12 tips for correctional trainers
Follow these steps to ensure you provide an engaging learning experience for your students
In your correctional career, can you remember the good trainings you attended? Can you remember the instructor? If you remember the material, was it due to the presentation skills of the instructor? What occurred in those training sessions that made them so special or memorable?
It is both fascinating and rewarding to be a corrections trainer. I should know, I have provided corrections training for nearly 35 years. I would like to share some of the educational best practices that have worked for me over the years.
The two things I always pay attention to are the level of discussion in class and comments on evaluations. If attendees are engaged in discussions and comment throughout the class, this indicates their interest levels are high and that they are thinking about the material the instructor is presenting. If they are thinking, they are learning. Regarding evaluations, ratings are important, but so are the comments. If a person takes the time to write comments, a trainer should read them. Many comments include suggestions on how to improve the class. I try to revise my classes regularly based on comments and suggestions. The field of corrections is always evolving, which means trainers have to keep up.
With that in mind, here are 12 tips for correctional trainers:
1. “Butterflies” before a class are normal. I try to meet the class members as they come into the classroom. This relaxes me, as does humor. A funny video or a horrible pun (and I have some) makes people feel better and more relaxed. Don’t think about failing. Take a deep breath, be familiar with your material and remember your experience.
2. Remember past trainings. Think of what made them good and try to incorporate that into your presentation. Also, recall what was bad and strive to not put that into your class. For example, I know instructors who read word for word from their PowerPoint slides. When someone drones on and on, boredom sets in. I use photos and talking points to break up my slides
3. Give frequent breaks ‒ people need them, and you do as well. Breaks allow the mind to be refreshed ‒ and people have to go to the bathroom! Be available for questions during breaks and after class. Some people like to ask questions quietly and in private.
4. Respect the class. Compliment your students on their many years of service. Get to know and mention the institutions represented in the class. I count the years of service and experience of both the class members and myself. A discussion follows about how our mutual experiences can help the learning process. Control discussions ‒ don’t let war stories take over. Debate, but moderate!
5. Be a little humble. I tell my students that their experiences are worth exploring, and how all of us ‒ including instructors ‒ learn something in every training.
6. Set the tone. I like to say that the main goal of training is for students to know more about the topic when they leave than when they walked into class. Moreover, they can use the things they learned to perform their duties better.
7. Create an atmosphere that promotes learning and participation. Temperature-wise, the room should be comfortable. I prefer a cool setting; it helps to keep people alert, especially after lunch.
8. Start strong. Introduce yourself and use a little self-deprecating humor. Since I am an “old-timer,” I poke a little fun at my age, showing photos of me in my younger days. If that is not your style, discuss a news story or relate one of your life experiences. For example, I present a class about escape prevention. Escapes from correctional facilities are frequently in the news, so I start with one. Research interesting events and start talking about them.
9. Do something unusual. I like quizzes. Contraband, escapes and inmate manipulation are great subjects for quizzes. In addition, occasionally I present a game show. Questions are put on PowerPoint slides. I divide the class into two teams, competing to see who has learned the most from the class.
10. Scenarios are great tools. In my corrections supervisor class, I divide the class into groups and give them scenarios about staff discipline. The discussions that follow are very informative.
11. Use videos and visuals, especially news stories and photos. A trainer can download many news stories concerning corrections; many agency training videos are online. You can talk about a topic and then show information to back up your points.
12. Always thank your students for their attention and participation. In other words, end the training on a good, positive note.
Presentations by subject matter experts and veteran corrections professionals remain the staple of corrections training. If you want to enhance your promotional opportunities, get involved in training. Many agencies offer instructor development classes. Agency heads and supervisors need good trainers who can make training interesting and help agency personnel develop their job skills ‒ which helps everyone working in a correctional facility.
Cornelius G. Tips for the Law Enforcement Trainer. General Instructor Development Seminar, Hampton Roads (VA) Criminal Justice Training Academy, 2019.
Jolles RL. How to Run Seminars and Workshops: Presentation Skills for Consultants, Trainers and Teachers, Third Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.