Multiliteracy Pedagogy in Policing


The police organization that I work for serves a diverse and rapidly growing community of over one million people.

The organization has experienced significant growth and maturation in recent years, to meet the needs of its community, and changing social dynamics. This involves entirely new communities being built, with new police facilities and a huge influx of new employees. The high levels of ethnicity within the community require a police service that is representative of the community and one that is able to deal with language and cultural differences.

In a paper published in the Harvard Educational Review, The New London Group discusses “A Pedogogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” One of the tenets of this paper is that “Multiliteracies overcomes the limitations of traditional approaches by emphasizing how negotiating the multiple linguistic and cultural difference in our society is central to the pragmatics of the working, civic, and private lives of students.” (pp. 1)

Educational programs that are designed a police organization’s needs, can help build stronger leaders, create a more effective workforce, improve the service we provide the community, and improve the end result for our stakeholders.

The purpose of this paper is to apply the theories of Multiliteracies to the ongoing training for police officers to assess the effectiveness of this approach in this context.


According to the New London Group, if it were possible to define generally the mission of education, one could say that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community and economic life (pp. 1) This is definitely true in policing. In many ways, the ongoing educating of police officers can be viewed as a type of school. Police officers start off as recruits, who need to learn a great deal about the profession that lies ahead of them – from how to write their first traffic ticket to how to engage in a life-or-death situation. Throughout the course of their careers, police officers must continue to learn and update their skills to match a constantly changing and unstable environment, technology and equipment.

Pedagogy is a teaching and learning relationship that creates the potential for building learning conditions leading to full and equitable social participation (pp. 1) Police organizations live in an environment of constant change. In my organization’s case, there is massive growth, both within the organization and our client base and geographic boundaries. There is also changing social dynamics and attitudes, crime rates, laws, governments, etc. It is crucial, therefore, to have trust amidst dynamic change and to develop resilience to thrive in change. Positive change requires letting go of old patterns and taking a fresh approach.

Recruits are in the unenviable position of having to acquire a huge amount of knowledge and a large number of skills in a very short period of time. Recruits have several months of training at the police college and then they are with a “coach” officer for several months after that. Then, they are put out in the field in a sink or swim situation. This may prove to be particularly difficult for the members of our workforce who are New Canadians and/or those for which English is a second language. I completely agree with New London Group’s assertion that “effective citizenship and productive work now require that we interact effectively using multiple languages, multiple Englishes, and communication patterns that more frequently cross cultural, community and national boundaries.” (pp. 4)

Police officers deal with many issues in the course of their day – including complex criminal investigations, emotionally charged situations, medical and emergency situations, and more violence than ever before. For these reasons, it is imperative that the training police officers receive is ongoing, and of high quality. As the New London group will attest, “as educators, we have a greater responsibility to consider the implications of what we do in relation to a productive working life.” (pp. 6)

The obvious question that arises is how can a pedagogy of multiliteracies improve the way that our officers are trained. If our officers are trained in such a way that they are able to figure out differences in patterns of meaning from one context to another with regard to cultural, gender, life experience, languages – then they will be able to apply their training better in a cross-cultural environment. This training needs to be multimodal, integrating oral, visual, audio, gestural, and behavioural meaning into the program.

The New London Group argue that “the multiplicity of communications channels and increasing cultural and linguistic diversity in contemporary society calls for a ‘much broader view of literacy than portrayed by traditional language-based approaches’.” (pp.12) This holds true in the context of police training. This ‘broader view’ points the way towards the need for education designed with a goal of decoding new modes of information. New London proposes a metalanguage that supports language and other semiotic systems to “identify and explain difference between texts, and relate these to the contexts of culture and situation in which they seem to work.” (pp. 16) Police work is an exacting profession. The police are asked to control crime, maintain order, and provide an intricate array of services, from responding to emergency 911 calls to regulating the flow of traffic. On occasion, they must perform remarkable feats of criminal investigation, control rowdy crowds and violent offenders, and put their lives on the line. In the midst of all this excitement, officers are also required to write complex reports and interact with members of the public while problem-solving. In this regard, officers are continually immersed in situated practice (one of the four components of pedagogy scenarios where they must be capable of playing multiple and different roles based on their backgrounds and experience. Consequently, a pivotal part of an officers’ training involves a coach officer to mentor and guide their learning process. The other three components of pedagogy are equally as important as situated practice. These include overt instruction, critical framing and transformed practice.


The New London Group (1996). “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures”. Harvard Educational Review 66(1), pp. 60-92

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