Real improvements in the "state of ski teaching" will only come about when management commits to training its ski school employees.**
All businesses have a vested interest in training their employees to be effective on the job. Snowsports schools, being in business to train the public, must regard professional development as the only quality control they have. Since a lesson is only as good as an individual's skill in delivering it, a school's business success depends on how effectively they prepare their own personnel to be successful with the guests. Given the consequences, it's rather astonishing that any manager would want to abdicate the responsibility for training to AASI/PSIA.**
AASI/PSIA training programs simply do not have the time-on-task with participants that a snowsports school (or any business, for that matter) has with its employees. The major challenge to instructor training is time. On the one hand, most experts agree that it probably takes ten years to develop to the level of a master instructor. On the other hand, schools have only a few weeks to indoctrinate their new hires before the Christmas rush, when every able-bodied instructor must be with a class, ready or not.
The distressing fact is that few new instructors are ready for their first class. Even high-tech, strong-talent ski schools like Vail/Beaver Creek, whose training program is a world-class model of excellence, are frustrated with their results with rookies.
Johanna Hall, who manages the ski and snowboard school at Steamboat, Colorado, recalls how it was a few years ago when she was at Vail:
After just moving into a position as a supervisor at Vail, I realized that my level of understanding about mechanics was very unrealistic for our first-year instructors. And I had observations of our instructors that were disturbing. These young instructors had such a small working knowledge of skiing in the big picture. Their idea of outcome was: 1) braking wedge; 2) stop, and 3) Oh boy, off to the chairlift! Even with the incredible amount of training they receive at Vail, this was the first level of understanding they achieved. Sorry to say, whether kids' or adults' ski school, we have mostly first and second year instructors out with the beginners, and with their limited understanding of mechanics, they were getting our customers functional but very often blocked (by which I mean that some of their learned behaviors must be unlearned before further progress can be achieved).
After the Christmas rush, there is a second stab at training--with more mechanics, more games, more exercises, more skiing from one level to another, and more discussion to show how skiing fits together. "They get plenty of help with their own skiing and we make great attempts at tying their skills back to the skills of their students. Yet, sure enough, the TRANSFER of this additional training into action and everyday practice is another story. I'd see them doing the same things they did initially.
What is true of Vail is even more true of smaller, lower budget schools. Their failure to adequately train their own people speaks volumes about the lack of quality control of their product. For the customer, getting a good lesson seems to be a matter of pure luck. The odds seem to favor getting a less experienced instructor and a poor quality lesson. Such odds make for a lousy sales prospectus.
"Most of our work force is teaching while they learn to teach, learn to ski, learn the progression, learn mechanics, learn company policy, and learn about our customers and their needs," says Johanna. Can't we somehow accelerate the learning process so novice instructors can deliver good lessons sooner?
For the ski instructional community, this is big concern. Obviously, the traditional show and tell approach to training falls well short of success. Something must be added to traditional training methods to make it more effective and more efficient.
Carol Levine, coordinator of training at Vail, replied to Johanna's letter with the germ of a solution. She tells about recent research on "teacher concerns theory," which examines how well colleges of education are preparing their students to meet the challenges of teaching. The theory is based on Maslow's theory of needs motivation and Erikson's theory of personality. Teacher concerns can be classified as: 1) concerns about self, 2) concerns about teaching tasks, and 3) concerns about the impact of teaching on pupils. These three concerns represent progressive phases in a teacher's professional development.
The first phase relates to the instructors which Johanna describes. Self concerns are a normal part of everyone's development. The research suggests that "the inexperienced teacher has little, if any, insight into the kinds of tasks and problems involved in teaching. Prospective teachers are not always aware of realistic teacher concerns. It is difficult for the pre-service teacher to relate knowledge of educational theory to expected on-the-job behavior.
In other words, at this stage teachers are more concerned about themselves than their students.
The second phase evolves as "concerns about functioning in general change to concerns about the self as a teacher and about adequacy in teaching. The teacher in this phase is also concerned about the feelings of his pupils toward him." This phase occurs after there is actual classroom experience, yet "concerns about self are still strong."
The third phase comes with teaching experience and is directly related to increased proficiency and effectiveness. It is "characterized by concerns about pupil learning, about improvement of teaching abilities, and seeking changes in themselves and their teaching which will facilitate pupil growth."
If we are to create an accelerated learning program for novice instructors, a major objective would be to "mature" a new teacher's concerns. Carol suggests that we "put teacher trainees into a field experience program early in the education process. In terms of ski and snowboard teaching, perhaps many programs don't give new instructors enough time and experience dealing with immediate on-the-hill problems and concerns, so that they have the confidence to understand and use more new information from training clinics."
The training program must address what motivates the instructor. Maslow's theory of needs motivation states that one must first satisfy the lower level biological and security needs before higher level esteem and achievement needs come into play. Like everyone else, ski instructors are motivated to satisfy the next level of need, and training should target that.
Carol says, "Perhaps some of our training programs are not assessing new instructors' needs very well. Are we giving them too much or too little in certain areas? For instance, at a time when they are still concerned about their own security and esteem needs, is management expecting them to operate at a level higher than their worries allow? I find myself sharing information about mechanics or teaching methods where I'm presuming that the new teachers (in this case, my students) are concerned, like me, with being a good teacher, when in fact they may be chiefly concerned with surviving as a teacher."
The research on teacher concerns theory provides a blueprint for the training program of the future. At the entry level, teacher concerns are basic. New teachers are more concerned with survival than teaching. They're concerned with here-and-now problems of coping rather than any abstract "self-actualization." They have trouble maintaining control of the group and meeting the individual needs of their students. They rate student teaching as of far greater value than education classes, though they find special methods courses very helpful.
New teachers need an example to follow when they're on their own. At a minimum, before a new instructor goes out with a class, he or she should have some opportunities to shadow an experienced instructor at work--to see how it's done, to ask questions, to practice teaching, and to get some feedback. The training emphasis at this stage of development should be on learning how to relate to students and how to keep the class under control and moving along. Until the group management issues have been resolved, according to Maslow's theory, the higher need for knowledge and understanding will lay dormant.
Once an instructor has figured out how to manage the people in her class, she begins to feel the need to have a good background in ski teaching. This is when most ski instructors join AASI/PSIA and begin the certification process. The PSIA training curriculum is graded from Level I to Level III to allow people to progressively accumulate a good background in ski teaching over several years. It takes an average of 3.8 years to attain Level II and 4.8 years for Level III.*
Some never move past the "techno-wienie" phase that is characteristic of instructors in the certification process, and perhaps this is the why we suffer from the stereotype of the egocentric windbag. Yet teacher concerns theory indicates that the techno-wienie phase is necessary to the development of a good ski instructor. A solid background in learning theory, biomechanics, physics, movement analysis, progressions, skills and skill blending is fundamental to the work of improving a skier's ability. This background is necessary for the instructor to have adequate diagnostic skills to prescribe an appropriate course of improvement.
Knowledge brings with it the desire to share it with others. The third phase of teacher concerns development--concerns about student learning--is the end to which all training must ultimately be directed. Once reaching this stage is not a guarantee that you will stay there. All teachers will move in and out of this level of concern. Depending upon the situation, a high level teacher may revert to lower level concerns, and conversely, a less experienced teacher can use a limited knowledge base to perfectly meet a student's goals. Concerns about self are bound to be a part of a new job, a move to a new area, or increased responsibility at work. Carol notes that these concerns "may be of a shorter duration, but are as likely to occur to a seasoned teacher in a new job situation as to a student teacher starting out in the profession."
All along, a competing concern has had a profound influence on the teacher's development. "The desire for esteem from others was identified as an important objective for beginning teachers," Carol notes. "Acceptance from peers, as well as supervisors, was a major concern." The need for esteem from others can distract a teacher from her concerns about student learning. Most of us will recognize the teacher whose primary motivation is to impress the boss. He offers his students little more than a pantomime of a ski or snowboard lesson.*
But esteem needs can affect teaching in even more pernicious ways. A college professor, no less, writes in Harper's Magazine: "I had been putting on a performance whose true goal was not to help the students learn but to act in such a way that they would have a good opinion of me." It's a rare teacher whose motivation goes beyond leaving students with a superficial positive impression.
The teacher whose predominant concern is maintaining authority with the class and receiving recognition from his or her peers has little attention left to give to student learning. There is the task of training--to satisfy the lower level needs of instructors so they can get on to the important business of acquiring a foundation of knowledge and transferring that knowledge to the actual job of teaching. **
by Joan Rostad[ October 14, 2002, 01:14 PM: Message edited by: nolo ]