New Paradigms in Teaching
Today’s employee is geared toward instant gratification and is all about “I dare you to hold my attention”. What has amazed us “dinosaurs” in classrooms of the past bores them to tears. Our challenge as leaders is to find those methods that will hold their attention, motivate them and create a mental trigger so as to enhance comprehension and memory. The concept of “mental triggers” will be addressed later within this text.
I remember when I first attended a class where PowerPoint was used. I was so amazed. Having grown up with Overhead projectors being “state of the Art” these presentations really held my interest, something to watch besides the instructor. Law Enforcement / Corrections and those who endeavor to work in this field have changed along with everything else and it has become harder and harder to keep our students attention. Several years ago while camping my son and I were talking about lessons we had learned and actually remembered. Most of them were around a campfire where there were few distractions.
As the Vice Chair for our statewide Detention Association and being responsible for training I took my cue from this epiphany and formulated and set in motion a Leadership Retreat for our association in the mountains of Northern Arizona. The concept was simple, have a class on Leadership or any other topic built around a location where the distractions would be limited and teamwork and networking would be encouraged.. We would not utilize any computers or electronic presentations.
The first thing I realized was that many of our “go to Instructors’ could not or would net teach without the aid of trusty computer. We have forgotten how to truly teach. So after developing a curriculum with corresponding practicals and locating some “old School” instructors we set about solving logistics. By utilizing our relationships with our vendors we were able to secure all the food from one of our foods service vendors. As budgets tighten and the need for training is still ever present these partnerships are a huge asset to us in the corrections field. In addition, we then “sold advertising space on our class tee shirts, bandanas and student notebooks for $400.00 and asked the participating vendors to provide an instructor to speak on leadership from their perspective realizing that leadership principles are fundamental in nature and apply universally. We chose an area about 20 minutes from the nearest town and that town was dark after eight pm. We chose a location located in a wilderness area and had porta johns set up and began buying specific gear such as solar showers, guest or instructor tents, sleeping bags. There was very limited cell phone coverage and no electricity. By utilizing our relationships with our vendors we were able to secure all the food from one of our foods service vendors. We then “sold advertising space” on our class tee shirts, bandanas and student notebooks. With a few more $400.00 checks we began setting things in motion.
The first day we divided the group into two teams Red and Blue (which became of course, Crips and Bloods) With Bandannas and Tee shirts in their team colors printed with our sponsor’s logos on them. As students began showing up I could tell many were not happy about being sent there. It would seem camping was not the draw that it had always been for me. Camps were set and our first meal prepared and everybody lined up begrudgingly to fill their plates. Most seemed to eat and disappear into their respective campsites as it grew darker and they realized there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. Much like the task of recruiting instructors, without electronics we are sunk! The next day as Breakfast was announced people were starting to mingle and by the afternoon bonds were formed and small splinter groups were sitting around on breaks, discussing the previous class the second night most gathered around the campfire and talked “shop”. With no bars, malls, stores or other attractions the students were able to focus on the things being taught. As the class progressed we as facilitators pointed out some leadership points such as partnering with staff just as we had partnered with vendors. The principle of symmetry the more you leverage yourself the stronger and smarter you can become. We pointed out that because of pour partnering with vendors we were able to provide a week’s instruction for $175.00 each to include food, per diem, the class and notebooks as well as the tee shirt’s, bandannas and even challenge coins and still make some money for the association. As the practical’s unfolded the student began to tie things together and form networking friendships. We felt it was important that the practical’s should not only be relevant to the class following but they should be fun and encourage student participation. An example was the “Use of Force” practical. The two teams were each given a pizza box and a ping pong ball. They had to use the pizza box to fan the ping pong ball some 20 feet and into a circle and then back so the next team member could repeat. Too much force and you would overshoot the circle, too little and you could not achieve your goal. The instructor, Ms. Carrie Hill, was surprised at how such a simple, even silly event could bring so much team work and fun to the class.
The next year we had catastrophic fires here in Arizona so not only did we postpone the event we had to move the locale as our previous spot had burned. We found a location that had an actual outdoor kitchen, walk in reefer, lit volleyball and horseshoe pits and even bathrooms and showers. There was a charge for all of this comfort but in the end only added a mere $35.00 for each attendee and still would prove very cost effective for those agencies sending personnel. We set up and although not the wilderness area we had the year before it proved to be an area much more conducive to our goals. We were still off the beaten paths and some 20 minutes to town. And although a much larger town with much more distractions we found the very few wandered off. The evenings were filled with volleyball, horseshoes and camaraderie. Many groups sat around and discussed the day’s activities and traded ideas, thoughts and even philosophies.
The fun, the volleyball games and events that took place help create those mental triggers that help your mind relive the event. Much like that song that plays and transports you to your prom or first date. People who showed up not wanting to be there and being very vocal about it were hugging friends and saying good bye the last day, sealing their triggers firmly in the mind.
The retreat is not a new idea, but like skinny ties and Convers All Stars, it is still a viable alternative. By changing our paradigms as well as that of our students we can reintroduce them to training and a new format and sharpen our skills as instructors as well.
Tim Graver has been in Law Enforcement for over 21 years with 18 in Corrections. He has a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice and is a Certified Corrections Executive. He is a certified instructor in firearms, defensive tactics, and is federally certified in anti-terrorism and protective service operations. He was chosen as the first to receive the Arizona Detention Association "Outstanding Jail Administrator of the Year" in 2008 and was named the American Jail Association "Small Jail Commander of the Year" in 2011. He is a familiar name among jails as an instructor for the American Jail Association and Arizona Detention Association. In addition, he is a consultant and is co-owner of Conditioned Response Training (CRT). Tim Graver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org