Was the completion of ATS really worth all the bother, hassle and late nights?

David Smith, an educator in the Police and one of the first cohort of individuals to attain Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) in 2018, reflects on the process and what his achievement has meant for him, his colleagues and his organisation.

My initial engagement with peers

The whole ATS experience was a roller coaster journey which seemed to fly by very quickly once I actually got focused upon engaging with the job at hand, and reviewed the numerous folders full of documents I was initially sent through by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). My initial conversation with peers, police officer trainers at the Police Training Centre, was ‘Why would you want to commit to another external training qualification when you are already really busy and overworked?’ A good question I thought to myself, but when speaking to staff members and assessors outside of the daily grind of teaching police officer recruits, the support and encouragement was very positive.

People actually got excited that I was going to embark on a process that would improve my practice and something that would actually benefit the Training Centre as a whole. Police training appears to be a secret to those outside of the perimeter fence where activities take place in private without the on-look of prying eyes from the public domain. The reality is that we are actually an adult training facility, but tend to work behind the times compared to other public educational institutes. My supportive colleagues were interested as they saw the potential of me completing ATS as a way of being able to reflect on my teaching practice and to bring new teaching methodology and processes to the Centre. Those who were initially negative soon changed their mind set when I was able to support them through mentoring and coaching!

Self reflection

Before the completion of ATS I had classed myself as an experienced teaching practitioner who had always tried to aim for perfection in everything I had done within the classroom environment. Undertaking ATS made me quickly realise that I still had much to learn and understand about myself, in that as a teacher/trainer you are always experiencing new things. I was on a continuous path of progressing my skills and knowledge and would never stop developing or learning new things.

What I had not understood was that even though I thought I was at the ‘top of my game’, I in fact had stopped thinking and reflecting on my practice. I had become happy with what I was doing and comfortable in teaching without the need to push myself further, something I found when talking to colleagues was actually quite common. ATS pushed me further than I could have imagined in a number of ways. It allowed me to consider my role as a police trainer, with many years of teaching experience within the sector, and to reflect on what I actually do and what works for me, my peers and my students. Reflection and independent learning was important not only for my students, but for me as a teacher and practitioner in the field.

Being committed

The key challenge for me was – with a full-time day job, including national and regional work away from home and my home Force area – finding the time to actually engage with and undertake the demands of ATS. I was under huge time constraints and deadlines to ensure I was teaching to students, and my role at the time saw me away from the classroom. With supportive line managers and a very wise mentor, over the eleven months I managed to complete the mandated average of eight-hours per week by covering sessions across a diverse range of courses and students.

This was something I didn’t think would be achievable as the early months of ATS started to pass. The positive of delivering on a variety of courses has been the fact I have had to push my knowledge and understanding of the various topics I had never delivered before. One week I would be teaching local processes to Police Community Support Officers and the next I would be talking about traffic legislation to recruit Police Constables. I have had to develop my knowledge during the planning and preparation to deliver these new sessions and I have built upon my existing knowledge base. This has made me a more confident teacher.

The portfolio

I had to start to think about my teaching journey from when I took my initial steps with a change in career direction back in 2004, from an operational police officer to a classroom-based police teacher. Reading the feedback from my ATS testimonies, where I was regarded as an individual who was well thought of as a teacher and person, and looking at the amount of training and qualifications I had successfully undertaken over the fourteen years of being a police trainer, was a positive step. Listing them on an updated CV made me realise that actually I have become an experienced practitioner, but in the workplace I had not shared my theoretical or practical understanding of ‘teaching’ with my peers or organisation. I had developed the courses I had responsibility for and the students had taken advantage of the new teaching methods I had introduced, but in reality I had been selfish by keeping what I knew to myself. My drive and motivation to undertake ATS was that I now had a specific goal of sharing my learning journey, and my skills, with other training practitioners at the Police Training Centre.

Teaching under the microscope

As part of the ATS programme I was required to have an initial observation made of my classroom practice by my mentor. This would be the first of three planned observations. As a teaching practitioner I should have three observations made every year by my line manager, but my last observation was back in 2015, and even then it was just a single session. There are two types of observation that can be made; peer observation by other trainers and teachers in the department, or from a supervisory capacity whereby the focus is upon the monitoring of standards and feedback will be provided for improvement. I initially felt very nervous as I saw the observation as a focus on my practice and how I delivered the planned sessions.

After meeting with my mentor pre-observation I was reassured that all of my practice would be reviewed during the observation and that positive and areas to focus on would be identified where necessary. It was surprising that on receiving my feedback that I had forgotten to deliver, for example, the aims and objectives of the session. As a teacher I had become used to the delivery and designing of new interactive methods but had forgotten about the basics. On reflection, this first observation made me re-engage with the simple rules of teaching practice and expectations on me the teacher. After further discussion and reflection with peers, I found surprising what different members of staff would not include in sessions. This was something that I would try to engage with as part of my ATS journey to improve practice through coaching and mentoring to other members of the department.

Developing a research plan

Teaching could become an evidence-based profession if people who undertook educational research were accountable to teachers. This is something that we are finding more and more common within policing, where academics will be tasked with focusing on set projects and presenting results back for consideration before the implementation of findings. The use of research in teaching is something I have engaged with during the completion of various postgraduate qualifications, and I can see the positives that small-scale projects can have on improving teaching practice. This part of the ATS programme would once again allow me to consider my practice and to look at how I could make it better for my learners and the organisation.

Discussing progress formally

The completion of my initial professional discussion was my opportunity to talk to my mentor and set out ‘the plan’ for the next six months. I had decided that I was going to keep a paper copy of my ATS portfolio which allowed me to physically see what needed to be done and also use as a good reference tool. We found a comfortable place to complete the discussion, somewhere we would not be disturbed, and I took notes about what we spoke about. It was good to have the opportunity to cover my plans, and my mentor also provided suggestions and gave advice about how I would practically get some activities done.

Keeping a diary

The reflective diary provided an opportunity to discuss and reflect on my experiences as a teaching practitioner. The use of my diary allowed me to write about a number of diverse experiences “such as personal impressions and feelings”. I could review how I was supporting my organisation to prepare for national educational reforms and ensure I was undertaking the right activities and writing about how they had gone with both ups and downs. The diary allowed me to organise my activities and guide an analysis of pedagogical practice.

Reading

The reading log was initially found to be a personal burden, as every time I was reading texts to update a diary entry or research technique I had to re-write the update in the reading log. So in effect I was doubling up on work. What I did find, as time passed, was that my opinion changed and the reading log actually made me actively read documents and books and to question what the author was actually trying to explain. So although I had a problem with finding the time to complete this log, it was beneficial as I would share my findings with fellow police trainers. At team briefings I would also spend five minutes providing updates of new policies in relation to the FE sector or teaching practice that I had been made aware of through reading.

Dreaded CPD

When colleagues mention ‘CPD’ there tends to be a look of dread on their faces. My organisation has fallen into the trap whereby the focus is upon teaching delivery with little or no opportunity to undertake professional development. Other trainers would see availability to develop themselves as an issue – they either did not want to spend time engaging with training or new activities, or they were just happy with what they did. My mentor gave me 100% support and provided the opportunities for me to engage with not only new training programmes – I undertook the full leadership programme with the Constabulary over three separate courses – but to engage nationally by attending forums and seminars that would provide me with information to take back to Force and that would support the Training Centre. ATS created the platform, and backing, to commit my time to engage with active CPD.

Coaching and Mentoring, the saviour to peers

One of my CPD activities was to complete a two-day Coaching and Mentoring course. After undertaking this programme and giving me the confidence to engage with staff, my mentor suggested sending a global email to all staff members across the diverse Learning & Development department offering my support. I sent the offer of support and explained my background and the fact I was working towards ATS. I was overwhelmed by the number of requests for trainers to be coached or mentored, from requests to develop teaching knowledge to observing teaching practice. It was clear there was a hunger for my colleagues to look to me for help.

There was a desire for personal development and the ‘want’ for staff members to be the best they could be. For me, this is where the completion of ATS is a clear winner for my learners, colleagues and their practice and my organisation. I have become an individual who can share his experiences, previous knowledge and vision for the future to develop and move police training at our centre forward. With the new educational reforms in policing fast approaching, I can see my position as an Advanced Practitioner, in the field, becoming an important one.

Being critical

It is easy for both me and my peers to fit into a routine of delivering to students without actually thinking about what and how we do this. We need to think about our practice and make changes to improve practice and our teaching. By undertaking research we will be able to provide evidence for making suggestions to improve our delivery of training to student officers. I have actively marketed the completion of my research to peers and I have linked this to the new concept of Evidence-based Policing, which looks to academic research to inform policing practice.

So was it worth all the bother?

This ATS journey has made me look at and master my teaching and training. I have increased my knowledge base collaboratively at a local, regional and national level and now have instigated processes and opportunities to support my peers to develop themselves by sharing my vast experience and understanding to improve teaching standards at the Training Centre. I now have responsibility for running CPD Days for all members of staff and our first event was held on the 4th April 2019 with dates booked for every 12 weeks. My work is also to develop the Centre as an Employer Provider which will soon be delivering teaching to apprentice police officers. A trip to London has also been planned which my wife is happy about, not just for her to see the sights, but so that she can celebrate with me my conferment as a Chartered Teacher at a ceremony. So was it worth it? In my opinion the answer was most definitely ‘yes’.

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