Friday, December 28, 2007

The Joy of the Lesson Plan

Teaching private students is fun and easy.  Provided they have good safety basics (they know how to take a fall and they don't panic at minor striking contact) you can usually get a good session rolling with a simple, "What do you need to work on today?"  It serves a couple of purposes beyond setting an agenda for the day.  It gets them thinking critically about why they are here, what they want and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.  More importantly, it pushes them to take control of their own training.  Taking control is critical.  In a predator assault, especially a sexual one, the predator wants the victim's submission and degradation.  It can set up a powerful disconnect if, in the class where you are supposed to be physically learning how to prevent or survive such an attack you are mentally expected to be subservient to a 'master'.
            The student isn't always in control, of course- but when I take control it can never be about my ego or proving who is in charge or who is smarter.  I drive the training when I have seen a problem like a need (something they suck at); a hole (a skill or danger they aren't even aware exists); a glitch (a psychological problem with a performing); a false belief (something they have been told is true that may not be, e.g. "a broken nose is a fight ender"); or a missed concept or opportunity (they know how to do a technique physically but don't realize that the skill translates to something wonderful, like Okinawan blocks infighting or aikido-style movement in the clinch).  Stuff like that.  This is why we have instructors, in my opinion- not because they are smarter or wiser or even more experienced- but because they have an ability to see things that we can't.  Sometimes because we've never been exposed to it (ask me about the 'horizontal line cats' experiment some time) but often because we are too close to the problem or have already decided something is a certain way and quit exploring it.

So with private students, they collaborate in the lesson plan and I rarely write one unless there has been a good time commitment, time to get to know the student and they have been very clear about their goals.

Teaching seminars is a hoot, too.  For the most part, you know why they asked you there: you have an expertise that they feel they lack.  What you usually don't know is how broad a range of skills the students will have, who can do what safely and whether they have even a basic grounding in what you will cover.  If the students don't even know the vocabulary (like giving a class on Use of Force law to certain martial artists) it can take a while.  But that's fun and challenging.  To design something that can be used by rank beginners, specialized experts and generalized experts and have them all walk away with something is a very good day.

Teaching cops, though, requires a lesson plan.  Pre-written, pre-approved.  Judged by some higher authority to be what all of the officers need (no matter how different the officers are). Some instructors go the easy route with a short list of skills to be memorized by rote, completely out of context with the day-to-day job.  I've seen the results of that kind of training.  I've called the ambulances for the officers who got it.
          I've bragged about this before, but my agency (largely due to Jose) realized that they had experienced instructors with hundreds of real fights who honestly cared about their fellow officers and knew how to teach and how to write.  They let us write what the officers needed.  Not what the academy said was "industry standard."  Not what an imaginary lawyer deemed to be "sufficient for liability reduction."  What they needed.
        It forced us, or allowed us, to look at training in a new way.  Something the officers, regardless of ability, experience, skill, previous knowledge, size or fitness could all use.  Something that would make everyone more survivable, from our best to our weakest.  And something that could be explained in a lesson plan.  That was, possibly, the hardest part. And I love it.
       The lesson plan has to be broad, deep, and logical.  Unfortunately, because it has the potential to be challenged in court, it can't be too flexible- we must be able to testify that all the officers were taught the same way.
     So here are two of my great joys of the lesson plan:
       1) Having a very intelligent, very caring supervisor ask, "What if...." and "What do I do if...."questions all day and be able to say, "We'll get to that in a few minutes," every time.  Every single thinking contingency was dealt with in a logical order.  It felt complete and solid.
        2) One of the instructors who understands this paradigm best is looking over a draft lesson plan and says, "What about 'fighting to the goal' do you... oh, there it is."  That really got to me because five years ago no one had even put in to words that survival fighting was different than struggling to put handcuffs on a squirming drunk.  We knew it was different, but we hadn't taught it as different.  Now we teach goals-strategy-tactic-technique.  It is one of the keys to being both flexible and decisive.  We have created a common language that has become so logical that one person can anticipate that an abstract concept needs to be in a basic lesson plan, and it is there.

It's a good feeling.


Kai Jones said...

Your pleasure comes through strongly in this piece.

Anonymous said...

I've ID'd four different types of training in the LE/Corrections world:

1) Liability training - if you do something other than what's been taught you the Agency can wash its hands of it

2) CYA training - do X and you get in trouble (say, running the license plates of the hot chick in the Porsche). Without this training the Agency cannot sanction you

3) PR training - look at how compassionate/skilled/trained/whatever our officer are! Isn't your tax money well-spent?

4) Job training - that training which actually helps you perform your job better

5) Survival training - that training which helps you go home at the end of your shift

Training types 1-3 are far and away much more frequent than 4-5 in my experience.

Anyone else have ID'd other types? Rory?

BTW you're very lucky your department is as concerned over officer safety as it is. Damn lucky.

Anonymous said...

What a delight to have found your site. In his Esoteric Principles, Henry Okazaki, founder of the Danzanryu school of jujitsu and teacher of Wally Jay, wrote, "Do not disdain or regard lightly either military or literary art; each is important and deserving of respect and cultivation."

I can't think of any better example of that than the lesson plan you describe in this post. I think this is the kind of thing that Okazaki was getting at.