those lessons in the real world.
George Bernard Shaw wrote, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”
It may be true in some cases, but not in the case of great law enforcement trainers. Great trainers not only possess great skills, but they also have the desire and ability to pass those skills along to others.
This can be done by following this path.
- Practice repetitions by the numbers.
- Practice repetitions slow for form.
- Practice repetitions at street application speed.
- Practice repetitions with multiple officers working together.
- Allow students to teach the technique.
- Practice street application isolation exercises.
- Perform successfully during training scenarios.
- Perform successfully on the street.
Exceptional trainers are hungry for knowledge. In time, they become a resource of knowledge in the disciplines they teach for everyone from recruit to chief. However, occasionally someone will ask a question that would stump a master.
When a trainer is stumped by a question, they must not fake it. They should admit they don’t know and tell the trainee they will find the answer and get back to them.
Then do so.
Great trainers do not have the answer to every question, but they are driven to find the answer to every question.
We’ve probably all heard a trainer start a class by saying, “This class is kind of boring, so hang in there and I’ll try to get you out of here early.”
There are no boring topics in law enforcement, only trainers who are bored — and who, in turn, inspire boredom in their trainees.
On the other hand, trainers who are passionate are most likely to maintain the passion in rookies and rekindle some of the passion whose embers smolder in the heart of every veteran.
It is a fact that as a law enforcement trainer, you will often enter a room filled with officers who look at themselves as prisoners. They have been assigned to this mandatory training and they would like to be almost anywhere else. Great trainers will come in prepared and passionate, and that passion will be contagious.
We all can thank our parents for life, but for many in law enforcement the thanks for a long life are owed to great police trainers. If you are a trainer, strive to be a great trainer. Great trainers are totally dedicated to preparing officers for what lie ahead of them before they meet the greatest — and most unforgiving — police trainer of all: the street.