So . . . can you “take it”??
Most instructors I know pass out some form of evaluation at the end of their courses. They are typically a mix of “check the box” to “give me a number from 1-5” to a few spaces where comments can be written. Sadly, most reviews are just numbers or words like “it was an awesome course!!!!!”. Somewhat satisfying by largely useless with little in the way of specifics that a dedicated instructor can latch on to and build from.
I’ve pretty much migrated away from this approach and have settled on AAR – After Action Reports. These feel comfortable to me primarily from my time in the military. After every deployment, engagement or rollout of new equipment AARs were used to evaluate our successes and failures. And, they provided some of the foundational building blocks that were used to move forward. Most times they were dedicated to logistics, efficiencies or simply performance of the equipment. And, at times, they helped insure that in the next engagement we would do a better job so our casualty count was lower.
In the civilian marketplace AARs usually took the form of Project Performance Reviews. Is the project “on time”, is it meeting the design specifications and are we still on target regarding the delivery date.
Bottom line – if you are not being fed a continual stream of honest, direct and comprehensive AARs regarding your training and performance, you are not being the best instructor you could be. Why? Because the only one you’re listening to in that case is the guy/gal you see in the mirror . . . and we all know how objective they are . . . right?
In the two previous posts on this topic, I posted my AAR of some new coursework I am working on. The first AAR was written after a trip to a friend’s facility in Ohio and can be read here. The second was at another friend’s facility here in Iowa and that can be read here. In both cases I asked for “comprehensive” AARs about their experience. Each training consisted of two days of coursework a “1” level and a “2” level. The second training incorporated material that filled “holes” that were identified in the November training. And, since this was taught to experienced trainers as well as folks that were there as simply students, I got feedback from both groups. Frankly, the student group – unfamiliar with the real idea of AARs – had a tendency to lean towards the “great class, love it, can’t wait for the next stuff coming out”. And while there is not as much value in this type of AAR – these folks will definitely share their thoughts if they think the course simply sucked.
At the instructor level though, I was rewarded with thoughtful, direct, honest feedback that evaluated content, flow, teaching methods and range work. There was a lot of “meat on the bone” that I’ve been able pick through, evaluate and use to make adjustments. There are a couple cautions though that you, as the receiving instructor, need to take into account.
It’s difficult to be a “student” when you’re an instructor – and a number of my reviewers are very high level shooters and trainers in their own right. It’s not easy for them to simply put on a “student” hat and sit through the course without the instructor side of their brain going full tilt! And, virtually all of us who fill an instructor “square” are Type A+++ folks – that too comes into play. Given these caveats . . . I’ll ask the question again . . . “Can you take it?” The feedback, the suggestions, the “I think this was wrong”, the “I like the way I do it better”, the “You simply MUST include” . . . type comments that are given in earnest, in a direct fashion and with a real desire to make sure whatever you churn out is the best offering you can possible put out there to your training market. Or are you the type of instructor that is so fully self-assured that you simply can’t listen to any feedback or counsel given by a peer?
When I look in the mirror more and more I see a C.O.G. – a Crotchety Old Guy that is pretty set in his ways. That said, I’ve seemingly never lost my desire to improve myself. Much of the feedback I received throughout this coursework was face-to-face doing an AAR immediately after the day’s coursework was done. This can be a pretty mixed bag since many times folks are afraid of hurting the feelings of the instructor. And, for some instructors, this may well be a valid concern. Frankly, if that’s the case for you as you roll this paragraph around in your head . . . STOP IT. If you are unwilling to see how you come across, you have no ability to improve. And, if you’re already the best instructor you know . . . you’re “spinning yarns” to yourself! The trick here, in this type of review, is to have someone take good notes while you simply listen and soak it in. I typically sit in what is called an “open body” position . . . both feet flat on the floor and your hands on your thighs. You’ll quickly note that if things are getting a bit uncomfortable for you, your arms will cross, your legs will cross and you’ll start countering their feedback with arguments on why your way is the best way. In this case, when developing new coursework, that’s not the purpose of the feedback . . . to prove you’re right. Listen, observe, take notes . . . but don’t argue.
The real meat shows up in the written AARs which usually trickle in within the month following a course. Again, my purpose was to have these folks review new coursework. I received over 30 pages of detailed summaries, suggestions, observations, concerns, praise and ideas. Here, again, you simply must remain “open bodied” and really “listen” to what the reviewer is saying to you. These can be quite an exercise in your individual confidence. If you are expecting reviews like this to tell you how awesome you are . . . my suggestion is to simply not do them and go back to the checkbox approach. That’s not their point . . . especially in my particular case where I am asking folks to evaluate new coursework. But, if you are willing to hear, to evaluate, to discern what your fellow instructors and invited students are saying . . . you will find that – frankly – they can save your butt before you release the coursework to the real world.
Let’s chat a bit about developing some of your own coursework, what my approach was and how it worked out after and what will be the final evaluation before I release the work.
Begin with the end in mind. I generated a “Level 1” and “Level 2” course. The goal was to build 8-9 hour courses that would teach to a specific level with the Level 1 course feeding into the Level 2 course. There was a defined set of skills and shooting objectives that needed to be met for each course as well as the requirement to pass a short 25 question examination.
Write an outline of the course – an opening, the “meat” of the course, range work drills, a final shooting test and written test. Each portion of the course – each “lesson” should fulfill a specific part of our overall goal.
I am fond of Power Point as a “roadmap” of the course, to keep me on track while I’m teaching. The danger here is to use the Power Point AS the course, rather than using the slide bullets to keep you on track while you flesh out each slide. It’s a good idea to continually flesh out the instructor notes part of the Power Point upon the completion of each course
Use your own words and imagery . . . don’t steal it. With a little extra effort you can take your own images, construct your own slides and use your own words on each slide. With the ease of the Internet there is a real temptation to simply search for images and “words” that you feel may say things or present things better than you could. Trust yourself; take the time to craft your own work. It will be easier to teach as well as offering your students true original work rather than a rehash of what other instructors have done before you.
Then, take the time to teach it to both experienced instructors and new students. Wring it out, ponder over it, rehash, rehearse and present it a number of times before you integrate it into your standard course lineup.
Does all of this sound like a pain in the ass?? Yep, it can be. But ask yourself . . . what’s your purpose in generating this coursework in the first place? Do you truly have a different path clearly in mind . . . or are you just looking for a way to take money from customers? Does it matter that the coursework is good . . . or just “complete”? Only you can answer those questions.
So, what did I learn from this AAR process about what we’d created?
The content is good. While the first group found a couple of holes, the second group agreed that the content was solid.
There were a couple thoughts on the lesson flow . . . I’ll chew on that and make some adjustments to see how it goes when the first courses are taught.
In the Level 1 course I will be adding a specific classroom dry fire set of range drills. With the tools available today – everything from SIRT pistols to blue guns – this should generate a higher level of confidence in new shooters and with the Level 2 course, introduce some of the new concepts a bit earlier in the day and off the range.
Both days will be long. That means I will keep a pretty close eye for areas I can tighten up or perhaps simply drop.
For me personally, when I conduct the range work I need to watch that I don’t brush over portions. A couple of the instructors noted that I seemed to be taking advantage of the fact that I was teaching to experienced instructors. In retrospect, they were more correct than I care to admit. When you teach your new coursework . . . teach it at the level of your expected student and not at the level of the talent in the room.
Finally, a number of the instructors prefaced their feedback by giving me a few kudos for being willing to listen to what they had to say. I appreciate that, thank you. But really, if you are developing coursework in a vacuum, with no feedback, no review, no one pushing you hard on the wheres and why-fors . . . I would strongly urge you to bring others into the process to help insure you are turning out the best product you can!
The first class of this coursework will roll out in the next 6 weeks or so. I’ll do final updates, schedule the classes and roll them out . . .
. . . and then take notes, read the AARs for the students in preparation for a full review this fall with course changes being integrated into the 2016 teaching year.
Because good coursework never stops growing, being evaluated and being refined.
So I have a question for you . . . when was the last time you took your coursework and laid it and yourself before your peers and asked . . .
. . . “So, what do ya think?”