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Inspector Chris Kerekere, acting director of training, left, and Inspector Iain Saunders, acting general manager of training at the college, in the Police College’s new video suite from where the commissioner’s monthly podcasts are filmed.

Learning by remote

Continuing education for police leaders and managers has taken a technological leap. Ellen Brook reports.

There’s a new phrase around the Police College – “reflective practice” – and it’s a key part of how postgraduate leadership training is now being delivered though the campus.

So, don’t be surprised if you hear colleagues saying they are busy with self-reflection and writing the results of that in an online journal.

It’s not navel-gazing as you might imagine, but a new way of showing that you have understood the lessons and requirements of leadership now being taught through a year-long online programme, rather than a two-week residential course followed by a 12-month field learning programme.

The on-site regime has been remodelled and absorbed into a CEP (continuous education programme), with the emphasis on remote learning supported by podcasts and live-streamed conference events.

Some of the exam courses as previous generations of cops knew them no longer exist (although the CPK is still available). It’s now about learning from experience, employing reflective practice and being judged by your peers, rather than “box ticking”. It’s up to you to identify your strengths and weaknesses and decide what you need to work on.

Inspector Iain Saunders, acting general manager of training at the college, says he believes New Zealand Police is the first law enforcement agency in the world to apply CEP to ongoing learning. It is more commonly used in other high-risk areas such as medicine and aviation.

From February this year, the Career Progression Framework (CPF) delivery model for sergeant and senior sergeant courses, which catered for up to 24 people at a time for two weeks on site, ended. There used to be 18 courses a year for those wishing to promote to sergeant and up to six courses for those seeking to become senior sergeants, followed by field learning and a final oral conversation.

The CPF has been replaced with the online Leadership Programme, which is still aligned to Police’s core competencies, but facilitated through the CEP.

If a member wants to apply for a position that would be a promotion, say from constable to sergeant, they still need to pass the CPK (core policing knowledge) exam and be permanently appointed to the position. Once promoted, the new sergeant must enrol and complete the Leadership Programme to qualify at the rank (wearing provisional slides until then).

Anyone in Police who has been recently promoted to a team leader/manager level, or whom a supervisor believes would benefit from leadership training, is eligible to enrol within their district or service centre.

The first course began on August 3 and Mr Saunders says that by June 2021 every leader in Police, including non-sworn, should be enrolled in CEP. “With CEP we can reach up to 1000 people at a time,” he says.

“We’ve had experienced staff enrol who are already qualified. Only 54 actually need to qualify this year; the rest are doing it to find out what it’s all about, which means 373 staff are doing it for the sake of learning.”

Or because they are curious to find out what it’s all about, including many Police employees who have previously not had such development opportunities.

Mr Saunders points out that some leaders in Police “have not been involved in learning for 15 or 20 years”.

CEP was launched with a three-day conference on August 3, attended by 427 staff – 130 onsite and the rest beaming in from virtual hubs at 18 police stations – with the focus on the “best thought leadership”.

The first podcast was released on August 17. In it, Commissioner Andy Coster talked to Mr Saunders and Inspector Chris Kerekere, acting director of training, in an informal “cafe-style” chat (filmed in the college’s new video suite) covering the topic of Command and Control/ Emergency Management, the first of four key learning areas.

The other learning areas, which will also be the subject of monthly podcasts, are: Cultural Competence/Te Huringa o te Tai; High Performance; and Stress Management.

The emergency management theme was timely considering the resources that Police has been pouring into its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, some staff attended the conference remotely from their homes rather than from police stations.

And, Mr Saunders reports, it was a smash hit, with 3500 views.

The challenge for those delivering the podcasts, etc, is to measure the engagement of remote staff to make sure they are not just clicking into a podcast and then ignoring it while it plays.

Enrolled staff are required to provide feedback on the content.

Access to the Leadership Programme is through the Ten One website, where the digital content is made available to participants. An annual commitment of 83.2 hours (an average of 1.6 hours a week) is expected from each staff member. Fifty-six of those hours will be formally scheduled, with the rest managed by a learner’s supervisor during work time.

A core principle of the Leadership Programme is that “most of learning is incidental to practice”, which is explained like this: “While undergoing coaching, someone might be expected to practise the DESC (describe, explain, suggest, consequences) feedback model. This could be achieved in many ways – an FTO (field training officer) could coach a new member of a PST, someone else could use it at rugby training, and another person might provide feedback to a colleague on the way a file has been entered.”

So, how is the Leadership Programme going to be assessed?

There are 85 learning groups throughout the country, with five staff in each group. Each group has a coach and will hold monthly discussions during which the participants will reflect on what they have learnt and what they need to improve on. Peer assessment within the group is encouraged. The idea is that staff must show through journal entries and discussion that they have engaged with the online material.

And if you think that sounds easy, Mr Saunders reckons that “peer assessment can be quite tough”. “With only five in a group, you can’t hide at the back of the room. We get rich feedback and we can also support anyone who might be struggling.

“The leaners are audited at least twice over the year and advised of any concerns regarding their progress. A final progress board will be held at the conclusion of the year’s study where each candidate will be assessed on their year’s work and they must meet minimum learning standards to pass.”

It’s fair to say that understanding this way of learning might require a shift in mindset for some, but the groundwork for this change was laid some time ago.

The emphasis in the CPF had already started to move away from traditional rote-learning and a military-style format towards more “behaviour-transforming” models of critical thinking and problem solving.

So it’s no surprise that so-called “transformational” policies are now being embedded in on-the-job learning (for anyone who has recently been promoted to a team leader/manager position), with the added value of being able to be delivered in a digital environment.

Inevitably, there are those who are not yet totally convinced that CEP will be able to deliver an accurate assessment of learning.

One member of Police notes: “We’ll have to wait and see how it pans out. I think the concept is good, but, from the coalface, the planning, implementation and preparedness for delivery seems sort of ad hoc.”

It appears that some participants have also been tardy about getting their reflective journals to their coaches. One observer believes it may be because of poor communication with the enrolled staff. “They are not sure who they should be talking to or who can answer questions about the material. I don’t want to be too negative about it because it’s early days, and CEP has merit, but it could fall over.

“It’s possible that not everyone who enrols will stay the distance. Not all those who signed up for the conference realised they were committing to a full-year programme.

“Also, the problem I see is that if staff appointed to positions such as sergeant miss the conference this year, they cannot be fully qualified for two years. That will be very frustrating for them.”

If that problem did arise, Mr Saunders says, the college would be “very able to commence courses based on demand” due to the flexibility in the programming of CEP.

Another sceptical member says the changes have simply been made to save money.

It will save money, though Mr Saunders says that’s not the main driver. “It’s the coming-of-age of digital tools to do the job better and with more capacity. It’s not saying that we don’t value face-to-face networking opportunities. We do, and they can occur in these small-group environments too.”

With CEP, team leaders, leader managers and strategic leaders can log in from anywhere, including through an app on their phone, if they choose.

As Police continues training ever more recruits, with an 1800-strong bulge in early service staff predicted, Mr Saunders says pressure will mount to move them more quickly through the system, getting them into on-the-job learning earlier.

And it doesn’t stop there… Next year, the college is hoping to provide a remote learning service for its partners such as Customs and Justice.

“It’s about lifelong education, but you educate yourself,” Mr Saunders says. “It’s like a YouTube channel for police education. If you want to know how to do something, log in to the Leadership Programme.”

It’s not just a 12-month journey, he says, but a career-long learning tool.

Inspector Chris Kerekere, acting director of training, left, and Inspector Iain Saunders, acting general manager of training at the college, in the Police College’s new video suite from where the commissioner’s monthly podcasts are filmed. The studio includes a lounge seating area, right.

Conference call

To highlight the concept of “best thought leadership” at the inaugural Leadership Programme Conference in August, the organisers brought in an eclectic line -up of speakers and facilitators.

Top of the keynote speaker list was the commissioner, who will have an ongoing role in the programme with his monthly podcasts. He was joined by criminal justice advocate Kim Workman (patron of Wing 334, which graduated in January), activist and artist Tame Iti and public speaker David Galbraith, known as Habit Of Greatness man (HOGman).

The programme’s goal of developing good coaching habits was supported by sports specialists Yvette McCausland-Durie (head coach of the Pulse netball team), Pulse midcourter Claire Kersten and cognitive performance coach Ken Franks. They joined a team of police leaders and three psychologists to deliver the conference material.

The next CEP conference/workshop will be held on January 18, 2021, on the theme of Command and Control/Emergency Management.

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