Old Dogs Teaching New Tricks

By Vandergriff, Donald E. | Army, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Old Dogs Teaching New Tricks


Vandergriff, Donald E., Army


Adaptive Leaders Course Part 2 of 2

This article concludes a series on the Adaptive Leaders Course (ALC) learning model. It focuses on the centerpiece of the ALC, teachers of adaptability, and includes discussion of the certification process and implementation of tools teachers can use to develop adaptability.

Imparting adaptability to students begins with great teachers. Individuals who qualify for these important roles in an Adaptive Leaders Course are teachers of adaptability, They are constantly updating and preparing new challenges to their students through a rigorous study of the latest lessons as they apply to the profession of arms. Teaching cognitive skills involves exposing students to new ideas, encouraging experimentation with theories concerning what works and does not work and the ability to learn, evaluate and assess.

There is an art to teaching. In the Army, it requires an understanding of war, proficiency in the technical aspects of the profession of arms, good leadership, imagination and patience. The goal of a true teacher is to prepare students to be better problem solvers than the teacher.

The role and methods of teachers are different in an ALC than in the Army's traditional teaching model. In an ALC, students are evaluated through various mission scenarios, each with different conditions. Learning through many scenarios depends on a teacher's ability to implement increasingly difficult unit tasks into the program of instruction (POI), which constantly exposes students, individually and collectively, to tasks they have never seen. Rather than getting wrapped around the task, teachers should introduce and show students how the task fits into solving the larger problem. Indeed, a better term would be to say students become "familiar" with most tasks instead of spending an incredible amount of time becoming "trained" (qualified) in any particular one.

A successful teacher in an ALC will know how to teach, facilitate, mentor and evaluate adaptability. How the Army certifies the leaders it chooses to teach these courses is critical to the success of the ALC. This goes far beyond today's demand that instructors must master certain tasks or earn certification as instructors by passing an online course consisting of multiple-choice questions.

Certainly teachers must understand individual tasks, but their knowledge cannot be made up of only the ability to reinforce memorization of how to perform a certain task. Teachers of adaptability must understand the threads of knowledge that allow combat leaders to choose the appropriate number and type of tasks and how to combine these individual tasks as part of more complex tasks in order to solve the challenges they will encounter in an asymmetric warfare environment. More difficult, instructors must also understand theories and how to experiment to solve unknown or unfamiliar problems that might arise in the classroom or on the battlefield.

Currently, the Army Instructor Training Course, also known as Instructor Qualification Course, which certifies many of the Army's instructors, is dominated by a linear format that includes "how to" briefings on putting together lesson plans, schedules and calendars, all of which are focused on task proficiency. Selection of individuals to be Army instructors is usually based on the need to fill a slot, which in today's personnel system is not considered career enhancing. If the personnel system fails to provide the necessary resources for leader-centric courses, including the best and brightest individuals as instructors, the ALCs value will be limited.

Certification for an ALC begins with the selection of those individuals who initially demonstrate the potential to teach adaptability. As a learning organization, the Army needs to rank the importance of teaching at any course using the ALC model as second only to commanding or leading soldiers. The feeling among Army leaders should become: If I am not leading or commanding troops, then teaching at an ALC is the next best option.

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