Use It or Lose It

As a rookie university police officer, I attended my first police academy. Only half of us were able to graduate from the rigorous and demanding three month program to move to the next step of learning how to apply what we had learned under actual conditions. One four - hour block of instruction was designed to teach us sign language in case we needed to communicate with hearing impaired persons during an emergency. The instructor stressed that we would need to practice what we learned if we had any hope of being able to apply it under field conditions. I practiced signing the entire alphabet when I went jogging each day, but I never had occasion to use sign language. After several months had passed, I stopped practicing.

Loss for words

About a year later, I was called to meet with a group of upset individuals and upon my arrival, I found that every member of the group was hearing impaired. As I strained to remember how to sign, the already agitated group grew even more frustrated. Upon experiencing my poor excuse of communication, I was only able to tell them that I could sign slowly. After I signed that, I was at a loss and finally resorted to using my pen and notepad to communicate. Finally, a gentleman arrived who was not hearing impaired and could sign properly. When he explained to the group that I had been taught how to sign in the police academy, but had not kept up my practice, a flurry of signing erupted amid laughter from the group. The tension of the situation was broken and I was able to help resolve the original problem - the group had scheduled the use of a room for a meeting, and someone from the university had dropped the ball, leaving the group without a meeting space. When I asked what the group had been laughing about, I was informed that a member of the group had commented“use it or lose it” when he learned that I had been trained on sign language only to allow my skills to lapse. Though it was embarrassing at the time, the episode taught me a valuable lesson. The information we receive through formal training, education, reading and daily interaction with others is only as powerful as our application of what we learn. This lesson is also very applicable to seminars and other communications of school safety information.

Astute students

I teach a powerful program on weapons concealment and detection. I routinely receive feedback from former attendees who have been able to avert planned school shootings and have recovered guns and other weapons using the information they have learned. I often relate their successes during my presentations to demonstrate to attendees that the information I am presenting is only as powerful as their use of what they have learned. One example that I use involves a school psychologist who stopped an armed robbery at a grocery store because she noticed that a man was carrying a concealed handgun. By practicing what she learned in the class, she not only stopped an armed robbery, but she also received a $50 gift certificate! At a recent conference in Texas, a participant in one of my sessions related to me the most impressive success story to date. He attended one of my sessions in Oklahoma City three years ago and began immediately spotting armed students. In fact, his observations have since led to the recovery of 52 pounds of edged weapons from students. He mentioned that no one in the district previously had any idea that students carried so many weapons and that his colleagues were astounded at his ability to detect them. He tried to tell them how simple the techniques are, but they still continue to believe he has a unique talent. As a pleasant side note, he also reported that the district promoted him to safety coordinator! By listening and applying what he learned at a conference, he has not only dramatically improved the level of safety in his schools, he was rewarded with a higher salary and a position that he finds to be even more rewarding than his previous position.

Attentive advocates

Some say that information is power. Motivational speaker Brian Tracy contends that information is“potential power” and that is the application of information through action that is power. It tears my heart out when I hear of a child’s death in a school that could have been easily averted if the right people in the school had been exposed to and utilized the right information. Information contained in articles, videos and training sessions, has been used to prevent accidental and violent deaths on campus. But the information that is available to protect our children is only as good as its application. You would not have read this column if you were not concerned for the safety of your students and staff. The trick is to be sure to use what you have learned over the years to be the best you can be at what you do. The safety of our schools depends on it.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at