I recently had dinner with a few friends, one of whom is an accomplished touring cyclist, and builds his own bikes. As the conversation turned to this particular passion of his, he mentioned that even with all his experience and working knowledge of the sport, he struggles to explain or teach it to others. This is the crux of what makes someone an effective educator. This friend has a vast amount of experience and knowledge, but when it comes time to talk about it, he struggles to bring the conversation to a level that can be understood by people without his experience level.
This happens a lot in the outdoor industry. People who are incredibly talented, and have a wealth of experience don’t necessarily make great instructors. As a guide or instructor, you not only need to be able to perform the skills you’re teaching at a high level. You also need to be able to speak about them well and explain them in a way that brings them into context for each individual student. This is a constantly moving target and is a constant challenge. That challenge can be more easily met by combining three distinct facets of “working knowledge”.
The educational approach of our programs is made up of those three. The first “hard” skills are the physical tasks that you perform. Things like effective axe use, poling and paddling a canoe, or fire starting. Without a relative level of mastery, you can’t expect to teach these effectively. “Soft” skills, is the ability to read and manage a group, to see when people are getting frustrated and knowing whether that frustration is constructive and challenging the student, or if you need to step in and help out. These are the nuts and bolts of learning to be a guide or outdoor professional, or simply someone who enjoys the outdoors and wants to maximize their ability to do so. The third component is the academic facet, and it’s an unsung hero of what I believe makes an effective educator in this industry. Knowing how to speak about a topic is difficult, but becomes easier as your knowledge base grows and you can make connections across topics, or effectively explain an action or idea in multiple ways.
Each of these aspects is vital in it’s own particular way, however, I believe that it’s only when these three are combined and can play off of each other in an educational setting that truly effective student/ instructor dynamics grow.