Influencing Student Success
When I started instructing basic training students at KLETC, I thought that the students would be like baby birds, eagerly gobbling up every morsel of knowledge that I gave them until it was time to kick them out of the nest. I quickly found that this concept was far from the truth. Now after more than a decade of training new officers, I understand why student success is so closely connected to the fertility of the mind, and how the influence of mental filters hampers intellectual and professional growth.
Of the three domains of learning; cognitive, psychomotor, and affective; the affective domain has always fascinated me as to its influence on the other two. This domain includes the manner in which we deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes. I have seen that this domain is particularly critical to student success. Students that have the knowledge and ability to perform, often struggle because their attitude or motivations act as a filter.
A great example of this is in teaching firearms to a basic training student. One student says “I’ve been shooting since my grandpa taught me when I was twelve.” While another student has never fired a gun. Often we find that the non-shooter does just as well or better because their mind was receptive to new information and was not filtered through the experiences of the past.
There is a variety of pre-training filters that may be in the mind of a student when they come to basic training. One such filter is prior exposure to a concept. Human beings use comparison as a way of understanding new information. Students that may have exposure to some law enforcement task or concept prior to attendance at basic training, view a topic through the lens of their initial exposure. Often times this is from television, prior law enforcement exposure through a friend or relative, pre-academy law enforcement experience, or even military service. This type of filter creates the response of “that’s not the way I’ve done it in the past.” Therefore the new information is seen as suspicious or questionable and placed into a mental quarantine to be evaluated, tested, or possibly discarded shortly after the training event.
Another such filter may be created, usually inadvertently, by a mentor, FTO, or supervisor. Something as simple as a comment like “when you get back from the academy, we’ll show you how we really do this job”, creates a filter of suspiciousness about academy content. Usually the intent of these statements are to prime the student for some sort of on the job post academy training, with the goal of showing the student how overarching principals of law enforcement are applied at the local level. Unfortunately, some students hear it differently; believing that the academy information is somehow subpar from the norm.
A third type of filter can actually be initiated by an instructor. When an instructor qualifies information with comments like “this isn’t on the test”, or “I’m required to teach this”; the student hears this information as less than important. Value and enthusiasm from an instructor can be contagious, but so is an emotional disconnect.
Finding ways to overcome or remove mental filters will help new law enforcement officers succeed in their academy experience. Obviously not having a pre-training filter is the easiest solution. But in circumstances where a filter is limiting the students desire to learn, I have found several solutions that seem to help.
Using cognitive awareness of the filter is one solution. This often requires a discussion with the individual student to find out if they have preconceived ideas about a topic or police training in general. Identifying the filter and its source is half the battle. This shows intellectual honesty and creates an opportunity to quarantine the filter. The other part of this solution is to encourage them to embrace new ideas during the basic academy experience and withhold judgment about topical validity until graduation, or even field training.
Another technique is evaluation. Tests, qualifications, standards, competencies, and quizzes should all act like a mirror to a student. Honest self-assessment is critical to individual growth. Successful evaluations solidify new found knowledge and understanding, failures should promote self-assessment and a desire to improve. Unfortunately in some cases, students believe their failure is an evaluation of the instructor, the program or organization, and are unwilling to accept their own short-comings. But if the student embraces failures, these experiences are often some of the most memorable of the basic academy experience.
Another solution I have witnessed is peer intervention. When team members point to substandard performance in a candid, yet professional manner, individuals will strive to remove filters and conform to cultural norms within the team, often adopting and embracing new ideas. This requires men and women of character that can criticize, and yet maintain a relationship of service and teamwork. Fortunately many new law enforcement officers possess such character traits, but may need guidance on how to tread these delicate waters.
Instruction that embraces the affective domain of learning is always much more effective. KLETC has implemented new methods to try and engage students on a deeper level. Participant centered learning, smaller class sizes, an emphasis on interpersonal communications, and enhanced technology all encourage the current generation of learner to think more critically. This format allows for more instructor and peer interaction, and opportunities for reflection through in class review and journaling. As we at KLETC strive to improve instructional methods, engaging all three domains of learning should create a well-rounded and prepared academy graduate to serve the communities of Kansas.