Instructing without instructing


With the stroke of a pen, that shiny new temporary CFI paper certificate is a ticket to the world.  All that hard work and money spent has now come to fruition and you’ll be able to finally make a buck doing what you’ve dreamed of.  It truly is an awesome experience to pass the CFI exam and start instructing, because that’s where the real learning picks up.  You immediately see things that you did, or your instructors did “wrong” (obviously it was good enough to get you a certificate, lol) and you’re ready to go set the world on fire by taking all your fresh knowledge and pumping it directly into your students dream filled heads.

Ahhh, the cycle continues.  With every fresh batch of CFI’s and new students there are mentor/student interactions that play out, some to the advantage of everyone involved, some to their disadvantage.  With all of the initial CFI instruction I’ve had the privilege of giving over the past few years, I’ve picked up on, and hopefully passed on some bits of knowledge.  See, my background and intro to flight training was a bit different.  I started flying and also went to work in the hangar where I worked for several years in maintenance, all while watching the dance of instructor / student play out as flights were briefed, dispatched, recovered, and de-briefed.  Listening to instructors at different stages of experience and literally having years to watch the cycles and patterns repeat.

Recently I’ve had some time to finally pen some of these observations and formulate them into a more coherent set of thoughts which will be presented as blog articles in the CFI’s Toolbox portion of this site.

Usually I get my CFI candidates after they have flown with some of the other guys a while.  They have been going over the maneuvers guide from the left seat (helicopter CFI side) and they have been teaching lesson plans etc.. which is all very good stuff. We meet in my office and I start with “right then, how did you FEEL about your primary instruction?”  This usually sets them back and they give me that look like they will be in trouble if they sell out their primary CFI.  In fairly short order, they will have drawn up a list of pros and cons as it relates to their training in their private (primacy is a very important principle).  I then ask them what they would do differently than their instructor did and we write those results down.  Then we set that aside for later.  There is a point to this I promise 🙂

Then we draw three columns on the board.  On the left we title it “where you are at”.  In the center, we title it “roadblocks”.  On the right we title it “where you want to be”.  We fill it in either based upon their current situation, or a hypothetical student situation.  It’s a pretty short list, for example.  Currently they hold a rotorcraft helicopter commercial certificate and they want to get to a CFII level.  Roadblocks can be lots of things like money, life stress, time, work, etc…  So now we have a list of things they want to do differently, and a whiteboard with a good visual of the process of progress to meet their goals.

I have them quickly list off all of the things that a flight instructor can affect in the roadblocks column and its usually just a couple things.  The whole point of this is to make them realize that as a CFI, you can only affect a small piece of the whole process.  And in order to really do the best job with that small influence will actually take a lot of thought and skill.

Back to observing instructors whose students have consistently good results.  Here are things that I witness consistently among this group:

  • They spend more time listening than talking to their students
  • They truly understand and use the 4 levels of learning from the FOI.
  • They do not continue doing the same thing over and over, if it doesn’t work after a few tries they try something different.
  • They do not “throw a lot” of tasks at their students only to watch them routinely fail, they build confidence in their student by allowing them to master tasks one at a time.
  • They are kind and empathetic toward their students life situations and personal struggles.
  • They do not “teach”, they work to provide a safe, secure environment where the student can learn at their own pace.
  • They stick to a standard set of maneuvers for primary and even commercial instruction instead of stroking their own egos by spending the students time and money presenting lots of their own “Opinions” on how to perform some task.
  • They are more of a life coach than a flight instructor.  Or maybe they are good flight instructors because they understand people.
  • They work on their own skills so that when the time comes to demonstrate a maneuver they can show their student what good flying looks like.  Not to show off, but to encourage their students and show them that it THEY will get there soon.

Essentially all this adds up to is that instructors who teach without teaching don’t spend a lot of their energy talking AT their students and trying to stress them out by “pushing” them hard.  They create a peaceful, safe environment for their student to learn at their own pace, and then as the student progresses, they give them more tasks.  When you observe it in practice, everyone looks happier, and the bottom line is that the student will spend less money and time while gaining more skill out of the entire process.

The concept of teaching without teaching is a tough one to put across.  Unfortunately in the process of developing a flying career some may have to instruct even though it really isn’t their passion or forte.  This doesn’t mean at all that you have to settle for giving poor or average quality instruction.  Remember, in this small industry, you may be applying for a job with one of your former students someday and you want to know that you did the best you could for them.

It takes a significant amount of knowledge and skill to pass the CFI oral/practical, but that isn’t the end of it.  I encourage everyone to keep working and also to move away from the teacher / student concept to the more experienced student / student concept because that is what is really going on in the cockpit.

Keep the whirly bits up – Johnny


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