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What to Look for in a Firearms Instructor
Silvercore creates custom training programs for government agencies and public as well as private corporations. Recently, we were approached to create a defensible train the trainer firearms program for an organization that had learned about our services through a government agency that we had done something similar for. During one of the initial conversations, I was pleasantly surprised when they asked our office for guidance on selecting a firearms instructor within their organization.
I say I was surprised as far too often this seemingly simple step is overlooked for any number of reasons but history has shown the following assertions to be prevalent:
– We already have a team great instructors, they just need help…
– We have Bob who knows everything about the subject matter…
– This is the way we have always done it…
Choosing the right instructor(s) for your organization, regardless of the content being taught, but particularly in courses that can carry high levels of liability, should be the very first objective once the conclusion that a course is required has been arrived at.
The primary objective of any course should be to bring value to the student and impart information in a way that it will be retained. At Silvercore, we are fortunate to have a large cadre of extremely qualified instructors from varying backgrounds. While we are proud of all of our instructors, we will always look at the students and their end objective first and work our way back to match the best possible instructor to the course. If, for example, we are teaching police, we tend to select an instructor who is current or retired law enforcement. Likewise if we are teaching for an indigenous group, a woman’s group or a mineral exploration company, we will pair an instructor with a shared background. This tends to expedite the process of gaining trust with the students and students tend to be more involved with an instructor that they can relate to.
We realize that not every organization will have the latitude to pull from a cross section of society to deliver instruction, so many organizations will try to find the best possible candidate that will appeal to the majority of their students.
The right instructor is not only crucial to the immediate success of the training program but also the long term success of your organization as well as retention of your staff.
Without further ado, below are some of the core attributes that I would suggest an instructor posses.
Honesty / Integrity
Many well meaning firearms instructors have compromised their integrity to “assist” their clients or co-workers in passing. What the instructor needs to understand is, if the student hasn’t learned the skills to a level where they can pass, fudging them through the system is only going to cause that person, themselves and the company massive liability down the road. It is dangerous, and it is the mark of a poor instructor. If they are unable to communicate the objectives to the student in a way they will remember when needed, the instructor will need to take a different approach or have someone else step in.
Growing up in the firearms world and being employed at an early age in an occupation that required annual firearms proficiency qualifications, I have lost track of the number of times I have seen students who were unable to successfully meet the minimum requirements, only to receive their pass after a short bit of 1 on 1 remedial work with the instructor while no one else was permitted to observe. Let me give you two, real life, examples that relate to integrity.
1- When attending an instructor level course through a provincial certifying body, three instructors from my company were present and 3 from other companies. At the end of the week, only 3 were able to show proof of proficiency, the three from Silvercore. The remaining three were looking rather dejected until the instructor explained to them that they could shoot a qualifying course of fire, on their own time, and send in a picture. When I asked the instructor why he did that, he explained that since they had paid for the course, he wanted to keep them happy otherwise he may find himself out of a position.
2- I have been made aware of a local company which had an instructor who was operating under a “pay and pass” model. After the regulatory authorities became involved, the uncertified assistant instructor was incentivized with an instructor designation in return for giving evidence against the primary instructor. While perhaps a well meaning attempt by the authorities to create an a solid case to put a stop to this behaviour, there are far better ways to solve that issue.
There is also a flip side to this, where I have witnessed well meaning instructors providing positive encouragement which was unmeritorious. Students will know if they are doing well or not, and providing disingenuous encouragement has repeatedly been shown to humiliate the student and destroy credibility in the instructor.
It is of the highest importance that any organization seeking an instructor ensure that the take the necessary time to do their due diligence and research who they are selecting as an instructor to ensure that they are not putting themselves in a position of conflict, real or perceived.
Ability to communicate
Teaching, in a nutshell is communicating an idea in a way that will be accepted and applied by the student. There are many different ways that students learn, being able to sell the concept through varying modes of communication is something that the instructor should be adept at. Leaning on different tactics based on the instructors knowledge and experience to convey that message is an imperative skill.
Barriers to communication would be an instructor who has a large ego, is prejudiced, racist, sexist, disinterested in people or the subject matter or is unable to find a way to relate to the learner.
As it is said, pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. The institute of teaching, by its nature, tends to attract those who may have a higher than average sense of self worth. Add a teacher of firearms into the mix and many times you will find a perfect storm for arrogance. The teacher must be able to remember what it is like to struggle. Sure shooting may be a cinch for them now, and perhaps they were always a decent shot, but having an understanding and ability to relate to the student who is struggling will make for a much better instructor.
The instructor should possess the ability to perform and understand the subject matter to a high degree, but this should always be done with humility. Impressing the students with your abilities with great arrogance can create barriers to the learner and a feeling that what is being taught is perhaps only achievable by the gifted or a select few. Truly no subject is difficult once the student properly understands, provided that student possesses the mental and physical capacity to learn the subject matter.
There is a marked difference between those that can do, and those those who truly understand and can proficiently convey that understanding.
The instructor should also not be afraid to voice concerns if they feel the subject matter will cause problems to the learner or the company down the road. If they know of a better way, they need to have the ability to respectfully convey those concerns and likewise management should be open to reasonable persuasion that is appropriately articulated and empirically quantified (ie. be polite, to the point, and provide reasons for your suggestion).
Dress, deportment and demeanour.
The instructor is always being watched. It is not enough for the instructor to say the right things, they need to do the right things as well. We communicate verbally, (what we say), non- verbally (body language, dress, deportment, demeanour) and para-verbally (tone, pitch, intonation / how we say it) The instructor is a high level representative for the department / company and whatever level of self discipline the instructor conveys will be viewed by the students as acceptable. People naturally conform to the norm, if excellence is considered the norm, the students will gravitate in that direction and this will imbue a level of confidence which only goes to assist the end goal of learning / qualifying. Likewise, a sloven instructor, lackadaisical in their approach will be cancerous to an organization and will beget students / staff of a similar ilk.
Actual concern for the students learning and well being
The instructor who has an honest concern for the students ability to succeed will more readily connect with the learner. When instructing a physical skill, like firearms, the students safety should be the primary concern for the instructor at all times. Impetuous personalities have no place instructing on the firing line.
The instructor only has to make one mistake on the firing line and it could have devastating consequences. They need to be disciplined in their safety, approachable in their demeanour, and exemplify the attributes you would like the students to embody.
In closing, if an instructor lacks proficiency in certain technical aspects of their job, this can be taught, evaluated and refined. However, if the instructor, or any employee for that matter, lacks the core values that their upbringing should have taught them, you will be fooling yourself to think that the will acquire those necessary attributes now.
All instructors should also be constant students themselves. Always open to learning new ways to improve themselves. As such, I will treat this as a living document for future reference, and if anyone reading this has suggestions for what should be added or changed please feel free to let me know.