In my opinion, a good introduction at the beginning of a class can have a significant effect on how well an instructor gets the message across to the students. Throughout the years, it’s been my experience that connecting with the folks in front of you with your first words helps set the tone for what will follow. With that introduction to introductions, let’s take some time to explore this topic and share some ideas.
First off, a self-check doesn’t hurt. Before you step into the classroom, take a moment to ensure you’re ready. I’m not just talking about knowing the material and having the room ready. Ensure that you are properly attired and presentable. I’ve made some classic errors and one of the worst was forgetting to “re-zip.” Now for the lady trainers out there, this may not be a problem. But certainly for the male instructor cadre, standing in front of a bunch of cops with a “wardrobe malfunction,” such as your fly at half-mast, is guaranteed to be a memorable, Lord of the Flies moment that you’ll wish you could erase from world history.
Another example: I recently taught a class at TREXPO West. I was using a PowerPoint presentation that required the lights to be dimmed. After it was over, a student approached to ask a question. He wanted to know when I had my pacemaker implanted! He was totally serious and I was totally floored. I asked him what would cause that kind of insult to my current physical fitness commitment. (I try to work out every day.) He pointed to my dress-shirt pocket, and then I understood. At the start of the class, I had been wearing my Bluetooth cell phone device. I had dropped it into the shirt pocket but forgot to turn it off. For the next two hours, the students watched the Bluetooth’s little blue light flashing through the fabric. Because of this, at least one student became concerned that I might be on the verge of cardiac arrest. That day, I added another item to my pre-introduction check list.
Set the Hook
So, the self-check has gone well and you’re taking your place in front of the class. Your challenge now is to get the hook into them as fast and securely as possible. A big part of your success depends on your instructor command presence and, often, your sense of humor.
Used appropriately, a sense of humor demonstrates that you might just be OK as the trainer du jour. Most cops have seen instructors come and go. Make them laugh—even at your own expense—and it often leads to a better learning environment. Just make sure you use humor—jokes, videos, personal anecdotes, etc.—that is professional and appropriate. If you’re not sure about appropriateness, it’s probably best to leave it out.
It’s also important to be straight with your students. Part of the formula for an effective introduction is to tell the students what they need to hear regarding the training that is about to start, not what they may want to hear. The introduction is necessary in order for the students to understand where they are headed with this learning event.
Won’t You Guess My Name?
Your students will want to know a little bit about you. This usually focuses on the knowledge and accomplishments that qualify you to be their instructor. My advice is to give a few relevant details and then move on. From having watched other instructors, I have found there are two extremes to be avoided. Some instructors are minimalists: Too modest or too insecure, they don’t share with the class what makes them worthy of the students’ time. At the other end of the spectrum are the overkill instructors who drag out the intro by talking about seemingly everything they’ve done. Cops attend training to learn, not listen to an extensive, expansive bio. If an instructor goes on and on, pretty soon they begin taking dubious credit for accomplishments—like inventing the Internet.
I once worked with an instructor whose ego was as big as his comb-over hair style was bad. What was worse was that his lack of credibility was painfully obvious to students and instructors alike. That type of behavior doesn’t sit well with me. The reality: If trainers know their stuff, it will soon be recognized by those around them. Cops will respect an instructor based on the way he or she blends a professional bio with teaching them information they need to know.
I also normally make it a point to provide the students with both my cell phone number and e-mail address. It’s a given that at some point after the class, at least one of them will have a question. Sharing with them a way to obtain the answers they need by contacting you in the future is, I believe, part of Basic Instructor Responsibilities 101. I find that providing them with this info at the beginning of the class is more effective than throwing it out as the course is wrapping up and the chaos of getting home ensues.
When time allows, I like to have the students introduce themselves as well. Typically, I’ll list some specifics to guide the students’ responses rather than letting them ramble. What I ask for is the student’s name, number of years on the job, prior experience and maybe a couple of relevant details. If, for example, I’m teaching a Diversionary Device or Less Lethal Instructor class, they may have their own case studies and lessons learned to share. What they disclose could be of value to me as well as the rest of the class.
Thanks for Serving
On another note, I regularly ask who has served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. When students answer up, I thank them for their dedication to our country and I honestly mean that. I think it’s important that these young men and women be recognized for their accomplishments.
Of course, being a former Marine, I’ll follow it up with asking that the USMC veterans identify themselves. When they raise their hands, I’ll mention that due to our mutual Marine Corps bond, as far as I’m concerned, by virtue of their service, they’ve immediately graduated from the class. Although this is guaranteed to draw laughs and other comments, it may also prompt a good natured but derisive response from the Army “dogs” in the room. I then salute their courage. I do this by noting that it takes a real man these days to wear a combat uniform in combination with headgear that looks remarkably similar to a French school girl’s hat!
The normal administrative tasks, such as taking roll and getting class documentation out of the way, are usually incorporated into the introduction. This may include filling out a registration form. For handling registry, I’d suggest that you go through the appropriate forms step by step with the class. This is a lot easier than just letting the students fill out the paperwork and then get it kicked back by the admin czar because some of the necessary info is absent. Especially with early morning classes, I’ve seen students blithely miss that their signatures are required or even that the form is double-sided. Preventing such errors translates into less hassle for you, the instructor.
Finally, it makes sense, as well, to orient the students to the nearest bathroom, promise them regular breaks and ask their cooperation in returning to their seats on time.
There’s a Test
Frequently, there’s a written test required to document that the learning has taken place. Some cops may react with varying levels of surprise upon hearing this news. You’ll encounter even more resistance if you wait until the class is almost done to share this news with your students.
So, if there’s a test, make this clear during the introduction. Also be clear as to what the testing standards will be. You may want to explain the minimum score required, whether it will be an open- or closed-book test, and what the ramifications will be if they fail. I usually also add a final comment that a “team effort” when taking the test is not permitted, and I appeal to students’ personal ethics to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Another important item for the introduction is what you, as the instructor, expect of the students during the class. If the training focuses on any type of psycho-motor skill development and application (i.e., firearms, arrest and control, flashbangs, force on force), then you must, from the onset, stress the importance of training safely. This stands true whether it’s a two-hour presentation or a full, 40-hour course.
Next, you may want to encourage the students to ask questions. I like to make it clear that all legitimate questions are welcome, whether they come during the lecture or later in a more private moment during a break. To help encourage this, I normally reward students who come forward with an inquiry or share an educational piece of information. Often, shared anecdotes are of value to me and the other students. One reward method is to throw small candies (I use Hershey’s Miniatures, for example) to the verbally curious members of the class. To help jump start this, the first person to raise a hand often gets a special award, such as a couple of lottery scratch-off tickets in addition to the candies.
We’ll Call You
The issue of cell phone use in the classroom has become so pronounced that I regularly address it during the introduction. Based on my observations, some cops out there have a faster draw stroke with their cell phones than they will ever have with their handguns. It’s sad.
During class sessions, I’ve seen what could almost be characterized as spasmodic, autonomic clutching reactions by students as their phones go off. To counter this, I make it a point to ask that they either silence their “crackberries” and “I (can’t survive without it) Phones” or just turn them off. Sometimes I can almost feel the shock wave sweep through the class in response to this request, but I think it’s a smart instructor move.
Although I grew up using rotary dial phones, I’m not totally out of touch. I understand that whether it comes from the station, home or other sources, cops get important phone calls. I concede that reality. However, during the intro, I’ll ask the students that, unless it’s something we’ve discussed prior or it’s a critical call, they just let calls go to voicemail. Students can retrieve the message at the break. My reasoning: If members of the class are distracted by phones ringing and various students answering them, then good learning is not going to take place.
It’s even worse if students are e-mailing or on the Internet or texting or even—God forbid—sexting during class! There’s no way that they can absorb the lessons you want them to learn if they are. Some college professors now ban the use of cell phones and laptops during their classes because the students use these devices for other-than-educational purposes. Sometimes that’s what’s required to do your job.
Beyond the initial request that they leave their phones in their pockets or on their belts, I’ve found an approach that seems to work. If I’m talking to the class and a student is blatantly e-mailing or whatever, I’ll just stop talking and instead stare at them. Typically, either someone nudges them or they eventually realize that the class has gone quiet. From there, I may even politely ask the student to put the phone away.
I’ve had a few students who stand their reading manuals on end and then try to work their phones using the book as a less-than-clever attempt to hide what they’re doing. If something like this happens, then we chat during a break to make it clear that I don’t want to compete for that student’s attention. It’s extremely rare, but this can even become a listen-or-leave situation: They decide to listen, or I decide it’s time for them to leave.
Although we’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about this topic, your introduction to the class should be relatively brief. Hit some of the high points we’ve discussed here along with any of your own priorities and then move on to training. Similarly, consider this article an introduction to introductions. I hope it’s given you some ideas that will make your next course introduction better and more effective. Develop what works best for you and your class. Above all, train safe.