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Help your students meet their expectationsHelp your students meet their expectations

Meeting expectations is a crucial aspect to any successful relationship.

Meeting expectations in flight training could mean the difference between keeping a student and letting her walk out the door. As the basis for determining value in the student’s mind, it’s arguably the most important part of the ongoing sales process of flight training. Things that impact the buying decision, such as aircraft availability, instructor effectiveness, and treatment by the school’s owner, have obvious implications. Perhaps just as important, but something which is clearly given little emphasis, is setting an expectation for training progress.

Although it may seem like a syllabus is for an instructor to reference during the training process, it’s ultimately for the student. Knowing where one is in the long training program is incredibly valuable. While following along lesson to lesson with a plan is important, an oft-overlooked feature is the completion standards of each lesson.

If you think back to the beginning of your flight training, you may remember being constantly frustrated with a certain maneuver—or maybe even all of them. Part of what added to that frustration was not knowing how well you were doing. Sure, the practical test standards tell us where we’re supposed to be at the end of training. But what about after lesson 10, lesson 20, and lesson 2? For a student who is constantly overwhelmed, watching an instructor calmly take over an aircraft and show the perfect way to land, stall, or turn steeply can be frustrating and lead the student to think he’s frustratingly far behind.

Here is where the school owner and chief instructor can come in. One obvious way to help is by stressing to your instructors that they should be following the completion standards for each lesson that are laid out in the syllabus. The student should be familiar with that standard before the flight, and then debriefed after the lesson, with notes on where his performance was in relation to the standard.

If your school isn’t using a syllabus, or is using one without lesson-appropriate completion standards, develop one. This means that students shouldn’t be expected to meet practical test standards prior to solo, shouldn’t be yelled at to maintain ten feet in a steep turn after 15 hours, and shouldn’t be expected to track a radial after five hours. By contrast, it may mean holding altitude within 200 feet, losing 200 feet in stall practice, and so on.

Without a proper frame of reference students have no idea if their flying is meeting expectations. And if they get frustrated thinking that perfect altitude is required on a stall, they’ll think they aren’t cut out for flying, and they will quit. It happens.

Praising a student seems like a logical step, and it is important to help confidence. But too much and you get diminishing returns. It’s the “Good job Johnny” approach found in youth recreation leagues all over the country. Your students don’t want a trophy for showing up. They want to know they are making progress, and what’s expected. Help them.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

"Flight Training" Editor
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.

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