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Get In the Zone! Two Simple Steps Police Leaders Can Take to Provide Learning Zone Opportunities

 

The performance zone—as discussed in Part 1—is where we are comfortable: the zone where we strive to execute our job to the best of our abilities, concentrate on what we have mastered and minimize mistakes. But in order to improve skills in all areas of law enforcement, including de-escalation and discernment in use-of-force, we have to create training opportunities in the learning zone: the zone where we work at a level just beyond our reach and expect to make mistakes while exploring all possible scenarios and reflecting on the process and outcomes.

John Dewey, an American philosopher, and psychologist described learning as an iterative process that involves designing new experiences for exploration and reflection, rather than relying on habits or automatic responses. It’s an ongoing process, according to Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, of “reflection and action, characterized by asking questions, seeking feedback, experimenting, reflecting on results, and discussing errors or unexpected outcomes of actions.”

This process of experimenting, seeking feedback, and reflecting on errors and outcomes is uncomfortable. In fact, humans are naturally inclined to avoid mistakes so it makes sense that as adult professional learners entering the police academy, they already have those habits instilled. But mistake-avoidance leads to a fixed mindset: a mindset that our mistakes prove that we are inept and that our intelligence and talents can’t be changed or improved. Fixed mindsets lead to stasis in education and in the workplace.

 

Step #1: Provide educational tools that encourage feedback and self-reflection. MILO Range training solutions provide officers with opportunities to practice, make mistakes, and reflect, all in a non-punitive environment. After practicing thousands of different simulated experiences, the “Trainee Action Capture” provides picture-in-picture debrief in HD audio and video to provide instructor-led, learner-centric opportunities for exploration, differentiation, and reflection. This debrief enables individual officers to work in the learning zone, hone their skills, safely make mistakes, review their errors or progress, and move toward mastery. The feedback loop is applicable in preparing for every law enforcement responsibility—from positive community interactions to active shooter response.

 

Step #2:  Foster a growth mindset: the mindset that we are not there yet, and that our failure at a task does not mean that we are a failure. According to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “Every time [we] push out of [our] comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in [our] brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time, [we] can get smarter.” Growth Mindset benefits the individual learner and the entire organization. At Microsoft, for example, focusing on growth mindset within their corporation led to “a large-scale culture transformation… from a culture of “know-it-alls” to a culture of “learn-it-alls.” In law enforcement agencies, not only must officers be willing to work and train in the learning zone, but the leadership within law enforcement agencies must be willing to design and provide non-punitive learning zone opportunities, if they want to facilitate growth and maximize performance. By reframing training to embrace the potential to make mistakes and ask for and receive feedback, we can stay in the learning zone and maximize positive outcomes and job performance.

 

It is imperative that leaders within law enforcement agencies take steps to provide learning zone opportunities for their officers. When time, funding, and resources are limited, and when a fixed mindset is often the norm, nurturing a growth mindset is the best place to start. Providing an environment where officers are willing to train outside of their comfort zone and able to request and receive feedback, safe from judgment and negative consequences is how leaders facilitate growth.