I’ve always been an advocate of continuous improvement and development in teaching as in life. I fall into a category of ‘Lifelong Learner’.
I found myself reading about reflective practice in teaching and began to experiment with it in my own teaching. After having some great conversations with a former candidate who just so happens to be a very experienced educator herself, I found myself wanting in implement it into the course I was teaching at the professional level with my students too.
Over time I crafted three questions that I take time to reflect on after the completion of a course, which themselves are fluid and continually evolving.
I now sit with the candidates after each pool and open water workshop and session and we run through the questions together. I lead the first session by giving my own impressions and then let the candidates take the lead after that.
Let’s take a look at my current iteration of the questions we use:
- What did I do well? I, like many people, can be overly self-critical, especially if things have gone exactly as planned. Starting with a little positive reinforcement is something we teach dive professionals to do with their students and customers, so why not ourselves?
Did your logistics run on time? How about a particular skill a student had struggled with and helped them through it?
- What could I have done better? Be selective with this one, just one or two things that may be improved. Don’t sweat the small stuff and remember you can only control things you can influence.
If the weather turned and you couldn’t complete something in the course, that’s out of your control. Could you build space in your program's structure for the next time just in case? That’s something you have influence over.
- What did the students and/or the environment, teach me? This question evolved for me recently after taking some newly certified instructors out for a bridging day after their IE. A day that stripped away the rigidity and sterility of the score sheet and pool and let them teach multiple skills in a confined open water setting.
After we completed the day I asked the instructors go through these questions, just as we had after every session of their IDC, and I found myself adjusting my final question to the day’s activity – what did the environment teach you?
I’ve introduced this practice into every one of my professional development programs and found them greatly beneficial and seen fantastic improvements with things such as dive site set up, close control, briefing efficiency and self-confidence.
You may be able to answer each question after every course you teach; things do go well from start to finish sometimes, but having it as part of your teaching will help you along the way to better courses and better students too.
Albert Einstein is credited with the famous quote “If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself.”
Each IDC I teach I find myself attempting to simplify the PADI-ism’s in the Guide to Teaching. Explaining the summative scoring system that is employed while the candidates are giving Knowledge Development, Confined Water and Open Water presentations for the IDC and IE can lead to confusion and additional anxiety for the candidates.
I had an epiphany moment around about a year ago with a candidate when I feel like I broke it down into its most simplistic form - What, Why, How, Where, Who and When!
Breaking down phrases such as ‘stated appropriate objective’ and ‘stated measurable objective’ in to What do you want the student to do or answer and ‘reinforce immediate value by applying information to current level of training’ and ‘clearly stated a realistic value for skill’ in to Why do you want the students to do this? Has proven very beneficial to my candidates and I hope it will help you guys too.
Let’s break it down for a Confined and Open Water presentation briefing:
What do you want the students to do? In Confined and Open Water you want them to meet the performance requirement for a skill.
e.g. Recover a regulator from behind the shoulder.
Why should they do this? This is the value to everything, the real diving circumstance that the skill is designed to replicate.
e.g. If the regulator comes from your mouth for any reason you’ll be able to safely recover and clear it.
How is this skill performed? The critical attributes to the successful completion of the skill.
e.g. Take in a big breath, remove the regulator, exhale small bubbles, ensure the regulator mouthpiece is facing down, place the regulator behind the shoulder, lean to the side of the regulator, sweep or reach for the hose, locate the regulator second stage and then replace it and clear via the blast or purge method.
Where will this skill take place and Where will be everyone be situated?
e.g. In shallow water with everyone in an arch facing me.
Who will be doing what while the skill is taking place?
e.g. Face me while I demonstrate and the Divemaster will be positioned behind the group
When will I know the skill is being performed in the sequence, When do they know it’s their turn and When will they know they have successfully completed the skill or When they must repeat it?
e.g. Your supporting signals for the skill, to indicate it’s the students turn and signals to affirm mastery or to ask the student to repeat the skill whilst reminding them of what they should correct.
No matter if you’re a potential Divemaster Candidate or an experienced Course Director, breaking the skills briefings in this fashion makes them much more practical for you as the briefer but also a lot more understandable and jargon for your students and customers.
Try it with your next course and let me know how it went.
One of the key attributes to building better dive pro’s is discovering their existing talents and traits and how they are transferable into this new field.
There are no negatives here; if they’re young and have a fresh outlook they are probably in line with emerging technologies. If they spent 20 years in the delivery service they will have a strong sense for the logical instincts.
Within a group of candidates, individuals will have strengths when it comes to the role of being a dive professional based on these transferable skills from their own life experience. This can also allow them to become a quasi-mentor in the development of their fellow candidates and other dive pro’s needing insight and guidance they can offer.
Take the time to invest in discovering candidates pasts; the roles they have fulfilled, the skills required to do them, their intrinsic strengths as individuals and the values that have led them to this point in their lives.
Play to their strengths and work on their weaknesses and you'll be building better dive pro's in no time.
Our job as instructors is to take all the fragments of information the students receive and turn it into a cohesive experience for them and show them how their training and experience will transfer to future experiences and course.
For example – during the PADI Instructor Development Course presentations covering the instructional system, course details, marketing and risk mitigation are fragments of information spread across teaching materials such as the PADI Instructor Manual, Teaching Slates, Guide To Teaching, Course Director Manual and the IDC Slide Deck.
My job as the PADI Course Director is to find the connections between the pieces of information and turn them into cohesive knowledge and guide the candidates along the same path. Mastery for us is in some way our ability to join those dots and create cohesion through all aspects of the program and not just connections between Knowledge Development, Confined and Open Water training sessions.
The more readily the candidates can build the pathway from information to knowledge, the better prepared we are to move along with our process to wisdom. This is where we can use real-life scenarios or anecdotes to test our knowledge against real-life situations they either have or may occur.
This also allows us to move into less tangible aspects of being an instructor such as empathy and intuition and we can use them to better convey knowledge and skills along with providing better customer experience using our three S method – Standards-Safety-Satisfaction.
Having a balance between these factors during training experiences will help with better risk mitigation and decision making for newly certified professional and experienced dive pro’s alike.
It’s great to look back at our previous dive training and fondly remember all of the great instructors that made up those collective experiences.
But no matter how fond those memories are, could any of our dive training or customer experience have been better?
If so, how could it have been improved?
I asked an IDC candidate this question and their response didn’t necessarily convince me. She had thoroughly enjoyed their OWD experience which then led her on to the path to be sitting in a classroom with others beginning their own instructor development experience.
When I asked about her OWD she said it was ‘perfectly fine’, unconvinced I felt it was worth digging a little deeper into critical aspects such as buoyancy and dive planning and then we hit gold.
‘Well, it could have been a little better’; ‘did you tell your instructor that you felt you needed more work on it?’ ‘Not really, if he said I was good enough I assumed that was what was required’
There are a few areas that could be addressed for improvement from this tale. Primarily was there a defined line of communication from the instructor for the student within their micro-relationship to say that even though the instructor felt mastery had been met the student felt that extra practice in certain areas may be required? We have the demonstration slate now for just this purpose but it must be explained by the person conducting the program, the onus is on them not the student in this instance.
I posed this question and wasn’t at all surprised by the response. No.
Every educational experience, even the ones we remember fondly because of the fun we had, the things we saw and the people we met are open to review. Was there anything you would have done differently given the knowledge you have now?
Things change over time, standards, legal requirements and even teaching methodologies but one thing that shouldn’t is our striving to continuously improve the programs we offer.
By setting ourselves the goal of being better than the instructors that came before us, no matter how amazing they were, we will be able to move the world of diving forward and achieve excellence in the roles that we fulfil.