Are we training our staff to fall? Revisioning staff training.

Author:Shuford, John A.

Emotional intelligence skills need to be taught to the younger recruits who are addicted to social media, but also to the older staff who are socialized into the paramilitary culture.

Staff orientation and in-service training have greatly improved in recent years; e-learning and cognitive behavior intervention training have been an important part of this. Yet, we are still experiencing a crippling situation with high turnover and staff burnout. Staff report leaving their positions mainly because of issues with other staff, poor supervisors and a feeling that management cares more about filling positions than about staff well-being. (1) All three of these are the result of poor relationships, and the quality of these relationships is a key factor in the quality of the work culture. It is said that staff do not leave organizations, they leave their supervisors. (2) When relationships improve, staff retention improves, and relationships are impacted by people skills, which are called "soft skills." Daniel Goleman, in his book "Emotional Intelligence," calls these soft skills "emotional intelligence" and this may be a critical factor in reducing turnover, i.e., teaching our staff emotional intelligence skills or raising what is called their "EQ," which is the emotional intelligence equivalent of IQ. (3) We are in the people business, so emotional intelligence skills are critical, and we don't do well in teaching these skills. (4) The question must now be asked, are we training our staff in all the areas necessary to be successful or are we training them to fail?

Updating staff training

Our staff training design came from the military and how they train. The purpose of military training is to break down the recruits' self-esteem and re-socialize them into a new way of thinking, i.e., an "us vs. them" mentality where the "them" is the enemy and must be killed. When they do come in daily contact with and are supervising the enemy, they may abuse them as we saw what happened at Abu Ghraib. The question must be asked if this method is also appropriate for work in corrections where the goal is security and rehabilitation. In an on recruit FBI training, it states that classic stress training has proven to be not only ineffective, but to actually be counterproductive. Because this type of training undermines and damages self-esteem, it results in low motivation and poor performance, and is one of the primary reasons for attrition of adult learners. What benefits it shows are short lived. When department of corrections (DOC) recruits leave the training academy and the fear induced by the instructors is gone, performance deteriorates due to the continuing low self-esteem and motivation. (5)

Traditionally, training instructors were "trained to grab trainees' attention by letting them know that the instructors were in charge, and if trainees did not conform quickly to the routine, more discipline problems would occur. This type of interaction between instructors and trainees is no longer effective and creates unnecessary stress for trainees." (6) Moreover, it is less effective with the younger (post-baby boomers) generations, who do not accept the "do as I say" approach that older generations did. (7,8) In a recent study of a DOC training academy's curriculum, one of the major recommendations was to "replace elements of the paramilitary methodology with adult-learning principles and learning techniques conducive to an educational environment." (9) Of those recruits who quit training, many cited the paramilitary approach as the primary reason. (10) The study also stated that "the paramilitary training methods of the past are obviously disconnected from the public and community service missions of law enforcement agencies today.""

In 2011 (updated in 2018), the National Institute of Corrections published the Instructional Theory Into Practice (ITIP) Toolkit; A Guide for Working with Curriculum Developers. This is a significant step forward in transitioning from the classic stress training model to the adult learning model. It actively engages participants in the training process, is more experiential and is more learner focused rather than just content driven. Some DOCs, like Wyoming, are using this model with great effectiveness.

It is not only important to address the teaching methods of training, but also the content of what is being taught to new recruits. Since relationships are key to staff retention, training needs to cover teamwork skills, work culture and communications among staff. All too often, teamwork is not directly covered, work culture is almost never covered and communication skills are usually covered in interpersonal communication (IPC), which normally deals with staff-inmate communications. Topics normally included are: inmate management, officer safety, security, practical skills, history and development of corrections, ethics and professionalism, criminal justice systems, laws, rights, investigations and special populations. (12) None of these deals with emotional intelligence, which includes: self-awareness, managing emotions, motivating self and emotional self-control, recognizing emotions in others (empathy), social awareness and developing and managing relationships. These skills are key to cooperation, teambuilding, supervision and leadership, which are key to developing a healthy work culture, and as the NIC "Resource Guide for Newly Appointed Wardens" states, "Do not underestimate culture; it drives everything."" For many professions, these skills are not necessary, but they are critical in corrections where relationships can turn a problem situation into a dangerous crisis. Emotional intelligence skills need to be taught to younger recruits who are addicted to social media, but also to older staff who are socialized into the paramilitary culture.

Focusing on relationships

Since one of the goals of corrections is to "correct" or rehabilitate, this should be an area that receives considerable emphasis...

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