New CFI…Congrats! License to Learn!

It was an honor to present during the Redbird Migration this week at AOPA. The message is critical to growing aviation and keeping us all safe: A newly certificated CFI (and all FAA certificates) only demonstrated the “minimum viable product” to earn this rating and needs more growth and seasoning to be truly functional. This is why Canada’s Class Four (new) CFI cannot legally teach without direct supervision and it takes a Class One to teach another CFI. The US is much more permissive.

All certificates granted by the FAA work this way- you now have only the bare minimums; just like “one mile, clear of clouds” or the “91.205 -required flight instruments.” If you just earned that CFI please remember, you have only an airspeed, altimeter and compass, so don’t charge into heavy weather.

Bridging the experience gap is the mission of SAFE, helping a new CFI “grow from good to great”and  building educational excellence. Please  join us, use our resources freely and get a mentor to build your skills. If you are an employer or flight school, use our resources and people. The critical piece is the awareness and agreement to embrace wise limits and stay humble; you start as an apprentice. With a new certificate at any level, embracing humility helps us learn daily in so many ways. And we have amazing resources at SAFE to help you. One of our board members has been a DPE for 41 years -more hours and years than most of us have even flown airplanes!

Wayman and Zoan at Redbird Migration

In a perfect world each new CFI goes to work for an experienced and watchful Chief CFI to bridge this gap and become  a truly effective educator. But we know this does not always happen. Mentoring, either locally or through SAFE, is the only other solution to improving and growing. We heard this same message again and again during Migration but one school owner (who manages 35 CFI-employees) boils this advice down to some simple guidance: “initially, CFIs can be pretty weak, but with a good ‘learning attitude’ and careful mentorship, they improve faster than you can believe.” And that is exactly what SAFE is here for; we help CFIs bridge the gap to become excellent educators. We need to cooperate on this to fix the 80% drop out rate and make stronger, safer pilots.

An important first step is to go beyond the inaccurate name “flight instructor” and embrace “aviation educator.” I know I beat this up in a previous blog, but in truth, we primarily educate people on the ground in a calm environment before and after each flight. (And we also teach in Redbirds or in front of a class of students) In the aircraft, we should be primarily reinforcing what we already presented on the ground where a brain can focus and learn effectively. In flight we allow our pilot in training to try out the new learning, make some mistakes and self-correct. In flight we provide a safe environment and gentle guidance. A good CFI is coaching very carefully not controlling.

I was fortunate to meet an expert in this technique this week at Redbird Migration. Mike McCurdy runs the celebrated IFR6 and Charleston Flight School. At his school, all initial exposures to every maneuver- from taxiing to landing – is introduced in his Redbird. Just as revealed in The Talent Code, guided repetition in the “struggle zone” builds proficiency, precision and good habits before subsequent reinforcement in the aircraft. Only after there is some demonstrated control and mastery does the pilot in training calibrate each maneuver in a real aircraft.

If you aren’t blessed with a Redbird, this same technique works in a plane but requires restraint and very careful pacing. Most CFIs attempt to cover too much too quickly in a misguided effort to be “efficient” and “progress rapidly” (I did this too originally). The result is a mess of half-learned maneuvers and lots of confusion (and ultimately slower progress). It is essential to patiently assure mastery at every basic level before moving on to more complicated maneuvers (oh yeah, wasn’t that somewhere in the FOI?)

And pace is surely very personal. I have completed several private pilots in 35 hours (Part 141) but they were especially gifted (also amazingly dedicated and lucky on weather). I call these clients the “magic bean” (from Jack and the Beanstalk) Plant them in fertile soil of good ground instruction then stand back and watch them grow. These blessed learners only require a little nudge here and there–Just show them once and they have it!

Then there are those that struggle continually and plateau, run out of money, then return after a while and slog onward. These are the ones who really teach you how to be an educator; patient, creative and caring. This is the (more typical) long game, but the rewards of success are greater for both student and educator.

If all this makes sense to you, you probably have already run this race, earned this T-shirt and might even be a Master CFI, DPE or veteran CFI. We need you at SAFE to help mentor (we have a very active program guiding new CFIs) If you think I am totally full of $h#t here (there is always a chance you might be right) *or* you might be in need of some mentoring yourself. My original chief instructor frustrated me to death reminding me “if the student has not learned, the instructor has failed to teach effectively.” Our “Good 2 Great™” program is open to all our members and we have specialists in every area of aviation. We all have worked hard and learned a lot, but aviation is a complicated and endlessly challenging occupation. Join us and help, there is always a new area to learn. Fly safely (and often)!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

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).

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

CFI Improvement: Becoming A CFI Professional!

It is amazing our aviation industry has survived at all with the well-documented 60-80% drop-out rate we experience during initial flight training. Imagine how healthy general aviation could immediately be if we could just cut that drop-out rate in half. We could instantly reinvigorate aviation with more excitement, customers, airplane gatherings. How many dreams have we ruined and how many motivated people have we disappointed because we do not teach them well and carefully manage their expectations?

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AOPA Flight Training Study

The common misconception, (that has become a pervasive excuse) claims the primary reason people quit flying is due to excessive cost. This is false. A massive and very scientific study by AOPA clearly reveals that the disappointing “quality of instruction” is actually the most frequently mentioned and persistent issue among dissatisfied aviation consumers. They are not getting expected value for their dollars. We have failed to provide the experience they walked in the door for; organized professional instruction geared toward their needs and schedule. A golf pro, personal trainer, or even your car mechanic all cost much more per hour than a CFI, but people engage these people and continue that relationship because they obtain enduring value…it meets their needs.

The active competition to aviation are mostly all the other ways to have fun. And while most competing recreational activities do not require our level of skill and training (and thus have a lower barrier to entry) don’t forget humans value achievement and  mastery, the essence of successful aviation. People who drop out in aviation desperately want to succeed, we just fail to correctly manage and maintain their motivation and expectations to help them achieve their goals. An organized syllabus with clear communication and defined sub goals is a great starting point. Understanding and valuing the customers needs is also critical.

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Click for wonderful (but dated) Ralph Hood Video

To be more effective and successful, a CFI not only needs the aviation toolkit but must also thoroughly understand human relationships. To provide a quality educational experience we must comprehend and engage our customer on a personal level, motivating them with professional and  honest educational content. I personally think teaching flying is much more about human interaction and psychology and less about molecules of air and Greek letters. A book on relationships (suggested by Nick Frisch in our SAFE Instructor Resource Center) might be the best place to start growing as a CFI. I would personally recommend To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. A great majority of human interactions in every sphere involve “selling” in the larger sense: influencing and motivating others to  change and embrace new ideas. Running a successful flight school largely involves aggressively “selling” both fun and safety while simultaneously empowering people to achieve both with aviation tools.

AOPA Flight Training Study
AOPA Flight Training Study

Certainly every new student coming into a flight school or engaging a CFI wants to learn to fly. The AOPA study reveals they also want an organized course of instruction that meets their expectations as a professional. Though they certainly need to learn aerodynamic subjects and skills, they also need to understand and embrace the bigger picture; how they will use aviation in their lives and achieve their goals of challenge and adventure? They must also be inspired to become life-long learners and pursue excellence to be safe (and not merely “wiggle the stick”)

I would encourage every CFI to spend time to learn their student’s specific motivations and fulfill their unique needs. Though studies reveal that 65% of students entering flight training are pursuing aviation for recreational purposes, almost all are taught like they will become airline pilots. Most of our young CFIs are directed toward the airlines but the majority of their students are pursuing recreational flying. We often forget that achievement and enjoyment are essential motivators and the original reason most of our clients pursue aviation. Also, we often neglect social and personal engagement which is an incredible motivator keeping learners involved and training.

Not all students want to fly for the airlines!

For aviation to be successful our CFIs must also embrace a larger role in our community and understand their job goes far beyond teaching students. As professionals, we are not just “teaching flying” but also necessarily acting as “aviation ambassadors” for our whole community. CFIs are the public face of General Aviation and our role also involves teaching at career days in the local schools, participating in EAA Young Eagle events, and building the larger aviation community (not just hours). CFI professionalism requires personal dedication and perseverance as well as creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. As Bob Wright points out in the SAFE Instructor Resource Center; “Beyond initial FAA certification, there is clearly a gap between the minimum FAA certification standard and what customers and employers want instructors to know and how they want them to perform in the real world. This need clearly calls for some kind of professional accreditation of instructors that would be voluntary but would clearly improve their credibility and employability in many flight instruction venues.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 11.26.42 AMThe AOPA Flight Instructors Field Guide to Flight Training is a wonderful tool to start a journey into this larger world of aviation student needs and motivations with checklists and worksheets. It opens up a new understanding of human relations that is essential to the success of a professional aviation educator.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.21.21 PMThe Master Instructor Program enables and requires exactly this larger professional perspective that leads directly to greater success and higher wages. Accreditation as a Master Instructor requires participation in professional organizations, community events, educating in the community as well as publishing in professional journals and newspapers. Even if you are going on to the airlines this kind of expansive understanding and professional accreditation is exactly what future employers want to see. For those staying in the instructor ranks, master certification is essential resulting in greater professional and financial success. For those of you who run flight schools, SAFE now has an institutional membership (at a lower rate) to get your staff involved and on the road to CFI professionalism. Please pursue excellence as an aviation educator. Both the aviation industry and your students deserve and need this level of professionalism.  Joining SAFE in our mission of building aviation excellence is a great place to start this initiative. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.



CFI Improvement is Necessary: 911!

Improving CFI competence and professionalism is the key to increasing our student retention rate, rebuilding aviation and creating safer pilots. Our whole industry will benefit!

I think all honest pilots will confess that every new certificate or rating means we have only the basic “starter kit” or “license to learn.” If you are like me you are shocked in retrospect by how little you originally knew (and they let me do all that stuff!) This is especially true for the flight instructor certificate (but unfortunately very few seem to act that way or seek improvement). Teaching anyone the essential skills of aviation should be approached with the greatest humility and care. So many things can go wrong both in the immediate present but also with the latent habits you create (or not). I believe both our depressing student drop out rate in general aviation and also our continually miserable safety record could both be greatly improved if we could increase the level of professionalism in our Aviation Educator ranks. This is a key mission of SAFE.

As a 141 chief instructor running a flight school for 25 years (which included being a DPE evaluating the “finished product”) I have witnessed great and wonderful moments but also every form of CFI abuse and defect. I confess to some serious incompetence and arrogance myself when I first earned my CFI certificate. “Wow, I’m a CFI…the government said so, it must be true” At the time we had that amazing FAA instructor manual we quietly called “good dog, bad dog” (because of it’s totally behaviorist approach to “training” ..not education!) Fortunately the handbooks have greatly improved and in my case I had two very important influences early in my career that made all the difference and for which I shall be forever grateful.

FTaward2012One positive influence for me was a demanding chief instructor and mentor John “Stick” Stickle. He was alternatively kind and sharing and also imperious and unyielding on technique and safety.  The other essential influence was the guidance and inspiration from Greg Brown’s amazing book “The Savvy Flight Instructor” and the associated Master Instructor Program developed by Sandy and JoAnn Hill (Greg was the their first Master Instructor). It’s unfortunate but you really don’t start out “amazing” (or even “good”) in the CFI world and improvement doesn’t come without effort and feedback. You are granted the “starter kit” in the 8060-4 (temporary) and have to work and learn every day if you want to improve.

StickandChampSavvyCFIIt is very easy to fool yourself into a self-satisfied, god-like incompetence (you can find one at every airfield). Inherently trusting students tend to worship even the most incompetent CFIs. It is essential to keep learning and challenging yourself to raise the bar and get better.  I highly recommend a mentor who is honest and caring to test and improve your skills and technique. If you are not able to work with a locally senior instructor, SAFE is retooling the mentor program (up and running soon). Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.21.21 PMParticipation in the Master Instructor Program is also essential if you want to keep your skills sharp and gain ground in the world of aviation education. We will discuss CFI improvement more thoroughly in future articles. The flight instructor is the essential source  for aviation student retention and superior instruction will result in fewer accidents.