Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of the mistakes and failures I’ve made as an instructor, as well as lessons learned from world-class teachers. Here’s a list of 10 easy to implement ideas for consideration.
1. Develop your plan for class prior to class time:
It’s always best to develop a class curriculum prior to teaching, and frankly, when I audit classes it is obvious who is prepared and who isn’t. Shooting from the hip, letting the class organically shape itself, and/or scribbling notes 5 minutes before class doesn’t provide the structure you need to lay out a blueprint for training. Instructors must prepare well ahead of time to adequately honor the trust each student places in him/her to deliver a class that has each person leaving safer than when he/she walked into training.
2. Leave your bad day at the door:
Your students are counting on you to bring a wealth of knowledge, insight, inspiration, and energy to the classroom. Many of your students have had a bad day too, and this time with you is their opportunity to recharge and grow. It’s part of the job – Krav up! This may be your last contact with your student before he/she goes through a violent encounter–make it count.
3. Ensure you take time for a good warm-up and cool down stretch:
We are all guilty of launching too quickly into class out of a sense of excitement and energy, skipping the warm-up process. We have all allowed a great class to run too long, and in the process, we rob of students of the vital cool down stretch their bodies need. Manage your time and get your students what they need most.
4. Incorporate dry work & slow work:
Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code refers to dry (without a partner), slow (very slow movement as you mentally check your movement, motor skills, and positioning), intensely concentrated work as “deep practice.” In my own training as well as in teaching, I’ve found this process to be highly useful and instructive. Use this process to teach through techniques up to natural pauses (weight shifting, changing angles, moving in and out of various ranges/distances, etc.) and as a means of connecting the entire technique through slower, tempo-oriented timing. Try it; this works!
5. Say what you mean, mean what you say:
All to often, I hear instructors use colloquial language, or worse, non-descriptive words/phrases (e.g. the word “things” and the phrase “stuff like that” come to mind) when teaching. Instead, replace those words with highly instructive words that specifically identify what you want your students to do. Develop a style of speech in teaching that focuses on sentence fragments – less is more! For examples, stand up straight, feet together, hips and shoulders square! Ensure you consistently use the same words for the same desired result (e.g. don’t use the term rotate one day and turn or pivot the next).
6. Paint your walls:
I’ve found it’s helpful, particularly for new students, to acclimate to the training environment if each wall in your training space has an obvious and distinguishing mark or color. For instance, you may paint the walls in your training space different colors (turn and face the blue wall). You may use a logo, mirrors, and/or windows, as long as each descriptor only exists on one wall. Avoid commands like, “face north”. Confusion will ensue. Make it easy, so the students can focus on the work at hand.
7. Vary your voice levels and tone to capture attention:
After a long day at work, it’s easy for a student to allow his/her mind to wonder, but you’re much more likely to keep their attention when addressing the class if your moderate your voice and tone. Sometimes lean in and act as if you’re telling them a secret in a softer voice; other times, raise your voice. My favorite instructor on the planet often yells, “Look at what I’m giving you!” Try this approach; it works!
8. Never end a teaching point with a negative demonstration
You’ve just done a dynamic demo. The room is abuzz with excitement. Students smile as they prepare to learn a handgun defense. You make your teaching points, and just before you’re about to get the students working, you show them what NOT to do. You just blew it. Like it or not, students remember what they see much more than what they hear. And students everywhere are especially adept at remembering the LAST thing they saw. Never end a teaching point with a negative demonstration. Many students will do what they saw last – regardless of what you say.
9. Stop using the word’s – DO NOT
How do you not do something? If I tell you, “do not rotate,” what are they left to do? Early on, an instructor of mine taught me this little gem. Always communicate with the intention of REPLACING an action.
Not only must we stop the wrong movement, we must be clear about what is needed in its place. AND, if the wrong movement is habitual (the student is unable to stop), we must have an option/movement for the student to actively replace the habit with before we teach the proper movement going forward.
Here’s an example: I had a student who loaded his hand and arm to make a groin strike, but the technique expressly avoids this waste of time and motion. I coached him four times on this within 10 minutes, but he had simply developed this motor skill into his process.
Eventually, to solve this issue, I had him do something else with the hand and arm at the same time he had previously loaded up his groin strike. After a few repetitions, he was able to consistently replicate the proper technique.
10. Get around and touch every student:
Not literally. Don’t physically touch every student; some don’t like it and some may misconstrue your touch. If you feel you need to lay hands on someone, ask permission first – every time. When you touch someone, identify where you going to touch first (above the waist or below the knees only).
Manage your time so that you have an interaction with everyone in the room. Students know you’re watching and coaching them, and they appreciate your efforts.
If you’re teaching a room of 50 people through an hour class, your interaction will be necessarily brief. Again, one of my favorite instructors creates interaction by making a grimace, pointing directly at someone and yelling, “GOOD!” and “YES!” It works. Try it, and your students will love it – guaranteed.