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Barnes Center rolls out new ALS curriculum

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Courtesy graphic

Courtesy photo

Airman Leadership School students conduct presentations as part of the new curriculum April 24, 2019, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. (Courtesy photo)

Courtesy photo

Airman Leadership School students conduct presentations as part of the new curriculum April 24, 2019, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. (Courtesy photo)

Courtesy photo

Airman Leadership School students conduct presentations as part of the new curriculum May 2, 2019, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. (Courtesy photo)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

When pencils go down and scores go up, senior airmen across the Air Force check to see their line number. Out of thousands, a name they recognize as their own shows up and, when the dust they kicked up from clicking their heels finally settles, a unit first sergeant, commander or supervisor lets them know when they’ll be headed to Airman Leadership School.

Academic experts at the Barnes Center took a look at the ALS curriculum and decided a new, modernized plan was overdue. Several of the more than 60 Airman Leadership Schools around the world are currently testing the course ahead of the Air Force wide release on June 5, 2019.

“We’ve completely rebuilt the curriculum,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Heming, Barnes Center for Enlisted Education instructional systems designer. “We sought input from officers, enlisted of all grades and sister services. We looked at what 21st century Airmen need to get out of ALS and molded a new curriculum around those ideas. We wanted to find the right balance between education and training, so we removed a few things that are handled at the unit level like bullet writing and feedback.”

Among other changes were the removal of the final exam, various written assignments and marching. These were replaced with four graded performance tasks and a capstone simulation at the end. The new course relies heavily on student research and student-led discussions, emphasizing creative problem-solving, communication and an openness to other perspectives.  These concepts are rooted in the four “universal outcomes” of PME: the mission, leadership, problem solving and Air Force culture.

“We, as PME instructors, are educators,” said Tech. Sgt. Dan Sims, Maxwell Air Force Base ALS instructor. “We only have students in our classroom for roughly four weeks, so we are focused on giving the Airmen the leadership skills and knowledge they will need to be successful leaders in their career field.”

Lessons revolve around discussion, group exercises and are student-centered. Instructors facilitate the conversation, ensuring it stays on task, leaning on relevant experiences from the students.

“After teaching for two years, it’s a very new delivery method,” said Sims. “It’s great to see lesson concepts linked together by the students without me having to guide them directly to the connection. The conversation is more positive and relatable for them.”

As part of the pool of bases in the initial trial, Maxwell AFB Airmen have received a first-hand look at the new curriculum.

“My favorite part of the course has been the open discussion,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Gilson, Maxwell AFB ALS student. “I get to speak my mind and see things from different perspectives. We’re taught the concept and talk about it and, with the exam being gone, we won’t be just studying to ‘brain dump’ as soon as the test is over. Having the capstone [simulation] instead means we’ll have to use what we learned.”