CFIs Become “Aviation Educators”!

To me, the FAA term “instructor” always seemed too narrowly focused -and limiting- given the depth of the responsibilities we have in transforming people’s lives. “Instructor” sounds more suitable to the steps of a recipe used to bake a cake; do this, this and this and presto-it’s finished! In aviation we are engaging creative and motivated humans at a very high level and transforming lives. Especially now, with the ACS adding the “soft skills” of risk management and judgment into the previously limited PTS “wiggle the stick,” the term “educator” seems much more appropriate for what we do. (and is it any wonder that a “flight instructor” would miss the proven benefits of simulation, briefings and ground instruction?) Hopefully, this more comprehensive title will be chosen for the new FAA ACS for aviation educators due out in June 2019.

The term “instructor” was more harmonious with the ancient FAA book I learned from in the 1980s. We humorously referred to this guidance as “good dog, bad dog” because of it’s narrow vision to “behavioral change” in student pilots. The new FAA manuals are refreshingly modern and comprehensively address the whole human spectrum of learning styles and needs. Thanks in large part to the Pilot Training Reform Symposium and the hard work of many dedicated people, we have evolved and outgrown the limited term “instructor” and become “aviation educators”.

“Education” is a more collaborative process and larger vision, involving the whole human experience where we work together and change entire lives. “Instruction” implies a one-way channel of imparting knowledge in rote steps with an authoritarian structure. As “educators” we embrace as our guidance a much deeper body of professional wisdom involving empathy and compassion. A favorite book of mine that captures this process and inspires excellence in educators is “How People Learn” from the National Academies Press. This book is available FREE as a pdf download or free to read online.  It is so much richer and more comprehensive than our outdated FOI with it’s 100 year old “Laws of Learning.” An additional solid resource is the Harvard Classic “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” By Chris Argyris. We encounter this enigma of highly intelligent, yet difficult learners all the time; crack the code with this book!

As “aviation educators” we are part of a larger and inspiring consortium of professionals. I see too many CFIs limit their professional vision to instructing AOA and a dance card of rote procedures to be copied and mastered. Our ultimate challenge is really connecting with and motivating some endlessly unique learners. We have the difficult mission of inspiring both excellence and lifetime learning in our future pilots. Embrace this challenge and grow from good to great. Fly safe out there (and often).

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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

6 thoughts on “CFIs Become “Aviation Educators”!”

  1. David – insightful as always. Indeed one of the things that fascinated me in my early years as a CFI was the transformative nature of this process; learning to fly. I noticed that often the barrier to first solo was a psychological one. For many people, soloing an airplane is the first time they have taken 100% complete responsibility for their own lives. Nobody is going to land the airplane but you! And belief in oneself and ones abilities to keep the corporal unit safe, has to be in place for it to happen. Being the facilitator of this process of growth and adaptation is a wonderful gift to those equipped to appreciate it. I believe that learning to fly is part knowledge acquisition, but mostly personal growth combined with physical adaptation. Through these processes we gain airmanship and skill. Helping others who are interested in our passion, flying, to grow and adapt to this new world is a marvelous experience. I agree, “instructor” doesn’t really describe it very well.

    1. Well said Charle. The “personal growth” element has always fascinated me. The best pilots seem to get that and thrive on learning. We who fly are a blessed few though.

  2. Great article as always David. I think the basics should always be taught. But we, as instructors, have to teach them in a different way. Instructors are playing to a different crowd these days. One thing that I have always believed is that instructors have to have “people skills” as well as flying skills. A lot of the new instructors I see these days just have “me skills”. By this I mean- they are thinking ,”what can my students do to advance the time in my logbook”..

    1. Thanks Donnie, the “people skills” are definitely undervalued. Most drop outs emphasize a lack of caring and concern resulting in little “value” for the time, effort and money invested. Focusing on the educational process and the personal relationship will lead to much efficiency and greater success.

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