By Dr. Joel Shults
Chief, Adams State College (CO) PD
Cops love training. Lock and load. Hit the range. Slap some leather. Punch some holes in some paper. Lay some tread on the track. Mount up. Sign me up for SWAT school!
But let’s face it, not all training is worthwhile, not all subjects are fun, and not all trainers are gifted educators. Here are some tips to get the most out of training - even bad training.
1. Be a “gold miner” and learn one thing.
After thirty years of seminars, academies, and recertifications I could sleep through most classes. But I am a life-long learner and even if I go to a repeat class with a boring instructor I always promise myself that I will learn at least one new thing. That makes me a gold miner – looking for nuggets of useful information along the way. Listening and watching for those nuggets keeps me alert and interested in what may be around the next coffee break.
2. Make your own connections.
Learning and retention occur when the information is meaningful, especially if emotion or social connections are attached. Sometimes you have to make your own meaning – especially if you’ve tuned out an instructor you don’t like. Think creatively and be open-minded. Can this diversity class help my interrogation skills? Would this information be good for someone I am training or work with? Is this mandatory class a step on my career ladder?
3. Give yourself permission to disagree.
Many times a concept, principle, or course of instruction is presented as though it were brought down from Mt. Sinai along with the Ten Commandments. Methods, laws, and training doctrine change. Sometimes new ideas are bad, sometimes new ideas are old ideas with new acronyms, and sometimes a trainer gets pulled in to teach a course for which they are not truly qualified. You don’t have to be disruptive or disrespectful to question and debate things in your own mind. If you engage with the material and wrestle with it under the skeptic’s scope, you’ll add value to your training day.
Talk to other cops on break and at lunch. Pick their brains, listen to their war stories, get their business cards. The trainer is never the only person in the room with good information to share. Harvest knowledge from others.
5. Be a humble learner.
Stop posturing. Quit trying to prove you know more than the instructor or the officer next to you. Avoid telling yourself you already know all of this stuff. You don’t have to have a better story, a better way to do something, or figure out a way to announce how great you are. Listen to your own conversation. If you start hearing yourself saying “I” more than three times in a brief conversation, it’s time to shut up and learn.
6. Ask questions.
Despite the popular concept that there are no stupid questions, I know better. I have heard stupid questions and have been known to ask a few myself. It’s OK. Take the risk. The resulting dialogue will give a needed break to the course, inspire others to engage with the class, and answer the stupid question somebody else was too afraid to ask.
If you don’t ask at the time, be sure to get the instructor’s email address and check the bibliography for the material to answer your questions later. You are the person most responsible for your own learning. Don’t be passive about it.
About the author
Joel Shults was appointed Chief of the Adams State College Police Department in Colorado in June of 2007. Shults completed his Doctorate in Educational Leadership while Associate Professor of Administration of Justice at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Hannibal, MO with a research emphasis on training and community policing. He has also served as Chief of Police for Walsenburg, CO, as a reserve officer and as a law enforcement chaplain. He currently serves as a Subject Matter Expert for the Colorado POST board curriculum committee.