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From Student to Trainer: Evolution of Police Learning

From Student to Trainer: Evolution of Police Learning

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith

Start with some one-on-one time

One of the best training sessions I ever attended was one-on-one with a fellow officer who taught me (yes, this will totally show my age) how to “word process” on something called a “personal computer.” I was a new sergeant who had been told I’d better learn how to how to use a PC; he was a young officer with a knack for technology. I was a pretty good typist, but I was absolutely confounded when it came to word processing. I’m also not a particularly patient person, and I could see no reason why I couldn’t keep hand writing or typing my reports like I’d been doing for the last ten years. This brave officer sat next to me at the keyboard and after about two hours, he had me clicking away, typing up a storm on that computer. How did he do it? He was patient, he was funny, and he instinctively realized that I was a kinesthetic learner; someone who needed to “do” and “touch” before I could learn it. Sometimes one-on-one is the best way to move from being a student to being a trainer.

Stay informed and up to date

Some skills that you learn in the academy you’ll use until your last day on the job; “slicing the pie” in a building search will remain largely unchanged, and so will the way you teach it to someone else. However, there are other skills that will change as technology, society, and our profession evolve. I never dreamed that some day I’d be using “Thomas A. Swift’s Electronic Rifle,” otherwise known as a TASER, to subdue suspects without ever having to go “hands on” with them, and yet the widespread use of TASER has lead to a whole new type of training and certification. Most recruits today will never learn how to use a “speed loader” because they will never carry a revolver, but most will need to now how to use a collapsible baton. And the more we learn about human performance, psychology, and other issues that affect our profession and our survival, the better informed we have to be as supervisors, managers, and as trainers. Make sure you stay current.

Be willing to help others

Think about those teachers and trainers who have had a positive influence on you. One of the traits you most remember is probably their willingness to share their knowledge and skills with you: the student, the trainee, the “rookie.” As you learn and master a new skill or technique, share it with others. It can be something as simple as a little trick you learned to make the booking system’s computer easier to access, but learning how and when to share information that will make someone else’s job better, easier, or more enjoyable can go a long way to helping you move from being a good student to becoming valuable as a trainer.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

No one knows it all. In fact, the best law enforcement trainers in the business are constantly seeking to learn more; and one of the best ways to learn is to ask questions. The problem with asking questions is that it tends to leave you feeling a bit vulnerable and exposed, so much so that we tend to avoid doing it and miss out on learning. Get over your fear, jot down a few questions, and then fire away. Be curious, be willing to appear vulnerable, and respectfully engage your instructor. You’ll be surprised and probably thrilled at what you’ll learn. Then go out and share it with others.

Be willing to learn on your own time

I’ve talked with so many cops who have told me “I’d love to become a firearms instructor” or “I’d sure like to improve my computer skills” but “the department just won’t send me to training.” If you wait for your department to take care of all of your training and education needs, you’ll find yourself at your own retirement party, still wondering why you’re not a trainer. A good teacher is always a student, and a good student is willing to do whatever it takes to learn. Assess what you’re interested in and then take an exercise physiology class at your local community college, or sign up for an online course on adult learning. Take a week of vacation time and go to armorer’s school; ask the department to give you a couple of training days if you’ll pay your own way into a “Street Survival” seminar or into an interview and interrogation class. Be willing to sacrifice your own time, and money, to further your personal and professional goals.

Constantly improve your ability to communicate

Talking to people is not as easy as it looks, but it’s also not as difficult as you might expect. If you’re like most people and would rather die by fire than give a public talk, take the time to work through this very common fear. Enroll in a speech class at the local university, ask your sergeant if you can give a couple of five minute roll call presentations, make your kids pretend to be your students and teach them how to clean their duty gun. One of the keys to public speaking is the same as it is in many law enforcement skills: repetition, repetition, repetition. In addition to practicing your speaking skills, learn how to listen. Listening to someone you are training is often the most important thing you can do as a trainer.

Make sure your focus is on the student

New trainers often get so focused on their own performance and their own technique that they forget the most important person in the learning environment, the student. Never forget that at every presentation you give, during every class you teach, and with every recruit you train, your focus should be on the learner. When your student is successful, so are you.

That officer who taught me how to word process? He was an excellent trainer, and still is, but probably doesn’t consider himself anything other than a good cop. However, if it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t be reading this article, and I’d be the only sergeant on my agency that still had a typewriter on her desk.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago

    Fantastic article, I just went threw instructor development class. it was hard but awesome!

  • Me_last_wk_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Great Article, Betsy

  • 10954533_10152768417768138_2117542071882865207_n_max50


    about 6 years ago


    Very good!

  • Delicate_arch_max50


    about 6 years ago


    I concur. This is a great article. I have been reading everything I can get my eyes on. This will definitely give you an advantage going onto the field.

  • Veteransadm_small_square_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Once again, another great article by Sgt Smith. The thing that I most admire about her articles is the humility she shows as an instructor. I do not have nearly the experience or teaching credentials she does, but we seem to see eye-to-eye on many of our beliefs.

    As police officers we are ALL instructors in one aspect or another. It could be helping out a fellow officer on a report, telling the children in our beat about bike safely, or helping a victim of DV find a way to get to support she needs to get herself and her children out of the situation. Every officer should take pride in the fact we are all instructors.

    She also hits home when she says we should invest in ourselves by paying for classes out of our own pocket. I have been doing this for years and many of my fellow officers look at me like I am stupid. I have always desired to be an instructor and when I became one I realized it was more than just a job, it is a serious duty. Other officers now look to you for advice and guidance. It is our responsibility to not only give them the best answer, but an answer that is legal, moral, and in guidance with SOP.

    I've been to courses where the course is about the instructor. When you become an instructor it is about the students. We have to keep that in mind when we prepare our lesson plans and deliver the class we have been called upon to teach. Once again, remember we are all instructors.

  • Gq_max50


    over 6 years ago


    very good advice to even the potential Trainee. Thank you, I am a prospect for the Academy and I am taking your advice to heart. At a mere 5"5' I have always had to use wit and intellect to worm my way through life as physical prowess was ..well..somewhat out of the

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