The Case Method In Developing Police: "Cold Calling" Will Have to Be Unambiguous

"...I describe the kinds of mistakes human beings make, the blind alleys they follow down and the detours they take in attempting tempting to cope with such problems. But I am not concerned with thinking alone, for thinking is always rooted in the total process of psychic chic activity. There is no thinking without emotion. We get angry, for example, when we can’t solve a problem, and our anger influences our thinking. Thought is embedded in a context of feeling and affect; thought influences, and is in turn influenced by, that context." -Dietrich Dorner 

Facilitation of cases are fun and the learning that takes place by taking on the role of protagonist have a huge impact on officer effectiveness in how they solve problems. Over the years while teaching cops via the case method (decision-making exercises, tactical decision games and after action reviews), I have often asked critical questions of the class only to have silence and blank stairs, in response. The silence is deafening and the blank stairs in every direction, but the instructor (YOU). It's a tense moment that has the instructor internally asking and answering his own questions. Are these cops listening? Are they going to participate? Do they give a damn? Are they here because they want to be here or are they just here because they were told or ordered to be here? Is it something I said? Is the question in regards to the case, too tough? Did I word the question correctly? There are many more questions that run through a facilitator mind who is intent on and dedicated to teaching and developing those in the class. Quite often it is by trail and eror, experimentation and mistakes that we learn the how and why and get better at developing others.

Over the years I learned to cold call on police officers in the room. This cold call was a request to participate in the discussion that was most often accompanied by a loud booming voice "WHAT DO YOU THINK? with a fingered pointed and a stair, directly at the person. There was no mistaking to whom the request was made. Although the request most often was interpreted as an order or command. 

I found that often this method worked and worked well to generate what often turned into a full robust discussion and debate of the case with numerous lessons learned. So whenever i experienced that blank stare and deafening silence so scary to an instructor, i reverted back to the robust cold call. Then this week  Bruce Ivar Gudmundsson purveyor of The Case Method in Professional Military Education, had an enlightening piece on what he termed subtle cold calling which I found of interest: 

In January of 2018 I observed an exceptionally well-taught decision-forcing case, one in which the two instructors managed to lead an excellent Socratic conversation with no explicit cold calling.  At first I ascribed this to such things as the modest size of the class, the fact that its members were well-versed in the case method, and the skill with which the instructors had set the stage.  After discussing this with the instructors, I realized that the instructors were, indeed, employing the cold calling technique, but were doing so in an extraordinarily subtle way.

Reduced to its essence, a cold call is an invitation to speak.  (After all, the student retains the ability to pass, that is, to respond to the invitation with "regrets.")  However, there are DFC facilitators who issue such invitations in a form that is hard to distinguish from a command.  (Marvelous to say, this is particularly true of case teachers serving in the United States Marine Corps!)  Indeed, that is the approach that I take when dealing with a large class, or one in which the students are new to the case method.  However, the experience described above has taught me that, in a suitable situation, a cold call can take a much less theatrical form, one in which a booming voice and bold gestures are replaced by subtle eye contact and questions asked in a conversational tone.

My interest peaked so I reached out to Bruce who is always very accommodating and full of knowledge and told him I use cold calling in the more robust form. I like the idea of a more subtle approach at times and that i was going to try this more subtle approach to see what results it got. Bruce being open-minded and always willing to experiment and learn in an effort to become more effective responded:  "If you can, Fred, let us know how your experiment turns out. I am curious if the success with "subtle cold calling" that I experienced can be replicated." after conducting the morning and afternoon classes I wrote back:

"I just ran a morning class and used the subtle cold Call approach mixed with some old school and had one of the best classroom interactions on the cases discussed I have ever had. Ended up being almost everyone taking part in the discussion. About 40 people in class a mix of rookies and veteran guys. Pretty cool stuff it worked great. Once it started folks just joined in. The topic was combating violent extremism. Also the afternoon class on a different topic procedural justice but with he same group went on with a robust discourse without any cold calling at all. After an hour lunch the group jumped right in, once class started. The whole day was fantastic. During lunch the guys said hey loved the questions and open free flow of dialog! We cops don’t always feel this way all too often. My only difference was a lot of Socratic questioning with eye contact and a nod and an occasional old school cold call. So I guess we could call it a hybrid version but in my view it opened up the student officers." 

Bruce responded with:

"This is excellent news, Fred. It seems that the group came together nicely, moving from "subtle cold call" to "spontaneous discussion." That is the Holy Grail of case teaching." 

Police instructors often talk about how tough cops are to get engaged and take place in training discussions. I found this all too often to be true especially when you lecture at them or read off a damn PowerPoint with no enthusiasm that often accompanies very little knowledge of the topic being discussed. So who would get engaged? Your intent matters. Are you there to show your own brilliance or...are you there to harness and leverage the brilliance of those in the classroom?

I am an old dog who has been training for a lot of years but i am an old dog who is always willing t learn new tricks. Tactical decision games, after action reviews, critical question mapping and more, I have learned from mentors and adapted to the case method. I was always nervous and quite frankly scared to vary from the old school method of lecture for quite sometime. My fear was I was going to lose the cops i was training. What i found over the last 15 years however as I experimented with the case method and my hybrid approach to it is that people yes cops take more interest.

"Herakleios (610-641) collected his armies and added new contingents to them. He began to train them and instruct them in military needs. He divided the army into two and bade them to draw up battle lines and attack each other without loss of blood; he taught them the battle cry, battle songs and shouts, and how to be alert so that, even if they found themselves in a real war, they should not be frightened, but should courageously move against the enemy as if it were a game." ~From The Grand Strategy of The Byzantine Empire, by Edward Luttwak

I experimented with the subtle cold calling a second week. I taught 3 classes and two I got pretty much the same positive results as I mentioned above. The third class was a bit tougher and before I finally got engagement and a good discussion I had to use the more robust cold call method in order to generate any good discussion. It was a tough group of cops who sat and looked in dead silence initially as I asked questions. Once the direct approach kindled the discussion with their group the more subtle method took hold and the class ended up being very good. I thought about it and wondered why this group was much tougher to get going via the subtle method. The first thing that I recognized is this group did not know me well and hence I had to build a rapport with them get their respect and trust. It seemed once that happened the discourse came alive. I also wondered how much of the engagement is dependent upon the group's interest in the topic? I understand that’s part of the facilitators job to influence interest yet have noticed over the years every so often it’s a tough road with some groups.

I asked Bruce if he had any thoughts?

I think that you hit the nail on the head. The ability of a teacher to use "subtle cold calling" depends heavily upon the internal cohesion of the group. On one end of the "cohesion spectrum" are groups like the one that meets in the Gray Research Center on Thursday evenings, small groups in which the members know each other well, not only as students but also outside of class. On the other end are groups composed largely of people unknown to each other. Of course, if all goes well, the "groups of strangers" will come together. However, until they do, the "cold calling" will have to be unambiguous.

It's important for teachers, facilitators, those who develop people recognize as soon as they walk into a room, their intent has a direct impact on what happens in the classroom. when your intent is to share knowledge, you become the expert, and everyone else becomes objects, or faces with numbers assigned to them. when you walk in with the intent to create a learning experience that builds knowledge, skills and confidence in themselves is when the real learning begins.

Thanks to   for the feedback and all the work you do and share with others in an effort to make a difference. You are!

Stay Oriented!