By Anthony Simones, JD, PhD
Before I entered the field of judicial education a little less than a year ago, I spent the previous twenty years as a college professor. Teaching was something I had to learn on my own, through trial and error. I would have profited enormously from guidelines and suggestions of the type provided in these materials.
My lack of experience and expertise in this field was made painfully obvious as I embarked upon this endeavor. As I started reading the materials, my first reaction was that examples should be provided. I then discovered that excellent examples were provided. I considered the examples and determined that they would be even better if they were expanded upon with the introduction of each new topic. I then discovered that this Curriculum Design did precisely that.
It was at this point that I faced the humbling realization that I probably have nothing earth-shattering to add at this early point in my judicial education career. Thus, most of my observations will come in the form of praising what is presented, rather than suggesting what needs to be added.
I will have to say that the entry-level content was more meaningful to a relative newcomer such as myself. In fact, I wish I would have been provided this assignment nine months ago, because reading the curriculum resource provided an excellent understanding of the foundational aspects of judicial education. I am probably the perfect audience to attest to their value for new members of the profession.
One of the elements that I appreciated was the manner in which the preferred model was presented. Rather than simply state, “We the experts have concluded that this is the way it should be done,” I liked how the preferred model was presented in the context of other approaches. At first, I questioned the presentation of the other ideas that would be discounted, but their presence enhances the credibility of the preferred model.
Another element I liked about the materials was their comprehensiveness, covering every stage of the process, from the point at which an idea is being considered to the development of a program and culminating in the ways to evaluate the success of the program. This step-by-step examination is a resource that is worth its weight in gold.
Yet another aspect of the materials I liked was that it did not utilize a “one size fits all” approach. It presents options and allows judicial educators to make the call about which approach works best.
I like the way the material is presented, a fantastic combination of principles, concepts, examples, and helpful hints. Whether it is an examination of the pros and cons of different teaching methodologies and course structure or a presentation of charts dealing with learning objectives, resources and participant activities, these materials offer a multitude of relevant insights.
A number of crises in courthouses throughout Missouri in recent months has demonstrated the need for clerks in supervisory positions to receive more effective training. It has fallen on me to design this course. The ultimate compliment I can pay to the NASJE materials is that I will rely upon them extensively in creating this course.
The experienced-level material was more difficult for a number of reasons.
First of all, there is the obvious factor that this material deals with a level of complexity that my program has yet to achieve. Not only am I new to the field, we as a judicial education department are facing the “political issues” mentioned in the materials and battling with judges over the direction of education.
Thus, some aspects of these materials, such as learning domains and schema models, seemed beyond my level of expertise at this point. On the other hand, there were any number of subjects covered in this material that seemed very useful, including the example of the instructional design associated with the Ethics course. In addition, the activities associated with the hypothetical input from the state court administrator were very enlightening, putting the reader in the position of having to use the material that had been presented.
Anthony Simones has been the Manager of Judicial Education in Missouri for almost a year. Holding a JD and PhD from the University of Tennessee, Dr. Simones has been a professor of government, law and criminal justice at Missouri State University, Columbia College, and Dalton State College. He is the recipient of the Missouri Governor’s Award for Teaching Excellence and is a three-time nominee for the Carnegie Foundation’s United States Professor of the Year.