Instructor Enrichment Program (IEP)
Apache Solutions Firearms Training
I was able to attend an invite-only, beta-test of Apache Solutions Firearms Training’s new instructor level course during November.
This course is aptly named the Instructor Enrichment Program (IEP) as opposed to an instructor certification course.
Unlike some of the certification mills out there, IEP does not bestow an instructor certification on anyone at the end of this course. Instead, it is a three-day “enrichment” session, intentionally designed to grow and enhance the skills of those teaching in the firearms world.
I naturally went into the IEP with high hopes while also skeptical due to having been to multiple instructor level courses, finding many to either just be certificate mills and/or full of supervised shooting drills that show little of one's ability to teach or to develop and motivate lasting skill in others.
The higher hopes were because I’d casually gotten to know the Apache staff at two National Conferences where we’d jointly taught and had watched them online for several years, both of which caused me to hold them in great regard. The thought was that if they could have an instructor level course that matched them as the solid, skilled people I’d come to know, then their IEP was likely worthwhile.
The IEP started the usual way with introductions, safety brief, etc., and also by immediately turning in pre-course homework that had been assigned ahead of time.
It was good to see the class was almost a 50/50 split between ladies and gents, instead of the usual male-heavy gun class. The invited attendees were impressive, and as the dedicated gun world isn’t huge, I personally knew or had heard of a decent portion of them.
A comprehensive student workbook was provided and the Apache guys gave a breakdown of how the IEP grading would be conducted, which had already started based on the mandated, pre-course video submission and more.
There were many impressive moments, and how the IEP grading is quite varied caught my attention, with the final aggregate score dependent on ten domains with differing weights.
The biggest scoring issue I appreciated was it could not be personality or personally driven by the instructors, meaning that if one or more of the Apache staff didn’t personally like a particular student, or really, really liked one, the scoring system took almost all pro vs. con bias out of the scoring system.
Clearly, a lot of thought and experience had gone into their grading system and I was determined to steal as much of that as possible in my own future endeavors as I train trainers.
The first two days were broken down into half classroom sessions, with the other half range time. The final day was all on the range.
The classroom time was well thought out, put together by presenters who knew their subjects beyond just what they were presenting, and was well delivered. I always enjoy watching and learning how others speak and communicate bigger ideas – not just the subjects taught by an expert but also how a good speaker and teacher communicates – and I took copious notes of both their topics and the delivery styles that were notable for emulation. The classroom topics progressively built on each other, as good training should.
On the range, the Apache shooting metrics and drills, some of which were familiar and others that were not and seemed unique to their training program, made sense for this entry level instructor course. The shooting tests were solid enough that one actually has to be able to shoot, instead of simply having a lucky day on the range.
One of their drills, created by Apache’s Dan Brady, was rather unique with an approach to a shooting training problem I’ve tried to solve multiple ways, but Dan's version was the best I’ve ever seen, done in a way that now causes me to kick myself for not having thought of it before. It was simplistically brilliant…one more thing I’ll flat out steal from the Apache guys. Unfortunately for those not present, we were all sworn to secrecy on what the drill is and how it was conducted until more people experience it for themselves in the IEP.
The IEP also incorporated an anonymous grading system from fellow students of the individual student presentations. These accompanied the Apache staff’s grading towards the overall score.
This fellow student grading system used a simple but effective scale that balanced out those who grade too harshly or not realistic enough. It was notably good…one more idea that is going to be stolen and mimicked within my own instructor development courses.
When I asked where they came up with this grading idea, I found out it was an idea they had come up with on their own. Uniquely creative within this industry isn’t common so it was easy to appreciate this idea.
At the end of each student’s presentation, above and beyond the anonymous grading, each student who'd just presented was pulled aside privately for a discussion with the Apache personnel about the staff’s perceptions of the presentation.
Then, time was given for the fellow students to point out growth needed or what was praiseworthy, after which, the student was also given an opportunity to point out personal growth areas they noted during their own presentation.
This constant group and self evaluation throughout the entire course was efficiently run and needed, and I noted that as we all became more familiar with each other, the varied comments became more pointed yet well-received by the open-minded students, since the tone established by Apache personnel from the beginning was consistent as constructive and instructional.
Another notable item: Apache had a quiet, scowling monitor who was hawkishly watching and grading….them. The entire time. I watched many notes being taken and enjoyed a grim smile or five just knowing those boys were constantly on the hot seat as much as we students.
Yep, the Apache guys were being graded throughout the entire course, and I suspected the grading on our instructors wasn’t going to be easy. This is something that is more needed in our industry, and it was instructional as I realized I wanted more of such accountability within my own organization.
Clearly, they (Apache) weren’t just going to be honest with us, the students, about their perceptions of our performance but they were also doing their level best to be honest amongst themselves about their own performance.
Our industry could use more of such critical self-examination and honesty. We, as an industry, would be much better with far more of that. One more thing to be stolen and used within my own training company.
On the range, we were partnered up with another student Apache had pre-selected before the course started, with the idea we’d have three days to really get to know each other and become quickly comfortable coaching or learning from each other.
For those attending the IEP in the future, cross your fingers that you get partnered with someone who is a solid shooting diagnostician with a coach’s heart, and you will have an opportunity to learn a ton that way.
At the end of the IEP, we received a Certificate of Achievement or a Certificate of Completion.
The CoA was based on achieving a total aggregate score of 90% or above, and as Tim Kelly described it, such a score demonstrated what Apache found to be a high level of overall skill as a well-rounded instructor demonstrated by the student.
Honestly, the scoring criteria was stringent enough that I fleetingly worried I might not have “Achieved” and was gratefully relieved to find that word on the graduation certificate.
The graduation certificate had the ten cumulative scores listed on the back, along with the overall score.
I appreciated such a layout, which allowed the students to portray their certificate on one side without all the graded scores listed on the front.
This isn’t a comparison course, but instead a personal growth course and that mere detail helped emphasize that goal behind the IEP’s intent.
Because this was a beta test, Tim had requested feedback from the course itself. He sincerely wanted an honest take on the class, both the good and the bad, a mark of being open to betterment of the course, even at the risk of criticism and without concern for ego.
We spoke several weeks later and ended up on the phone for at least an hour or more. It is refreshing when someone is sincerely open, and I was able to give my honest assessment. It was both glowing and also had areas where changes or improvements made sense to me. We debated back and forth on a couple areas because boys like a good fight, and we also agreed on much. Tim also laid out areas he and the Apache crew had already identified to be changed based on their internal review of the beta test.
It was refreshing how determined he was to continuously evolve the IEP and how welded he clearly is to grow its worthiness so it can be transformational for those who attend.
When someone is so dedicated to growth – as the Apache crew evidently are, the results always ultimately prove it out, and this excellent instructor level course is quickly going to become renowned as top flight.
There are a handful of instructor level programs that should be on the list of every serious firearms instructor and Apache Solutions IEP is solidly among those.
We in the firearms community should constantly be helping others find better and grow wherever excellence is found, so in that light, I urge others to spend the time, effort and resources to be a student soon in the Instructor Enrichment Program.
Worthwhile enrichment will happen.
Founder, Defenders USA