Lessons Learned as a CFI: Vol. 3

killbilly

Vocals, Lyrics, Triangle, Washboard, Kittens
It's about that time of year where I sum things up that I've learned - here's the major tidbits - lots of things open for discussion....

  • There is a cadence....or rhythm....to the learning a student does during a lesson, and if you pay attention, you'll see where they stop. Sometimes it manifests as a new mistake, sometimes it's a change in tone, or expression, or demeanor....every student has a signal that says they're done, even when if asked they'd deny it. Your job is to detect and re-direct that. "Okay, that's enough for the day, you're doing well, let's debrief" is as valuable as the encouragement you give them to go up in the first place. (learned this with my late-afternoon-fatigued students, and my earlymorning newbies.)

  • 15 minutes spent on a debrief is worth an hour in the air. 15-20 minutes in pre-flight brief is worth another hour. I've said it before, but the airplane is terrible classroom. It's a great lab, though. (learned this from Hook_Dupin. Miss you, brother.)

  • You may inherit a student from another CFI, or be subbing in for another CFI. Before you verbally un-do or chastise anything the previous CFI did, take a lesson from Ted Lasso: Be curious, not judgmental. There's a dozen ways to cook an egg, all of them delicious. Even in a standardized program, when you see deviation that looks more taught than a mistake, be curious. Ask the student why. If it turns out the other CFI is a moron, confirm that fact with the CFI directly, away from the student. Not to protect that CFI, but to protect the students faith in the role of the CFI. CFIs can and should correct their own mistakes, and being honest with a student about it, if you get some feedback from another instructor is a good thing: "Y'know, I taught you this, and I think maybe I should have done it differently" is much better for the student. It's about the student. Not you, not your ego, and not the perceived deficiency of the other CFI. Do what's right for the student. (learned this from a chief, and some of my own mistakes.)

  • You can learn something from any CFI. Even the ones younger than you. In my case, especially from the ones younger than you.

  • Be prepared to have another CFI fly with one of your students and ask why something is. Be prepared to answer.

  • Don't let your students be robots. Teach profiles to give them a baseline. Once they've got rote-level, immediately go to work on application and synthesis. Everything they do in the airplane should be with purpose. If they cannot describe the purpose of a control movement or action, there is a hole in the understanding that needs to be filled. Never miss an opportunity to ask your students why they do certain things. (this is a fantastic check on student understanding - they might be able to spit out profiles, but being able to explain WHY is the difference between rote and real understanding.)

  • No matter how much you want them to, no matter how behind in the curriculum they are or how badly you need the hours, if they don't want to fly one day - for any reason - then don't fly.

  • If "not wanting to fly" becomes a pattern, it's time to investigate why.

  • If you don't want to fly one day, don't fly.

  • If you not wanting to fly gets to be a pattern, investigate why. You might be burned out. If you are, hand your students off. It's about the student, always.

  • Professionalism: Instructors, among instructors, like to rant about this and that - especially ATC, other pilots, other flight schools. Don't do it in front of students. Don't let your fellow instructors do it in front of students, either. You never know who is listening and noting this for a social media feed.

  • "It depends" should be the initial answer to most aviation-scenario-questions. Beware of dogmatic pilots and instructors.

  • After your 400th time getting cut off in the pattern by the other flight school, nearly getting run over by that other high-performance single, or the incessant chatter on the freq that prevents you from making a position report, maintain your calm. Use it as a teachable moment. Don't use the radio to chastise others, because your student will do that later, not understanding why it's wrong, and they will embarrass themselves and you. (have seen this happen to other instructors. very cringe-worthy.)

  • You're a CFI but you're not a human database. Look up regs regularly. I'm still learning nuances of regs, and I've gotten a few things wrong in the last couple of years. It's okay to look things up. I promise. (learned this as recently as 3 months ago. imperfect knowledge is okay. this is why we correct.)

  • DPEs are not the enemy. In fact, they may be your best ally. DPEs want you and your students to succeed. If a DPE comes to you with feedback, take it as constructive advice to make you better. It's not an adversarial relationship and if it feels that way, either determine why and resolve it, or create a different DPE relationship. It should be collaborative. Get to know them. Listen and learn. When they trust you, they're more apt to trust your students. Attitude goes a long way.

  • With each year and added page in the logbook, it gets harder to have a Beginner's mindset; to know that there is still a ton to learn. Keep yourself on a check-loop, trying to detect slippage from that mindset, and return yourself to it whenever possible. (weakness for me - I have to guard against this constantly.)

  • Fact: you will get a new instrument student right at the same time you lose proficiency as an IFR pilot. Don't let this happen.

  • Same goes for multi-engine. Don't let this happen.

  • Don't be afraid to charge for ground. You earned your tickets. You're a professional and you should be paid as such. CFIs who do a lot of free ground are doing a disservice to their fellow CFIs. This is more a guideline than a rule, and applies more to busy flight schools than clubs. Act accordingly.

  • You're going to suck some days. So will your students. Admit it, suck less next time (thank you @JEP ). Tell your students about it, too. They'll appreciate the honesty.

I probably have a few more, but these are the big takeaways for 2021.
 

killbilly

Vocals, Lyrics, Triangle, Washboard, Kittens
@killbilly Im not entirely sure what I did but you're welcome.
Many (several) years ago, I was working on either my instrument rating or my commercial....I think IR, since I know it was harder and my instructor was a lunatic...and I posted something about being dejected about my performance and wondering if I would get better.

You posted something along the lines of "suck less next time you go up."

Don't know why it resonated since I'm not the kind of learner who responds well to that kind of critique, but it was, apparently, what I needed to hear at the time and things got a LOT easier right after that. Maybe it was just timing with the inflection point in training, who knows?

Either way, I remembered it. :)
 

JEP

Malko In Charge
Staff member
Glad I could help. I had several of those moments during my IFR training.....Examiner...."Well that sucked"... YEs it did.....NExt time around I nailed....Rolling out i said...."Well that didnt suck"
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
It's about that time of year where I sum things up that I've learned - here's the major tidbits - lots of things open for discussion....

There is a cadence....or rhythm....to the learning a student does during a lesson, and if you pay attention, you'll see where they stop. Sometimes it manifests as a new mistake, sometimes it's a change in tone, or expression, or demeanor....every student has a signal that says they're done, even when if asked they'd deny it. Your job is to detect and re-direct that. "Okay, that's enough for the day, you're doing well, let's debrief" is as valuable as the encouragement you give them to go up in the first place. (learned this with my late-afternoon-fatigued students, and my earlymorning newbies.)
Just ring the bell, kid. Ring the bell and all the pain goes away. You get a nice steak dinner, a cold beverage, a warm room. There’s no shame in DORing…… :)

15 minutes spent on a debrief is worth an hour in the air. 15-20 minutes in pre-flight brief is worth another hour. I've said it before, but the airplane is terrible classroom. It's a great lab, though.
Going hand in hand with this are CFIs knowing how to properly brief and debrief. The number I see that don’t know anything other than regurgitating the flight in debrief or not efficiently briefing the upcoming sortie, is interesting.

You may inherit a student from another CFI, or be subbing in for another CFI. Before you verbally un-do or chastise anything the previous CFI did, take a lesson from Ted Lasso: Be curious, not judgmental. There's a dozen ways to cook an egg, all of them delicious. Even in a standardized program, when you see deviation that looks more taught than a mistake, be curious. Ask the student why. If it turns out the other CFI is a moron, confirm that fact with the CFI directly, away from the student. Not to protect that CFI, but to protect the students faith in the role of the CFI. CFIs can and should correct their own mistakes, and being honest with a student about it, if you get some feedback from another instructor is a good thing: "Y'know, I taught you this, and I think maybe I should have done it differently" is much better for the student. It's about the student. Not you, not your ego, and not the perceived deficiency of the other CFI. Do what's right for the student. (learned this from a chief, and some of my own mistakes.)
Technique versus procedure. As a CFI, know the damn difference, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking one way is techcedure, and as a result evaluating or grading to that. Regarding techniques, those further break down into good/better/best practices. Some techniques are indeed better or more efficient than others, but as long as they get to the same end state in a safe and efficient manner, then understand that flexibility.

Professionalism: Instructors, among instructors, like to rant about this and that - especially ATC, other pilots, other flight schools. Don't do it in front of students. Don't let your fellow instructors do it in front of students, either. You never know who is listening and noting this for a social media feed.
You can complain about stuff that is observed and such to the student, the professionalism comes in how you go about it. And how productive you make that complaint as learning experience for the student. If it’s just useless sport bitching, that accomplishes nothing. If it’s something that can be pointed out as an example of what not to do and why, it can be productive.

After your 400th time getting cut off in the pattern by the other flight school, nearly getting run over by that other high-performance single, or the incessant chatter on the freq that prevents you from making a position report, maintain your calm. Use it as a teachable moment. Don't use the radio to chastise others, because your student will do that later, not understanding why it's wrong, and they will embarrass themselves and you.
Exercise C4 comms, at all times.

You're a CFI but you're not a human database. Look up regs regularly. I'm still learning nuances of regs, and I've gotten a few things wrong in the last couple of years. It's okay to look things up. I promise.
plus, things change in the regs and often without being advertised.

DPEs are not the enemy. In fact, they may be your best ally. DPEs want you and your students to succeed. If a DPE comes to you with feedback, take it as constructive advice to make you better. It's not an adversarial relationship and if it feels that way, either determine why and resolve it, or create a different DPE relationship. It should be collaborative. Get to know them. Listen and learn. When they trust you, they're more apt to trust your students. Attitude goes a long way.
Know which ones to avoid. DPEs have their own amount of chitbags that slide into that program. A DPE in general is not an enemy, yet specific ones can be complete pains in the ass, through their own fault, not yours. Those are the ones I don’t bother wasting my time with, or the student’s.

With each year and added page in the logbook, it gets harder to have a Beginner's mindset; to know that there is still a ton to learn. Keep yourself on a check-loop, trying to detect slippage from that mindset, and return yourself to it whenever possible. (weakness for me - I have to guard against this constantly.)
How has this become a weakness for you to guard against…..knowing that there is a lot for you to still learn?

Don't be afraid to charge for ground. You earned your tickets. You're a professional and you should be paid as such. CFIs who do a lot of free ground are doing a disservice to their fellow CFIs. This is more a guideline than a rule, and applies more to busy flight schools than clubs. Act accordingly.
“If you’re good at something, never do it for free”
- The Joker
 

killbilly

Vocals, Lyrics, Triangle, Washboard, Kittens
Going hand in hand with this are CFIs knowing how to properly brief and debrief. The number I see that don’t know anything other than regurgitating the flight in debrief or not efficiently briefing the upcoming sortie, is interesting.
True. This is not something that is easy to do right out of the gate. I tend to pre-brief toward "these are the outcomes we're looking for, here's how we get there." Post-brief is, "This is what we were looking for - we got part of the way there because of X, and we missed the mark because of Y and Z. Items A, B and C - those were good, but you had a problem with D because your <airspeed/altitude/bank angle/etc> was Z-number of degrees/knots fast/slow so that resulted in that goofy thing you did. How might you correct that in the future?"

Technique versus procedure. As a CFI, know the damn difference, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking one way is techcedure, and as a result evaluating or grading to that. Regarding techniques, those further break down into good/better/best practices. Some techniques are indeed better or more efficient than others, but as long as they get to the same end state in a safe and efficient manner, then understand that flexibility.
Yeah. This is something else that took a little time to figure out....I tend to think of the procedure as the "roadmap" to the outcome, and the technique as the tasks to get there. In the very beginning for students, with Primacy being the spiteful bitch that she is, Procedure and technique are indistinguishable at first. Takes a little time to set baselines, and then as the student learns, they begin to separate the two.

You can complain about stuff that is observed and such to the student, the professionalism comes in how you go about it. And how productive you make that complaint as learning experience for the student. If it’s just useless sport bitching, that accomplishes nothing. If it’s something that can be pointed out as an example of what not to do and why, it can be productive.
True. My admonition is mainly about the latter than the former. Mostly observational.

Know which ones to avoid. DPEs have their own amount of chitbags that slide into that program. A DPE in general is not an enemy, yet specific ones can be complete pains in the ass, through their own fault, not yours. Those are the ones I don’t bother wasting my time with, or the student’s.
I have been personally lucky. Have not had to deal with DPEs who had difficult reputations. Have heard horror stories, but have not had any real negatives.

How has this become a weakness for you to guard against…..knowing that there is a lot for you to still learn?
Sort of. After you've got a few hundred hours of the same stuff in the pattern and lots of practice area follies, I think it's very, very easy to get complacent and comfortable. I mean, I COMPLETELY understand why pilots more advanced in their careers remark that there is only so much you can learn instructing. And I think that's true about some things.

But I also know there is no growth without discomfort - so when I find myself getting too comfortable, I sorta have to smack myself and remind myself to stay edgy, focused and not to do something stupid because of complacency and inattention. Beginner's mindset.
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
True. This is not something that is easy to do right out of the gate. I tend to pre-brief toward "these are the outcomes we're looking for, here's how we get there." Post-brief is, "This is what we were looking for - we got part of the way there because of X, and we missed the mark because of Y and Z. Items A, B and C - those were good, but you had a problem with D because your <airspeed/altitude/bank angle/etc> was Z-number of degrees/knots fast/slow so that resulted in that goofy thing you did. How might you correct that in the future?"
Even more than that, objectives have to be specifically measurable and also attainable. Lots of CFIs come up objectives that’s don’t really mean anything, and have no specific measurements to even understand when they have been achieved or not.

An easy example below for mine….this one for a checkride, but moldable to whatever is needed.: basically left 1/3 of the board, first column, is all the admin for the entire flight: top to bottom:

date, what we are doing or which lesson, tail number of our aircraft. This will include the Wx, current and forecasted, for the airfields we will be using and the areas we will be working. Included in this are sunset/sunrise times, as well as moon set/moonrise times and % illumination if we are night and NVG. NOTAMs for our primary and alternate fields at this time too.

Then, the DLOs for the day, Desired Learning Objectives. Not too many of them, measurable and attainable. Why we are out there today and what is to be accomplished.

Below that is the SOPs and hand receipts. These are any training restrictions we have or must adhere to, Hand receipts are what the student can expect from me, and what I expect from them, during the flight. Things such as how practice emergency procedures will be annunciated and conducted, as well as how real-world EPs will be handled should they occur….as in what times will flight controls transfer occur and what times will they not, student experience dependent of course. How i want a student to talk through maneuvers they’re doing if they are able to, so I know where they are at SA-wise and what they’re thinking etc. The coming and going will be discussed here too: how we are going out and how we are getting back. All admin stuff here.

Once the admin is covered, the rest of the brief is the neat of the mission: what we are looking to get accomplished out on the flight, how we will do it, and we hat the specific maneuver DLOs are…..nothing about going or coming, as that’s been covered. The meat of the flight is further broken down here into day in one column, night unaided in the next column, and NVG in the last column. Once these are all briefed, then it’s back to the overall flight DLOs in the first column and reviewing them one last time. Then it’s time for any questions.

Once back and in debrief. I debrief back to the general flight DLOs and mark each with a green plus sign or a red minus sign as we debrief down and go over each one in detail, for a visual depiction of how the flight went with respect to the DLOs, and and points to ponder or rehash.

Simple, organized, and efficient.

7A9F7F1D-AA97-42F0-A17E-B04BC947F44F.jpeg
 

drunkenbeagle

Gang Member
Even more than that, objectives have to be specifically measurable and also attainable. Lots of CFIs come up objectives that’s don’t really mean anything, and have no specific measurements to even understand when they have been achieved or not.
That may be the neatest whiteboard I've ever seen (I'm looking at mine right now -- I can't even read half of it )

Also, have never had a student with that type of attention span. Is there a cartoon / picture version ?
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
That may be the neatest whiteboard I've ever seen (I'm looking at mine right now -- I can't even read half of it )

Also, have never had a student with that type of attention span. Is there a cartoon / picture version ?
lol! :). Failing to clean the whiteboard prior to, and after, use, is a crime. The neat thing is that the brief flows pretty quickly, averaging about 25 mins or so, minus any student/evaluee questions they may have.
 

ahw01

Well-Known Member
lol! :). Failing to clean the whiteboard prior to, and after, use, is a crime. The neat thing is that the brief flows pretty quickly, averaging about 25 mins or so, minus any student/evaluee questions they may have.
The military polish their whiteboards I'm sure
 

killbilly

Vocals, Lyrics, Triangle, Washboard, Kittens
lol! :). Failing to clean the whiteboard prior to, and after, use, is a crime. The neat thing is that the brief flows pretty quickly, averaging about 25 mins or so, minus any student/evaluee questions they may have.
Seconding what the Beagle said.

Can you define "EPs" and C4 comms, please?
 

Wardogg

Meat Popsicle
These are some excellent, well thought-out points. Thank you for posting them.

I think this one needs a caveat.

  • No matter how much you want them to, no matter how behind in the curriculum they are or how badly you need the hours, if they don't want to fly one day - for any reason - then don't fly.​
Pushing a student reasonably outside of their comfort zone sometimes has to be done. "Today we're going to fly in 25kts of wind." I've had many students show up during those kind of windy days worried about going up. Where I live, if you only want to fly on days with less than 10kts wind you aren't going to fly much. So we go up. And the student finds a new level of confidence or learns a new technique to handle being bumped around a little. A healthy dose of stress can be a good for a student. And if they become overwhelmed then the lesson ends and can be discussed in debrief. Also stalls. I've had many students talk about all the reasons they can't go up on a day they know we're going to practice stalls. Healthy stress is actually a good thing.

  • If you don't want to fly one day, don't fly.

This I totally agree with. If you aren't 100% in the game that day bow out and try again tomorrow.
 

MikeFavinger

Hubschrauber Flieger
@MikeD - curious what EPs and C4 comms means?
EPs are Emergency Procedures.

C4 comms is command, control, communications, and computers. Often intel, surveillance, and recon (ISR) is attached to the term.

It used to just be C2 or C&C but the military acronym branch is always hungry for more. These days it gets up to at least C6/ISR and I’m probably behind the times.
 

Maximilian_Jenius

Super User
Killbilly said:
DPE's are not the enemy. In fact, they may be your best ally. DPEs want you and your students to succeed. If a DPE comes to you with feedback, take it as constructive advice to make you better. It's not an adversarial relationship and if it feels that way, either determine why and resolve it, or create a different DPE relationship. It should be collaborative. Get to know them. Listen and learn. When they trust you, they're more apt to trust your students. Attitude goes a long way.
MikeD said:
Know which ones to avoid. DPEs have their own amount of chitbags that slide into that program. A DPE in general is not an enemy, yet specific ones can be complete pains in the ass, through their own fault, not yours. Those are the ones I don’t bother wasting my time with, or the student’s.
The DPE for my IR ride busted me on my oral for not knowing how to operate an ADF and an old school OBS style VOR. I was flying a DA40 with a full G-1000 suite. There was no ADF in the plane and no OBS style VOR. The plane had a digital HSI. His argument was what happens one day when you fly a plane with one or both in them? He sent me packing and was told to learn how to use them and be able to explain them on the retest. The chief pilot told me that he was known to do this to get the retest fee. Sucks dude was an ass, but I couldn't argue with him at the time. Nor can I blame him when I go to an interview of any type. I have to eat it and explain how I learned from that failure.
 

Roger Roger

Paid to sleep, fly for fun
The DPE for my IR ride busted me on my oral for not knowing how to operate an ADF and an old school OBS style VOR. I was flying a DA40 with a full G-1000 suite. There was no ADF in the plane and no OBS style VOR. The plane had a digital HSI. His argument was what happens one day when you fly a plane with one or both in them? He sent me packing and was told to learn how to use them and be able to explain them on the retest. The chief pilot told me that he was known to do this to get the retest fee. Sucks dude was an ass, but I couldn't argue with him at the time. Nor can I blame him when I go to an interview of any type. I have to eat it and explain how I learned from that failure.
OBS style VOR is still kind of important for a heading failure on a glass cockpit tho
 
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