Educator Professionalism Creates Excellence in Aviation

It takes a Pro to make a Pro…

The tenets of professionalism apply to flight instructors regardless of whom we teach or the aircraft type. Instructor professionalism is the foundation for excellence and success. We read about it, and we talk about it. But what exactly is it, and how do we embody that crucial characteristic?

Characteristics of Professionalism

A business definition of professionalism is “meticulous adherence to undeviating courtesy, honesty, and responsibility in one’s dealings with customers and associates, plus a level of excellence that goes over and above the commercial considerations and legal requirements” (www.businessdictionary.com).

Professionalism is typically achieved only after extended training and preparation. This training usually requires significant self-study and practice and is typically accomplished with formal education. It brings to mind the seemingly endless hours of education, training, and practice one undergoes on the path to becoming a doctor. The path to becoming a flight instructor has similar requirements – not just in terms of formal academic study and training, but also in terms of what we might call “the unwritten requirements”. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Skilled pilot

The aviation instructor must be an expert pilot, one who is knowledgeable, proficient, skillful, and safe. You should be very proficient on the equipment you use, especially avionics. Be alert for ways to improve your qualifications, your effectiveness, and the services you offer. Stay abreast of changes in regulations, practices, and procedures. Make a habit of referring to the current Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), Sectional Charts, Handbooks, Manuals, and Practical Test Standards (PTS). You should also read aviation periodicals, browse the Internet, and attend meetings and seminars. And, of course we recommend that you have (and use) an account on www.FAASafety.gov.

Strong teacher

A flight instructor must have strong skills and abilities in two major areas. First, he or she must be a competent and qualified teacher, with all of the “soft skills” we attribute to teachers. These include communication skills, people skills, and patience. In order to understand the progress your students are making, you must understand the four levels of learning – Rote, Understanding, Application, and Correlation. To simplify my own comprehension of these principles, I reduced the concepts to concise, understandable definitions.

Practical psychologist

You need to understand anxiety and how to address it with a student. You must know that reactions to stress can be normal or abnormal, and be ready to act appropriately. You soon learn that obstacles to learning can be different for each student. You learn how to address impatience, worry, lack of interest, apathy, anxiety, discomfort, illness, and fatigue. You must work within your student’s other interests or enthusiasms. You must discover how to help the student with a multitude of troubles; you may even have to show your student how to handle fear. Also important is your understanding of the laws of learning. Your student’s progress will be enhanced if you remember that a student learns because of Readiness and Effect, but remembers because of Primacy, Exercise, Intensity, and Recency.

Capable Coach

The best flight instructors use a syllabus, set achievable goals for their students, and use a well-designed lesson plan. You should personally prepare for each lesson, whether ground or flight, and personally prepare for each individual student. Not having an organized plan is, in fact, a plan…for failure. No two students are the same; they must be treated as individuals. You are the key to their success.

Positive role model

Consistently using a checklist is another mark of a professional. We all get excited or rushed at times and and the use of a checklist is the only way to ensure we don’t forget something. Students will follow the behavior you model, so do it right. A flight instructor must also have high standards of personal appearance, which means that you must be neat, clean, and dressed in a manner appropriate to the situation. Your personal habits must be acceptable. As a chief flight instructor, I once had a student request a different instructor because his instructor had an overwhelming body odor. I discovered that the instructor worked at a physically demanding job before reporting to the flight school. Moving his first lesson by an hour solved that problem. In addition to personal hygiene, you cannot be rude, thoughtless, or inattentive, and you cannot be profane or obscene.

Sincere

Professionals are true to themselves and to those they serve. Your sincerity of effort must be such that inadequacies are admitted, not hidden, and are corrected for the future. A Code of Ethics is a good reminder of the need for honesty, impartiality, fairness, and equity.

Inquisitive

True performance as a professional is based on study and research, and professionals are always searching for the “why.” Perhaps you can imagine the hard work required to produce a doctoral thesis. Becoming a flight instructor requires that same dedication to learning. Let’s look at an example from a private pilot syllabus for flight training. Let’s assume you are going to teach a student to perform turns-around-a-point. We all know this lesson begins in the classroom. To test understanding, you ask your student to place an “X” at the point on the circle where the bank angle is the greatest during the maneuver and then tell you why he chose that point. Assume the wind as shown and left-hand turns. Before you read on, place the “X” on the circle yourself. Many instructors place an “X” at the bottom of the circle; some place it half-way between the bottom and the direct left side point. Why are these not the correct answer? Remember, we are searching for the “why.” The key is to understand that the aircraft’s ground speed is the greatest at only one point. It is at this point that the wind will be pushing the aircraft away from the desired track at the greatest velocity.

Creative

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to be a pilot or a flight instructor. While a flight test pilot and an aeronautical engineer may need higher math skills, the typical pilot, and flight instructor, gets by quite easily with the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills one learns in grade school. However, a professional flight instructor must have other qualities that could be defined as intellectual skills. These include the ability to reason logically and accurately, as well as the ability to make good decisions. Even though aviation has standard practices for normal and abnormal situations, we must also appreciate that some situations may require thinking outside the box.

You Touch the Future!

As Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe famously proclaimed, “I touch the future – I teach!” Whatever your eventual goals in aviation might be, never forget that being a flight instructor is a real job that has real – and lasting – impact. Make it count!

A wonderful article by Bryan Neville first published in FAA Safety Briefing. Click here for original pdf version.

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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

 

“Broadband Speed” For Your Brain!

When you witness an amazingly skillful performance, whether it is an Olympic gymnast, a violin concerto or world-class aerobatic flying, the real process at work is the human brain functioning at its peak. The secret to acquiring and sustaining this level of technical perfection is revealed in a fascinating book; The Talent Code. Author Daniel Coyle is a very engaging writer and repeatedly demonstrates the essence of masterful instruction and performance across a spectrum of diverse pursuits–from Brazilian soccer to world-class musicians. (As a treat for pilots, Coyle also pays homage to the value of the original Link Aviation Flight Simulator).

In one ramshackle little gymnasium outside Moscow, The Spartak Tennis Club, talented coaches have created more world-class tennis stars in the last 20 years than in the whole USA. In a similar spartan Adirondack music camp, master instructors taught Yo-Yo Ma,  Pinchas Zuckerman and a host of other world-class musicians. Using these examples and many others, Coyle distills the essence of how amazing education really works, and how to turbocharge your learning. It’s also great news for every aspiring aviator that “talent” is more “how you learn” than genetic destiny. I highly recommend this short and exciting book to every flight educator.

In summary, as mentioned in a previous blog article about “Peak” , Anders Ericsson’s study of master performers, high motivation and a special deep practice are always necessary (no magic bullet here). But most interesting, it is the kind of practice necessary to create faster and better performance. To learn (or teach) rapid skill acquisition at a master level, it is essential to practice outside your comfort zone. Practicing in this “struggle zone” and working relentlessly toward a well defined goal builds skills six times faster than usual techniques. Simple repetition of what you already know is wasted time. Many other techniques Coyle reveals, like chunking and reframing, are also involved also in this fast-track skill development.

A key point of the Talent Code is that specialized practice techniques, in a wide variety of fields, lead to the formation in the brain of an insulating neurological substance called myelin. Much like insulation on an electrical wire, myelin wraps the carefully created skill pathways and creates “mental broadband.”  Master performances using these amazing myelinated pathways that are 3,000 times faster than the usual brain circuits. Deliberate, correct practice, outside your comfort zone creates greater technical mastery in a shorter time with better retention–the true secret to exceptional learning and performance.

Struggle is not optional—it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit. You must also keep firing that circuit—i.e., practicing—in order to [build and] keep myelin functioning properly

As far as the educators inspiring to provide this “turbo learning,” Coyle calls them “talent whisperers.” Usually  quiet and offering minimal and very precise direction, there are many useful tips in Coyle’s book for educators about creating technical mastery.

Please join us this Thursday. SAFE will be presenting a follow up “Drill Down on LOC-I” with Patty Wagstaff and Rich Stowell on-line to further define skills and techniques to combat Loss of Control. The previous seminar is available as a YouTube (complete the Quiz also if you want FAA Master Wings Credit). Please sign up on-line at FAAsafety.gov and see you Thursday, Dec 14th at 8 EDT.


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

Addressing the “Loss of Control” Dilemma!

Loss of control in flight (LOC-I) is the “catch-all causal factor” for the NTSB, topping the list of fatal accident causes and the “Most Wanted List” for every year in recent memory. We are excited to have Patty Wagstaff and Rich Stowell for our live ScreenCast on November 16th unpacking this dilemma. NTSB Member Earl Weener has called LOC-I a “stubbornly recurrent safety challenge.” Please join us and you can even collect Master Wings Credit from the FAA!

Loss of Control Inflight is a many headed monster. People lose control after icing up in the clouds or after encountering turbulence from wake or weather. But they also inexplicably lose control and crash on sunny days turning base to final in their home traffic pattern. In almost all cases these encounters end up fatal; they mostly occur down low with no room for recovery. Spoiler alert but it seems all these accidents come back to the same cause of insufficient flying skill and knowledge in a challenging situation. We must also include judgment in the causal chain because pilots usually get into a desperate situation and lose aircraft command before they lose aircraft control. They wander into dangerous, often avoidable situations. The end result is pilots are put to an extreme test requiring our greatest piloting skills and unfortunately run out of talent. As a DPE, I always advise successful new pilots, “This flight test was not the *real* test; flying  in life is the ‘real test’; stay current and sharp out there!” Apparently, we are not doing too well passing the “real test” in aviation.

What I *do* know from examining pilots for over 20 years is that many have only the most basic grasp of the real aerodynamics of maneuvering flight. And unfortunately many do not continue to train and improve after passing their evaluation (FAA Wings is a good incentive program to keep pilots training regularly). Our FAA testing standards are specifically designed to require the basic minimums of skill, knowledge and judgment. Even so, many applicants cringe when I tell them we are going to perform our stalls in the test while turning (as the ACS allows) And I frequently hear “my instructor never trained that.” (But this is usually how LOC-I actually happens in real life.) During the oral, few applicants can unpack the real forces, risks and dangers of maneuvering flight without some prompting. And in every flight review I give, I assign AOPA’s “Essential Aerodynamics” course as part of the ground training. This wonderful ASI production has no Greek letters and nicely explains the “mysteries of flight” (which I guarantee are beyond most pilots’ understanding) Please dig in here if you honestly feel challenged (for your safety) and please get some dual if your skills are rusty.

We absolutely must acquire and retain critical, non-intuitive, “ready for action” flying skills and knowledge if we want to stay safe in the air. We have to understand aerodynamic stalls and also the effect of load on this poorly stated “stall speed”! As much as I love flying, it is certainly not all “fun and games!” (What you don’t know *will* hurt you in aviation.) But aviation *is* honestly rewards effort and what you invest in good training will be paid back in confidence and safety. This YouTube from Rich Stowell (who will be in the SAFE screencast) demonstrates amazing piloting control and situational awareness and Patty takes this even further with her amazing airshow performances. If we all could fly at this level of skill, LOC-I would disappear from the accident list and we all would be safer in the air.

Tune in on Thursday, November 16th and we will try to shed more light on why Loss of Control is so challenging. The free SAFE Resource Center has lots of good materials for pilots and CFIs. You can send your questions in the “comments” below and to #askgoldseal on Twitter or Facebook the night of the show.


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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 Good to Great; Learn From Your Students!

“Good pilots are always learning” but this commitment is also vital for good flight instructors. To improve at anything, we must be continually curious, seeking new knowledge or inevitably cynicism and a glassy-eyed complacency set in. You know this look, 70% of  US workers on the job are “disengaged”. A commitment to growth as a flight instructor does not only mean pursuing new ratings (and hopefully a Master Instructor Certification), but also learning on a daily basis from our students. Like every other certificate, a new CFI is a “license to learn.” Look at the Canadian system (four levels) to see how perfunctory our FAA preparation can be! Maintaining a “beginners mind” makes the difference between “a thousand unique hours of experience and one hour a thousand times.”

 

 

 

 

According to psychologist Dr. Anders Ericsson in his fascinating book Peak, the secret to mastery in any field is “deliberate practice” and continually seeking excellence. For example, a physician with 20 years experience that is happy with “acceptable performance” and “performs on autopilot” is less effective (and less safe) than a doctor with only 5 years of deliberate practice. Quality over quantity is the rule for mastery. In education, one huge opportunity for educators to grow and make every hour count is learning from our students.

On the most basic level this means discovering how each unique individual learns efficiently and effectively. Our challenge is to creatively adapt our presentation to a variety of people and help them learn. Notice I did not say “teach them” -we are not pouring skill and knowledge into their heads! Our job is to present appropriately challenging experiences so they can assemble and code these experiences into increasing usable knowledge and skills. Careful observation and skillful questioning will reveal if we are succeeding; when to step in and when to back off and let learning occur. That blank stare, frustration or lack of progress area critical clues. Gaining emotional intelligence and compassion is not easy for technically minded people like pilots, but it will make your teaching much better and your whole life a richer experience.

Active listening, with a continuous feedback loop, is essential to calibrate and improve our performance. The art of providing an optimal challenge without being either boring or overly challenging is critical and only attainable with continuous feedback. Those deadly “one size fits all” lesson plans really work for no one; get creative. In the learning environment, less talking from the CFI and more listening and questioning are usually a sign of progress in education. Similarly, fewer CFI demonstrations and more student flying (with encouragement and coaching) creates an exciting and fun opportunity for real learning. Obviously we have to keep the learning environment safe, but allowing our students room to grow is critical. For learning to happen, we must allow mistakes to happen (hopefully increasingly self-corrected).

A savvy flight educator must know the boundaries of safety and always subtly guide the flight experience. This requires knowing and trusting your clients capabilities, but also maintaining an alert watch. Sometimes this is presenting a question about a forgotten critical item, or directing perception so your student acquires an insight they might otherwise miss. An expert is a person with a rich mental representation of their environment that easily recognizes patterns and meanings that would escape the naive viewer. We need to convey those meanings. A savvy flight educator knows about a developing difficulty miles before their student. Our awareness keeps this situation safe but we also must be careful not to spoil their learning opportunities. Letting a missed item persist until a student discovers it can be excruciating!

One of the most important understandings for an experienced flight educator is what the “FAA finished pilot” looks like at each level of certification. When is a person a suitably proficient to be a sport, recreational, private or commercial grade pilot? Though it is frustrating that we cannot make every person into an astronaut, we have to know when our applicant meets the FAA standards and is ready to test for their certificate or rating (and also be a safe future aviator). Just like personal minimums in piloting, in test preparation there should be a  “margin of safety” and extra capacity in every applicant to insure success (despite the inevitable stress).

Knowing the required skill, knowledge and judgment required for each test and the performance psychology of your applicant takes years to get right. This is one reason DPEs are required to have so much experience teaching to be designated as examiners. Getting feedback from your DPE is the most valuable (and under-appreciated) sources of learning for the flight educator. Search out a DPE that is willing to give you an honest, detailed debrief on every applicant and you will become a training team creating safer and more comprehensive pilots…more to come!


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

“Unlearning” is Essential for Pilot Education!

As educators, we often stumble right out of the starting gate if we begin with “this is how it works…” By doing this we fail to address (and help unlearn) preconceived notions already present; how it does *not* work! It might be better to first ask your student how they *think* a complex process (like a climb) works and once this is exposed, carefully modify and correct any errors and build from there. As Mark Twain said;

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

As educators we have to dig deep to discover these misconceptions and aggressively correct them. This fascinating field of “unlearning” is finally being popularized and elaborated at the Harvard Graduate School of Education by Dr. Chris Dede.

As an example, I am sure you have been “entertained” at social events by friends and associates trying to explain aerodynamics in untrained, and usually totally inaccurate, terms. Since we evolved walking the earth, this long history has deeply embedded an intuitive operating theory that is badly flawed (and dangerous) in flight. What could be more natural (and wrong) than just pulling harder to get away from the ground rushing up to meet us? Or that automobile habit of cranking the “steering wheel” left and right to make a turn? Obviously, a little more nuanced understanding is essential for safety. It is illuminating to finally understand that every new pilot you attempt to teach already has this bad code rattling around somewhere in their head and hands. BTW; I find that many pilots approaching certification on flight tests still retain badly flawed versions of aerodynamic reality.

I am also convinced this is one of the root causes for many loss of control accidents that plague aviation. Everything is working fine until a pilot is forced out of their “comfort zone” of normal and thoughtful flight and into an area where immediate, accurate response is necessary. In their startled reaction they often revert to their more primitive (and flawed) subconscious reactions and lose control of their plane. We absolutely must rewrite this deeply embedded code with correct habits and reactions.

As you delve deeper into adult learning, you will find that at every level there are ideas and habits that need to be “unlearned” to import new knowledge. Every experienced educator knows the horror of “fixing” a person with flawed instruction or habits (if it can really be done at all?). It is often painful to even establish the need for this correction (“buy in” is only step one in this twelve step program). The purging of entrenched knowledge and habits seems to take forever. Try to discover misconceptions before you “build” and let me know how that works? Thanks for reading and fly safely.

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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

Pseudo Teaching; Excitement but No Learning!

Modern technology is fueling a lot of great learning tools but also “pseudoteachers”

Bad teaching is usually easy to spot with the obvious lack of learner engagement, no improvement and performance problems. But pseudoteaching is increasingly a problem in academia (and aviation) because it is exciting and fun for the student (and looks great in reviews) but unfortunately fails to accomplish any real learning goals for the students.

Pseudoteaching is a growing problem due to whizbang technological presentations and the “ratemyprofessor” celebration of simple popularity as a metric of pedagogical success. In aviation this same problem is fostered by valuing simple social media popularity as a substitute for credibility, honest content, and actionable learner results. And unfortunately, though a failure to “get it” in math will cause a simple failure of the test, in aviation this could have a serious safety implication for you!

We all live in an accelerating world of media and technology. Much of this is unfortunately only “intellectual fast food” with lots of bulk and not much real content. Much of what becomes popular and masquerades as “true learning” is unfortunately mere showmanship or even false hopes conveyed by less-than-honest “pseudoeducators.” Those YouTubes of amazing performances are often created with clever desktop video assembly after infinite failures (don’t try these things on your own). In aviation, the test comes down to simple consistent learner performance since aviation is a ruthlessly honest activity; you either have it or you don’t. Our asymptotic safety record demonstrates the price of doing aviation poorly.

My former Chief Pilot used to continually frustrate me, as a new CFI, with his (very honest) recitation “If the student has not learned it, their instructor has not taught it well enough.” Credentials like Master Instructors and the General Aviation Awards are very useful tools to sort out the real educators from the imposters. Adhering to an industry accepted vision and mission statement is also a great tool to insure honest instructional credibility. Despite many technological advances and amazing on-line tools, achievement in aviation still is somewhat medieval in it’s requirement for hard work and time spent working though difficulties to achieve hard-won success. Find and trust an honest and compassionate coach willing to work through your difficulties and celebrate your successes. Anyone that is selling a “quick magic solution” to success in aviation is hawking you snake oil in a modern YouTube container…buyer beware!


BTW: I *do* love YouTube and as an iOS Developer thrive on modern technology; misuse is my bête noire.

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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

 

The Importance of Lifelong Learning

It turns out the best educators are the best learners!

You have heard this before, but it bears repeating because it is TRUE: A great teacher is committed to lifelong learning. I was reminded again of the truth of this statement on July 12 as I watched the SAFE webinar on flight instructor professionalism. Even though I’ve kept my flight instructor certificate “current” for the last 40 years, I still ended up with several pages of notes as I listened to four well-respected and highly experienced flight instructors discuss the finer points of marketing their flight training services to potential clients.

One of the things these four “seasoned” aviation educators — Greg Brown, Rod Machado, David St. George, and Russ Still – have in common is that they are continually learning and refining their teaching skills. They like to talk with other educators about teaching techniques – what works and what doesn’t work. By reading and attending aviation webinars and seminars, these professional educators stay abreast of current technology, engage in creative solutions to real world flight training problems, and learn more every day about how students learn.

Think what would have happened if Albert Einstein or Helen Keller had said, “I know everything there is to know and I don’t have to study any longer.” Yikes! Einstein would likely have never developed his formula for the theory of relativity and Helen Keller would not have gone on to author as many articles and books as she did. While Einstein and Keller are not really known for their teaching skills, they are well known for their learning skills. The point I’m making is that the best learners do not give up when the going gets tough. They keep trying to gain greater understanding of a problem or challenge they are facing.

You might have also heard more than once that “good teachers are good learners.” I believe that is also a true statement. A really good teacher wants to understand the subject matter in order to properly convey that understanding to their students. A good teacher isn’t afraid of doing research to ferret out the information he or she needs to foster understanding and mastery of a subject.

As modern day aviation educators, we have an incredible amount of information available to us almost instantly over the Internet. Just type a topic or even a question into your browser and a page of resources will pop up. If you are looking for some new lesson plans or an interesting article on stall /spin, check out SAFE’s online Resource Center [here]. There is a public side as well as a private side just for SAFE members.

An excellent article providing a good history of learning theory and a description of how people learn can be found at https://web.stanford.edu/class/ed269/inplintrochapter.pdf This article was written in 2001 by faculty from Stanford University’s School of Education.   Another article on the importance of lifelong learning for educators of all stripes can be found at www.edudemic.com/lifelong-learning-educational-mindset/ A great online book (FREE) every educator can benefit from is How People Learn. This is available either as a downloadable PDF or in html on the website.

If you are finding yourself in a funk lately or just less excited about instructing than you used to be, you might be suffering from burnout rather than lack of interest. There is nothing like learning something new about a topic you are interested in to renew your energy, motivation, and passion for teaching. If you will be at AirVenture 2017 the end of July, there are literally hundreds of workshops and presentations you can choose from on a wide range of aviation topics. Many of those workshops will be presented by SAFE members (See this page for a growing list).

Finally, set a new goal for yourself to read a few pages a day of something either aviation-related or teaching-related for the next 30 days. At the end of that time, ask yourself if you feel more energized and excited about being an aviation educator. If the answer is yes, then you know what you need to do to become a lifelong learner *AND* a great instructor.


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!

Master CFI; Every Student Is Different!

Once you discover, respect and honor these differences, your teaching becomes much more effective (and fun!)

There is a very dangerous assumption built into all our CFI instructional materials and techniques. This starts with developing the “standardized lesson plans” we are required to create for our initial CFI evaluation. If not checked, this standardization can quickly lead to the “Army Chow Line Approach to Instruction.” e.g. “This is Lesson 3, step up…here is your slow flight (blop), turns right and left and intro to stalls (ready or not!)” Everyone rolls their eyes at this analogy but our modern aviation delivery system is built on the military and is still not too different! But teaching a millennial post-doc college student aviation is completely different from coaching a young mother discovering aviation for recreational purposes. Every student requires creative instructional techniques on the part of the CFI to be effective. If you are a brand new CFI, take those lesson plans you carefully prepared for your FAA checkride and shred them (or use them for reference only).

I call the FAA approach “the myth of the blank slate” when working with new CFIs. You are never going to get to teach that “idealized lesson plan!’ One of the initial challenges of being a flight instructor “for real” is accepting this fact and being able instead to adapt rapidly, effectively and safely to each new learning situation as it evolves. Though developing a curriculum and lesson plans, for an “ideal student” has value, imposing that structure on a  unique learning environment (and person) is one of the biggest errors in flight instruction.  Creativity and adaptability are the key skills of a masterful CFI.

When you meet a new student, whether it is their first lesson or midway through a curriculum (with “history” and “issues”), it is essential to immediately discover their unique strengths, weaknesses, background and learning style in a very intentional manner. With apologies for this glib generalization, every successful student in aviation needs some combination of the “hands, head and heart” capabilities to succeed. Some people are extremely dexterous and blessed with tremendous “hand to eye coordination.” Others will require more practice to succeed. The sooner you discover these (and other) unique characteristics, the more efficient and fun the training will be.

So now when I meet a new student (at any level), I insist on some time to work out all of these issues clearly before flight. I personally would not recommend an “interview” since this formality can impose a frame which creates tension and discourages true discovery. But a casual sit down discussion allows you both to gather information and dispel myths (in both directions). This is a time to establish a common bond and make sure you find out: first, “what are your goals in aviation and what is your motivation for learning aviation?” Teaching a recreational flier to be a future airline pilot is a common (and unsuccessful) modern mistake. Second, “what are activities you enjoy and are already good at? (What psychologists call “privileged domains”) Third, “how much do you know about aviation already?” (from a parent or friend who flies?) This “naive rendition” or what they think they already know about aviation is critical. These existing impressions might be a positive (or negative) but they are the basis for all future learning.

One last essential trait you need to discover about your new client (and questions are not necessary or recommended on this one) is determining their disposition and learning style. All learner’s personalities fall somewhere along the spectrum between “OCD engineer” to “skateboard dude” (this is not a currently accepted psychological scale!) Discovering their disposition and learning style will be essential to creating an effective learning environment. Interestingly, in my experience, neither end of this personality spectrum makes a better pilot, but that is another article…fly safely!


Please join us on July 12th for a live discussion of these and other CFI issues. Rod Machado and Greg Brown are true leaders in aviation education. We will be offering actionable CFI techniques. Please register on the FAA Safety site so we know who is watching *and* we will give out some exciting prizes!


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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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 Pro; Teaching PIC With “Incremental Mastery”

I recently participated in a webinar with Russ Still and Nate Tennant from Gold Seal Ground Schools focusing on preparation for check rides, specifically the easier “low hanging fruit.” In the overwhelming push to prepare for a test, applicants often miss the simplest things. This webinar was great fun plus an opportunity to share valuable resources with our membership and the general public.  We will have more livestream videos coming for you in the near future. During these livestream events send your questions and input: #askgoldseal

Scenarios are Essential

Since we can’t physically transport an applicant to all the places and conditions they will encounter in their future piloting experience, during training (and testing) we have to simulate experiences with scenarios. Scenarios are a critical tool that you must train with and expect to see continuously during every evaluation. Because when a flight test is complete, one thing we have to absolutely *know* for sure; this pilot can handle or at least figure out all these situations. Also that our future pilot will have enough judgment, knowledge and integrity to know their limits and say “no” until they acquire more experience to handle advanced situations. We probably only train and test probably a minor percentage of what you will ultimately experience as a pilot. But unfortunately every failure in the real world will be an aircraft accident. In testing, the trick is extrapolating from a very small time and distance sample to all possible future flight challenges (in a couple hours).

Teaching PIC a Step at a Time…

A critical pilot skill for every flight (and pilot evaluation) is demonstrating “pilot in command” authority. A pilot flying absolutely has to “own it” in a very literal sense. If an applicant on a test is continually unsure and timidly asking permission for every operation, they have not adequately internalized this important quality. They are still tied to the apron strings of their CFI. How to foster this transformation from “student” to “person in charge” in training is difficult and requires “incremental mastery;” You cannot will this into being and it will not happen in a day.

To build “pilot in command authority” in students during my teaching, I continuously hand over each proficiently demonstrated operation to the student. As soon as they have a solid command of take-off, climb and turn, these areas are delegated entirely to their control. They will “solo to the practice area” (with no help) by lesson 3.  I make this very clear in the briefing and in the cockpit; all decisions and aircraft control are entirely their responsibility! In this way the student essentially takes over complete authority for the aircraft in a series of incremental steps. This  gives a huge motivational boost to your student throughout training; they see and feel the progress. And when the crosswind is too much or an operation is in question, I rely on the student’s judgment to say so and ask for assistance; we all need to learn our limits. Once mastery in normal operations is assured it is obviously essential to challenge our students with many creative “abnormals and emergencies” (more on the sadistic CFI later 🙂

Unfortunately, when I ran a flight school I discovered most CFIs subconsciously teach dependence on the “sage in the right seat.” Teaching the “student” to rely and depend too much on the CFI is a big mistake that will forever cripple the future pilot. Much like parenting, it is essential in flight training to continuously foster independence and allow small mistakes for clients to figure out and overcome on their own (or with minor guidance). In this manner they will be come confident masters of their aviation world. Too much micro-managing and help by the CFI results in a timid and dependent pilot. The old saw of “teaching them to fish” and not just supplying dinner applies here. Dependency is very clear during a flight test and your student will probably not be a successful candidate that day. And any mistakes during initial training are incredibly durable and difficult to overcome. Get it right in those first 50 hours!

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! If you are not yet a SAFE member, 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!