Tag Archives: Training

Thoughts on the basics of direct leadership at the platoon and squad level

By 1st Sgt. Mark Grover, Sgt. 1st Class David Chadburn, Sgt. 1st Class Mattheu Lee and Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Rogers

While serving as members of Soldier/NCO of the Month and promotion boards, my platoon sergeants and I noticed a knowledge gap regarding what a noncommissioned officer is and does. Questions such as, “How often should a team leader inspect his Soldiers’ rooms?” received a wide range of answers, although most of the answers seemed to be “weekly.” Focused questions regarding Physical Readiness Training, Troop Leading Procedures, Mission Command and even daily duties of the NCO seemed to yield a variety of responses. It was obvious that the answers were either incorrect or memorized. My platoon sergeants and I discussed the results of the board, then began to scrutinize our infantry troop (part of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, “Dragoons”).

While discussing our knowledge gaps and shortfalls with our squad and team leaders, we identified a need to begin a series of Leader Professional Development classes that target basic duties and responsibilities, a series with a strong theme. We decided to focus on, “What are the powers of the NCO and how does the responsibility inherent in those powers impact the NCO?” It is all well and good to give orders and “be in charge,” but what are the consequences of poor performance? Does one NCO’s lack of performance have a real impact on the rest of the corps? Beginning with a discussion of Physical Readiness Training (PRT), this series will address specific duties and then expand on how those responsibilities play out in our daily lives.

We begin with a caveat: Though a deep knowledge and understanding of publications and TTPs — as well as general competence — is the minimum expected from our NCOs, we also acknowledge that training happens at different paces in different places. Any NCO worth his or her stripes can quote the Army’s definition of the purpose of leadership: “The process of providing purpose, direction and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” TC 7-22.7 lists 11 duties of NCOs on page 5-4. There is myriad guidance between the Training Circulars and ADP 6-22. This paper seeks to provide an easy reference for some of the points made. It is not reasonable to expect every staff sergeant to have read and understood every applicable publication, but it is certainly reasonable to expect leaders to provide classes and training on relevant publications.

What is it an NCO should do?

“Lead” is an overly simplistic answer, and so is “train.” We all know that NCOs lead physical training in the morning, but we seldom take the time to analyze that responsibility. Physical Training (PT) requires that NCOs both lead and train. The following is a discussion on what “leading” and “training” mean with regard to PT. We argue that daily PT sessions require both leading and training in strict accordance with ADP and ADRP 7-0, complete with rehearsals, trainer certification and After-Action Reviews (AARs). Anything less is a missed training opportunity and a failed (though not career-ending) leadership moment.

Officers do not lead the conduct of PT. They prioritize it, block off time on the training calendar, provide a direction and a vision, but do not lead PT. NCOs should treat PT like every other training event and apply the eight-step training model or Troop Leading Procedures (TLPs).[1] More importantly, however, is that we seldom observe squad or team leaders conduct regular TLPs for physical training. The conduct of physical training is often taken for granted, although an exceptional unit will have a PT calendar posted and discussed at weekly training meetings. Regardless of published calendars, NCOs who lead PT often do not lead to the training standard, even though they know, or certainly should know, the standards.

In our experience, very few NCOs use TLPs for PT. Why do so few team and squad leaders routinely apply the TLP to a daily training event? In a word, assumptions. We incorrectly make a number of assumptions about both our own and our subordinates’ abilities and knowledge. It is easy to assume that our Soldiers, team leaders and squad leaders are thoroughly proficient on the PRT’s conditioning drill, although a simple test of their knowledge will most likely show they do not even know those drills in sequence, or that they may not be able to name each of the 10 drills at all. Though there is a strong argument to be made that many of our leaders have also failed to embrace FM 7-22’s guidance, the core of the problem remains that leaders make incorrect assumptions regarding their abilities.

Fixing incorrect assumptions is not a simple task. First, leaders must acknowledge they have made incorrect assumptions. Second, they must agree that correcting their assumptions is a valid and meaningful task. Next, there must be a leader with the commitment and knowledge who can provide the training necessary to correct the deficiency. It does not take much to assume that every company-sized element in the Army has quite a few knowledgeable and committed leaders – and it is certain that the vast majority of leaders often correct improper assumptions.

There are four basic assumptions regarding physical training that are all too often incorrect. This list should not be seen to be exclusive, nor should it be seen to be demeaning. We experience these assumptions in an excellent troop; there are no reasons to believe our experiences are unique or display gross incompetence. Solving problems is at the heart of the NCO Corps; identifying problems is our first step. These are common misconceptions regarding the PRT that we have found in our troop.

1. Soldiers are entirely familiar with and capable of performing PRT to standard.

2. PRT is not a good enough program to produce highly fit and ready Soldiers.

3. The individual leader can create a better physical fitness program than PRT.

4. Checking the block is good enough to accomplish the intent of PRT.

Looking at these assumptions individually, we can see a number of embarrassing fallacies. Looking closer and replacing PRT with any other form of training, we may even begin to see a pattern emerging. These assumptions are not necessarily unique to how we look at PRT. As we examine these assumptions, we may find that they apply equally to other training events. We encourage reading this list twice, thinking closely about other training events the second time.

1. “Soldiers are entirely familiar with and capable of performing PRT to standard”

As pointed out earlier, no, they are not. Again, this is an easy metric to test. FM 7-22 is a straight-forward manual, although it seems that we are hard-pressed to find many leaders who have taken the time to read through this important publication. It is unrealistic to expect our Soldiers to be familiar with and capable of performing PRT to standard if our leaders do not have a solid understanding of the PRT manual. It is always the responsibility of the NCO Corps to train Soldiers, and training requires a deep understanding of the subject material. We are comfortable accepting a long learning curve in our own troop as our NCOs begin to master the fundamentals of PRT. Unfamiliarity should not be the defining hindrance to the incorporation of PRT. Rather it should be the goad we use to improve ourselves and our units. For classes and online instruction, www.atn.army.mil offers a complete training program for leaders.

2. “PRT is not a good enough program to produce highly fit and ready Soldiers”                

“Soldiers trained through PRT demonstrate the mobility to apply strength and endurance to the performance of basic military skills such as marching, speed running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, crawling, combatives and water survival,” according to FM 7-22. Until a leader is intimately familiar with, and has extensively implemented, the entire manual, that leader does not have a rational argument against using PRT to produce highly fit and ready Soldiers.

Further, PRT is Army law, proscribed in AR 350-1. The doctrine found in FM 7-22 is representative of our profession of arms. Our leaders have a basic expectation that NCOs will comply with both regulations and doctrine. Leading requires the maturity to follow orders and intent beyond what one expects from one’s subordinates. Very few leaders will tolerate Soldiers making excuses for failing to follow orders and guidance; we must avoid being leaders who excuse in ourselves what we refuse to accept in others.

3. “The individual leader can create a better physical fitness program than PRT”

This assumption may or may not be verbalized by the individual leader, but this is also easy to test. A simple observation during PT hours will suffice to inform whether the leader is using FM 7-22 or is using their own version of training. There are two simple points here. First, if a leader can produce a better program than the PRT, where is that program? Second, does the leader have a comprehensive program that accounts for Soldiers’ varying levels of readiness while simultaneously tying into the training calendar? It is highly doubtful that any other physical training program has so thoroughly tied itself to the warrior tasks and battle drills or taken into account the nature of Army training. PRT addresses each of the seven principles of training, and it is unlikely that any training regimen produced by any external source could address Army doctrine so closely. We do not claim that there are no other physical fitness routines that will fit the bill, but referring to our argument’s assumption two, we would be hard pressed to find many subordinate NCOs who are thoroughly familiar with both the PRT and another physical fitness program.

4. “Checking the block is good enough to accomplish the intent of PRT”

Obviously, no training program that does not include involved leaders who follow the Troop Leading Procedure will accomplish that program’s intent. Many NCOs who understand that FM 7-22 is doctrine will begin their morning with the preparation drill and end with the recovery drill, but will not follow PRT during the PT session itself. Lip service to doctrine is a disservice to the Soldiers and the NCO. A second point here is that many times our subordinate leaders assume that their leaders will correct them if they are wrong. Unfortunately, that assumption is all too often incorrect.

Clearly, PRT is a viable and robust program with the capability to produce physically fit Soldiers. Clearly, it is the responsibility of the NCO Corps to lead PRT with intelligence and discipline. However, it is our experience that PRT is not the Army standard that it should be, and we hope to use the insights in this article to energize team and squad leaders to familiarize themselves with FM 7-22 and incorporate those principles and exercises during daily PT, rather than half-stepping their way through working out or using outdated exercises that have been shown to have negative effects. An NCO’s strength comes from his or her knowledge, skills and attributes; leading PT correctly and applying the TLPs appropriately will only strengthen our Soldiers and our NCO Corps.

Discussion points

Bring these questions up with your peers and leaders. Post your insights on the bottom of this article or on the NCO Journal’s Facebook or Twitter page.

Do the four assumptions apply as equally to other training events? For example, do they apply to preliminary marksmanship instruction or any other task an organization does routinely?

  1. Would enforcing the application of the TLP process for PRT have a beneficial impact on other training events? (Is the juice worth the squeeze?)
  2. Should daily PRT events have a priority at company training meetings? Who is the best person to answer this question?
  3. All training involves AARs. Is an AAR necessary or even desirable after every PT session?
  4. Do these assumptions hold true in other training events? i.e.:

a. Soldiers are entirely familiar with and capable of performing *TRAINING EVENT* to standard.
b. *TRAINING EVENT* is not a good enough program to produce highly fit and ready Soldiers.
c. The individual leader can create a better plan than *TRAINING EVENT*.
d. Checking the block is good enough to accomplish the intent of *TRAINING EVENT*.

Easy reference list

ADP and ADRP 6-22, Army Leadership: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adrp6_22.pdf

ADP and ADRP 7-0, Training Units and Developing Leaders: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adrp7_0.pdf

FM 7-22, Physical Readiness Training: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/fm7_22.pdf

TC 7-22.7, Noncommissioned Officer Guide: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/tc7_22x7.pdf

Online PRT training, planning and other resources available at https://atn.army.mil/

Army PRT app available on Google Play and the iTunes store

Bonus thought

“Old school”: We have all heard this nebulous phrase, typically used in a derogatory comment about how discipline issues are being handled. “My old platoon sergeant was old school and would have smoked that Soldier until he puked.” Soldiers use this phrase regardless of their time in service or knowledge of how issues were resolved in “old school” times. I have heard specialists with less than two years of service use this phrase as often as staff sergeants with eight years in the infantry, none of whom were even born when the Gulf War was ending. “Old school” is a phrase with as little use as “common sense,” which is more of an egotistical statement about one’s limited knowledge than it is a true base of knowledge.

 

[1] It is important to note that ADRP 7-0 points out “Training models, such as the 8-step training model, are only guides and not lock-step processes. They can be useful, but they are effectively just modifications of either the MDMP or TLP” (2012, p. 3-10).

NCOs raised many concerns with Dailey at NCO Solarium II

From NCO Journal wire reports

The NCO Solarium II was Nov. 17-20 at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The solarium, led by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, is part of an Army chief of staff initiative to inform and shape the future direction of the U.S. Army. November’s event brought together 60 sergeants first class and master sergeants to address topics that Dailey had identified and to provide recommendations to Dailey with “unfiltered feedback.” Dailey spoke about the challenge of nondeployable Soldiers and heard some concerns about uniform changes. But the NCOs’ concerns were wide-ranging, and many of them were related to Soldiers’ online activity. Here are some of the other topics that came up during the Solarium.

 

Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, commander of the Combined Arms Center, told the NCOs in attendance, “We wanted your unadulterated ideas. We didn’t want to influence you with our ideas and things we’re already working on. Some of you came up with solutions we’re already working on. That validated and reinforced what we’re doing.” Other ideas, he said, were fresh and from a different perspective. All ideas will be considered and taken seriously.

Avatar-based simulations to boost counseling skills

Related Story:

By GARY SHEFTICK
Army News Service

The idea began with six-foot avatars interacting with students in a classroom, and matured into computer-based simulations to help Soldiers with counseling.

Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment software, known as ELITE Lite, can now be downloaded by Soldiers (with a CAC card) from the Army MilGaming portal at https://milgaming.army.mil/.

Soldiers can select whether they want to be a virtual officer or NCO. Then they interact with uniformed avatars that have problems ranging from disagreements with their platoon sergeant to driving under the influence and sexual harassment. Responses provided to the avatars determine the direction of the counseling sessions.

Five ELITE Lite training modules are now being used as part of cadet leadership classes at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. And the virtual scenarios may soon be part of the curriculum for junior NCOs in the Warrior Leader Course.

Leaders who go through the ELITE virtual training sit at a computer facing the virtual Staff Sgt. Jacob Garza. They will use the computer screen and mouse to choose responses to what Garza says. (Photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester, NCO Journal)
Leaders who go through the ELITE virtual training sit at a computer facing the virtual Staff Sgt. Jacob Garza. They will use the computer screen and mouse to choose responses to what Garza says. (Photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester, NCO Journal)

This new type of interactive training is the wave of the future, said Marco Conners, chief of the Army Games for Training program at the National Simulation Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Today’s training tools need to have an element of “captivation and entertainment,” he said.

“Soldiers today have grown up in a digital age,” Conners said. “Students tend to learn faster and more if you place it into an interactive game environment instead of standing up there with a butcher board.”

Simulations fill a vital need, he added.

“It’s critical that our young leaders learn how to counsel Soldiers,” Conners said. “Counseling skills help these leaders prepare Soldiers for any mission. Just as important, ELITE helps Army leaders develop to their full potential.”

Requests to develop counseling simulations came to Conners, in 2011, first from the Maneuver Training Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia. Then about a week later, the same request came from the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Only a few weeks after that, a request came from West Point.

For a solution, Conners turned to the Army Research Laboratory’s Human Research and Engineering Directorate, Simulation and Training Technology Center, or STTC, in Orlando, Florida, and the Institute for Creative Technologies, or ICT, at the University of Southern California.

The ICT had been working on a similar effort for a number of years. The ICT was a natural fit as it is a combination of computer scientists and researchers, and “there’s some Hollywood state-of-the-art stuff that they do,” he said.

ICT’s first idea was to have life-like avatars interact with students in a classroom setting. They put together a demonstration at Fort Benning’s Clark Simulation Center. The technology “floored” him, Conners said.

Soon he realized, however, that avatar classrooms would need to be built at least on 14 posts, camps and stations where the Warrior Leader Course was taught. So his team determined that computer-based avatars would make more sense.

ICT first developed three virtual scenarios: In one, a Soldier could not get along with his platoon sergeant. In another, a Soldier was bouncing checks. In the third, a Soldier had a DUI.

A team from ICT went to Fort Benning to develop the DUI scenario by interviewing Soldiers and leaders. They listened to the vernacular of how Soldiers talk.

“They captured that very, very well,” Conners said.

Then in January of this year, officials decided that perhaps SHARP-related scenarios ought to be developed. Conners contacted G-1 staffers at the Pentagon for ideas.

Two scenarios were developed with help from the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, known as SHARP, office at the Pentagon.

In the first scenario, a Soldier gets into a physical altercation with his squad leader. When the lieutenant interviews the Soldier, he finds the squad leader was making inappropriate comments about women in the squad. The Soldier couldn’t take any more, Conners said, so he took a swing at his NCO.

Orli Belman, public relations and programs manager for the Institute for Creative Technologies, holds a mirror ball in the institute’s Light Stage dome. The dome is used for facial scans to help create realistic virtual humans for Hollywood, as well as ICT’s Army projects like ELITE and SimCoach.
Orli Belman, public relations and programs manager for the
Institute for Creative Technologies, holds a mirror ball in the
institute’s Light Stage dome. The dome is used for facial scans
to help create realistic virtual humans for Hollywood, as well as ICT’s Army projects like ELITE and SimCoach.

“That’s a pretty difficult dynamic for a young lieutenant to look at,” Conners said.

In the second scenario, a young female Soldier wants a transfer because some Soldiers in the unit are making inappropriate comments about her. The lieutenant needs to figure out that a transfer is not what is really needed — what’s needed is to get a handle on the situation and stop the comments.

“Through the scenarios, ELITE teaches new leaders interpersonal communication, critical thinking and problem solving skills integral to nurturing a climate of dignity, respect and mutual trust that result in lasting cultural change where sexual harassment and sexual assault cease to exist,” said Dr. Christine T. Altendorf, director of the Army SHARP Office.

Conners said ELITE software can become a platform for other training needs.

“The beauty of ELITE Lite is not just that it will teach counseling, but you can use it for a multitude of different things,” Conners said. ELITE is a platform that can be tailored to provide training for different professionals, he said. “You can use it for doctors to inform patients that they have a terminal disease.”

ELITE Executive will eventually be developed to train specialty branches such as chaplains, doctors and lawyers, Conners said. More immediate, however, ELITE Professional will be aimed at the company level.

“We want the counseling to be at the next-higher level,” Conners said. ELITE Lite is for platoon and below. ELITE Professional will be for company-level leadership: commanders, first sergeants and platoon sergeants.

ELITE provides consistency and standardizes the counseling process, Conners said.

“When you do peer to peer (training), it’s really catch as catch can … some people take it seriously and some don’t,” he said.

ELITE, he explained, “allows Soldiers to see how counseling should be properly done.”

The ELITE content incorporates Army-approved leadership doctrine, according to the MilGaming portal. It goes on to say the software incorporates evidence-based instructional design methodologies and ICT research technologies such as virtual humans and intelligent tutoring.

The Institute for Creative Technologies, however, did not design the software alone.

Help was provided by the Army Research Lab’s Human Research and Engineering Directorate, Simulation and Training Technology Center.

Another organization in Orlando, the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, helped develop long-term logistics support for sustaining the software, Conners said.

Then the National Simulation Center team at Fort Leavenworth oversaw verification, validation and accreditation.

Verification ensures the software is stable, Conners said. Validation makes sure it can achieve the training objectives and tasks that it is trying to achieve. Accreditation is when a general officer reviews the training tool and certifies it. That was done in August by Brig. Gen. Joseph Martin, deputy commanding general of the Combined Arms Center–Training, Fort Leavenworth.

Validation of ELITE Lite involved students from both the Warrior Leader Course and Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning. Students found the virtual training helped boost their confidence and self-esteem, Conners said.

 

Related Story:

Technology + Stories = Advanced Leadership Training: Combining technology with Hollywood-style storytelling is helping the Army lead the way in the training of the next generation of leaders

From the Field: NCOs and their effectiveness as teachers

By STAFF SGT. RICH STOWELL
Utah National Guard

Delivering instruction and training is at the heart of the NCO’s role in the Army. Because leading troops and supporting operations are critical jobs for noncommissioned officers, training and mentoring never stops, even during operations. The Army’s NCOs, then, have a duty to sharpen their skills and increase their capacity as instructors throughout their careers.

Since the types of future operations aren’t certain and their challenges can’t be anticipated, we need Soldiers who can learn quickly to adapt to a variety of situations. The Army understands this. In 2011, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command published TRADOC Pam 525-8-2, The U.S. Army Learning Concept for 2015. Its stated purpose is to “re-examine the Army learning model” and propose a new one more aligned with current trends and future realities.

In the pamphlet, TRADOC proposes a “Continuous Adaptive Learning Model” with two pillars: better face-to-face instruction, and extended learning through networked technologies. The pamphlet outlines a shift from the current model designed to train a peacetime Army to a future one that:

  • is learner-centric
  • is collaborative
  • is contextual and problem-based
  • uses facilitators rather than traditional instructors
  • relies more on technology to be efficient
  • uses virtual training environments
  • finds a balance between tech-delivered instruction and high quality face-to-face interaction

Much of the new doctrine derives from recent scholarship in the field of learning science, a field that has concerned professional teachers in the civilian world for decades. The Army, too, has long been interested in effective training practices, but has suffered from two tendencies in my view. The first is a bias in favor of experience, acknowledged in the Learning Concept for 2015. The second is, as pointed out by Sean Lawson, a security studies professor at the University of Utah, that the military is an organization that has to respond to — and perform best in — crises. It is risky to employ new strategies during these high operational tempo periods, and the Army tends to avoid experimenting during these periods.

Despite its anticipation of persistent conflict, the Army has recognized the need to change its teaching model precisely in order to maintain its advantage in the spectrum of operations. NCOs will be key to effectively implementing the new model.

Good Teacher = Good NCO

An instructor counsels a student during an exercise at the NCO Academy Hawaii at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii in 2008. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii)
An instructor counsels a student during an exercise at the NCO Academy Hawaii at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii in 2008. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii)

There has been a long debate about what makes for effective teaching. With the billions of dollars that are poured into K–12 public education in the United States, valid and reliable findings about the return on that investment has interested administrators, parents and taxpayers for some time. But only recently have studies and measures been developed to answer the questions that get at the heart of what it means to be an effective teacher.

Ronald Ferguson, a senior lecturer in education and public policy at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, has made some important discoveries about how to measure teacher effectiveness. Traditionally, teachers have been evaluated by their superiors during formal observations, much like NCOs. But more recently, many are being evaluated according to their students’ performance on tests.

Ferguson wanted to know if student evaluations could be used to reliably measure teacher effectiveness. Through his own research and studies commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the evaluation tools he created predicted quite reliably what is “value added” regarding student learning. In other words, the surveys that students used to evaluate their teachers articulated the variables that indicate teacher effectiveness.

Ferguson’s measure consists of what he calls the “Seven Cs,” and just a quick description of those responsibilities shows that a good teacher is synonymous with a good NCO. They are the things good trainers must do when delivering instruction; they must: care, control, clarify, challenge, captivate, confer and consolidate.

 

Care

Caring refers to the lengths to which NCOs will go to ensure their students learn. It shows investment in their students. It is, to paraphrase the NCO Creed, placing the needs of students above the NCO’s own. “Caring goes beyond ‘niceness,’” Ferguson said. Caring teachers work hard and go out of their way to help. They signal to their students, “I want you to be happy and successful, and I will work hard to serve your best interest.”

We understand that leaders need to show compassion and the type of care that servant leadership demands. “Soldiers can sense when their leaders genuinely care about them, and this builds trust,” said retired 1st Sgt. Cameron Wesson in an October 2013 NCO Journal article. “This trust forges a bond between all and solidifies the team. That bond is all-encompassing.”

 

Control

An example of a student survey item measuring control is, “Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.” In the parlance of K–12 education, “control” means classroom management, and it is the strongest predictor of student learning, according to Gates Foundation research. Control does not refer to a kind of manipulation of behavior or restriction on choice. Rather, it refers to the appropriate channeling of classroom energies toward a particular plan. Often, classes that seem chaotic can be very well managed.

Army instructors generally have adequate classroom management. That is, they rarely have disruptive discipline violations and can spend their time and energy in the classroom on getting their students to learn, instead of managing behavior. This is an enormous advantage Army instructors have over civilian counterparts, but it comes with the responsibility of using that time and energy on increasing learning. NCOs in teaching positions, whether in a classroom or in the field, need to keep their students on-task and on-mission.

 

Clarify

Good teachers know that simply presenting information doesn’t equate to student learning. In order for students to learn, they have to understand material in their own ways, according to their own previously acquired knowledge. “Interactions that clear up confusion and help students persevere are especially important,” Ferguson said. Sometimes, this means getting multiple perspectives, but other times it means taking control.

One thing that the best teachers and instructors realize is that, though they may be experts in the content, their students probably aren’t. Indeed, instructors may have given a particular lesson or block of instruction dozens of times, but more often than not, their students are learning it for the first time. “To be most effective, teachers should be able to diagnose students’ skills and knowledge, and they need multiple ways of explaining ideas that are likely to be difficult for students to grasp,” Ferguson said.

NCOs need to break away from routine ways of explaining material and a one-size-fits-all approach to describing concepts. The new learning model recognizes that learners are individuals, with unique ways of perceiving the world. As such, NCO instructors should spend time trying to understand how students interpret course material by asking questions that check for understanding.

Research indicates that checking for understanding is most effective in the K-12 setting when teachers ask questions at least every few minutes. It is not enough to wait until a lesson break for a standardized “check on learning” that seems to come pre-packaged into every Army PowerPoint lesson. Instructors should be asking randomized questions about the material to gauge how well their presentation is going. Questioning techniques are not meant to assess the students; rather they assess whether the instructor is teaching well. The doctrine also suggests giving students more opportunities to learn in small groups, which will give students opportunities to learn from peers in a variety of ways.

 

Challenge

Just as stressing the body’s muscles in a systematic, controlled way increases physical strength, creating cognitive challenges develops thinking and results in learning. To increase the cognitive challenges during instruction, Ferguson writes that teachers “may ask a series of follow-up questions intended to elicit deeper, more thorough reasoning.”

NCOs are used to training to a standard, but the new learning model recognizes that future conflicts, enemies and rules of engagement will not be as well defined. Thus, NCOs will have to adapt their instruction to get Soldiers to think more deeply about their tasks instead of simply meeting a baseline standard.

Teachers face the same challenge. Though school curricula are often standards-driven, effective teachers differentiate. That is, they give their students different learning opportunities, allowing high-performing students to excel, while still maintaining standards for first-time or struggling learners. Likewise, Learning Concept for 2015 asserts, “Leaders and facilitators must gain an appreciation for learning differences among Soldiers in their command.”

TRADOC Pam 525-8-2 makes clear that adaptability is the new standard. The Army will need Soldiers who can think creatively and critically and who will exercise “the ability to make rapid adjustments based on a continuous assessment of the situation,” the pamphlet states. “They must be comfortable with ambiguity and quickly adapt to the dynamics of evolving operations over short and extended durations.”

Army training is full of challenges. But NCO instructors need to think about the cognitive challenges that future operations will demand, in addition to the physical challenges.

 

Captivate

Simply put, good instructors make lessons interesting. It is pretty well a settled point that engaging lessons sink in deeper and produce learning that is more enduring. The new doctrine reaffirms as much, railing against “death by PowerPoint.” We all understand this instinctively, yet how often do we rely on slide presentations as a rote exercise before we get to the “real learning?” Civilian teachers discover quickly that students don’t learn well under such uninteresting circumstances; discipline problems often skyrocket and achievement frequently plummets.

In Army training, good discipline among Soldier students masks the ill effects of poor instruction. Army instructors need to remember that a slide presentation is only a medium for learning, and is not by itself real instruction. The learning occurs through the interaction between and among NCOs and their students. “Instructional guidelines suggest a dramatic reduction or elimination of instructor-led slide presentation lectures,” the new doctrine states.

But even if NCOs are required to deliver slide presentations, there are ways they can improve them by making them more interactive: Ask questions. Make students devise questions. Get them moving. Get them acting. Put them into small discussion groups. It is good teaching and now it is doctrine. Learning Model for 2015 instructs NCOs to “provide more opportunities for collaboration and social learning.”

 

Confer

Ferguson has students rate their teachers on the following: “My teacher gives us time to explain our ideas.”

Good teachers know that students drive their own learning. Likewise, Army doctrine prescribes a learning model that gives learners opportunities to explain and share ideas. One of the more radical innovations in Learning Model for 2015 is the nod to Soldier-created content: “The 2015 learning environment is characterized by a flow of information across networks between the learner and the institution. This flow goes both ways. Learners will possess tools and knowledge to create learning content, such as digital applications, videos, and wiki updates to doctrine.”

The Army’s challenge of managing such a democratization of knowledge is beyond most NCO teacher-trainers. But the principle should be in play during classroom instruction. One technique I’ve used successfully in my classes has been to ask students to deliver mini lessons themselves. Not only does this give the class the opportunity to hear something presented in a different way, but it engages students and lets them know that their knowledge is valued.

Instructors also need to feel comfortable being challenged by their students. Finally, students need ample opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and their instructors without fear of being made to feel inadequate.

 

Consolidate

Effective teachers consolidate lesson material. Ferguson describes consolidation as practices that “include reviewing and summarizing material at the end of classes and connecting ideas to material covered in previous lessons.” Education research suggests that such activities “enhance retention by building multiple mental pathways for retrieving knowledge and for combining disparate bits of knowledge in effective reasoning,” he said. Effective reasoning is the aim of Learning Model for 2015 so that “learning transfers from the learning environment to the operational environment.”

Consolidating must be done consciously. Civilian teachers often use very short, simple assessments that connect multiple lessons, or larger projects that force students to integrate various knowledge domains. Asking students to make predictions is one way to consolidate, as are “learner trackers” that put small lessons into the context of larger courses and domains.

 

NCOs are the teachers of the Army, and teaching is one of our most important functions. The Army has explicitly recognized that knowing discrete units of information will not be sufficient in the future. Instead, Soldiers will have to learn faster and better than our future adversaries in order to maintain our advantage. It is a mistake to think that any competent NCO is good at training by virtue of their experience, because experience alone will not meet the demands of training and teaching Soldiers. Teaching is a skill like any other that may be learned and honed. Under the Army’s new learning model, NCOs who want to contribute their expertise should take opportunities to improve their teaching.

 

Staff Sgt. Rich Stowell is a broadcast journalist with the 128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Utah National Guard. He is currently deployed to Afghanistan, working in the Regional Command-South public affairs cell.

Your Soldiers are going to WLC? Here’s what they need to know

By STAFF SGT. JOSHUA D. LeBEL
7th Army NCO Academy

As NCOs, we all have attended the Warrior Leader Course. We also use our own experiences to help teach our future leaders. But because our own experiences as WLC students were a long time ago, it’s my goal to give NCOs a fresh look at how WLC is being conducted today from the eyes of an instructor. Here is some honest and upfront information about what Soldiers and leaders need to know before attending WLC:

Staff Sgt. Joel Velez, a small group leader at the NCO Academy Hawaii, instructs Warrior Leader Course students in how to plot 8-digit grid coordinates in January 2010. (Photo by Sgt. Ricardo Branch)
Staff Sgt. Joel Velez, a small group leader at the NCO Academy Hawaii, instructs Warrior Leader Course students in how to plot 8-digit grid coordinates in January 2010. (Photo by Sgt. Ricardo Branch)

1. Come prepared – Soldiers headed to WLC need to be involved with the completion of their paperwork, as errors can result in dismissal from the course. Not only do Soldiers need to have correct paperwork, they need to know about its status. Keep your Soldiers informed on what they need and get them involved in the process; after all, it is their paperwork, not yours. Paperwork isn’t the only thing; WLC has a packing list as well. NCO academies do a 100-percent layout to ensure all items are there and are serviceable. If you sign off saying you saw these items, then you must actually do the layout, too. By inspecting your Soldiers and their paperwork, it shows you care that they are prepared and sets them up for success during WLC.

2. Height/weight and the APFT – The very first evaluation your Soldier will go through is the Army Physical Fitness Test, and while instructors at WLC don’t grade harder, we don’t stray from the standard either. It is our job as leaders to enforce standards, and physical fitness should be important to all leaders. Before your Soldiers depart for WLC, you should give them an APFT and ensure they are doing their pushups and situps in accordance with FM 7-22, Army Physical Readiness Training. Too many times, we see Soldiers fail because their home units aren’t showing them what right looks like. A suggestion would be to use a PRT session to demonstrate the importance of doing these exercises correctly.

3. Don’t stress making the Commandant’s List – It is indeed a significant accomplishment to make the Commandant’s List. But it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. Students who show up and are nervous about making the Commandant’s List are often the ones who make a silly mistake and don’t make the list. They are nervous because their leadership is stressing them to the point that they do not perform well during the course. Your Soldiers need to focus on the task at hand, not their overall score. The instructors are all very knowledgeable about the material they teach. Inform your Soldiers to pay close attention to what their small group leaders are teaching them.

4. Stand out from your peers – Soldiers who do want to make the Commandant’s List need to find productive ways to stand out to their SGLs. Perception is everything, and each classroom has two SGLs has and 16 students. With an instructor-to-student ratio that low, students doing the right thing will be noticed by their SGLs. Students should participate fully in class discussions as well as project themselves during all evaluations. This will help separate them from their peers and make them stand out in the eyes of their SGL.

5. Take good notes – Soldiers attending WLC are being evaluated the entire time. By taking good notes during class and in the leadership positions they will hold, your Soldiers can stand out by showing they care about what is going on. Your Soldiers’ instructors are teaching the Army-approved curriculum from their experience. Of the instructors with whom I teach, all have been in the Army for at least 10 years and have a world of knowledge to share. Taking notes will ensure your Soldiers don’t miss the little things their instructors are trying to teach them.

6. Maintain good discipline – Though it is likely your Soldiers’ first and only time at WLC, it isn’t the first time their SGL has taught. Remind your Soldiers not to fall into peer pressure, but to have the integrity to maintain good discipline at all times. Being disciplined doesn’t just mean marching in lock step and following. If something needs correcting, your Soldiers should make the correction, and make sure their SGLs sees that they are willing to stand up and make corrections that are needed.

7. Learn land navigation skills – Land navigation is a perishable skill that even those in military occupational specialties who use it all the time need to brush up on every now and then. Your Soldiers will be tested on their land navigation skills by finding four points within three hours. Though instructors go over map reading and land navigation at WLC, if you prepare your Soldiers before they come, they will have a much smoother experience and far greater chance of passing this part of the course. If you don’t know map reading and land navigation too well, then now is the time to get into the field manuals so you can teach your Soldiers basic soldiering skills.

It is our job as NCOs to train and prepare our Soldiers for everything that the Army asks of them. Preparing Soldiers to attend WLC should be no different than preparing them for a field rotation or a deployment. Taking the time to make your Soldiers well prepared before WLC will start them off strong during the course and maximize their success. As U.S. Army Europe’s command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, said, “The Warrior Leader Course is a pivotal point in an enlisted Soldier’s career. Not only does it demonstrate what is expected out of noncommissioned officers and test your capacity to fulfill those responsibilities, it also serves as a stepping stone for you being a fit, disciplined and well-trained Soldier.”

Staff Sgt. Joshua D. LeBel is a Warrior Leader Course small group instructor at the 7th Army NCO Academy in Grafenwöhr, Germany.