Procedure Versus Style

by Jen Sharp published in Parachutist Magazine July 2014

As an instructor, you’ve probably been there: The first-jump course students are still in the classroom, and it’s late afternoon already. “He loves to hear himself talk,” another instructor murmurs in your ear. “True,” you think sarcastically to yourself, “but at least he covers the information, unlike some people I know.”

Where is the balance? Is it up to individual instructors to set their own time limits for classes? What about the amount of information they should cover? What about getting the students involved? What if one instructor’s directions conflict with another’s? We all love doing things our own way, making them “ours”… but how much freedom of expression should we use?

Defining two terms—procedure and style—can help provide the answers to these questions. While procedures should be stringently consistent, individual instructors’ styles can vary widely.

A drop zone’s student program should include a written set of procedures that it communicates to the team. The team of instructors and coaches should accept these procedures, practice them consistently and review them periodically. The procedural content that needs to be uniform for all instructors and students across a particular student program includes:

So, does having a written set of procedures meant that we all have to be cookie-cutter images of each other? No way! For a student, part of the fun of learning is having an instructor who can make the material come alive with his personality. But how can you mix it up and interject your own style? You can:

The Team
In addition to each individual looking at his own procedures and style, the team of coaches and instructors should also evaluate its consistency as a whole. Staff should answer these two important questions:

  1. How often do you review materials for the first-jump course or rating courses to compare information to the USPA Basic Safety Requirements, Skydiver’s Information Manual and Instructional Rating Manual?
    1. Umm... never?
    2. Before each course
    3. After each course
    4. After each USPA Board meeting
    5. At the beginning of the season/year

If you want to be efficient and work less, try reviewing after each course while good ideas and changes are fresh in your mind. Even if you don’t implement changes immediately, keep a record of what the team should look at later. A quick review after each board meeting and a more formal review at the beginning of the season are good, too. Just as we teach students to check their altimeters periodically, instructors should check their guideposts periodically.

  1. How consistent is the student experience at your drop zone?
    1. Our students get the same information presented in basically the same structure and are consistently asked the same questions using standard language regardless of who is teaching
    2. Depending on who teaches them, a student may experience varying amounts of information and not everyone uses the same outlines, dive flows or materials
    3. We take information from the same materials, but each instructor presents it in his own way and time frame

If you want to provide a good experience that focuses on safety, consistency is important to your students. They will know what to expect and will see your team as professional. In response, they will give their best in return.

Consistent results require consistent procedures: this means the same information, the same safety methods, the same vocabulary, the same presentation methods and the same expectations of performance. Style is the icing on the cake!