WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Innovation was key to Air Force Global Strike Command’s first all-virtual Airman Leadership School class, ensuring professional development didn’t stall while Team Whiteman dealt with the challenges associated with COVID-19.
Forty-six Airmen graduated June 26, 2020 after a six-week course where they were prepped with the skills and tools they need to become frontline supervisors and mentors.
“Our Airmen should always be innovative,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Katie McCool, 509th Bomb Wing command chief. “Innovation drives change and produces efficiencies that enhance mission readiness. This pandemic simply accelerated innovation. The ideas were there, but in some cases the impetus for change was not. This enabled us to jump forward ideas and capture ways of doing business better for the future. Virtual ALS is just one example where we have seen success.”
Airman Leadership School aims to develop Senior Airmen into professional members of the noncommissioned officer corps who can supervise and lead work teams in the support of the employment of air, space and cyberspace.
“While this pandemic forced a lot of us to stay away from our work environments, it did not force us to stifle our growth and development,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Palmer, 509th Force Support Squadron ALS instructor. “Our new norms may be different, but our Airmen need leaders. This pandemic taught us that effective communication can carry us through any challenge we may face.”
To create this innovative way of teaching the students, the ALS cadre spent two weeks planning and practicing new methods.
“We had to change the way we asked questions,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jacques Ridore, 509th FSS ALS commandant. “Our in-residence curriculum was more of a guided discussions curriculum, but teaching everything online meant we had to implement a few more lecture-based lessons and directly ask students questions instead of letting them carry on their own conversations. We also had a Commandant’s section that allowed all the students to join and receive information given by the Commandant, senior advisor or any guest speaker.”
The virtual classroom is broken down into three flights with each student being assigned to a flight. The instructors then randomly assign students into teams daily, in order to complete group projects.
“We ensured participation by keeping a running tally on which students were answering questions and actively participating. The quiet ones were then given direct questions,” said Palmer. “We also encouraged networking between the individual flights by allowing the students to have virtual groups in which they talked about course material and helped each other better grasp the lessons.”
The students of class 20-D learned during the course that they needed to be more proactive about networking, making the time to talk after class and on the weekends.
“Innovation is the students of class 20-D learning, growing and adapting to this new normal,” said Palmer. “The lessons they learn now will pay dividends when they face adversity in the field, especially as they progress through the ranks and become our next line of senior leaders.”
Graduation for the 46 Airmen of ALS class 20-D was not a traditional ceremony where friends and family could come to support the students.
“We had the students come into the Ford Auditorium for graduation where the wing commander and command chief provided words of wisdom,” said Palmer. “They also announced the award winners. All of this was streamed live via Facebook so that friends and family members of the students could watch the newly minted supervisors be recognized.”
According to Ridore, Whiteman’s ALS team shared lessons learned about starting a 100% virtual classroom with the other school houses.
“We fielded calls and emails from school houses across the Air Force asking questions on the process,” said Palmer. “We shared our experiences and asked for feedback on better ways moving forward.”
The feedback and lessons learned within the virtual learning environment created by the cadre of the Whiteman ALS schoolhouse will ensure that they will be better prepared to meet future challenges with innovative solutions.