After co-teaching several ACA whitewater kayak instructor certification workshops with other Instructor Trainers and Instructor Trainer Educators, I felt the time had come to leave the proverbial nest and go it solo for a change.
Don’t get me wrong: It was wonderful co-teaching with so much talent, if not for just the knowledge-base alone, then for the chance to sit back and relax every now and then. My goals in this solo course were actually to get a full picture of logistics, planning, timing and certainly, to step up the game on my own fluency in each and every component of the curriculum. My secondary goal was to go to the other end of the spectrum of class size. My previous ICWs (Instructor Certification Workshops) had been fairly large affairs with between 10 and 15 people on the water at a time. ACA requires a minimum of 4 instructor candidates (IC) to hold an ICW with a max candidate:trainer ratio of 5:1. My potential class size here then was the universe spanning 4-5.
As some luck and a lot of talking to many potential candidates would have it, my final number for this ICW was 4. This was going to allow me to see a pretty stark comparison between the dynamics of a large class and a small one and to leverage the agenda to allow for the maximum amount of one-on-one work, the maximum amount of IC exposure to teaching and to really give the group time to talk about problems, solutions and techniques.
There really is quite a difference. At the end of our first weekend (the class was conducted over 2, 2 1/2-day weekends) I asked the ICs what their stress levels were on a scale of 1-10. The answer was a surprising 2-4. Pretty much all of the ICWs I had participated in (including my own L4 certification) resulted in a much higher stress level at this point. Candidates are frequently questioning their own qualifications here.
My guess is that the time savings of not having to iterate each stroke and maneuver on the lake through 8-10 candidates (and subsequently recovering time to work with each candidate) gave us just enough time for everyone to reach a level of comfort, if not competence) in each of the skills. Maybe the agenda, which took the class size into account, just did not create the time pressures to always be moving immediately from one drill to the next, allowed us the time to reach a comfort level as we progressed.
I know that by the end of the first weekend, my own level of comfort was much higher than it had been in any other ICW to date. It’s possible that the agenda was spot-on. It’s possible that the months of preparation for the ICW had paid of and that I had underestimated my own readiness for the course.
ACA encourages at least a minimum class size to increase the potential for interaction between ICs, allowing them to learn from others and see a variety of teaching styles/techniques. In keeping a very small class, one takes the chance that one, or a very few, will dominate the class and minimize interaction. This wasn’t the case this time, with everyone forming a cohesive team to which all contributed equally and readily. Kudos to them.
I was pretty pleased with the way this course went. I think the ICs had a fun and educational experience and got a lot out of it (so much so, that they coined the term “Safely, Funly, Learnly“). I tried to parse the usually overwhelming amount of material out by providing some homework before the course and between weekends so that it didn’t have to be digested all at once. I stuck by my belief that two sessions, with a break between, allow candidates to absorb material and practice their teaching and modeling, reducing performance anxiety in the ICE (Instructor Certification Exam). I think it helped a lot to carefully interview candidates ahead of the course and equally match them to the task. I tried to make it very clear to everyone what would be expected of them in the class and what baseline skills should be for successful completion. In much larger classes, this kind of parity between ICs is going to be more difficult to achieve. By organizing the class from day one with success in mind, I think we all accomplished our goals admirably.