“The Learning Zone;” No Excuses, No Embarrassment!

A seldom discussed, but critical component of learning any skill is accepting responsibility for your errors. I was very young learning to fly, and this was certainly an important lesson I had to learn (in addition to that rudder/aileron stuff). I distinctly remember my caring, but very honest, CFI commenting – “Now we are getting somewhere” – when I finally confessed, “The problem here is me, but I will get better at this.” Taking responsibility right from the start creates a more productive learning environment; no excuses, just “honest errors.” Every CFI has heard a thousand (damaging) excuses that only delay (or prevent) the process of learning. The learner is both the product and the problem that needs to improve. Errors suck, but we all are going to make plenty of them before we improve (by definition). It is critical to accept this and own your mistakes.

“Things get more refined as you make mistakes… I’ve had a chance to make a lot of mistakes,” Jobs said. “Your aesthetics get better as you make mistakes.” Steve Jobs on value of mistakes.

Jobs viewed mistakes as an opportunity to learn and refine. You miss 100% of the pitches if you do not stand up to the plate and take a swing.

Successful people see mistakes not as failures, but as opportunities. The key is to recognize, define and accept mistakes, turning them into something “really great.”

Every educator with more than a few hours has watched this wrestling match between the learner and their (occasionally sizable) ego. For many flight lessons, there are really three entities even in a two-place aircraft: the learner, the coach, and that persistent obstacle to all learning: the ego. A compassionate CFI can make this much easier, however, by immediately acknowledging this struggle and forgiving the many failures. That is how learning works. We need an honest, emotionally safe environment in which to practice, struggle, discover, and ultimately learn. It all starts with trust.

The desire to be perfect right away is a failure in itself. It’s a toxic expectation! Thought Catalog

To create this productive learning environment, every CFI must initiate an honest discussion about these issues at the very beginning of training. Setting the stage by creating a relationship of trust allows learners to assume personal responsibility. This eliminates the tense and toxic environment of blame and embarrassment; we all suck initially (by definition). The struggle of learning is hard enough without adding emotional baggage that inhibits and prolongs the learning process.

“It is OK to suck at this, everyone does initially! If you already knew what you were doing, there would be no purpose of having an educator here to help.

My job is to facilitate your learning, one step at a time and provide a safe learning environment. There is occasionally struggle here, but there should be no embarrassment. I did exactly the same things you are doing once too;  struggled, stumbled, but ultimately succeeded.

When this process is done, you will be an entirely confident and competent pilot. As an educator, I should ultimately become superfluous, and we should still be good friends, or at least never enemies.”

A trusting “learning zone” environment not only creates more efficient learning but also makes the process fun instead of tense. Add some humor and appropriate praise and your learner’s progress (and motivation) will soar. Fly safely out there (and often!)

SAFE members (and friends) are invited to our Gala Dinner at AirVenture, Thursday, July 27th. Join us on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. Enjoy tenderloin medallions or broiled salmon (with a veggie option available). Included in one price is a choice of dessert and two drinks from the bar. Tickets are online now. Barry Knuttila (CEO/CFI/ATP) from King Schools will be speaking on challenges in modern flight training.

Author: David St. George

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

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