The role of the instructor
No matter how you may feel inwardly about your role as an instructor, your students will have as many different interpretations yet again. Your chief aim will most likely be to increase the skill level of the students who face you. That aim can be achieved by various means - some of which may give the outward impression that you are not following the accepted path to enlightenment of a bona fide instructor.
At one extreme, you are an entertainer: someone who ensures that the student has a fun time. At the other extreme, you are the coach: someone who ensures that the student maximises their individual performance level. That is not to say that coaches cannot entertain, or for that matter, entertainers coach. Good instructors bring both elements into their lessons, depending upon their perception and empathy with their students.
The risks involved in Nordic skiing are slight in Australia, compared with other, more rugged countries, and they can be minimised further by prior preparation and planning. By imagining the worst possible scenario in all possible events, action can be taken to prevent them from happening.
Unfortunately for the inexperienced instructor, it is not possible to foresee all possible events, although it is possible to gather a good deal of information to help make a useful assessment. The experienced instructor is not necessarily better off, either, as it is often said that accidents are part of a numbers game - the more people an instructor is exposed to, the more chance that one of them will experience an accident, even with all possible precautions.
As Nordic skiing is considered a physical and adventurous activity, the instructor must be careful to blend just the right amount of adventure and physical activity with safety. This is a perceived measure on the part of the student, and thus can create some difficulties when faced with students in a group who appear to be the proverbial 'thrill-seekers'. This can sometimes catch the unwary instructor out, and especially so if the instructor has a degree of the 'thrill-seeker' mentality also (after all, instructors are sometimes attracted to this activity because of this element). The instructor must learn to distinguish between responsibility for one's own actions and that of responsibility for others actions (or inactions). The lowest common denominator within the group should be catered for at all times, to ensure that risks taken are minimal.
Risks can include such things as skiing in poor weather conditions; being uncommunicative to the group as to the aims of the lesson; encouraging students to attempt skills that are beyond their present capacity; leaving the group whilst being responsible for them; teaching a new skill half-heartedly, or without sufficient preparation; allowing an individual to leave the lesson without escorting him/her back to the designated starting and finishing point of the lesson; and, while the group are practising a new skill, allowing yourself to ski fast and recklessly around or through them to polish up your own skills.
Responsible decision-making, with particular regard to group safety, is a major part of the role of the instructor. The easiest method of ensuring the safety of your students is to prevent them from skiing at all, and preferably to keep them all indoors. Since very little ski instruction can take place indoors, one must fully appreciate the hazards involved in being outdoors in an environment that is generally alien to most people. Instructors may sometimes forget that the people that face them for lessons may consider themselves in a very hostile environment, even on a sunny, windless day, and grow more apprehensive throughout their contact time with the instructor - especially if the instructor ignores their apprehension. The more that you can inform the group of the environment around them, such as the observation of local weather, both present and future, along with orientation skills, map-reading of even the simplest local trail map, as well as the more usually-discussed flora and fauna, will help them to be more self-sufficient, better able to enjoy themselves and learn new skills.
The instructor has an ultimate responsibility for the safety of his/her class, as well as the level of enjoyment and learning - and in that particular order.
Safety ---> Enjoyment --> Learning
SAFETY is the single most-important factor, from the moment the lesson begins at a designated meeting point until the safe return to that same designated meeting point, unless prior arrangements are clearly made to finish elsewhere. It is therefore important to formally define the beginning and end of your responsibility, for all concerned. Your lesson plan needs to be appropriate to ensure the safety of each student, and the group. The instructional area should be well defined and suitable for the planned activity - your skill as an instructor should include the ability to see any potential hazards to the students. Relevant first-aid training is not only desirable, but mandatory - especially if contemplating skiing away from defined resort areas. Ultimately, proper preparation and planning will prevent problems (PPPPP - the five P's) from occurring.
proper preparation and planning prevents problems!
ENJOYMENT may well be paramount in your students' minds, and often more so than learning. Without enjoyment, learning is an uphill battle. By enjoying what you are doing, and sharing that enjoyment with them, their whole skiing experience will be enhanced dramatically. Stimulation, praise, and encouragement, however slight, will make them feel as though they really have achieved something - boredom will stifle that feeling no matter what gains they make. Putting students at ease reduces fear, and will enhance the ability to enjoy and learn. An empathy with, and an ability to understand, the desires of the students is essential to create a comfortable environment. Note that the activity of learning itself can also be enjoyment for a student - smiles and laughter are not always the signs to look for!
LEARNING should automatically follow enjoyment, but there are times when the prime motivation of a student is to learn first, enjoy later. By recognising the needs of the student, both enjoyment and learning will go hand-in-hand. Give them plenty of opportunity to see good technique, and ensure that all of your skill demonstrations are within their reach - and within your ability! Offer encouragement where possible, and avoid highlighting their deficiencies. In the later stages of your lesson particularly, reinforce the positive aspects of their skiing, and suggest ways of improving their technique still further.
©2013 Ivan Trundle
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