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Why a good firearms instructor is also a mentor

As mentors, we should design our teaching style with the primary focus being the success of the individual officer


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The word instruct means to educate and teach, but it also means to give orders or authoritative direction. Personally, when I hear the word “instructor” visions of a loud, tough and inflexible boot camp drill instructor comes to mind. This is definitely not me. So, while I proudly embrace the title of firearms instructor, I consider myself more of a firearms mentor.

how The drill instructor method discourages critical thought

Some firearms training programs are run using the drill instructor method. They are usually academy-level officer and instructor development courses, and their effectiveness is limited.

The ultimate goal for every firearm instructor/mentor should be to build better shooters who are trained and equipped to save and defend lives. (Photo/Chrystal Fletcher)
The ultimate goal for every firearm instructor/mentor should be to build better shooters who are trained and equipped to save and defend lives. (Photo/Chrystal Fletcher)

The rigid structure of the material presented is conducive to creating shooters and instructors that are only prepared to regurgitate the information provided. This type of program discourages critical thought, thereby inhibiting the growth and improvement of shooters, instructors and firearms training programs. Without growth and evolution, skills atrophy and programs become outdated, ineffective and irrelevant.

Law enforcement officers who encounter this type of program are likely to become discouraged or even offended by the approach. This is completely counterproductive to a creative and productive learning environment. But since we don’t know what we don’t know, firearms instructors who have only been exposed to this approach may not understand why their shooters are struggling. Perhaps they should take a step back and re-examine their definition of the term “instructor.”

Instruction should focus on student success

As mentors, we should design our teaching style with the primary focus being the success of the individual officer, not the rigid use of any single style, technique, or idea. The dynamic of each class should be based on the make-up and skill level of the attendees. We must be flexible in our class structure. It is important to push and challenge officers without frustrating and discouraging them.

Firearms instructors should embrace and utilize the information available from the extensive research done on adult learning. As we deal with law enforcement officers from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and ages, it is important to approach the group in a manner most likely to reach them all.

Most of the time, the “hear, see, do” style of presenting firearms training works well. Officers hear a detailed description of the skill or course of fire, then they see the instructor demonstrate it thereby giving officers an opportunity to model that behavior. After this, officers perform the skill or run the course of fire. Lastly, having officers perform a “teach back” of the skill or course of fire can help anchor the desired skill as long as the context of the training environment is conducive to doing teach backs.

Instructors should provide a detailed explanation and description of each drill so officers understand the performance objectives and standards for that particular drill. (Photo/Chrystal Fletcher)
Instructors should provide a detailed explanation and description of each drill so officers understand the performance objectives and standards for that particular drill. (Photo/Chrystal Fletcher)

Problem-based training vs. outcome-based training

Since all shooters are not the same, not every technique will work for every shooter. Past practice was to force everyone to perform a task using a single method or technique. For example, many officers have only been taught three ways to reload a handgun: an empty (slide lock) reload, the traditional tactical reload and some type of administrative reload. I do not have the huge gorilla paws that make it easy to perform a traditional tactical reload, especially with double stack magazines. Therefore, the reload with retention works much better for me and accomplishes the same goal. Remember that for every problem, there are many solutions, and as firearms instructors, we are responsible for providing solutions to our officers.

This brings us to problem-based training vs. outcome-based training.

You know the old saying, “Getting there is half the fun”? Well, it is also the fastest and best way to develop a new skill.

Too many times I see officers frustrated on the range because they have false expectations. They become focused on the end result and forget about the many steps required to get there.

On a basic level, I like to think of outcome-based training as teaching to the test. As long as the desired end result is reached, little concern is given to what may have been missed along the way. As a result, officers lack a complete understanding of the process used to obtain a given result. This could produce some unintentional training scars.

By changing the focus to the immediate challenge, officers are able to concentrate their energy toward finding a solution to the problem they currently face. This helps them understand the “why” behind the problem and allows them to create solutions to best fit their circumstances.

If officers are able to self-diagnose, self-correct and reason their way through a situation, they are better equipped to handle any similar situation that may arise. The result is a better and more capable officer. This is why I prefer to develop cognitive drills for firearms training. These drills force officers to problem solve and reason their way to a successful conclusion.

After briefing the drill, officers should be allowed to run the course of fire several times in order to apply new lessons learned from previous attempts. (Photo/Chrystal Fletcher)
After briefing the drill, officers should be allowed to run the course of fire several times in order to apply new lessons learned from previous attempts. (Photo/Chrystal Fletcher)

The goal of every good leader is not to build followers. The goal of every good leader is to build other leaders. My goal as a firearms mentor is to use my experiences on and off the range to support and better prepare the people I train. The measure of success for any teacher is to be surpassed by their students. I measure my success by watching those I have taught become firearm mentors leading their programs into the future, and building shooters that are better prepared to prevail and thrive should they be forced to use their firearm to defend lives.

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