Be a Student of Your Own Profession
From the moment we’re born, our brain is already working overtime. In fact, between birth and the age of five, 85% of the brain is formed. And believe it or not, that learning speed is the fastest it will ever be. It may be difficult to find that statistic accurate as it’s easy to think of a few times in your life where you learned something that clicked right away, such as learning that your first yellow Starburst will also be your last. But on the contrary, you’ve learned some lessons that didn’t just register right away and took some time to absorb, like the fact that your ex-girlfriend won’t return your 37 missed calls. If truth be told, you can probably think of several lessons that you learned but didn’t want to learn. You weren’t warned that some of the lessons you’d learn throughout life would be tough pills to swallow. Don’t let this deter you away from wanting to learn more, though. As a matter of fact, that’s entirely out of your control. As humans, we learn something new every single day. Don’t believe me? Did you know that cotton candy was invented by a dentist? It’s true! Now you’ve learned something today. Think about it. If you can’t control it, then you might as well embrace it. If you can embrace it, you might as well excel in something you enjoy or find interesting, and become a student of your own profession. This blog is dedicated to explaining the importance of expanding our knowledge to new heights and accepting training as the way to learn.
For the sake of reading this far, let’s pretend the interest you have is to indulge in the corrections industry. Yes, this is going to open up an entire can of worms. To learn about this industry properly, you will need decent training… which so happens to be one of the major keystones in the foundation of becoming a good correctional officer. Hang on, don’t stop reading! We know the word “training” sounds boring. That’s why terms like “voluntold'' and “mandatory training” were created - because people don’t value the importance of continued education classes (and the number of complainers standing outside the training room is long!). Just like the 6th graders who complain about going to school, adults complain about taking training classes. So, let’s address the elephant in the room, “Why do we hate going to training?” Well, that’s a loaded question. You don’t have time nor the energy to put into a boring “death by PowerPoint” class that will have its outdated information flowing in one ear and out the other. (Seriously, why do instructors read off their presentation verbatim like we can’t read?) In short, training sucks unless it’s about cool defensive tactics or firearms, right? Why is this? Why do people shy away from training courses? Isn’t development a good thing? What is the root of this hatred?
It starts with how officers were introduced to training in the first place, or lack thereof. The majority of correctional officers have received some level of basic corrections training. Most departments offer a basic level of training in-house that meets requirements for ongoing education credits such as mental health awareness, prevent sexual harassment, CPR, defensive tactics, firearms, and corrections license proficiency. Unfortunately, this “basic training” is highly unregulated throughout the United States. For example, there are only a few states, including Texas, California, and Nevada, who have license-requirement training available based on state organizations that issue a license to enforce laws. In other cases, regimented training programs don’t allow new staff to have inmate contact until the training academy followed by a facility training program (FTO) that includes some type of phase review and yearly training requirements to maintain certification. To make matters worse, not all local facilities can provide a highly regulated training program, most often because of staffing and funding. Of course, there are training programs that are formalized and shiny, but that is the exception and not the general rule. Officers all over the country receive different levels of initial training and building blocks to becoming a good officer. Given that some officers have a one-up on other officers because they received different training based on the state they worked in, this doesn't sit right with everyone. Nobody would argue that it isn’t fair that some officers are able to excel in their career and climb up the ladder while others are to continuously learn and train.
What do the rest of us who aren’t climbing that ladder yet do? We improvise. We find areas to better ourselves and expand our knowledge. While these training classes are informative to maintain perishable skills, they don’t expand one’s knowledge to being a better officer, supervisor, instructor, or specialist. That’s where we can step out of our comfort zones. When Casey Lee, Actor & Entrepreneur, was asked if he had any advice for someone trying to pursue a career in acting, he responded with an answer that applies to all fields of work -
Definitely passion. It goes along with anything. If you’re a plumber, be the best plumber, become a student of it. If you’re an actor, become a student of acting. Study. Know your favorite actor. Watch movies. Watch TV. Dedicate yourself to your craft. It goes across the board. Don’t do it for the fame or money, do it because you love it. You have to have the passion, or it won’t work.Casey LeeActor & Entrepreneur
We all know that fantasizing about the past won’t help change the future. So, be the one to change this mindset for the future of corrections training. The approach of announcing a training session needs to be strategic. Think about it - officers are typically informed about a 4-hour training block right after they just finished a 12-hour shift and are exhausted. It’s no secret that the quality of corrections training is lackluster. It makes sense why they all hate it. That’s why if you’re ever given the chance to become a General Instructor or Facility Training Officer, take it. Do you remember your first day in training? Do you remember hating it? Or do you remember wishing you had paid a little more attention (once you dealt with an emergency)? You probably remember that everybody in the class, including you, didn’t care too much about what the instructor had to say, right? It’s unfortunate that that’s how most training sessions go, but not surprising. It’s human nature for people to learn from interactions with each other. So, stop being the instructor who just lectures the PowerPoint and shares the same war stories that everyone has already heard. Start being interactive and use dialogue. Encourage students to ask questions and interact with one another. Move around the room and develop role play. Push activities and get creative. Engage students in learning. There are lots of ways to make training a little more enjoyable, especially mandatory yearly training. As Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
One quote that you’ve probably heard over and over and over again is, “We don’t get enough training!” It’s ironic that we hear this line while we also hear officers complaining about training, isn’t it? Why would we hate training but want more of it? It’s because officers hate the traditional type of training and want more of the informal type of training. Traditional training forces officers to be in a classroom, sitting in a rock-hard seat, and listening to an instructor at the head of the class babbling on about a PowerPoint. Yawn. Where’s the value in that? Now, informal training is a different story. It’s crucial for trainers to realize that valuable learning can be accomplished “informally” and outside of the traditional formal classroom setting. This method of learning is self-directed as it is based on participation and personal knowledge creation. Instructor-led learning is drastically different from self-learning. You can begin by critically evaluating situations and weeding out the pieces that you know you’ll want to learn. At this point, you’re already building knowledge outside of the classroom. (If you need a book to learn about critical thinking, “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman is highly informative, or just watch Sherlock Holmes if you want the easy way out.) Although informal learning can teach imperative lessons, keep in mind that it doesn’t carry much weight as there isn’t a certificate issued or “seat hours.” However, the information you gain will be different from the typical information you receive in the classroom. Being experienced in different situations inside and outside the classroom will help you become a better officer because you’re just that much further ahead from the rest.
Remember, any training will be to your benefit. Mediocre training is better than no training, and it might save your life someday. You have to remember that you will get out of it what you put in. If you go about training with a poor attitude, then the training will be disappointing. Embrace the suck and get it done. Training, no matter what kind, will help you grow into an amazing officer, and mentor. Think about what Marth Stewart said, “If you learn something new every day, you can teach something new every day.”
Paid and Free Training Resources, Professional Association Memberships, and Non-Traditional Learning.
Paid and Free Training Resources - Why would you ever pay for your own training? If your agency will not sponsor the training and you want to be the best of the best, it is worth the cost. Especially Tactical training and defensive tactics like Gracie Combatives. Free training is typically online and rarely in person.
National Institute of Corrections: https://nicic.gov/training
It is a fantastic resource especially for building management and personnel skills. You must register with a government email with the National Institute of Corrections, you will receive a certificate of completion for each class.
Correctional Management Institute of Texas: http://www.cmitonline.org/
CMIT offers a variety of paid and free classes for corrections. One of the premier classes is the National Jail Leadership Command Academy (NJLCA), one of the top tier trainings for corrections command staff and supervisors.
Relias Learning and Corrections Training has done a great job creating certification programs that are economical, some free and some paid. These courses are certified by the American Corrections Association. https://aca.academy.reliaslearning.com/login.aspx
American Probation and Parole Association (APPA): These are particularly helpful if you ever get to work in community corrections.
National Institute for Jail Operations: They are dedicated to the safety and welding of jails and prisons. Focusing heavily on the legal and policy and procedure.
University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute - This is a university based course system that is heavily focused on corrections as a field. Many Criminal Justice programs do a broad overview with a heavy focus on policing.
Emergency Response Tactics: TOG or Tactics and Operations Group offers premium training for tactical teams in jails and prisons. They have trained teams all over the united states.
Civilian Corrections Academy- This training is immensely valuable to train civilian staff in how to work in a corrections facility. Nurses, civilian programs, volunteers, and maintenance staff benefit from this training course.
FEMA ICS and NIMS Training - Corrections officers are first responders. Learning and understanding unified command and incident management will give you the skills you need to supervise inmates better and take on leadership challenges. The courses are fairly easy and also allow you to apply those skills in the community like Community Emergency Response Teams.
Professional Association Memberships
These memberships bring information right to your fingertips, as well as link you to a network of corrections professionals throughout the nation. Some are paid memberships and some are as easy as joining LinkedIn.
Feel free to add me and we can expand your network, this is such a valuable tool to see current news, media, trends, and events in corrections. It is also a tool for finding mentors outside of your organization that will help you become a better officer and person. If you need to start somewhere here is my LinkedIn information.
American Correctional Association - The largest association of professionals in prisons. http://www.aca.org/aca_prod_imis/aca_member
In addition to just the association, they also include avenues to get certifications in corrections.
- Certified Corrections Officers (CCO)
- Certified Corrections Supervisor (CCS)
- Certified Corrections Manager (CCM)
- Certified Corrections Executive (CCE)
American Jail Association - focused on jails and prisons with a greater focus on local jails. The purpose of their organization is to create better facilities and staff. Similar certification programs as ACA. https://www.americanjail.org/
The AJA has similar avenues to achieve an outside certification of credibility and knowledge. Here are some certifications available:
- Certified Jail Officer (CJO)
- Certified Jail Manager (CJM)
- Certified Jail Supervisor (CJS)
- Certified Correctional Trainer (CCT)
International Association of Corrections Training Professionals - links you with Field Training Officers and teams. This group publishes a newsletter just for FTO’s, it includes new research on adult learning. Sharing lesson plans, policy, and is a group that can help with areas of improvement.
TEEX Corrections Academy - TEEX corrections is a blended learning environment for basic corrections certification, jail medical and advanced certification. TEEX also provides training on NIMS/FEMA, Emergency Management and many more.
Not formal courses that might not carry seat hours but they will give you experience and a greater understanding of corrections.
- Reading Policy and Procedure
- Find books from historical events and experts in corrections like these:
- Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 by Heather Thompson
- Doing Time: Eight Hours a Day by James Palmer
- The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide by Gary Cornelius
- Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison by James Clarke
- Critical incidents - Lessons learned from these are invaluable. These will only happen a few times in your career.
- Professional Organizations
- Special Assignments
Anthony Gangi - Host of Tier Talk - His Channel is dedicated to those brave men and women who work in the shadows of justice.
Or follow his facebook - he shares the most up to date news and material in corrections.
CorrectionsOne gathers news stories and information that is essential for corrections officers.