Some reflections on policing and learning…..

In January this year I watched the first of ‘my’ BSc Policing (in service) students graduate at Canterbury Cathedral after three years of studying at Canterbury Christ Church University. For fear of being emotional I will not overly stress the pride I felt in them as I watched them collect their certificates in that amazing environment. This included officers who had spoken to me on day one of the programme voicing their lack of belief in their ability to complete the degree and officers that had, at various stages talked about leaving due to family, work commitments and intellectual capacity. You know what, they all made it… Some with first class degrees, some receiving awards for best progress, best dissertation, best degree and some now either on post graduate programmes with us or at other institutions or coming back this academic year to start again.

I am now at the end of ‘my’ second full cohort through this programme and I see the same again. Committed officers and police staff who genuinely love policing – both doing it and learning about it. Furthermore, for those now writing their final dissertations I see students that have a genuine drive to research areas of academic work that they think might help facilitate operational and strategic change for the better. They are all, in their own way, innovative, creative and driven to make policing a better place for both those that use it and those that ARE it and I feel honoured to have the job I do in helping them learn.

Recently I have heard and read a wealth of conference papers, articles and blogs about the need for leaders to nurture the above qualities in their teams. Not to sit on creativity and create a ‘do as I say’ environment if you really want your teams to buy into the priorities senior leaders promote. The College of Policing’s leadership review stresses the need to think differently about how to motivate staff during times of austerity. Let teams and individual officer try and indeed, trust them to try, something different. What’s more commend them for it, encourage it and don’t blame them if it doesn’t have the exact desired effect. Suppressing a desire for change and a willingness to try new things is demotivating – allowing for reflection and learning is empowering and supportive.

One of the greatest things I find about our programmes is the diversity in roles, ranks, ages and service time in the classroom when I teach. The joy is that the majority of students have no idea whether the officer next to them is a PC or a superintendent. They simply share ideas, intellectually debate their ideas and critique of the theories (and often me) and essentially bring the lectures back to the meaning of academic knowledge in practical police work. Not many of them discuss their confidence in being able to do this in the actual working environment. It seems the classroom offers a safe and almost anonymous place which allows them to be intellectual, to critique current practices based on knowledge and to discuss confidently how they feel about policing today.

When I speak to students about the likelihood of them being able to discuss their learning at work with senior officers I could count on one hand the amount of students who genuinely feel supported in their learning by supervisors. They have great ideas not simply about operational practice but about a wealth of areas in policing that affect officers themselves. One of our second year modules asks students to develop an evidence based business case of sorts, as an assessment. It never ceases to amaze me just how much thought and ideas go into these documents… I only wish they had the confidence to take them to their leaders or even their own supervisors to see if they might be worth a shot at implementing and trialing locally. The ultimate in evidence based bottom up approaches to policing which would even allow, potentially, officers to evaluate their own proposals. These business proposals are usually sound, innovative and based on financial considerations and improvements to either public confidence or to officers well-being. Yet as far as I am aware I have never known an officer or member of police staff on the programme to take these carefully considered ideas to their superiors.

As one of my post graduate students says to me on a regular basis ‘diversity is not just about people it is about diversity of thought and ideas’. He is right. My advice (for what it is worth) to senior leaders and any supervisor is, embrace these officers who are doing so much to advance their knowledge of a profession they genuinely love and care about. Embrace their commitment to want to do things in a more reflective, thoughtful way using evidence and learning alongside their own professional expertise and experience – which cannot be taught in a classroom.

I have learnt an abundance of knowledge about policing, the context of it, the practicalities of it and the complexity of it from my students. I only wish they felt that they could share their learning with you – their leaders. Supervisors are teachers in their own right but they shouldn’t feel threatened by this desire to learn and willingness to impart knowledge learnt in the classroom. In order to drive a committed and loyal team, encourage it, use it, listen to it and share it.

Emma Williams

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One Response to Some reflections on policing and learning…..

  1. panache2009 says:

    “Diversity of thought & ideas” sums it up brilliantly. If leaders opened their minds to new ideas and relished the challenges of young fresh outlooks to combat old fashioned traditions it would send a breath of fresh air into the Old Boys Club. Too many feel threatened by younger officers with innovative ideas who prefer to think outside the box. Whereas if they embraced, encouraged & supported these open minds, new concepts & great progress would be made which would benefit the whole team, section, service. True leaders need to listen & accept change, support & foster progress and most importantly always keep an open mind. Strong support & unity from ‘above’ can achieve great ends, the ramifications of which would echo throughout the service. Leaders, the ball is in your court!


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